Make love, not war
Video games have always had a very uneasy relationship with sex. While any amount of horrific violence seems to be largely (but not wholly) accepted, nudity and sex still seem to be hot-button issues. The blame lies in multiple corners. Sometimes its the mainstream medias misconception that all games are for kids, sometimes its down to knee-jerk reactions within the video game community, and sometimes well, the content of the game really is in poor taste.
The following feature has a mixture of all three. Im not here to judge whether or not each scandal listed here is right or wrong: some cases are pretty black and white, others are more morally grey. All Ill say is that you cant have a Week of Love without talking about the physical stuff, and when these controversies were raging, everyone was talking about sex.
The first time - Custer's Revenge
Although it looks incredibly crude by todays standards, Custers Revenge caused a massive stir back in 1982 when it released on the Atari 2600. The aim of the game is for the player--controlling a man named Custer (very, very loosely based on General George Custer), who is inexplicably dressed in nothing but a cavalry hat--to have sex with a native American woman who is tied to a pole. Again, no real explanation is given for that.
The game was protested by several activist groups, including Women Against Pornography, and by several Native American spokespeople. Many called for a complete ban from sale, and the US state of Oklahoma did exactly that. However, all the media attention ensured that the game sold over 80,000 copies, even at the steep price of $50 a pop.
Hot Coffee - GTA San Andreas
Before Rockstar released the final version of GTA San Andreas, it decided to ditch a mini-game that allowed CJ to have player-controlled sex with his girlfriend. However, while the feature wasnt a part of the final game, the unfinished code and assets were left on the DVDs and download files of the PS2, Xbox and PC versions. Pretty soon after release, modders discovered the abandoned mini-game and devised ways to access it on all formats. Its called Hot Coffee because coffee is the euphemism for sex used by CJs various girlfriends. Fact.
To put it mildly, this caused a stir. The US ratings board--the ESRB--was roundly slammed by several politicians, including Senator Hillary Clinton, and lawsuits were filed against Rockstar. The game was reclassified as Adults Only in the US to prevent it being sold to anyone under 18, until Rockstar created and released a clean version of the game with all the Hot Coffee assets removed. Because the game was already 18-rated in the UK, very little controversy resulted on that side of The Pond.
Virtual orgasmic rape - Mass Effect
BioWare likes a bit of romance in its games. While the rather binary nature of Mass Effects choice-system reduces sex to a Yes, No, or Id rather do the blue one response, you have to applaud the developers for openly acknowledging that aspect of the human experience in their games. In other words, its nice to have the option. The sex scenes in Mass Effect are rather tame, limited to tastefully-lit shots of character models and the occasional flash of groping.
However, several critics openly attacked the sexy stuff in Mass Effect. Fox News in the US claimed that the game featured full digital nudity and sex (a remark the company later apologised for), while Neo-Conservative blogger Kevin McCullough wrote that: Mass Effect can be customized [to allow the player] to sodomise whatever, whomever, however they wish. He went on to claim that: with its 'over the net' capabilities virtual orgasmic rape is just the push of a button away. McCullough has since apologised for the hyperbole, but maintains Mass Effects sexual content is offensive.
The bad touch - Tomb Raider
Lara Croft has a crappy time in the new Tomb Raider. Not counting the many, horrific death-scenes she suffers for QTE failure, our poor hero is impaled on multiple pointy objects, attacked by wolves, caught in a bear-trap, and forced to take her first human life--all within the first hour of the game. Her first-kill comes as a mercenary type catches her fleeing the burning village. He grabs her by the throat, and runs his hand over her face and body. Its unsettling.
Now, that first kill caused plenty of controversy in 2012 when one of the games producers, Ron Rosenberg, accidentally referred to the scene as an attempted rape. The outcry about this was largely limited to stern reaction pieces on leading gaming websites, but it lead to a number of well-worded denials from Square Enix. Opinion is still divided on whether the scene is inherently sinister, or whether the controversy was a whole fuss over nothing.
Full Motion Video-nasty - Night Trap
For those who never owned a Sega Mega CD (and there are plenty of you), Night Trap is a game where you play as a surveillance expert, trying to protect a house full of scantily-clad teenage girls from a vampire attack. It uses FMV, the gameplay is awful, and the acting is insanely wooden. However, it managed to gain popularity back in the early 90s because it had video footage of pretty girls. Go figure
In 1993, though, shit got real when US Senator Joe Liebermann held a hearing about violence in video games, using Night Trap as one of his primary examples. This controversy quickly spiraled, and soon the game was appearing in national newspapers, which talked up its alleged violence and nudity. In fact, most members of the mainstream media decided that Night Trap was all about killing girls rather than protecting them, a total reversal of the actual concept. Fearful of the negative publicity, Sega actually withdrew the game from sale. It wasnt until 1995 that the furor died down enough for PC and Mac ports to appear.
Al Lowe leaves Larry - Leisure Suit Larry
Bit of a strange one, this. Leisure Suit Larry is the hapless singleton in constant pursuit of love. At best, hes a loveable rogue with a blindly optimistic, relentless desire to find his true love; at worst hes a sexist, pathetic pervert. However, the biggest Larry controversy involves series inventor Al Lowe, rather than his lusty creation.
You can read the full story here, in this excellent piece by Kotaku. The basic summary, though, is that Lowe teamed up with a man called Paul Trowe of Replay Games to create an iOS and PC remake of the original Leisure Suit Larry. Following a reasonably successful collaboration, Lowe began to distance himself from Replay back in 2012--leaving them in full control of the LSL brand. Why? Its probably because of allegations against Trowe that suggested he had showed illicit video material to an underage girl.
Same-sex relationships - Mass Effect 3
BioWare made the bold, progressive move to include same-sex romances in Mass Effect 3. Male Shep has the option to pair up with Steve Cortez, while female Shep can get together with Samantha Traynor. In fact, most romance options are up for grabs in the game. Race, gender, species--there are no barriers to love in Mass Effect 3, and thats a wonderful thing.
However, this prompted two very different reactions from fans. The first saw a number of players heading to Metacritic, intent on giving the game poor ratings based on the same-sex options. Things got ugly, and Metacritic eventually agreed to remove the offending reviews. The second backlash was strangely positive. Fans argued that same-sex romance was inconsistent with previous games, where the option was unavailable. The argument was that their Shepard, who had carried over from previous games, should have had same-sex options from the beginning, not just in the final chapter of the story. The controversy was somewhat overshadowed by complaints about ME3's ending, but it did prompt BioWare to write a lengthy blog-post about same-sex romance in the game.
No nudity, please - Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball
Confession time: Ive played both Dead Or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball and its sequel, and I enjoyed it. The games are a curious mixture of dating-sim, summer-based mini-games, and actual volleyball. The barely-clothed characters are excellently modelled and animated, and--at the time--the games were something of a visual showcase for Xbox. Theres also little debate that they were designed to titillate and excite young male gamers, rather than to accurately simulate the sport of volleyball.
However, when hacking community Ninjahacker.net created a series of nude skins for DOA XBV, Ninja Gaiden and DOA3, Tecmo immediately took several members of the group to court. Its understandable that Tecmo would want to protect its intellectual property, and avoid potential mass-media backlash (especially as this happened around the time of GTA San Andreas Hot Coffee incident), but even after the case was settled out of court in 2005, both parties seemed divided on whether the legal action was really justified.
Banned everywhere - Rapelay
Rapelay is a Japanese 'eroge' game where the player interacts (sexually) with various Japanese girl characters. All aspects of the gameplay are morally debatable, and if you want to do specific research about what happens in Rapelay well, its on Wikipedia, but Im not linking to it. What Ill say here is that the name of the game is very descriptive of the actual content.
In 2009, UK MP Keith Vaz discovered the game was being sold by Amazon (by external sellers), and demanded that the game be removed. It was swiftly pulled from sale in the UK. Around the same time, activist group Equality Now petitioned the Japanese Prime Minister, Taro Aso, to remove the game from sale and to restrict its production. In May 2009, Rapelay was indeed removed from shelves, and is no longer made, so--aside from private sales--its now impossible to buy in any country.
Dave Mirra sues Acclaim - BMX XXX
The concept of BMX XXX is a little unusual: its a mash-up of BMX antics and, er, naked ladies strutting around. Lets just say its a little too targeted at a specific audience. Aside from the questionable concept, the game is widely acknowledged as something of a stinker. Its got a 54% Metacritic rating, and many critics note that the last level isnt actually finished.
So, it comes as little surprise that BMX personality Dave Mirra didnt want to be associated with the game. Back in 2003 Mirra filed a $21 million lawsuit against publisher Acclaim, to prevent his personal brand from being used to promote BMX XXX. Mirra had endorsed several BMX games (published by Acclaim) in the early 2000s, but he claimed that he was unaware that the publisher had introduced sexually explicit and pornographic content into this latest title. A year later, Acclaim filed for bankruptcy.
Hit the bottom?
So, yeah, video games and sex havent had the easiest of relationships. Whats heartening is that sex is becoming increasingly accepted in modern games by both developers and the mainstream media. Generally, its being handled in a more adult way than in the past. Got any comments on this feature? Or on Week of Love as a whole? Leave them below.
Want more Week of Love features? Try the Most Cringeworthy Pick-up Lines In Video Games or Gamings Most Tragically Unrequited Love Stories.