Game of Thrones as a Game: A look into Simulated Sex

Though hundreds games grant players the freedom to commit atrocious acts of mass murder and violence, sex, even in an environment of mutual consent, is treated as a far more profane taboo. The problem perhaps is that videogames are still young as a form of entertainment, and have only recently began to show a widespread maturity comparable to rival visual mediums such as TV and movies, which have freely reveled in the idea that “sex sells” for decades (HBO, I’m looking at you here). Videogames however, suffer from a far more distorted view of sexuality.

Telltale Games, who’ve recently arisen to legendary status for their immense contributions to interactive storytelling in The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, announced last week that development is underway for a videogame adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. As anyone familiar with this Television series will tell you, sex is rampant in GoM. I’m not joking, rarely does an episode pass without some visible genital action or at the very least off-camera euphoric moaning. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t just fornication for its own sake, this is a great series with fully realised characters, intricate storylines and shocking (you know what I’m talking about) moments. It’s graphic sexuality serves as a clear statement that television and film are still considered to be more respectable than videogames as a form of expression that is able to handle this subject matter with the sophistication it requires to avoid becoming reminiscent of a teenage boy drawing a penis on his friend’s notebook before laughing his ass off.

Game of Thrones

Sex has a long, but controversial history in videogames. Though it is not nearly depicted with the dignity of other forms of fiction, nonetheless the varieties of sex and sexualised characters that exist do tend to serve functions within the game world. Prostitutes for instance are explored deeply in films such as Taxi Driver and Sin City from a narrative perspective (by which I mean there is a story, or sense of story behind each character), but in videogames, more often the ladies of the oldest profession are utilized as a sort of prop to contribute to the tone of the world, rather than as characters with their own unique biography. A notable exception to this rule is Assassins Creed II, which saw the protagonist Ezio Auditore aided greatly by Paola and her courtesans.

On the other side, sex appeal is frequently thrown at the player like meaningless word-vomit, purely to increase the marketability of the game and its characters. Examples include God of War, Bayonetta – even Bioshock Infinite has come under raps for Elizabeth’s um… generous bust, but lets not forget even this seemingly unnecessary partial nudity can fulfill an important role when used appropriately, and that is style, not to mention films are guilty of over-sexualisation to perhaps an even greater extent than videogames (there could be more hunky dudes around to eye-sex up though. Am I right, ladies?).

300, released in 2007, is generally considered not exactly a Shakespeare rivaling work of cinematic genius, but amongst all the green-screen machismo and bare-chested men cutting things with sharp pieces of metal, is an unmistakable sense of style that proves incredibly entertaining. On the surface the nudity in God of War might appear to be simply a shallow visual feast, but it also creates a distinctive style in which to set Kratos’ angry, angry story which, I might add, stays true from this series’ mythological inspiration.

In videogames, violence is comparable to sex as apples are to ceiling fans – that is, not at all. Reason being is that the senseless acts of murder and mayhem players commit in games like GTA V are just that, senseless. It is the killing of virtual strangers who bear absolutely no weight on whatever story they occupy, whereas sex is a deeply intimate moment between characters. In games you kill for fun, but cannot have sex for fun – funny twist that, isn’t it? Most of us will remember Mass Effect’s controversy in 2008 in which FOX news presenter Martha MacCallum roused conservatives everywhere into mouth-frothing rage by falsely claiming all manner of graphic sexual encounters were a button press away, despite later admitting to of never actually played the game. There is no need to further discredit such ridiculous accusations, but it does point out the general attitude of those who are unfamiliar with gaming – that playing games will teach children how to do whatever their character is doing, and in the case of Mass Effect this apparently meant that boys were being conditioned to treat women as sexual objects. Even if it were true that Shepherd (Mass Effect’s male OR female protagonist) displayed misogynistic tendencies (which by the way, is completely false), a stories character’s cannot be said to always reflect the attitudes of the people who created them. Mad Men has sexist characters, but isn’t sexist. Django Unchained had racist characters, but isn’t racist – because a work of art can’t have a philosophy or viewpoint, it can only reflect the world that the artist creates.

Mass Effect
Liara T’Soni, a brilliant Asari researcher and one of Mass Effect’s many romanceable characters.

In reality the Mass Effect trilogy was a huge step forward for dealing with personal relationships and sex in a mature way. It allowed players to pursue complex romantic relationships over the course of three lengthy games, with choices to sustain a single partnership throughout the entire experience or break them off and begin again each game. By the final installment, the ups and downs of Shepherds relationship with a single character can have a profound effect on his or her actions, and the sex that occurred was never explicit, because it never needed to be. It was far more about the emotional payoff that the visual one. The trouble arises when it is assumed that videogame freedom implies absolute freedom, and that perhaps children will be exposed too, or rewarded for, acts of sexual assault. As I covered in my article about videogame censorship, this is a justified fear, but presently an invalid one as games very rarely delve into this sensitive issue.

Games are often seen by parents as mere toys for children rather than the sophisticated experience they have become in recent decades. To that end its fair enough to be concerned that a child will ask some difficult questions regarding sex, but these questions are healthy and should not be avoided. I’m not going to tell anyone how to raise their kids, but exposure to nudity or sex in a videogame or movies or TV will not be inherently corrupting if depicted tastefully, and if anything would educate them on both the role of sex in the world, and its use in artistic sensibilities. In the real world sex is often either trivialized, or taken far too seriously. People will go out with the purpose of hooking up with strangers and treat that as a stamp of approval that they had a good night. In videogames this does not occur because as in all art forms, everything means something. Whether a character sleeps with dozens of people, or none at all, that action speaks to the audience and translates into aspects of their very soul. Art presents a dramatised view of reality, and as such can never be treated as realistic no matter how pretty the graphics or how confronting the themes.

Far Cry 3
Jason’s intense sex scene with Citra providing Far Cry 3’s extraordinary climax (pun-intended).

I’ll lay it on the line right now, I’m looking forward to this adaptation of Game of Thrones already – but how Telltale Games handles the notorious sexuality of this series could possibly shape its use in all videogames for years to come. Telltale’s signature ‘interactive narrative’ style is perhaps the perfect model to approach sex, as hopefully it will feel just enough like a movie to be seen as legitimate. One thing is for sure; many stepping-stones must be crossed before artistic sexualisation will become appropriate, especially from a gameplay perspective (press X to thrust, Y to change positions, B to bite neck?) but lets not forget there was a time when even pixalated, 8-bit violence was considered edgy and look how that turned out. I for one would love to live in a world where the world ‘mature’ in videogames doesn’t just mean violent, but containing dark, heavy themes and styles relevant to adults. This upcoming title could prove to be a significant milestone for gaming, but given Telltale’s recent successes and the quality and complexity of the Game of Thrones universe, this should be a great experience nonetheless – and as always, that’s the most important thing.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. The only thing i hope is that George RR Martin has some influence on the story and gives it his seal of approval for inclusion in canon. The man’s a slow writer anyways, so it won’t affect the glacial pace of his novel releases, but it would be cool to explore more of the world around. Some stuff in Highgarden, or Lannisport would be interesting.

  2. Hope they drastically change the gameplay compared to other Telltale games.

  3. Kent Singleton

    Hmm I want a game centered around Dorne. That’s an area that I really want to explore ever since I read the books. Maybe we could play as Ellaria Sand or The Viper (oooh that would be sick).

  4. This game should have multiple stories featuring different characters/houses, also it would be great to have different paths in each.

  5. alfonso

    If the ratings will be to our favor, we will get all the sex and gore requested. The game should follow a new character that story plays out during the events of the books, similar to what they did in TWD.

  6. SluttyV

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  7. As soon as I heard about the Telltale game, I thought that Robert Baratheon’s story would be the most interesting, imagine fighting against The Mad King. I think it’d be important to have it in a setting/ story mentioned in the books but not one that is covered in them, as I personally am not too crazy about the idea of playing a story that I’ve already read about and watched.

    Having said that, whatever direction they go in I’ll blatantly be buying whatever Telltale put out (unless it really sucks).

  8. Bernadette

    We will probably play a member of the night’s watch.

  9. Matt Neal

    Alright so…

    In terms of story the possibilities are endless
    Why not play a survivor of the red wedding who managed to sneak away and his trying to get back to winterfell?
    Why not create a story about a knight who revives honors to create his own house by The mad king only to play as his now disjointed family e.g kinda like the Starks but I’m sure telltale could throw in a nice curve ball somewhere
    Create a story based on Jamie’s childhood
    Or just basically (yes and I’m sorry for this heresy) bring back mors Westford and the sarwyck fellow from the other game of thrones game, chuck in maybe a merchanty little fingures based character, an initiate of the faceless man, a serving girl to some tyrannical lord, The tales of cold hands and heck do it like 400 days

    And you know what? Why not even play the alternate universe card!

    Regardless of storyline I think it’s safe to say that this game will not disappoint
    That said I too would love to make my own house and slowly capture Westoros in a Medieval FPS/RPG/Diplomacy sim but I mean what are the odds

    This game is in very safe hands GRRM will have massive input over whatever it is so I predict that this game will easily be in the top charts days after realase

  10. Sheldon Swanson

    I would like to see something taking place in the Free Cities, cause they could basically tell whatever story they want. Maybe the player could be a Red Priest and we could get some more insight into them. Or maybe one of those guys (I can’t think of their names) who worship the Many-Faced God.

  11. FigureofMeach

    Convincing article, with some good ideas. Nice job. I dunno how TellTale gets their hands on all these licensed properties, but they could be the next LEGO.

  12. Just show some Daenerys boobs. Will buy.

  13. lawrence

    Westeros Free World MMO Please.

  14. It would be cool if the game covered events before the timeline of the books. There are aspects of Martin’s stories that he hasn’t been able/had time to explore, and the original Dance of Dragons conflict is one of them. I’d say they could delve into Eddard’s past further, but the first book (Game of Thrones) actually does a decent job of that, to the point where Telltale doesn’t really need to, though if they really wanted to the material is there… Whatever they do, I doubt it will rely heavily on The White Walkers (we’re taking things WAY back if they bring them into it). Then it’s just Walking Dead: Sword & Sorcery Edition, and I don’t think Telltale’s the kind of studio that likes to repeat itself. I think that the game taking place during the same time at the books is unlikely; it runs the risk of conflicting with them if they do it that way.

    With that being said, something tells me that they will have to give this game an X rating instead of R… all those boobies *drools*…

  15. Andrea Paul

    Did you hear about the Grand Theft Auto events at the New York Film Festival? It seems that film industry is treating some more sophisticated gaming more seriously, including it in the realm of more narrative art forms. Do you think some day gaming will be viewed as a more interactive form of something like movies? (here is the nyff thing i’m talking about

  16. This is quite a dangerous endeavor, and sex doesn’t really seem to be a remote problem. Nobody would blink if this game treated sex in the exact same fashion as every other game has that came before it, I think. People know what to expect.

    However, taking on a project that likely involves telling a new story is work for the insane. The fanbase is so active and passionate that mucking it up would be a disaster.

  17. I would love to play as Robert Baratheon in the early War, that would be awesome. I’m not sure about simulated sex scenes, predominantly because the majority of playable characters are male, which creates disturbing implications for women. Also, can men sleep with other men? Women with women will probably be a go because of the predominantly male gaming fanbase (which is including more women, definitely, but still vastly biased).

    It is an interesting issue with a lot of controversies held within.

    • Lachlan Vass

      I’d be disappointed if it didn’t feature male-male sex because the show is so good at treating these relationships as normal

  18. I would like to see some more narratives and stories- it will be good if the characters are further explored and if we could get to know about their past and thoughts, etc.,

  19. The game play should be similar to the last two Fable games, with the whole of Westeros at one’s disposal… I’d totally do a Joffrey though.

  20. I literally know nothing more about Game of Thrones than what information the author of this article provides here, but I have to agree that making it into a video game could change gaming forever. That is in terms of sex. It seems sort of odd to think of sex in a video game, but I’m interested to see how they do it.

  21. I loved the distinction you make between the intimacy of sex and the senseless nature of violence and how that can be a differentiation for acceptability. There is a clear sense that sex in video games is simply perversion, where as violence is a-ok. Whether this is a right interpretation it’s clear society takes it on. *SPOILERS* Even in Far Cry 3 the only sex scene is then compensated for by her killing Jason. Violence becomes a compensation for sex, discrediting the potential perversion which may have arisen. To be honest, when it comes to a video game adaptation of GoT, I don’t think the sex will be explicit. Rather it may be suggested, but as far as video game history goes, it’s unlikely you’ll get to use A and B to rape Daenarys. I just don’t think it’s going to happen, at least, I hope not!

  22. Sam Gray

    To be fair, if Telltale are basing their game on the books as opposed to the show, I don’t think sex will be such an issue. While there is plenty of sex in the books, it is almost always used to further character progression, while the show is very much an HBO production, complete with rather gratuitous sex scenes (I think we can all agree that the Littlefinger “play with her arse” scene was rather unnecessary).

  23. J. Bryan Jones

    Great article. I particularly connected with your Mass Effect argument.

  24. I’ve come to think that the world might not be ready for a full on depiction of sex in video games. Largely due to how overblown the media can get over it.

    I could name some examples off the top of my head of recent controversies involving some very niche games that DARED to have scantily clad women. In those same games there was no acts of sex at all. The hub bub was just how the women looked. And these complaints were from video game “journalists” (I use the term loosely as I find most video game journalists to be a joke but I digress).

    Then again I could just be making a knee-jerk reaction to the knee-jerk reactions and could be completely wrong. I can only hope that’s true.

  25. Patrick Williams

    Well written article. Being a huge Mass Effect fan I really appreciated the references to the old scandal. I also agree that Video Games themselves aren’t perceived as a strong enough art form for their to be acceptable embracing of sexuality by the establishment. But, I think it will. I love reading, films, and television, but it is only with a game that I can truly be a part of the narrative. Sure I imagine myself into the books I read, or the films and television I watch, but I don’t have an impact. In addition, I think the quality of gaming narratives themselves have progressed incredibly over the past few years, and by continuing to do so, we’ll see a wider range of acceptance.

  26. Kayleigh Hall
    Kayleigh Hall

    I think the problem with sex in video games is where the cut-off is with player involvement. Video games revolve around player controlled actions: walk here, hit this, kill him. You can choose to seduce other characters and there can be sex scenes, but I’m unsure whether sex in games could ever be, how’d you say, interactive, without seeming exploitative. On the other hand, it can feel exploitative now because of its reliance on cut-scenes and pre-determined action. It’s an interesting and difficult topic.

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