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Media Game Theory

A more perfect union

Eight months ago, a Netherlands-based computer programmer published a chunk of code that allowed gamers to access hidden sexual content in the game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. News of this development quickly traveled from the blogosphere to the mainstream press, forcing the Electronic Software Rating Board (ESRB) to change the game’s rating from “Mature” to “Adult.” Distributors across the country immediately pulled the title from their shelves.

It might seem strange that soft-core sexual content generates more outrage than explicit game mechanics that reward carjacking, armed robbery, rape, and mass murder. However, as Americans, we should be accustomed to our nation’s confusing and contradictory attitudes about sex. This is what happens when pot-smoking, free-thinking libertarians (a.k.a. “the Founding Fathers”) and dance-censoring, witch-burning Puritans come together to form a more perfect union.

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Players have found countless ways, from conventional to transgressive, to make Second Life a sex-filled life.

Wood cuts, off-set printing, Polaroid cameras, ASCII text, scanners, laser printers, three-dimensional modeling software, web cameras, hidden cameras, and mobile telephones are just a few of the technologies that have been pressed into the service of desire. Throughout history, libidinous entrepreneurs have devised new ways of wedding lustful impulses to communication technology. In 1839, a French inventor patented the process for creating early photographs known as Daguerreotypes. In less than a year, artists were using the technology to create visual erotica. In 1895, the Lumière brothers exhibited the first motion pictures in the basement of the Grand Café in Paris. One year later, Le Bain (The Bath) would become the first film to feature erotic nudity.

When this history is taken into account, the most amazing thing about sex in video games is the fact that it has taken so long to get here.

At the outset, we should acknowledge that minors should not have access to sexual game content. When we discuss sex and games, we are talking about entertainment designed for adults. Luckily, thanks to a wide range of technologies for identity authentication, adult-oriented video games are far more secure than the copies of Maxim and Cosmopolitan found on the rack of your local drug store. And, as with printed erotica, the quality ranges from sexist and sleazy to sensual and sophisticated.

We can begin by scraping the bottom of the barrel. Virtual Eve and Virtually Jenna are two unimaginative attempts to give inflatable sex dolls new life in the digital era.

“You direct the action,” screams the explanation on the Virtual Eve site. “Choose from over 16 animated hard-core sex positions ... Think it. Do it.”Virtually Jenna is practically the same game as Virtual Eve with one key difference: It features celebrity porn star Jenna Jameson. “Whenever you want,” promises the membership pitch. “Wherever you want ... There’s nothing she won’t do to keep you coming back for more.” Combining hackneyed porn clichés with impressive graphics and a blatantly misogynistic desire to control women, these sex-doll games are certain to be wildly successful.

A second batch of adult-themed games revolves around dating and on-line sexual encounters. In Naughty America, players can have steamy encounters in virtual alleys, nightclubs, loft apartments, and outdoor cafés. The action takes place publicly or privately, and the game’s developers also offer free background checks for gamers who want to meet up with their playmates in the real world.

Sadly, the screen shots for this game are marred by paint-by-numbers cultural stereotypes. A young Asian woman struts provocatively in a revealing schoolgirl outfit and an African-American avatar staggers under the weight of ludicrous amounts of bling.

Delivering a similar concept to a different audience, My Gay Sim Life is a virtual bathhouse for gay and bisexual men. The game models its chat rooms on real-world locations such as the Castro Theater and Harvey’s Restaurant (a San Francisco landmark). In a brilliant marketing move, the developers promise to host on-line weddings officiated and witnessed by game residents.

Players searching for less-conventional experiences can find them in the game Second Life. Sexually oriented players have used the game’s powerful modeling tools to create custom clothing that makes it appear as if their avatars are completely nude. A company called Xcite! is now marketing interactive genitalia encoded with intelligent bits of computer code. These virtual genitals now respond in “appropriate” ways to the clicks and caresses of on-line sex partners. The company’s product line also includes floggers, balls and chains, blindfolds, and other toys for the BDSM community.

Regardless of one’s beliefs, our cultural conversation about these games will be strengthened by acknowledging that all forms of interactive sexual entertainment are not the same. Some games stress control and domination, while others emphasize playful interaction between consenting adults. Some titles tap into tired representations of beauty and sexuality, while others encourage imaginative, unbridled sensuality.

As with art, the definition of “sexy” is different for everyone. If you’re at home alone on Valentine’s Day, why not check out some of these titles? You might just find someone whose erotic sensibilities fit well with yours.

By Aaron Delwiche


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