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.
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.
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.
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.