Experienced Points: Why is a Bare Breast More Offensive Than a Severed Arm?

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Jul 22, 2014

Filed under: Column 241 comments

In today’s column I stray dangerously close to politics. Or if not politics then the culture war, which is the same argument but without the policy side of the debate. ALSO, this article is even more USA-centric than usual. Either way, sorry about that. In my defense, I’m just trying to answer a question and not trying to force my views on anyone or tell them how to live their lives. I recognize this is touchy stuff.

I don’t really have any answers. I think this is a bit like the Empire vs. Stormcloaks fight in Skyrim: You’ve got two sides, both of which want reasonable thingsReligious freedom and peace in the case of Skyrim, and healthy children and artistic freedom in the case of television., and which could easily resolve their differences if not for a malicious third party. (In this case, cable companies. Read the column for the long explanation of that.) There’s no good, clean answer, only a bunch of ugly trade-offs.

This post grew from this comment back in April. I’ve been thinking about this on and off since then. I thought it would make for a good column, but it was actually really hard keeping this thing at a manageable size. (At 1,800 words, this is one of my longest Escapist columns to date.) The topic would probably be better served by a series, but I didn’t want to talk about adult content and social norms for three weeks. (And as of this writing, I have no idea if people will even care.) We end up with a column that spends 1,500 words just setting up the debate and trying to ward off all the usual digressions and distractions.

Whew. This is a tough subject. It’s really interesting, but covering hot-button stuff is stressful for me. Glad I don’t do this often.

I’ll leave you with some thoughts that I didn’t want to put into the article:

Remember how basically all 80’s R-rated movies had naked breasts in them? That’s no longer the case. Maybe norms have shifted, but I kind of want to give credit (without a shred of proof, mind you) to internet porn. Back in the day, it was hard to get salacious content and it was nearly impossible to get it privately. So directors would awkwardly pull in males looking for a cheap thrill by stuffing some female nudity into their film. But now everyone who wants it can get it easily, conveniently, and in private, so there’s no longer this pent-up demand for it. Net porn acted as a pressure release valve, letting guys blow off their steam without getting their unwanted content all over the place.

(Sorry. A bit. Sort of.)

Anyway, porn made movies more family-friendly. You heard it here first.


After spending 1,800 words trying to get the two sides to understand each other, the Escapist comments went straight into the “oh noes the Christians are so oppressive!” sort of whinging that I was specifically attempting to head offI strongly suspect some people go right to the comments and answer the question posed by the title without reading the article.. Be warned that I’m not going to entertain that sort of rubbish here. This article is not an invitation to bitch about religion (or lack thereof) on my site.

Pop quiz. Are the people who disagree with you:

  1. Villains, morons, or mindless sheeple.
  2. People with different needs and goals who might not understand your point of view.

If you answered #1, then maybe sit this one out.



[1] Religious freedom and peace in the case of Skyrim, and healthy children and artistic freedom in the case of television.

[2] I strongly suspect some people go right to the comments and answer the question posed by the title without reading the article.

From The Archives:

241 thoughts on “Experienced Points: Why is a Bare Breast More Offensive Than a Severed Arm?

  1. Deoxy says:

    See, my problem is that I would answer #1 for most everything, most every time, simply on principle – one of my core beliefs is that all human beings, without exception, are stupid. This results in average behaviour that is far below average intelligence, as so many people do so many stupid things that they should (and often do) know better than.

    So I would say that your final question is a false choice – I believe that the people who disagree with me (and those that agree with me!) are morons, but I also believe that, in a great many cases (such as this one), that the vast majority of both disagreeing party’s are simply not seeing the other parties point of view.

    And, for bonus points, I believe that in most disputes like this, where the bulk of the people are well-intentioned idiots who don’t see the other party’s point of view, in large part because they are just busy and can’t be arsed to bother with it, the leadership of both sides are generally villains.

    So, your final choice isn’t really very useful to me, pretty much ever.

    Edit: Oh, hey – I could actually address the actual topic of the post, eh?

    Well, I think your explanation is pretty good, and I like it, but I would also add that there is an additional point that I think is worth mentioning:

    “People get killed” gets compared to nudity/sex, but really, the comparison should be more like “graphic depiction level”. A bare whatever compared to a graphically depicted severed arm, for instance.

    Clearly, we can deal with lots of people dying, even in a kids movie, as long as they die in a highly non-explicit way (no graphic depictions of severed body parts, for instance).

    But then, we also have plenty of people who clearly have sexual relations, even in kids movies – they’re called “parents”, and they aren’t always married, even in kids movies.

    So, at least part of this debate is dishonest (largely on the part of the leadership – see my point above), as they unfairly compare ANY amount of implied whatever to very benign depictions of the other whatever.

    Even in the US, graphic depictions of violence get rated R. Lower level ratings require less explicit depictions of violence.

    The cable-bundling point stands, either way you want to look at it.

    1. Geiser1 says:

      Well, when you say everyone’s stupid do you mean that everyone makes stupid mistakes they shouldn’t because they know better or just that everyone has very low intelligence in general (knowledge, common sense, etc)

      Just a nitpick.

      1. Jeff says:

        People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.

    2. The Snide Sniper says:

      You might not be using a useful definition of “intelligent”. I suspect your current definition is “does stupid things every once in a while”.

      By some standards (eg. tool use), more than 99% of humans are very intelligent. You could also check how well each person can handle abstract mathematics, and get the opposite result.

      There are also problems with group intelligence and stubbornness.
      – Motivate one person to solve a problem, and you’ll get an answer on par with his intelligence.
      – Motivate a stubborn person to solve a problem, and they’ll come up with reasons why their solution should be used, rather than looking for problems with it.
      – Motivate two people to solve a problem, and you’ll get an answer that one made and on which the other did trouble-shooting.
      – Motivate a thousand people to solve a problem, and you’ll get the most charismatic person’s solution, possibly with the input of 12 others.

      You even have people who associate authority in one area with authority in others. What does a medical doctor know about the Higgs Boson? Probably nothing more than that it exists.

      Between these and other reasons, the intelligence of a group rarely is the sum of its parts, and can even decrease as more people join the group.

      You can see examples of this throughout history. Earth NOT the center of the universe? But these charismatic people in positions of authority say otherwise!

      TL;DR: Don’t expect to win elections if CHA is your dump stat, regardless of INT.

      1. Deoxy says:

        You might not be using a useful definition of “intelligent”.

        Intelligence and stupidity are not opposites; in fact, intelligence is a great enabler of stupidity.

        For example, if a dog goes out in a hail storm and gets a painful bruise on its head, it will likely run into its dog house and realize that going out in the hail would be stupid.

        The much more intelligent human, sitting safely inside, chuckle at the stupid dog, knowing in advance that going out in the hail would be stupid. Of course, then the much more intelligent human goes out in the hail storm, anyway, because he forgot to bring something in from his vehicle.

        Now, which one of those exhibited greater stupidity, the one that did something stupid or the one that knew better and did the stupid thing anyway?

        Between these and other reasons, the intelligence of a group rarely is the sum of its parts, and can even decrease as more people join the group.

        Quoted for truth.

        Motivate a thousand people to solve a problem, and you'll get the most charismatic person's solution, possibly with the input of 12 others.

        This is related to why I said that most of the leaders on both sides are villains – the leaders are generally those who are most charismatic AND most motivated to achieve leadership positions. Those most motivated be in the leadership position are usually those who will use said position for personal gain.

        1. syal says:

          Neither of those are stupidity; one is ignorance and the other is sacrifice. Going out into hail isn’t stupid, it’s painful. It’s only stupid if you know it’ll be painful and you don’t gain anything by going out. Like, if the guy forgets something during the first trip and has to go out a second time, that’s stupid.

          Of course that guy’s a jackass for laughing at a dog getting hurt.

    3. Mistwraithe says:

      For years it has been apparent to me that 90% of people have below average intelligence. So I’m largely with you… although it sounds like you have taken this theory to extremes and concluded everyone but you has below average intelligence. This seems less likely, albeit statistically possible if we are talking means and your IQ is in the trillions.

      Oh, and common sense is one of the least common things in the world. It should have been called rare sense.

      1. Eric says:

        If 90% of people are below “average intelligence” then the metric you are using to measure “average” here is flawed.

        1. Possibly, depends on the type of average you want. If you are just calculating a mathematical mean, you could have 9 people with an IQ of 80 and 1 person with an IQ of 100 and. The average IQ would be 82, putting 90% of the population below it.

        2. Derek says:

          I think you’re thinking of median, or assuming that IQ follows a normal distribution (which I think it does, but that’s not the point.) If we have 5 IQs, 50, 50, 50, 50, and 200, then 80% of the people in this sample are below average.

          Edit: There should be a way of letting other commenters know that you are addressing a point, so that they don’t post the same answer right after you, and feel dumb. Or like they are of below median intelligence.

          1. Eric says:

            As far as I am aware the entire point of IQ is to denote a relative level of “intelligence” (let’s not get started on how bad that definition is or what implications it has), so by design it’s supposed to indicate everything relative to a standard number. In practice I’m not sure how it works out across entire populations.

            1. krellen says:

              IQ is functionally useless in measuring the intelligence of adults; it’s literally just your “functional age” divided by your actual age (and then multiplied by 100), and once we hit adulthood there are no more milestones of “functional age” to measure.

    4. Wide And Nerdy says:

      It used to bother me more that people like you write off most people as stupid.

      But you’re punishing yourself if you do and the punishment fits the crime. The dumbest among us will have insights that would never occur to you or I individually. Thats how we move forward. Thats why society moves faster as we become more networked (not just talking internet here, this goes all the way back to the birth of trade, migration, and sailing. Cave people learning from other cave people.)

      But suit yourself.

      1. Deoxy says:

        I don’t “write them off” as stupid, I didn’t say “most”, and I don’t leave myself out.

        See my post above about intelligence and stupidity not being opposites.

        1. Wide And Nerdy says:

          Fair enough.

    5. Grey Cap says:

      How about instead of ‘everybody is stupid’ we just say that the sack of meat we use for thinking is flawed? Give a person an abstract puzzle and they’ll solve it. They can think. But put them in a room where people they trust assure them that the solution is something other than what they can see to be correct: they’ll believe their friends (sometimes. You get what I mean). Or if the most logical solution has been associated in their culture with something negative, they won’t go for it.

      I’d say: people aren’t stupid. It’s just that we’re trying to use a machine (our brains) for something they were never evolved to do (rational thought). We’re still fantastic at functioning in a tribal structure/seeking out nourishing high fat foods/using tools on our environment.

    6. MichaelGC says:

      The problem with saying everyone is stupid, without a specific context, is that it takes a relative measure and attempts to apply it universally, at which point the whole thing collapses into itself. It’s like saying ‘everyone is tall.’

      It can be done with a specific context in mind – e.g. ‘Everyone is stupid at building functioning warp drives’ – but there the specific context overwhelms, making the ‘stupid’ part rather irrelevant and uninteresting. It’s like saying ‘everyone is tall compared to ants.’

      One could say ‘everyone is stupid compared to me.’ Alright. No part of that is automatically irrelevant. It can be a useful psychological crutch when life frustrates. But now one is forced into easily falsifiable claims (e.g ‘I’m better at coding than Carmack’) or pointless hypotheticals (e.g. ‘If I spent the same amount of time on coding, I’d be better than Carmack.’)

      I introduced the notion of psychological crutches so I’m now talking to myself (first sign of something, but I forget what…): a better crutch which achieves the same result is ‘everyone is different.’ It’s better because it doesn’t have logical or empirical problems sum-up-able in a sentence. It’s better because it doesn’t rest on a ‘versus’ – which require psychological energy, or possibly even cognitive dissonance, to maintain. And it’s better because it’s a lot nicer, and niceness itself can be a wonderful antidote to frustration.

      1. Deoxy says:

        Certainly, some people are more gifted in the area of stupidity, I have to agree with you there.

        But pointing out that everyone is stupid is simply a way to keep a very important point in mind: all human beings make mistakes, many of them of a very basic and just plain stupid nature. No one is above it.

        That’s very important to remember. For instance, I like democracy because the incentives are in the right place, not because I trust the wisdom of the common man, or anything like that. Systemically, you have to account for human stupidity (as best you can, of course).

        1. Trix2000 says:

          I’d say that’s a better way to put it. Saying “everyone is stupid” for that reason may work, but the wording strikes me as accusatory (unintentionally I hope).

          Better to say “nobody’s perfect, everybody’s flawed in some way/amount” which isn’t as likely to get people worked up.

          1. Deoxy says:

            That’s nicer, yes, but it doesn’t have nearly the same level of oomph, not nearly enough to describe what I’m talking about.

            You’ve done something stupid in the last week. Yes, you, whoever is reading this. You’ve almost certainly done something stupid in the last 24 hours. You’ve probably done something stupid since you woke up most recently (no matter when that was).

            Welcome to humanity.

            And yes, it’s accusatory on purpose – best to remember that about yourself (and myself – it’s aimed at me, too!).

            1. Trix2000 says:

              True as it might be, I don’t really see the need for it. It’s not like people TRY to be stupid (usually…), such that pointing it out is going to improve things much.

              That I think equivocating ‘did a stupid thing’ with ‘being a stupid person’ is not correct (at least in the way people will view a person in either case afterwards). A person who does something stupid every now and then looks foolish for the moment, but someone who is regularly considered ‘stupid’ has a significantly worse and longer-lasting reputation – one that I’m not sure is so deserved.

        2. Wide And Nerdy says:

          There is value in stupidity. We wouldn’t have corn flakes today if a certain Mr Kellogg hadn’t left something cooking for too long. We wouldn’t have potato chips if a certain restaurant (I think it was a restaurant) had kept enough potatoes on hand to make fries. Might have a few details wrong but you take my point.

          Stupid people do things that smart people would avoid and we all learn from the results.

          1. Deoxy says:

            That’s random chance asserting itself. Many things are discovered by random chance, often due to something stupid someone did.

            However, the odds of any one stupid thing discovering something useful are astronomically small. We just do so many stupid things that we eventually find some good things out of it.

            Usually, the only value in stupidity is a painful reminder not to do that stupid thing again. If you’re lucky, you can learn that from someone else’s stupidity, not your own.

            1. Wide And Nerdy says:

              But its valuable because the smart are less likely to try without good reason and often good reason comes slowly.

    7. Eric says:

      Serious question – if you think most people/everyone is stupid, then does that mean you think that you are stupid as well? And then doesn’t that follow that your statement is likely incorrect as well?

      1. Deoxy says:

        Yes, I include myself, but that doesn’t mean everything everyone does all the time is stupid.

        It simply means that everyone does stupid things, generally often, and we should all be on the lookout for it all the time, including from ourselves.

    8. Adam says:

      I see! So the reason Hot Coffee got GTA:SA temporarily marked up to AO from M was because it went from GTA’s relatively tame way of portraying death (death scream + maybe a blood spurt from an unmarked corpse) to something out of a (badly acted + animated) porno flick.

  2. Vermander says:

    Even crazier, in the early 80s there were still PG movies with nudity in them.

    1. MadTinkerer says:

      The home video market basically killed off celluloid porn right away, and had a delayed effect on “racy” scenes in non-porn movies. Then the Internet came along and there’s more porn than ever, but it’s being segregated away from non-porn even more strictly. Youtube has it’s rules, and it’s rules don’t prevent the existence of porn on the Internet, just keeping it away from Youtube.

      1. Humanoid says:

        The video quality of your typical porn on the Internet hasn’t even progressed from VHS tape, aptly enough.

        1. Mechaninja says:

          I have heard rumors that pornhub.com/hd might be what you’re looking for. I have no experience of this site or that particular category.

        2. 4th Dimension says:

          It might be that for majority of people the idea that couple of humans (or more) are getting it on, and what they are doing is good enough. Basically general proportions of bodyparts and what is going where is enough.

  3. Steve C says:

    I agree with your article right up to and including the sentence “we’ve never been good at systemizing that sort of thing.” The next sentence, “We can’t do games where…” not so much.

    Case in point (stolen from my own old comment) Japanese dating sim genre and the old Leisure Suit Larry games. The dating sim games have good market representation in Japan. I like that they have a notable market share even though I think they are horrible and unfun as a genre. I would guess they don't get market traction in the West for the same reasons I don't like them.

    The Leisure Suit Larry games were good in that they were given the same polish everything else had. It was still just dolls in various states with adult humor. If that's the best that can be done then so be it, but the industry hasn't tried anything like that in years.

    Sex in games can exist. (As can contract negotiation, subterfuge in diplomacy, and philosophical debate.) It just doesn't. At least not enough. It's kind of sad that it's conspicuously missing from an entire category of media. It did exist at the start of the gaming. It just doesn’t exist now.

    1. Thomas says:

      Leisure Suit Larry doesn’t stand up well to the test of time =D But still I agree, although I think Shamus was probably generalising for the sake of space rather than saying ‘no this is impossible.’ I read it as ‘it’s really hard and not many people begin to know how.’

      Dating Sims are normally almost visual novels and Leisure Suit Larry was an adventure game, which are the genre’s where it’s easiest to do relationship/subterfuge whatever you feel like because the game systems aren’t very intensive. It makes sense you get good games there.

      And I would argue that you still get games doing that nowadays. Katawa Shoujo and Catherine are both excellent games. They even made a few new Leisure Suit Larry games (and even the good one kind of bombed, because we’re not so starved for sex jokes any more)

      1. Steve C says:

        Oh I agree that Leisure Suit Larry does not stand up to the test of time. No surprise remakes fail because LSL was rooted in 80s-90s pop culture (leisure suit!) as much as it was dick jokes. Whatever level it does or doesn’t stand up *as a game* it is the same as King’s Quest and the rest because it was given the same treatment as all the others at the time. It was mainstream. Compare that to today where we have multimillion dollar games that cut guys in half vs tiny little sex flash games that are an embarrassment to even acknowledge as existing.

        As for Katawa Shoujo, I already addressed that. The modern market in Japan has a broader range. My point is it doesn’t exist in the western games market. Cathrine straddles the line of western/japanese markets but it’s really out there on the edge. This stuff used to be edgy yet still mainstream. To get anything at all (even those crappy little flash games) it has to come out of Japan. There’s no reason for it. Why is the case?

        I’m old enough to remember when the reverse was true. The first Mortal Kombat game had shocking violence. It really changed things. Violence went mainstream and sex disappeared at about that time.

        I know Shamus is generalizing and I know I’m nitpicking a bit. Shamus’s broad strokes are correct as they tend to be. But if you can’t discuss the specifics then there’s not much of a discussion to be had.

        Also there are some modern western games that do include sexual themes. South Park and the Stick of Truth for example. It’s notable Randy getting anally probed is a censored scene depending where you are. More importantly we are reaching for specific titles. VS “White male bro shooter set in brownville where guys get dismembered” is every 3rd game.

        1. Thomas says:

          Whilst we’re nitpicking, Katawa Shoujo was a western game made for a western audience (who just happened to be japanophiles) =D

          I think it’s less that Leisure Suit Larry was mainstream whereas it isn’t now, and more than there wasn’t a ‘mainstream’ in the same way 20 years ago. Back then you were essentially making games for the niche gaming audience, and games themselves were cheap enough that the mainstream titles didn’t need to absolutely dominate the market.

          So I guess I am conceding that sexual games are less prominent now (no more Custer’s Revenge) but I don’t read that as being a change in the way people think, just that as more people pick up gaming, the middle bits are going to be more homogenised and there are going to be way more types of outer bits to get lost it.

          1. Steve C says:

            I’m going to have to disagree with all of that.

            1. Thomas says:

              Well Katawa Shoujo was factually made by people from Western Countries and it’s initial language was English which is the main language of a lot of those countries :P

    2. Khizan says:

      They can exist insofar as you can have games tell stories about contract negotiation or subterfuge in diplomacy or sex. Sure, no problem. Can do. Easy.

      You can’t have that kind of stuff as gameplay, though. Not if you want gameplay above the level of a Choose Your Own Adventure, at least; the computer isn’t capable of being a responsive enough opponent because it can’t think.

      1. Steve C says:

        I totally agree. We are talking about subject matter, not game mechanics. “Press X to insert subclause 3-g.ii fine print,” does not have much place in a game. Same with “Press B to insert penis into vagina” doesn’t have much place in a game– even though that’s basically what sex is in the God of War games, a quicktime event. When sex is in games, it’s given a terrible treatment, a terrible game mechanic AND it takes a backseat to violence. Literally in the case of GTA games.

        Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney screaming OBJECTION does have a place. Euro-truck Simulator exists. Why not Brothel Simulator or Pimp Tycoon? The Movies exist so why was there no adult DLC pack? I can see no reason why Cooking Mama and Babysitting Mama exist. It’s fucked up those exist while nothing exists on sex side of things in any genre.

        There’s no sex in games as primary subject matter. It’s conspicuously missing when everyone knows sex sells.

        1. syal says:

          They could make a sex game and call it “Why She’s Mama.”

        2. Humanoid says:

          Trying to think of a situation where sex-as-gameplay (rather than as a cutscene or whatever) would make sense. Ironically perhaps I’d say it’d be most appropriate as part of an educational game along the lines of Oregon Trail and Carmen Sandiego. Think that classroom scene in Meaning of Life but played straight.

          1. People have been trying to make it part of The Sims for some time now.

            And Skyrim… Oblivion… Fallout…

            1. Humanoid says:

              But in the way violence in games is handled? Typically it’s mostly, if not completely non-interactive. You initiate sex then watch it unfold. Imagine a sex scene that worked like VATS….

              EDIT: Cue someone replying that there’s a mod for VATS sex already.

              1. If I read the description correctly, there IS a mod kind of like that, though it doesn’t use VATS. It gives you access to perks, uses skills, and apparently plays havoc with the camera, if the comments are anything to go by.

          2. Daemian Lucifer says:

            I think it worked in exactly one game:fahrenheit*.But see,this is a game where a bunch of actions depend on qtes,one of which involves playing a guitar to bond once more with your ex.So having a sex as a qte at this point is just an extension of the previous guitar thing,therefore a valid thing.

            How ironic** it is that later you get a sex cutscene that is horrible in so many ways.

            *Ok,it probably worked in many hentai games,but I havent played those,so I cant judge
            **Not really,but you know what I mean.

          3. Thomas says:

            There’s a pretty good RPS column which goes over some of the more experimental uses of sex in games.

        3. Paul Spooner says:

          When you “can see no reason why” something exists, which nevertheless does exist and which other people seem to enjoy, you know that you have not yet properly understood the situation. Keep looking. You’ll find the reason eventually, and at that point you will be able to intelligently address it, but not before.

    3. Volfram says:

      Japanese dating sims tend to take the “Bioware conversation wheel” approach. I’ve seen people argue “It’s like practice for dating in real life!” No. No it isn’t. It’s practice for being terrible at dating in real life.

      I’d really love to be able to come in and say “I’ve got it, HERE’S what’s wrong with romantic conversations in games, HERE’S how to fix it!” except that requires me to have a degree of expertise on the topic, and…

      I don’t.

      I can barely navigate a casual conversation of acknowledgement with an acquaintance, and the only romantic relationship I’ve ever had was disconnected, fake, and abusive. It’s a bit upsetting, because I’m able to analyze most systems and discern their flaws and how to improve them. As a social analyst, I’m less than worthless.

      If most of the kind of people who make games are as bad at the social aspect of conversation as I am, and what I’ve seen would suggest they are(or shockingly even worse), then it’s a small wonder we can’t do those things.

    4. DerekTheViking says:

      So here’s a thought that I find interesting – are there any games about sex using more abstracted mechanics that feel true?

      For myself, a hypothetical example would have a lobby area where you can stay an indefinite amount of time with a random group of other players. Here, you are free to express yourself through some form of spatial gameplay, but the more interesting/expressive content is gated until you can attract someone enough to go through a portal, probably both holding what we’ll call, rather crassly, the consent trigger.

      The exploration of relationships in spatial gameplay has started with the likes of Journey, but it’s this selection phase that fascinates me. Without our physical bodies and voices, can it give people a feeling of being (sexually) included/wanted that they may be missing? How does it feel to be constantly rejected in this space? Does it hurt when a talented partner leaves you as soon as you get back to the lobby? Will it leave you wondering if it was a mistake you made? What if you stick with one person for the whole session? What if you recognise that person again after weeks, and have another go, for old time’s sake?

      I would choose all avatars to be identical, or at least slowly morphing, with no names and obviously no voice communication, so recognition could only be achieved by a form of kinetic language. This is what we know computer games, particularly joypad controlled computer games, are good at.

      Taking that, and making it about sexual relationships, would be pretty damn interesting to me. Anyone else have any ideas?

      1. Trix2000 says:

        I have to say this is a very intriguing idea in general, not just regarding the topic of sex but also relationships and socialization.

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I think you didnt cover the video game side of the thing enough.Because,when you see someone naked on tv,you see someone naked,but when you see someone naked in a video game,you see just the same fake pixels you see everywhere else.So the translation of “its more real and triggers other feelings” doesnt go well from live action to digital.A pixel is a pixel,whether it is used to depict genitalia or guts.

    However,there are two much more important things that I think you failed to address/skimmed over.

    First,the incredibly stupid moral drama of “think of the children” focused on stuff that clearly is not labeled for children.The hot coffee controversy was particularly stupid because the game already was not aimed at children,and dealt with pretty heavy subjects of murder,drugs and sex,but suddenly a juvenile sex minigame pushes it over the top.Stupid.

    Second,and waaay more infuriating thing is:Ratings suck ass.Big time.If youve watched any of the x-men movies*,especially the last one,youll see it.Those depict graphic violence in enormous quantities.Dismemberment,electrification,burning alive,decapitation,etc all have a place here.Yet its all considered merely cartoon violence,so ok for teens to watch.Meanwhile,you have movies that just drop a can of red paint(or worse,plethora of cgi blood)that would look fake by the standards of 1940s,and suddenly its real shit for adults only.Even if we agree with the ratings of cartoon violence=teens,real violence and nudity=older teens and excessive violence and pornography=adults only,ratings are still not given out properly.

    *Wolverine origins doesnt exist

    1. Shamus says:

      “A pixel is a pixel,whether it is used to depict genitalia or guts.”

      TV is made of the same pixels. It’s all pixels. Now, the game pixels aren’t as photo-realistic as the TV ones. Unless the TV ones are an Anime cartoon. Basically, whether or not a particular set of pixels is “realistic” enough to trigger a response is highly subjective. It’s just another blurry line to bicker over.

      Point 1: Yeah. Same goes for the Mass Effect 1 controversy. So on top of the normal content debates, we have the fact that lots of people have NO IDEA what they’re talking about.

      Point 2: I agree on both points, both regarding ratings and also regarding the Wolverine Movie they never made.

      I seriously doubt it’s possible to have good ratings. The problem is that too many people want a rating that can tell them how THEY will feel about content, and that’s just not possible. What things are “too much” for children? Tons of blood but no overt violence? (Like, a tank of sci-fi blood gets dumped out.) Bloodless dismemberment? (Maybe you’re hacking apart zombies or robots who don’t bleed.) Non-red blood? (We’re chopping up robots that look realistically human in every way, except they bleed motor oil.) Non-human dismemberment? (Maybe it’s okay to chop up these things that are clearly sapient and alive but aren’t shaped like people.) Bloodless trauma and distress? (We don’t see the gore, but we hear the sounds and the screaming and crying and begging for mercy and we see the face and the tears.) What about the identity of the victim? (Maybe it’s more acceptable to depict hacking up a mass murderer than a schoolteacher.)

      There’s no way a rating system could have the granularity to depict all of that. Or if it did, it would be too complex to follow.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        True,but a little consistency wouldnt hurt.If we cant show blood spraying from wolverine when he is being riddled with bullets,then we shouldnt show his claws being severed and drilled into in full detail either.

        Plus,the little blurb they put on dvd boxes that explain the ratings in more detail are a good thing,and should be done by everyone.But again,some consistency here would be nice as well.

      2. Paul Spooner says:

        I would be happy if we dispensed with the rigid “rating” system, and simply demanded the producer honestly and completely disclose the contents of the media they are selling. If I’m uncomfortable with something, or looking for something, I can always search for it in the text description. Openness and honest will go a lot farther than regulation and classification.

        1. Akri says:

          I agree that it would be more useful for producers to just say “these are the things in our movie which some people seem to have a problem with,” but I think that demanding such disclosure goes a bit far. I don’t think there’s any responsibility on the part of content producers to prevent viewers from seeing something they’re uncomfortable with.

          1. Humanoid says:

            Also we’d need a spoiler warning about the content warning. :P

            1. Akri says:

              And a Disclosure Alert for the Spoiler Warning!

        2. Benjamin Hilton says:

          The main problem with this is that people want a quick easy way to see answers. To be able to tell at a glance. That is why the ratings are always in the same format, on the same space on the box.
          \I mean the phrase TLDR exists for a reason.

          1. Wide And Nerdy says:

            Having grown up among Christians, anybody I knew who was concerned about the content of movies wanted more information, not less. They’d have loved having some of the sites we have now that go into more detail and would have gladly taken the time to review it.

            If that information could truly be distilled into a “quick easy glance” format, I’m sure they wouldn’t have minded but they knew the rating system wasn’t good enough for that and even the quick blurbs like “Rated PG-13: Violence, profanity, frank sexual discussion” aren’t really enough information for them.

            1. Paul Spooner says:

              And, conversely, I know many atheists who would be glad to know about subversive religious undertones in media that they consume. More information is better.

              1. Wide And Nerdy says:

                Oh agreed. And I like to avoid movies that are preachy in general (even the ones that preach what I agree with tend to make me cringe because of how they oversimplify or stack the deck).

                I just figured we were all talking about the ‘Moral Guardian’ crowd which in this country Christians make up a large portion of.

        3. swenson says:

          Although I am far from a parent, I sometimes go look up the “family” movie reviews because they basically do this–they break movies down and are very clear about what kind of content is in it. Sometimes, there’s just plain stuff I’m not interested in seeing when I sit down to watch a movie, you know? I like to be forewarned.

          But if there was a more formal method by which this was disclosed, it’d be even better.

          Obviously, not as convenient as a quick rating, but it’d still be nice if it was out there, you know?

          1. Wide And Nerdy says:

            They have sites like this for gaming too (in fact I think some of the sites that do movies this way also do games this way.)

            I agree. I like to be forewarned. Maybe its not the creators obligation to warn me but neither is it my obligation on a legal, moral, ethical, or intellectual level to go into these things with no warning.

        4. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Rating with a text explanation is actually a good solution.You get a simple mark for when you are quickly browsing,and a more detailed text for specifics.The problem here is in the execution of the system,not the system itself.

          1. Wide And Nerdy says:

            I agree with you for once ;) and I don’t think it even needs to be one solution. Let different concerned groups create their own sites that check for content they’d be concerned about. Let consumers find the sites that are best about checking for what they’d be concerned about.

      3. Joe Informatico says:

        There’s a reason most rating systems focus on Violence, Sex, Language, and Drug Use: while we might disagree on what’s acceptable in these categories, at least we can point to specific actions or depictions and quantify them. Viewers can also get offended by the ideologies or philosophies being promoted/skewered in a production, or the depiction of certain groups or individuals, but most rating systems in Western democracies understandably avoid getting mixed up in those debates, with a few culturally-specific exceptions.

    2. LCF says:

      As for the rating wonkiness, Cracked.com exposed how Hollywood “rates” movies. Can’t be bothered to find the link, have a nice digging.

      “Pop quiz. Are the people who disagree with you:”
      They are maniacs if they drive faster and idiots if they drive slower? Can I go play now?

    3. Makes perfect sense. Films that portray violence as something fun, sanitized and with few consequences are clearly appropriate for children and teens. Films that portray violence as disturbing, difficult and vile are only really appropriate for adults.

      Wait, what?

      1. Humanoid says:

        Yeah, a recent point that kind of got lost in the hub-bub around the censoring of Stick of Truth here is that a lot of the reaction was along the lines of “your country is just a bunch of prudes”. But it’s not so much mentioned that it was because of sexual violence: which is to say, violence, not sex. I had no problem whatsoever with the decision.

      2. It’s sad to think that one of the most realistic portrayals of violence and its consequences in media for the Y7+ audience was in the old Disney cartoon, “Gargoyles.”

        One character plays with Detective Maza’s gun, imitating what he’s seen on TV. The gun goes off, Maza is injured, nearly fatally. Over the next several episodes, she’s in the hospital, recovering, on crutches, etc. None of this “shot and bounce back next episode” stuff we tend to see on “adult” TV most of the time.

        1. Humanoid says:

          And for games, how Darklands handles injury (healing in town for weeks potentially) versus titles where you just ….walk them off. Thanks Captain Bailey and Lara Croft. Heck, even New Vegas in Hardcore Sawyer mode was very lenient.

        2. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Yes,great episode that was.Also gargoyles rock.

          EDIT:Oh shit,that was a pun.Im so sorry.

          1. Lies. You are in no way sorry.

  5. Thomas says:

    Huh, that was probably one of my favourite of your articles. You make those reasons sound so natural and obvious it’s hard to believe no-ones ever suggested them to me before.

    I think videogames are a little different because they are already much more personal experiences and it’s not the norm to share them with people in the same way. It might have to do with perceptions we bring with us from films and TV or just that it’s hard even to make a satisfying sex mini-game never mind a full on relationship game.

    But still, cheers, you’ve answered a question that’s always bothered me and now makes so much sense.

  6. Alan says:

    Ah, childhood memories of R-rated comedies from about 1977 (Kentucky Fried Movie) to 1991 (Ski School) Kids these days have it so easy! We had to sneak downstairs after our parents were asleep and watch whatever was on in the wee hours! :-)

    As you say, sexuality present in movies and television. But it’s pointedly not present in movies and television for children. If one thinks that video games must be for children, adding sexuality seems very different from movies and television. Hopefully as gamers continue to age this will stop being a problem.

    1. Microwaviblerabbit says:

      Sexuality is present some television and movies for children, especially those aimed at all ages. Think the Muppet Show or Animaniacs. Consider the stuff these could get away with, it feels like the issue with children’s media is whether it is going to be used as substitute babysitter.

      It feels like video games should go down the ‘wink wink, nudge nudge’ root instead of trying to simulate parts of it. Concentrating on sexual tension is what many tv shows do to great success. Conservative enough to pass most of the critics, but with strong enough attraction between characters so people can invest. They don’t need to worry about the rest because fans armed with the internet will fill in the gaps.

      1. Steve C says:

        Stuff like Muppet Show or Animaniacs are designed with jokes that go over the heads of kids. Sex exists but kids aren’t supposed to get the jokes. There are games that do the same like the Monkey Island series. I would say that element is fairly well balanced in media. It’s rare both in games and it’s rare in movies and TV. I would like to see more in both but I recognize it’s hard to pull off successfully wherever you try.

        But contrast that to severing a guy lengthwise and watching his entrails fall out. Or a sitcom with a lot of sex. It’s not difficult to pull off because it’s not trying to walk that tightrope.

        1. A note about sexual themes on TV: My wife loathes the Disney Channel because of the way they use sex for jokes in most kid-targeted sitcoms. She found out about it when our nephews requested to watch “The Suite Life of Zach & Cody,” and she about hit the roof when it shows what’s supposed to be an 8-year-old boy constantly hitting on an 18-year-old girl. For some reason, it’s a really common thing Disney live action plays for humor, and it gets really, really creepy after a while.

          1. Bubble181 says:

            Disney likes reinforcing “traditional” family values. Boys learning they’re supposed to hit on girls (and girls should laugh it off) is something they play for laughs *all the time*.
            You’ll very rarely, if ever, see it the other way around – and definitely not in the comedy shows. A young girl trying to seduca a young adult male is waayyy too risqué and “wrong” to do.

      2. Keep in mind, comedy can do that. Note that in general, comedy is lacking in video games. Yes comedic games are out there but the percentage is low compared to everything else, unlike movies and tv where comedy tends to be the mainstream. This is another topic Shamus and I discuss a lot, why there aren’t many humorous games anymore (there were tons when point and click adventures were the thing. Even other types focused on humor over drama.) Nowadays I am hard put to find comedic games. They are out there but they are a niche and not the mainstream.

        1. Wide And Nerdy says:

          There are a lot of reasons but one of them I attribute to the increasingly corporate nature of video games (for once I’m on the ‘corporate is bad’ side.) Its been my experience that larger organizations are less comfortable with needless risk.

          The games I remember from the era I believe you’re talking about, the humor is more thrown in generally and less central to the game. It comes off as the writer/programmer thinking up funny stuff as they go and throwing it in. In a corporate environment, if a game isn’t supposed to be funny, you’re less likely to try to throw random jokes in. I don’t know if I’m explaining this well.

          On the whole I don’t think its a bad thing. If you’re given an assignment, you often don’t serve the team by saying “I know I’m supposed to do thing A but what if I also do thing B”. People are waiting on you. On smaller teams, this is less of an issue.

          Then there’s what Shamus discussed about voice acting (and I’d throw in scripting and animating). A writer has a lot more freedom in older games because its text.

          But there’s still some humor. Bioware and Obsidian always put humor in their games. Its just that, since the game mechanics are more divorced from the dialog systems in these games than in the old point and clicks, it feels like the humor isn’t coming from the game as much.

          People also point to the problem of timing as you don’t know when a player is going to trigger the set up and/or the punchline in many cases. I think this is solved by taking a page from the point and clicks. The player’s action should be the set up, and the reaction should be the punchline. Keeps it tight.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Oh hey,I inspired a column.Yay me.And,of course,a south park link that came to mind:

    Cable companies suck.

    1. Chris Robertson says:

      We do the Devil’s Advocate thing here, right? Is that still a thing we do?

      Disclaimer: I work for a company that as part of its operations supplies Cable TV. Personally, I try not to suck.

      1. Shamus says:

        That was really informative. Thanks for linking that.

  8. Neil D says:

    I haven’t even read the article yet, I just had to jump back here to say, that is an awesomely perfect picture to go with that article title.

  9. The Schwarz says:

    Your “some people go straight to the comments and answer the title question without reading the article” theory was beautifully demonstrated by NPR on April Fools:

    1. syal says:

      They used to have “read all instructions before beginning” tests in school, where the last instruction tells you not to take the test. Those were always hilarious. There was always at least one vocal instruction that let everyone else know if you didn’t read first.

      1. Ivan says:

        Yeah, I always got what they were trying to do with those, but there was always an extra context that always pissed me off. I’m a slow reader, always have been and always have known I was. I don’t have the time to read an entire test before I start taking it. If I want to get it done then I know I can’t waste a bunch of time reading the whole thing twice. That said, the context I was actually talking about is school, there’s always a time limit in school and so those kinds of trick tests always pissed me off because they suddenly changed the rules without telling me.

        Anyway /rant, I DO have that luxury in my spare time and enjoied reading the article. Also @ Shamus… all you had to say was bundles and every american would understand why the cable companies are a “malicious 3rd party”. I’m not sure if your long explanation is detailed enough for non-americans though.

        You know… now I’ve got to thinking, I wonder if the “some people go straight to the comments and answer the title question without reading the article” effect is largely caused by our school system or if it’s something else entirely?

      2. Henson says:

        I failed that test in elementary school because I thought the blurb at the beginning about “read all the instructions” WERE the instructions, and that the numbered questions were “problems” or “tasks”. Whoops.

      3. Akri says:

        I always hated those. No actual test we ever took required reading it all the way through. So you get used to doing tests by answering each question as it comes up, and this method is perfectly correct, except for when they decide to make it an invalid approach purely so they can say “ha! You relied on past experience to decide how to handle this test, and it failed! Now don’t you feel stupid!”

        Gah. The whole thing is just a massive lie. It’s poor communication (presenting you with a “test” that you aren’t actually supposed to take) disguised to look like cleverness. It doesn’t teach anything useful, because as soon as the “gotcha!” moment is over you go back to taking tests the normal way (answering all the questions), so it’s not like the attempted lesson gets any kind of reinforcement. It’s an incredibly lazy way to try and teach kids to pay attention to what they’re doing, and trivializes the lesson by tying it to something that does not matter. ARGH!

        ….I did not know I was still so bitter about those things. Huh.

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          I felt the same way when I came across this test. I didn’t fall for it, in fact, I think it was told to me by a friend, but it still felt like a nasty trick.

          But, as I grew older, I came to better and better appreciate the lesson being taught. Like you say, it isn’t a test about taking tests. On tests you can answer the questions sequentially, or out of order if you like, it really doesn’t matter. It’s a set of real life instructions that (however contrived) have real life consequences.

          Because very often, things in real life DO depend on the order of operations, or have complex contingencies, and it’s important to grasp the whole thing before you start working on it. If you’re going to build a house, you can’t start laying the foundation before the floor-plan is completed. And, if there is a problem with the roof design, you want to fix it before you start putting up the load-bearing walls.

          It’s a “test” of whether or not you think ahead, and the lesson is that thinking ahead can sometimes save you lots of unnecessary effort.

          That lesson, I think, is extremely valuable.

          1. ehlijen says:

            Not as valuable as a lesson in writing good instructions would be.

            Learning to read through instructions to find the magic clue at the end has little to do with analysing a problem, understanding it completely and then finding the best starting point.

            You read through to the end, that’s good. But if the last instructions is ‘ignore the above’ you’re not told to think, just to obey literally.

            There is no thinking ahead in these tests. You either do exactly as told or you ‘fail’. It’s the antithesis of teaching thinking.

            Now, if the test consisted of 5 questions and the answers to the later ones are steps involved in performing the earlier ones, and the instructions are “read all questions, then answer in any order”, that you have a task that rewards analysis and planning with faster progress.

            1. Akri says:

              Exactly. And because they always had a component like “stand on top of your chair and sing” failure was basically guaranteed to be embarrassing.

            2. Mephane says:

              There is no thinking ahead in these tests. You either do exactly as told or you “˜fail'. It's the antithesis of teaching thinking.

              Quoted for truth.

      4. Humanoid says:

        Curious, never encountered anything like that personally, anyone seen it done *not* in America?

        And perhaps they could double-bluff:
        10) Do not complete this test
        11) The previous statement is a lie

        1. Corpital says:

          Aye, a math teacher once let us do one of these things in 8.grade.
          But I have to admit it was in no way official. He found a test on the internet, let all the teachers do it at a meeting and then did it with his classes, so he had a reason to gloat about all the teachers failing.

        2. That’s the “detect any robot replicants in the classroom” test.

        3. Bubble181 says:

          Yes, I did have a test like this. It was early in the year, and helped prepare us for some other tests later, where, indeed, the order ofg answering the questions mattered quite a lot (and answering them “out of order” was usually easier).

          It also helps in determining priorities: every year you’re going to have tests where you can’t possibly complete *all* questions properly. Starting at the top and going to the bottom is a crappy approach to those. Depending on the grading system, it’s either best to start wit the questions you’re most sure of the answer, or those you can answer fastest, or those worth most points. Working top-to-bottom and staying stumped and staring at an empty page for question #5 while you could’ve easily answered questions #6-#75 is rather a waste.

        4. Steve C says:

          I remember doing a trick-test like that more than once when I was back in school 20yrs ago. This was in Canada.

          I didn’t come to the same conclusions about that ‘lesson’ that Akri, Paul, ehlijen or Mephane came to.* On the surface I took it as a lesson in reading comprehension. And under the surface, a lesson on trust, gullibility, and ‘the sniff test’. As in, “Does this past the sniff test?” Those were never normal tests. There was always something off about them.

          Those tests were never able to fool me. Not because I blindly followed directions. Nor because the order of operations. But really because I balk at following stupid directions. If I suspect someone or something is trying to manipulate me I change gears and try and work out how. Also I’m a little lucky in that I can turn on speed-reading whenever I want so there was little opportunity cost to reading ahead for me personally.

          The question then becomes is this a test with *value?* I’d have to say yes. The lesson is different things to different people but there is a takeaway there. A lesson to be learned even if it’s not the same lesson for all people.

          * And speaking of reading everything- stuff like this is why I reread past posts here for the comment threads. I love that so many valid perspectives were different than mine. It forces me to think.

        5. Xapi says:

          My mother had to take a test similar to the described during a workplace seminar and/or interview sometime in the late ’90s.

          I live in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

  10. arron says:

    One theory I came up with when I was drunk in the early 1990s (and could still drink) was that games with shooting simplified your world through removing your enemies, whereas games with sex multiplied your problems by filling it with more entities using more memory.

    In addition, shooting someone is a quick and easy act you can repeat again and again, whereas procreation is a complex exercise in impressing the opposite sex, commitment, dealing with domestic issues for years and working to support your family. The data requirement for back story in a shooter is minimal, whereas in a relationship it is everything.

    One of these games lends itself to a limited 16-bit hardware platform with little RAM and poor floppy-based storage options, and the other would probably need a Cray to do it justice.

    Also this:


    ..where Charlie Brooker imagines the life and family of every Nazi mook he murders seconds later.

    1. Thomas says:

      I love the bit in that episode with Dara O’Brien. More designers need to look at games from the perspective of those sorts of people.

      I’ve also just now realised it has my perfect visulations of MMORPGs. In the RPG definition it has a guy wandering around with a wizards hat. In the MMORPG, the guy wandering around in a wizards hat with a bunch of strangers knocking into him.

  11. deda says:

    Well, the first point is just not true, I don’t know if this is different in America but in my experience people do have different reactions to violence as much as they do to sex, the best example I can think of is my grandma, who is ok even with full frontal nudity, but will change the channel at the sight of a single drop of blood.

    The second point if I understood correctly is that sex is different from violence because people are alright with being “grossed out” but not with being aroused, which seems like a pointless thing to say, I mean, the question was “why is this society ok with violence and not sex?”, and your answer was “because people in this society are ok with experiencing violence and not sex”, or in other words “this society is ok with violence and not sex because this society is ok with violence and not sex”.

    (In this paragraph I start to get a bit offtopic and angry, but I still feel the need to say this)

    And finally, I got the impression that you belive that this problem is just people having different opinions (I’m going to talk about video games here, I don’t know about American TV), just like people who argue about which genre is better or what’s the definition of an RPG, and that’s not the case, this is about one side not tolerating the other’s existence. For example, I’ve been in this web site for a while and I couldn’t help but notice how every single time that any form of cheesecake appears in a game, you or somebody else will say some variation of “this is here to pander to hormonal teenagers” (wich I belive would qualify as “mindless sheeple” in your list of #1 answers), and everywhere else there’s game “journalists” and “reviewers” constantly ranting about cheesecake being evil and insulting everyone who would dare to enjoy it, there’s censorship in localization, campaigns to pressure developers into censoring themselves, etc… . And I’m pretty sure that in at least 99% of the cases the “prude” side is the one who starts the fight, because I’ve never seen anyone starting a controversy over a game not containing enough cheesecake, this is not a disagreement, this is a full assault. So yeah … sometimes I get a little upset and when I’m insulted I insult back.

    1. Shamus says:

      Let’s walk it backwards:

      Are you okay with hardcore group sex being on in the middle of the afternoon where kids will see it? Do you want that sort of thing to show up at random when watching a movie with (say) members of your close family? That would be REALLY uncomfortable, yes? (If you’re fine with it, then okay. But realize you’re vastly different from most people, American or not.)

      So the line needs to be drawn SOMEWHERE. We agree that hardcore sex is bad for family viewing. But no matter where we draw the line, it’s going to be arbitrary.

      On one side, you have companies with an incentive to push things as far as they can. You say that the “prudes start it”, but that’s ignoring actions taken by the other side. A company makes something that goes just a little farther than usual, and the prudes push back. And each side believes the other is to blame.

      I don’t know where you get the impression that anyone is insulting you. For the record, I think adult content absolutely has a right to exist and we shouldn’t mock people who consume it. The trick is that we can’t agree on where to draw the line between “BAN THIS FILTH IT SHOULDN’T EXIST” and “Porn in broadcast television”.

      1. Akri says:

        “So the line needs to be drawn SOMEWHERE. ”

        No it doesn’t. At least, we don’t need any kind of official line that everyone must abide by. Everyone can decide what their personal line is, and adjust their media-consumption habits accordingly. If you* don’t want to see sex, then avoid media with sex in it. Same with violence. Don’t want your kids seeing naked people on tv during the day? Don’t put on any channels which have that sort of content during the day.

        The only reason to have an official “line” is if one group want to enforce their viewing habits on everyone else. If Bob doesn’t want to have naked people on tv during the day when his kids are around, then that’s totally fine. He can keep that channel off, or even set parental controls so that the channel is blocked. But it’s also perfectly fine if Susan wants to watch the Sexy Fun Times show during the day. She shouldn’t be prevented from doing so because Bob doesn’t want to see it. That’s what the line does–it prevents Susan from getting the content she wants, because Bob doesn’t like it. It’s not enough for Bob to not see the Sexy Fun Times show, he had to make sure that nobody sees it.

        *That’s a hypothetical “you”, not you you. You. U. Ewe.

        1. Shamus says:

          I agree, except for the problem of television where it was all or nothing. In broadcast TV, you can’t block airwaves from entering your house. (Parental controls are a relatively new thing. They didn’t appear until the 90’s, and I’m sure they weren’t commonplace until last decade. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some places still didn’t have them.) So your only option was to not buy a TV, thus depriving yourself of the most convenient, cheap, and ubiquitous forms of communal entertainment in the 20th century. And if your answer is “So don’t get a TV then, screw you!” then it’s not surprising when the prudes turn around and throw that contempt back in your face, banning stuff you want. (That’s also a hypothetical you.)

          It was a system where one group got what they wanted at the expense of another. Sad times.

          Yes, parental controls have largely rendered the television worries moot. (Assuming we have decent labeling.) I think this is wonderful.

          1. Humanoid says:

            I had to look up the broadcast rules here, and can verify that “mature content” (the M rating) can be broadcast starting 8:30pm here, as well as from noon to 3pm on school days. There’s a stricted MA rating that can only be shown after 9pm.

            I remember when I was a kid, that meant that if I had the day off school due to being sick of something, I might see some nudity in the midday movie. :) But other than that, it works well enough, parents could reasonably be expected to be around to supervise TV access from that time of night until bedtime.

            If Wikipedia is to be believed, in the US it’s a simpler rule of 10pm in all cases. Surely that’s easily enough dealt with?

            1. Shamus says:

              “Surely that's easily enough dealt with?”

              Just to be clear: I’m not arguing for any particular standards. I’ve been trying to present the “but what about the children?” case as fairly as I could, but I don’t see myself as part of that fight. I don’t watch television and I’ve never argued for any laws or restrictions. I’m just trying to make it understandable why people might want to do so. They’re people who love their kids, and they often face challenges and situations that never dawned on me as a single man. Some of my columns are me explaining things to arrogant young 90’s Shamus, and hoping other people find the perspective useful.

          2. Akri says:

            [The ‘you’s continue to be hypothetical. English really needs a new word for this, so that we don’t need these stupid disclaimers.]

            “In broadcast TV, you can't block airwaves from entering your house.”

            But you can change the channel. Or turn it off when there’s nothing on you want to see. And if there’s never anything on you want to see, then the correct answer is indeed to not buy a television (for the same reason you shouldn’t buy a book you don’t want to read, or buy a radio if you hate all music/radio shows).

            “And if your answer is “So don't get a TV then, screw you!” then it's not surprising when the prudes turn around and throw that contempt back in your face, banning stuff you want. ”

            It’s not surprising, but it’s also neither reasonable nor fair. One side is saying “hey, this content exists; enjoy if you like and ignore if you don’t.” The other side is saying “you aren’t making the content we like, so we’re going to ban the stuff you are making so that NOBODY can enjoy it, and that way you HAVE to make stuff we like.” One side is letting everyone do what they like. The other side is forcing people to do what they want.

            Sometimes you don’t get what you want. Being an adult means accepting that fact. If that means there isn’t a single show on television that you can enjoy, then tough. Put on your big-kid panties and deal with it.

            1. Shamus says:

              “But you can change the channel. Or turn it off when there's nothing on you want to see.”

              Really? You’re okay with just channel-surfing with the kids and grandma in the room and you hop past a channel where (say) a group of people are having messy, noisy, fluid-exchange type sex?

              As someone who was exposed to something much milder than that at a young age, I promise you that such a thing would be deeply traumatic for some kids. It’s not a matter of “ignoring” it. It’s a matter of being accidentally exposed to something that is deeply upsetting. People generally don’t want that kind of danger coming from their supposedly family entertainment device.

              The idea (again, remember that I’m talking in the context of the 80’s and 90’s) was that TV was a public space. It was broadcast to everyone, and there was no way to filter what came in. Saying “don’t look” is like saying “if you don’t want to see me doing [something awful] in the street then don’t look out your front window.” There really was no good answer that could make everyone happy.

              “Sometimes you don't get what you want. Being an adult means accepting that fact. If that means there isn't a single show on television that you can enjoy, then tough. Put on your big-kid panties and deal with it”

              The other side would say, “Right back at you.”

              1. Akri says:

                “Really? You're okay with just channel-surfing with the kids and grandma in the room and you hop past a channel where (say) a group of people are having messy, noisy, fluid-exchange type sex?”

                Yes. I wouldn’t enjoy the experience, and I’d change the channel so fast it’d probably create a rift in space-time, but these things happen. Sometimes it’s sex on tv, other times it’s the dog humping a house guest. If you’re as unlucky as a friend of mine, it’s you stumbling upon grandma’s box of sex toys (he shared that knowledge with me, and now I pass the terror along to all of you. SHARE MY MISERY!)

                “As someone who was exposed to something much milder than that at a young age, I promise you that such a thing would be deeply traumatic for some kids.”

                OK, this is an argument that has merit. If actual harm is being done then we can’t just ignore it. In this case I think it comes down to 1) the actual chance of harm, and 2) the role of surrounding circumstances [for instance, if the harm is because kids are confused by what they see, then it could be dealt with by parents talking to their children about it].

                Unfortunately I don’t think there’s a lot of reliable research on the topic, because in order to really study this you’d have to expose some kids to objectionable content, which people obviously take issue with. It’s really difficult to say how certain media affects children. Even in cases like yours where someone can say “I experienced X, and Y happened” there are tons of variables we can’t account for. Heck, we might even be harming the psychological growth of some children by preventing them from seeing some sexual content, in the same way that providing overly-safe playgrounds might actually be harmful to child development. Sometimes reality is counter-intuitive, and if we ban something because it seems to be harmful, without actually studying it, then we’re at serious risk of doing a very bad thing (albeit for very good reasons).

                I think I’m starting to veer off topic, so I’ll just end things here. Thanks for the chat, you’ve given me something to ponder :)

              2. silver Harloe says:

                Is the harm from seeing sex universal, or cultural?

                I seem to remember reading that kids who grew up on farms (and thus inevitably saw animals having sex, while he kid was at a young age) not being particularly traumatized by it, and their birds and bees conversation was a lot easier and earlier: “dad, what are the pigs doing?” “making baby pigs. humans do that, too. that’s how we made you.”

                but maybe I read or remembered that wrong. I was a suburbanite, myself, so don’t have direct experience with this (never saw the cats doin’ it. but they’re nocturnal and shy).

                1. Akri says:

                  I have a friend who grew up on a farm, and his experience was just as you described. Sex wasn’t a taboo topic; it was just a thing that happened.

                  Same thing with seeing violence/gore. Slaughtering chickens was a normal part of life, so witnessing a certain amount of violence doesn’t phase him.

                  1. Henson says:

                    I hate to be that guy, but…”faze”.

                    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      “I hate to be that guy”

                      Come on,be honest with us:You dont.

                    2. Akri says:

                      Your not the boss of me–I’ll spell things how I want!


                2. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Sex depicted on tv,however,is often not just sex.Theres rape,theres kinky sex,and then theres the hardcore pornography which is very far removed from actual real life sex.

                  Now,none of these are automatically harmful to anyone,but for plenty some context is required before you experience it.And there is also the fact that different people experience stuff differently.For example,I had no trouble playing mortal kombat as a kid.Meanwhile a friend of mine yelped when I did a fatality to her,and she didnt want to play with me for day after that.

                  Same goes for various depictions of sex.And its up to parents to know their children and decide if they can handle such stuff and should be exposed to them.However,they cannot do that if they dont know where such stuff can be found(lack of labels on dvds and theater posters,lack of description for cable tv programs,varying broadcast stuff for broadcast tv,etc).

                3. RCN says:

                  The cultural aspect of it is very interesting. In fact, a lot of the tabu of sexuality and children is very much an european/middle-eastern invention. In African tribes, puberty is pretty much marriage-age, and one could argue that they’re just following what is most biologically natural. In most of Asia sexuality was private, but not something you’d hide from children, only from people outside of family. In Japan the lower classes had no qualms about the sexual act in front of their young children until about WW2, and it only changed then because of American influence (another piece of American influence is the use of female underwear. Until the American occupation, it was perfectly natural for woman to wear nothing under their skirts and it wasn’t taboo for them to be exposed like this).

                  I studied under one of the foremost linguistics experts here in Brazil, and he gave some interesting accounts on tribal culture of the many, many indigenous tribes on the Amazon. For most tribes children are taught about sex from very, very early age. As in, as soon as they are old enough to speak. Young girls dream about puberty when they must endure the excretion of bad-blood so their breasts can grow and they can become desirable for the boys (one tribe’s mythological understanding of the biological process). Biology still makes the children grossed out by their opposite gender until puberty, but they realize how it’ll happen and when. Sometimes girls are married before their puberty and are taught what is expected of them once they reach it. Sexuality is just one of many lessons children are expected to learn even though they’re not expected to take part in until they’re much older, like hunting, making food (fun fact, most Amazonian tribes know how to make bread of some form or another from their available resources), building, etc…

                  Heck, even in our very own prude Europe there were plenty of arranged marriages between royalty of very old men with really young women… and sometimes even the opposite. One of the kings of Portugal was married in his 40s to a 12 years old. Though there’s understandably little historic accounts on how well these children adjusted to their sexual lives… or even if they were even aware.

                  This makes me wonder if the only reason a child can become traumatized by sexuality is precisely because of how much of a taboo it is and how little they understand it (that is, precisely nothing). In my case, my mother is uncomfortably open about sexuality. I’ve never caught my parents or anything like that, but when I was 10 years old she had shown me a playboy. I was less grossed out or traumatized by that than I just thought my mother was really, really weird (she’s an art teacher… whatever that means in this context).

              3. Ilseroth says:

                I completely understand your argument and I agree that with Broadcast TV and even Cable TV this is an issue since you have all the access at all points in time. Really the only option would be to carefully monitor the TV at all points in time? When kids are involved? Yeah no chance.

                That being said, with video games I think they already have a proper system in line assuming the consumer is properly informed when buying the game. This assumes a level of responsibility that the U.S.A. generally tends to lack…

                I mean, its on the box and the punishment for selling an underaged kid a mature rated game is significant. The box information not only rates it (as a movie would) but provides specifics (Violence, Drug Use, Sexual Content). But as someone who worked temporarily at a game store, the sheer number of people who return mature games after they purchased it for a young kid and blamed the store was… more then I expected and I trend to expect for the worst.

      2. Mephane says:

        So the line needs to be drawn SOMEWHERE. We agree that hardcore sex is bad for family viewing. But no matter where we draw the line, it's going to be arbitrary.

        Well I’d say at the very least the line should be consistent and equal between the genders. As in, if a bare-chested man is fine, so should be bare-chested woman.

    2. Benjamin Hilton says:

      As to your second point: What he is saying is not that people are okay being grossed out but not aroused. He is saying most people will be reliably grossed out by violence, yet sex will cause a wide range of emotions in any given group of people.
      Since most directors/game developers are trying to elicit an emotion in an audience, having a section where you lose control of what individuals are experiencing is a tad bit counter productive.

      “I wanted to elicit emotion A with this sex scene but only 30% of play testers felt that. The rest felt emotions B, C, F, and Q”

      1. Cinemas says:

        And then that one guy who felt response Pi r squared.

        Sex is harder to do in video games for another good reason: if you get it wrong, you’re hated by boatloads of people. Getting it right isn’t very popular either, for reasons already outlined.

        As far as religions go? I think there’s this weird bleed through problem: what they treat like an article of religion is in fact a cultural more. It gets hodgepodged in with other cultural taboos, and then it creates heartbreaking conflicts.

        Separating those becomes a headache though.

        Hey, can anyone think of a time where sex is used ‘appropriately’ within the context of a story in a game? That is, not meant to tittilate, but to show character relations or arcs moving?

        1. Vermander says:

          I think games could do a better job of establishing how characters becoming lovers impact group dynamics.

          Maybe the PC starts a relationship with Susan. Chris also had a thing for Susan, and now acts jealous and passive agressive towards the PC. Meanwhile, Bob is uncomfortable with group members dating and expresses concern that the PC will not be able to treat Susan as just another team member when the situation calls for it. Maybe Susan and the PC are members of different races or cultures and some of the team members are disgusted by their “filthy elf love” or whatever.

          Some of the Bioware games touch on this, but it usually doesn’t have too big an impact.

          Heck, there are some situations in Mass Effect where Commander Sheppard should be court martialed for fraternization. Most military oganizations are not okay with people hooking up with their commanding officers.

          1. Wide And Nerdy says:

            There’s also the issue with Susan being held back from assignments because the Commander won’t put her in harms way when she herself wants to do her part. Star Trek TNG has a good episode about this where Picard showed that he was willing to do so, but once he actually experienced it, he realized that he couldn’t keep doing it so he broke up with her.

            Then again, I don’t know how you systemize that part of it without getting tacky about it. It would probably involve the relationship having a mechanical benefit for the PC (like a morale bonus to stats, least tacky way I can think to do it) while loss of the relationship would cause loss of the benefit and an impediment of some kind. Yes I know the benefit of the relationship should be the relationship itself but until we can do the type of AI Shamus was talking about, thats not going to happen.

            The other possibility would involve just writing tons of content for it making to player want to hold onto the relationship so that they can experience all of it. That is where I think Bioware romances typically fall short. At some point you know you’ve experienced the relationship content, and its hard to feel attached to a character who never has more to say after that (I’m looking at you Liara.) Morrigan was probably their best effort. The most twists and turns.

            The reason I’m talking about incentivizing the romance is because otherwise you don’t really feel the tension of the situations you were talking about when other characters express objections to your relationship. It becomes too easy to sacrifice the relationship when such tension happens, for the good of the mission.

      2. Nidokoenig says:

        “I wanted to elicit emotion A with this sex scene but only 30% of play testers felt that. The rest felt emotions B, C, F, and Q”

        Then set your budget accordingly and customise your ad copy to target that 30%, anyone else liking it is a happy accident. Not everything has to appeal to everyone, especially sex: “Right, we’ve these two guys going at it, how do we make that appeal to straight men?”. That’s one thing that’s pretty important, you can’t cater to everyone’s sexual preferences at once and many are (mostly) mutually exclusive, but you don’t get quite the same hard barriers with violence, people can appreciate a good fight or tense battle even if there are stylistic choices that don’t agree with them. When your budget is $HOWMUCH?! you can’t split the audience any more than absolutely necessary.

        1. Wide And Nerdy says:

          Why do we have to focus on this? Sex, like anything else, only seems big because you’re so close to it. The Universe is so much more than that and video games can give us experiences from it that we could never hope to have in real life.

          I feel like we’re all straining at the bars of a cage, only those bars are merely keeping us out of a small box and the whole wide world is at our backs unseen because we’re so focused on this.

        2. Benjamin Hilton says:

          Ok but the point is you can’t market to the 30% because you don’t know who they are. Feelings about sex are highly personal. It’s not like every 20-30 year old male feels this way and every 30-40 woman feels that way. it is utterly subjective and different for every person.

    3. Deoxy says:

      And I'm pretty sure that in at least 99% of the cases the “prude” side is the one who starts the fight

      If by “prude”, you mean the ones that want something to not be shown (nudity or violence, depending on the topic), and by “starts the fight”, you means “want something not to be shown”, then you’re pretty much definitionally right.

      The problem is that, for someone to not want something shown and have to say something about it, then someone else was wanting to show it, and the “prudes” would say that the other person started it by doing such a thing.

      99%+ of people want there to be a line, somewhere, of what is allowable in public. If you’re saying that there simply shouldn’t be any such lines, you’re in a vanishingly small minority. That’s fine, just don’t act all surprised when 99%+ of people absolutely disagree with you, eh?

      And, from below:

      “So the line needs to be drawn SOMEWHERE. “

      No it doesn't. At least, we don't need any kind of official line that everyone must abide by. Everyone can decide what their personal line is, and adjust their media-consumption habits accordingly. If you* don't want to see sex, then avoid media with sex in it

      For me to avoid media with sex in it, it needs to be labeled as such, or I have to watch to find out I didn’t want to watch it. For it to be labeled, we need to have some kind of agreement about what the labels mean.

      For that to happen, the “prudes” have to constantly push back when those labels are infringed on (public nudity on prime-time TV in the Super Bowl halftime show, for a really silly example).

      So, if you actually are willing to accept that other people don’t want to watch some stuff, then there must be this sort of labeling and policing of said labels, where the “prudes” complain when the rules are broken. That’s what “accepting that some people don’t want to watch certain things” means, short of simply telling them to not get a TV (or look out their front window).

      1. Akri says:

        “For me to avoid media with sex in it, it needs to be labeled as such, or I have to watch to find out I didn't want to watch it. For it to be labeled, we need to have some kind of agreement about what the labels mean.”

        I’m fine with having some sort of standardized label system (and the industry seems to agree that this is a good idea–I’m not fine with it being a legally enforced thing, but that doesn’t seem necessary anyhow). But the idea of having a “line” isn’t merely that we should label things, but that things with certain labels should not be allowed in certain places/timeslots. It’s not just “if this has sex in it then it needs a ‘sex’ label so I know to avoid it”, but “if this has sex in it then it needs a ‘sex’ label, and it needs to not be shown at these times or these places, because I don’t want to see it.” It switches from “I don’t want to see this” to “I don’t want this to be seen by anyone.”

        If someone complains because shows with sex are supposed to get a label, and a certain show with sex didn’t get that label, then that’s a totally justified complaint. But if the complaint is “this has sex in it and it was on at a time when I personally don’t think such things should be shown” then that doesn’t strike me as a justified complaint.

  12. Shamus in the article you mentioned how sex might make yourself or those around you more aware or conscious of it.

    But the same is true for violence or comedy or drama on the TV/movie screen as well.

    Not laughing at the right time, laughing at the wrong time.

    Grinning when somebody gets killed, or getting grossed out when others do not.

    Heck, seeing guts throw at the camera can even turn some folks on.

    People are weird in that two people are not the same (“just like snowflakes”).

    But everyone are programmed to fit in, it’s the human herd mentality. if you defer too far from the social norms you get labeled a sociopath, even if there is “nothing inherently wrong with you” from a pragmatic or logical point of view.

    People usually do not want to be the odd one out in a crowd.

    Except in the few cases where somebody always try to be the center of attention.

    Myself unlike most, I have no issues with sex nor violence.
    I do however find the skewed balance towards violence vs nonviolence more illogical than the balance between sex and non-sex in media though.
    Humans are very violent creatures, I’m not going to name countries but getting stoned for showing your face (if female) is is just very skewed towards one direction in my opinion.

    Personally I see sex as a necessity for the survival of the species, but otherwise irrelevant to the individual. The chemical balance that some call love transcends sex in my opinion, sex can be part of it but is not a necessity for love.

    Take BioWare’s Mass Effect, or KoTOR or Dragon Age games, while the sex there is awkward (due to narrative method + technological limitations);
    the relationship between characters, like friendship to love to lovers actually work. The whole story arch of Tali min Mass Effect for example (if a relationship is pursued) likewise with Morrigan in Dragon Age.
    Those relationships would have worked with or without the “our last night together” scenes, but in my opinion it didn’t hurt to have them there either. I’m just saying that a relationship of love or the story of lovers can be told without sex.

    Which also means a story of war could be told without violence, without killing, without death. But many would consider that childish and brand it G as a rating right? I just find this very illogical.

    Also, nobody can say “won’ somebody think of the children” and get upset over Hot Coffee in GTA San Andreas when a grandmother buys the game for her 13 year old grandson (true story), a game rated 17+ or 18+ around the world.
    Likewise when parents take their kids to movies that (regardless of their rating) is clearly intended for adults thematically speaking.

    In the comments at the Escapist somebody mentioned visual novels, which is an excellent point. The Japanese are able to make adult games and adult anime, concepts that are still unusual in the non-Asian part of the world, adult games and adult cartoons and they are not porn? How can this be?

    Currently the visual novels and anime that are targeted at a mature audience suffer from no translations to bad translations, a good translation (even just in the form of subtitles) are rare.
    The amount of (existing) content is ridiculously high and the potential “western” market is huge.

    People poke fun of or chastise BioWare for a love scene or gay characters, while the Japanese industry has not only pioneered mature themes like this but broken niches and even mainstreamed them and sold thousands upon thousands if not millions of copies over the years in what the “western” would call a niche or stupid or needless content.

    I am of the belief that as long as it does not physically hurt anyone against their will then anything goes as far as movies, games and cartoons and books and other media go, provided that the target audience is mature enough to understand or handle the content. (after all what is the point of a game that the target audience do not understand)

    Unfortunately logic does not govern peoples perceptions, money do and often that money is influenced by religion and politics which more often than not ignores logic but I won’t go further into that as that would move away from social commentary into two areas that I promised Shamus I’d never go into.

    I will add a um, what’s it called, anthropological (!) tidbit though. The human mind is wired to be easily persuaded. So the fact that so many people seem to act like “sheeple” is actually because they are born that way, it’s genetic.

    Also as Shamus pointed out in the article. What most people consider “Normal” is actually not Normal it’s rather a sort of Average (Mean) or Median instead.

    What people except when they hear “Normal” is something closer to a Neutral or impartial point of view, as far s I know there are no Vulcans on Earth at this point in time and space.

    1. James says:

      Going off what you talked about in Mass Effect et al.

      Firstly i think Bioware are actually very good (at least for video games) at writing characters and interactions between them, and very bad at portraying sex up to this point, DA3 might be different but we don’t know yet.

      In the Bioware games it appears that sex was systematized, especially in DA 1 and 2, where their was an approval system. you got that high enough, either through dialogue or giving gifts and then said the right thing and BAM a awkward cut scene. certainly for people like me, like Shamus and probably like most people who read this blog we didn’t use the game mechanics to see a shitty sex scene we played the games to enjoy them and the interactions between characters, hell i’ve played DA1 about 6 times, each time slightly different. but some people have come to accept from Bioware a “insert gift/compliment, get sex” system and we can only hope this ends soon.

      Additionally The Witcher a series i talk about ALOT has drawn alot of flack from some people about its portrayal of sex, and certainly the first game with its stupid cards was, well stupid suffers from the same visual aspects as Bioware games, the appearance of, or the implantation of systematization in a “romance system” (ugh that hurt to say), however for its benefit i believe that the Witcher handles sex better then any other mainstream game, there is probably some indie games that do it better Katowa Shoju springs to mind, but i cant speak about that game from first hand experience.

      I wanted to talk about Witcher’s Sex and Procreation here but that started to balloon outward so ill summerise it, Witchers exist to fight monsters they could die in any fight, they are sterile and so sex as a means of procreation mean nothing, they are also belived to have a “high sexual appetite” additionally Geralt is said to fine relation ships “hard and confusing” probably due to events from the earlier books (Yennifer Ciri and Shani ect). there is also the fact that this is not only a fantasy universe but a medieval one.

      (also well Geralt is going on a quest involving his current girlfriend, his ex, his adopted daughter and probably another of his ex girlfriends i hope CDPR are up to the challenge of that :))

      1. CD Projekt RED, BioWare and….

        Damn, I’m drawing a blank on other developers. Who else does (romantic) relationships well (ignoring any sex here now).

        Um.. maybe some of the Final Fantasy games? (never played any for various reasons, one being few or no PC releases).

        Ooh. Obsidian (KoTOR 2 for example).

        I guess big developers and “Triple Doh” games go from “friend zone” to “Hot Coffee” with almost nothing in between, which is a big shame.
        Either that or I’ve missed a whole bunch of games that do or I’ve forgotten more than I thought. (I assume I’d recall any good games).

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          “Additionally The Witcher a series i talk about ALOT has drawn alot of flack from some people about its portrayal of sex, and certainly the first game with its stupid cards was”

          The card thing was not the (whole) problem.The very first sex you get is so dumbfounded that I stumbled into it without wanting to.Thats just idiotic.The rest I havent reached(because the gameplay was tedious mumorpuger stuff),but from what others said about it,the same problem existed in those.You get sex as a reward,and you basically stumble into it through awkward dialogue.Now I dont have a problem with casual sex,I have a problem with “I accidentally in your vagina” part.

          @Roger Hà¥gensen
          Bioware doesnt really do romance well all the time.I mean sure,tali was great,and liara evolved well,but ashbitch and kaiden?Especially with the stuff that happens in 2?Not to mention the “you accidentally in ashley” that happened in mass effect 1 spoiler warning.Or the thing about jacob.The problem with bioware is that all their romances now culminate in(often stupid looking)sex.But they do friendship much better,which is why I wish they would stick to that instead of culminating with a…well,culmination.

          1. Vermander says:

            I actually think the ending for the Jacob relationship was kind of creative in the Mass Effect series. It’s interesting that a love interest can leave the PC for reasons beyond their control. It shows that if you want to have a romantic relationship you also have to take the risk that it might not work out and you (or someone else) might end up getting hurt.

  13. The Rocketeer says:

    As a villain, a moron, and a mindless sheeple, I refuse to understand my own ideas, beliefs, and point of view.

    Consequently, I have no objections one way or another about sex or violence, both of which will assuredly corrupt our children and destroy human civilization.

    I have therefore long proposed that everyone partake of violent, sexual media as broadly and as often as possible, but refuse to speak of them in polite conversation, which should solve the problem as I understand it.

    1. syal says:

      I think having less communication in general will go a long way to solving world problems.

  14. Avatar says:

    You can’t really get past Japan here. They do make those games; not just pornography-in-game-format, but also games where hooking up is the gameplay rather than an excuse to put a naked girl on the screen, ranging anywhere from school romance to “big pimpin'” (so to speak), homoerotic fantasy, the ever popular Harem Strategy Game format, just about anything in between.

    So yeah, the reason they have that stuff, and we don’t have that stuff, is cultural – and there are reflections of it in, or it is itself a reflection of, the greater culture. The US has a significant gun culture and much higher rates of violence. The Japanese culture has woman-only subway trains in an attempt to address the problem of subway gropers (whereas here going onto mass transit and molesting women is virtually unknown and deeply creepy).

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      But, hang on, are you implying that “gun culture” is morally superior to… grope culture, for lack of a better term? I mean, one you say is bad, and the other you don’t judge one way or the other. Is that a result of an American mindset?
      I’m in Singapore, where both guns and groping will get you jailed and caned. And neither is a problem here at all!
      But does that mean that the culture is less interested in sex and violence? Not at all. In fact, I would say that it is MORE interested in it. Like Shamus said, if you can’t get something in your daily life, you’re going to be forced to seek it out if you want it.

      In short, you have some interesting points, but I think you’re vastly oversimplifying.

    2. Deoxy says:

      The US has a significant gun culture and much higher rates of violence.

      If you look at where the violence is and where the (legal) guns are, these two things are tremendously unrelated.

      If you look at non-gun violence and where the guns are, again, these two things are tremendously unrelated.

      Areas with a strong “gun culture” generally have exceedingly low violence rates.

      The only “gun culture” that overlaps significantly with high-violence areas would much more accurately be called “gang culture”, as there is a huge “gun culture” not remotely like “gang culture” that exists in very non-violent areas of the country.

  15. Dev Null says:

    I have no desire to have more sex in my videogames. Violence in games is generally both obviously fake and – here’s the important part – fun to simulate. It involves a lot of the sort of hand-eye skills that translate well to games. I have trouble imagining an online sex simulator that manages to translate sex into gameplay at any level of ludicrousness short of Leisure Suit Larry. (Though by all means, write the game and prove me wrong…)

    That said, I find the discussions of sex vs. violence, especially as regards to censorship, particularly interesting because of the years I spent living in Australia in the late 90s. At the time, Australian censorship in movies and television was _much_ laxer with regards to nudity and sex, and _much_ stricter about censoring violence. (I’d be careful about drawing too many broad conclusions about differences between Australian and American culture by the way; I’m not convinced that the attitude of their censors accurately reflected the attitude of their culture, as at least partially evidenced by the changes since that time…) Even so, and even when protesting about censorship in general, they seemed generally less shocked by sexual content, and more troubled by violence, than Americans.

    I don’t think this proves anything except perhaps your first point Shamus: “Your particular standards for what is “offensive” are no more valid than anyone else’s.” Their standards are/were different. But it’s worth applying that same thought to the rest of your arguments: just as their standards were different, this could also be true of the degree to which their passive media was communal, and the degree of different responses to violence and sex. So your observation that the differences in reactions to sex is what makes it more shocking may well be true – for people for whom the reactions are different – but by no means universally so (not that you ever claimed that, but it seemed worth emphasizing.)

  16. Torsten says:

    There have been some cases where the gaming community itself has been unwelcoming towards sex and sexuality in video games. Dating sims have probably had the worst treatment of any genre outside of Japan. Rather than seen as a genre that has a lot of bad games, the genre itself is seen as bad and stupid.

    Back when Steam introduced their Greenlight service, there was a Dutch game company trying to bring their erotic dating sim called Seduce Me into the service. The game was taken away in a couple hours because of the user uproar about it being there. It was a vocal group among the Steam users that said they do not want games with sexual content in their gaming service, not even for others to have access to them.

    It can be discouraging for game designers to handle nudity and sexuality in their games if the gaming community shows unwillingness to have games that do so.

  17. Tizzy says:

    Let me comment before reading the column.

    Don’t hit me, I’m commenting on what Shamus wrote here…

    Shamus mentions boobs in 80's movies, I was going to go further and mention the obligatory sex scene, usually in the lull before the climax (sorry). They may have been more prevalent in the 70's, though off the top of my head, Top Gun had a fairly awkward one, not to mention Ghost..

    Having porn to thank for their disappearance never ocurred to me. I had always assumed it was the transition from the heady days of 70’s sexual revolution to more conservative public mores that had changed things, but now both explanations strike me as equally likely, or complementary.

  18. Paul Spooner says:

    Another perspective to add to the discussion.
    Depictions of violence, in addition to producing disgust, also tend to encourage those watching to “band together” in an instinctual gesture of defense.

    Sexual behavior, conversely, draws only those participating in it closer, and generally drives everyone else apart (whether for privacy, reproductive exclusivity, etc). In media, this is either all on the screen (thus driving the audience away from the media) or between the screen and each individual (thus driving the audience away from each-other). Either way, as Shamus said, it’s hardly conducive to a shared group experience.

    With that in view, I think it’s actually better for all shared media to be completely free from sexual content, as this serves the audience the best. Violence, on the other hand, helps the audience feel connected, like a community, a feeling much lacking in modern society.

  19. Cuthalion says:

    This was an excellent article.

  20. James says:

    “”Computers are too stupid to act as a proper conversational foil for the player. The best you could do is have a BioWare-style conversation wheel, and that would probably be really sad and awkward.””

    First why would it be sad, assuming we can get it well written, the player doesn’t need 10000 responses, and we don’t need a computer that can respond naturally to these 1000 responses. if the character is blank, we honestly in my mind don’t need VO for the PC, because the character can be anyone and we can make lots of text responses and spend the saved money on more VO for other characters, have no VO at all and have 1000000000 choices.

    If the PC is voiced then they should be characterized, even if its a choice between 3 styles (rene para neutral) instead right nowBbioware somehow does both a blank VO’d PC with no characterization and conversations with it are like looking into the mind of a person with multiple personality syndrome.

    But why cant we have a game, about sex or one in which sex plays a role in the relationships of the characters, ‘cus get this chaps sometimes people in relationships have sex. sure a game with heavy complicated theme and ideas isn’t something a sterotypical Fifa/COD fan will buy. but people bought Kataowa Shoju ‘cus it handled theme of sex relationships and disabilities better then any game ever made (not that it was flawless and not that i’ve played it but people who’s opinions i trust have). why cant we have more of that, we can do it in a “traditional game” cant we?

    Games dont need a better systematization of relationships, games flatout need better writing, and a better attitude to themes, sex cus sex sells is a shitty idea. David Gaider speaking about DA3 and how they have tried to make a relationship system that’s not a system and is instead a relationship gives me a glimmer of hope that someone, somewhere understands the issues games and sex face.

    Disclaimer: everything i say is my own opinion and thoughts, its not right its not wrong, it just what i believe, and i normally wouldn’t state that, but this issue is a hot button.

  21. Nidokoenig says:

    Personally, I think a lot of the reason we don’t get a lot of sex in videogames is because they’re still thought of as children’s toys, albeit ones that big people play with, too. If GTA of all things can be called out for having a dummied out sex game you need a hack to access, there’s evidently a problem.

    The reason that Japan has sexually explicit visual novels is because the PCs they played them on, such as the PC98, were work machines. They had higher resolution monitors than equivalent Western ones so that they could represent the complex ideogrammatic kanji in names of people and businesses for the purposes of spreadsheets, for example, whereas the toys that Nintendo and Sega made would primarily use the simpler alphabets that children would know because they were limited to TV resolution. This, combined with the higher resolution limiting what the graphics card could do in terms of sprites compared to a Western PC or any console, meant the PC and consoles were fairly neatly separated into adults and kids machines, with PCs being a grown-up space first and foremost, making it an easier sell to put adult only content on there.

    Another factor is the acceptance of anime and manga for adult audiences. Even with modern graphics, 3D models are not suitable for pornography unless a person has a specific preference for it no matter how much exposure they may have to 3D models through video games, whereas illustrated content can pass muster fairly easily, provided it’s a style the viewer is familiar with. It also requires much less data than video or 3D animation, so a few frames of art can be accompanied by text to convey the story and fire up the imagination, the most important sex organ of all.

    As for sex being forbidden on telly because different people react to it differently, I’m going to chime in with the chorus objecting to that. Medical dramas and documentaries are very common, as are medical situations in other series, in spite of people like me who will jump up and leave at the sight of surgery or a focus on an injury or injection. I just can’t be doing with it. Horror has a similar issue, as Mr Peepants demonstrates all too well. Sex is being treated differently to other kinds of content that we understand don’t appeal to all people all the time. It’s much more to do with the TV being the family funbox usually plonked in the centre of the living room and, as you say, the discomfort of being aroused around family members.

    1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      Not having been there myself, I don’t have first hand knowledge, but my friends who were stationed in Japan tell me that Japan’s reputation for overt sexuality, acceptance of manga/light novels/anime, and so forth is greatly exaggerated in the west. It is still very much a niche market, and a socially awkward one. Otaku is not, apparently, a compliment.

      Of course, the Japanese who hang around American military bases may not be balanced sample of the population, either.

      1. Nidokoenig says:

        Well, Japan doesn’t really have a reputation for overt anything, but the fact is that porn games and self-published dirty comics are an industry over there in a way they aren’t in the West. They’re not the topic of polite conversation, but they have their own space to do their thing in.

  22. Hal says:

    The best you could do is have a BioWare-style conversation wheel, and that would probably be really sad and awkward.

    First thing I thought of.

    But I’ll agree with your point about internet pornography acting as the better outlet of this particular drive. If you’re seeking titillation, there is literally no better means of finding it. Games will always fall short, since the entire idea is that rewards are held behind gameplay. Not being able to see boobs until you get past a puzzle is never going to be able to compete with not being able to see boobs until you type “boobs” into Google.

  23. Norman Ramsey says:

    Great column, Shamus. I never thought about the distinction between movies and games in that way before.

  24. MadTinkerer says:

    To mathematically describe something “sexy” you need a certain minimum amount of ability to depict roundness. Roundness is a pain in the butt compared to straight lines, which are easy. In order to depict violence, all you need is a dot that intersects with a polygon and “makes it disappear”. Violence is easy to program.

    That’s why Spacewar existed decades before Softporn (and Softporn was about as sexy as Spacewar was violent).

    I mean, yes, there’s the whole social aspect. But there are also practical reasons why things developed that way.

  25. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    I’m not so sure the cable companies are to blame -even there the most lurid stuff is segregated to the premium channels -and while I only have 3 markets of comparison, they appear to be usually grouped at the top or bottom of the order. The different reactions people have to sexual content (strictly speaking, in a mixed sex theater, there’s a good chance around half the audience is feeling a little weird) may be something.

    I’d suggest another issue is the length.

    There’s a scene in Braveheart where, during a battle, someone gets their hand cut off by an axe. I can’t watch it. But it takes half a second and I can blink and miss it, and even if I forget, it’s over before it registers. I feel a little sick afterwards, but it’s over. In 186 minute movie, if we added all the actual graphic violence up, we’d have less than a minute. Everything else is implied. Most of the battles in Braveheart are scenes of people’s faces while they scream war cries. You might see a sword swing, or a punch, or people running -but the actual violence? Stirling bridge is 7:15. The first 1:20 is horses running and Wallace looking dashing. The horses being gored lasts less than a minute, there are numerous cut aways,a lot of the violence is off screen (you see the King clubbing someone, but the focus of the screen is Wallace, who is just standing there while the English knight is actually of the lower right corner of the screen). At 2:40, the infantry attack, and we get another 40 seconds of people running and shouting. It’s just people hitting sticks together for 20 more seconds. The scene is now half over, and violence at all has made up less than a 2 minutes of it. Explicit violence? 5 to 10 seconds. 3:38 -Hamish kills a knight, but what do we see? A close-up of his screaming face. At this point we actually do start seeing more bloodshed -throats cut, men run through, but it’s quick, and in between we see people running and shouting. But it cuts away entirely at 4:27 -after less than a minute. After about 5 seconds, the Scottish cavalry charge starts another round of the ultra-violence (the scene I can’t watch is around 5:10). Even then, there’s a pause at 5:26 for 6 seconds while Wallace stares down a charging horse. Then another pause, and a head is chopped off -again, quickly. The fighting is over by 6:04.

    Falkirk is 9 minutes. York is only a couple. However long the execution is, nothing is shown -we get a closeup of Wallace’s face for most of the length, interspersed with crowds hots and the judge. In 186 minutes, let’s say 30 minutes is “battles.” Of that 30 minutes, only 15 is actual fighting. And of that 15, the actual infliction -on camera -of mortal wounds is measured in single minutes if not in scores of seconds. Separated by highs and lows. And the violence is actually an integral part of the story since Wallace is important in part for being a military leader.

    By comparison, the Archie sex scene from Watchmen runs 1:51, and 1:40 of that is the sex. There are, by my count, at least 2 other sex scenes in the movie, 3 if you count the rape of the original Silk Specter. When shot well, it’s a lot like the battle scenes -actors’ faces, establishing shots, et cetera. Zach Snyder actual says it’s like choreographing a wrestling match in the 300 DVD commentary. But when done badly, we get a movie’s worth of violence of sex delivered all at once.

    I can think of a couple movies that delivered violence that way. They are called gorn.

  26. MichaelG says:

    Shamus, you are coming at this as a cultural issue, with some nods to varying standards and “what about the children?” This is the way this has been discussed for decades. Try coming at it from a technology point of view.

    In some rural 19th century world, the children were raised at home on the farm, and information only got in via newspapers and books. Parents had complete control, and nothing was read that they didn’t actively pay for.

    Public schooling meant that your kids would see things you didn’t approve of (and spend more time with other kids who weren’t raised right), and was immediately controversial. The result was a safe, dumbed down curriculum. Not much politics or history, and lets leave evolution to the end of the term (oops, ran out of time!)

    Radio puts us into modern territory. Now you and your family might get all sorts of news, politics and entertainment that you didn’t approve of. It was impossible to keep the kids away from it. And politically, the reaction was decency standards for radio that were stronger than the standards for books.

    With that precedent set, the same held for movies and television. The argument was that this stuff was all broadcast and audiences were exposed to it like it or not, so it had better be unobjectionable.

    Even before radio, there were lots of arguments about popular culture poisoning our minds. The same article you wrote was written about about “romance and crime novels”, then about comic books and radio serials, then about trashy TV and movies.

    But technology strikes back. Starting in the 1970s, we have cable TV. Now you have to pay for HBO and Showtime. Publishers could argue that this is not broadcast but a choice to bring the content into your house, so decency standards should be relaxed. They won that argument, and we even had Playboy Channel if you wanted to pay for it.

    Access by children is a problem even when the content isn’t broadcast — you could look at Dad’s Playboy magazine, or view Showtime movies when the parents weren’t around. Industry didn’t really have an answer for that, and there was more yelling about popular culture ruining our morals.

    Now we have the internet. The viewer is choosing which content to display, so there should be no need for a decency standard. Plus the internet is international, so anything any country allows is available to all.

    For adults, the problem is just one of search and description. I don’t want lots of porn to pop up when I search for “breast cancer.” I don’t want to click on an innocent link and get something really vile. But neither of these things happen to me, and I even have “safe search” turned off in Google. So technology is handling this problem pretty well already.

    But even more than before, access by children is a problem. I’m very tolerant and want a very free flow of information, but there is pornography out there that will burn your eyes out. There’s no way I want a kid seeing that! There’s no way I want your average stupid teen to be looking through “how to make a bomb” pages either.

    You are framing this as “how can video games handle sex, and should they?” But the more general question is “In a diverse world with many cultural standards, how do you control the flow of information?”

    Part of me hates the phrase “control the flow of information”, because I know that some groups (say the new Islamic State) would severely restrict what their members are allowed to see. I don’t really want to build the technical infrastructure for people to live in a bubble.

    On the other hand, I don’t want a lowest-common-denominator internet either, where any country can veto material for everyone. Even the recent “right to be forgotten” that the Europeans are talking about is pretty dangerous. It’s just going to be used by politicians to bury their past.

    So clearly “one standard for all” is unworkable. Is there any room between that and “each in his own bubble world, seeing only what he wants to see (or is allowed to see).” Because I think that’s where the world is headed.

    Up to now, American standards have prevailed, and even conservative nations see our TV, our movies, hear our music and now, view our internet. That’s not going to last. Do we techies have another answer?

    1. Shamus says:

      I agree with everything you just said. And in the long run, I’m way more afraid of controls ending up in the wrong hands than of my kids being accidentally exposed to something bad. (And by “wrong hands” I mean, “Anyone with the means to enforce them”.)

      I certainly don’t have an answer for how you handle this long-term, although the bubble approach seems to be doing not a bad job overall. Back in the 90’s it was a nightmare and I saw a lot of stuff I didn’t mean to see, but the wild west seems to be getting civilized.

    2. Paul Spooner says:

      “even more than before, access by children is a problem.”
      I think you will find that if you remove this premise, all of the “problems” you are worried about disappear.
      Contrary to your statement, pornography can not burn your eyes out. Information on making bombs will not cause bombs to materialize by magic. All of the bad consequences of “dangerous information” requires human decisions and action, and enabling people to make good decisions and good actions is what training children is all about.

      I have four children of my own that I love very dearly. But I have rejected the lie that there is any information that a person is “not ready for.” Children are able to assimilate and accept absolutely anything. It is the mind of adults that is fragile.
      I don’t seek to expose them to every perversion possible, but I don’t shield them from it either. Instead, I instruct them about the plain effects of whatever it is they are interested in or experiencing.

      Now, to give your argument credit, my oldest is just turning five, so I don’t know if this approach will work quite as well as they grow older. None of them have asked about sex or violence or slavery or other “difficult topics” yet. But I’m pretty sure that it’s not going to be a problem unless my wife and I make it a problem for them.

      So, I deny your premise and thus your conclusion. We don’t need to limit the flow of information. We don’t need the government to protect our children. We just need to be better parents.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        If your kid can process fake violence or sexual perversions,great.I could when I was a kid.But the important thing here is:Not everyone is the same.I gave an example for that above(a friend of mine was not that good at processing fake violence like me).No,children are not able to process anything.SOME children are,but not all.

        I mean,by your logic all children should skip grades and train three sports because I know a kid that skipped some grades and trains three sports simultaneously.Also,all children should learn three foreign languages atop their native ones because I was able to learn three foreign languages when I was a kid.Do you see why thats a false argument you have there?

        Same goes for bomb making.I was extremely inquisitive as a kid,and the amount of stuff that I burned and mixed before I hit puberty is staggering.I cant imagine what wouldve happened if I were to find out how to make home made bombs.

        So yes,parents definitely need to have a way to limit the content their kids can access,because some will need to do that.

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          I don’t see how this necessitates altering media or distribution in any way. Parents already have the power to limit their children’s experiences. Parents don’t have to let their children have access to school, television, internet, books, or anything else in the outside world. If your kids can’t handle those things, don’t expose them. Full stop.

          I think what this is really about is that parents don’t want to take responsibility for their children. They want to offload the responsibility onto content creators, or content distributors, or babysitters, or the government, or educators, or whoever else interacts with them. They do this to keep from having to own their failures and flaws, which children magnify for all to see. It feels good to say “My kids have an unhealthy interest in sex because of sexy advertisements on the TV!” when the truth is probably closer to “My kids have an unhealthy interest in sex because I don’t know how to explain or model healthy sexuality for them.”

          It’s the responsibility of parents to take care of their children. They (or, should I say, “We”) already have all the tools we need. The outcry isn’t righteous outrage. It’s just whining and misplaced blame.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            “I don't see how this necessitates altering media or distribution in any way. Parents already have the power to limit their children's experiences. Parents don't have to let their children have access to school, television, internet, books, or anything else in the outside world. If your kids can't handle those things, don't expose them. Full stop.”

            Thats a dumb extreme.Why not let your kid watch stuff on tv that you deem safe,just because 1% of the channels has something you think they wouldnt handle well?It makes more sense to prevent them from viewing just that 1%.

            “I think what this is really about is that parents don't want to take responsibility for their children.”

            We arent talking about “think of the children” zealots here.We are talking about banning whole content from never being produced.We are talking about giving parents the option to prevent their children from accessing certain content,while simultaneously allowing others to access it.

            “It's the responsibility of parents to take care of their children. They (or, should I say, “We”) already have all the tools we need.”

            Except they dont.Like Ive mentioned above,the rating system sucks.Not just to the detrement of parents who want to protect their children,but to the detrement of creators and those who dont mind seeing some weird stuff.

            1. Steve C says:

              I don’t think that’s a dumb extreme. You are both making good points.

          2. Joe Informatico says:

            I agree with just about everything you’ve said, except the limiting of children’s experiences. In fairness, it’s a lot easier to control your children’s access to material when they’re five years old. It’s a whole different matter as they get older, and want to visit their friends’ houses, and now the material they can potentially access is dependent on the mores of other parents who don’t necessarily line up with yours. Or what’s openly available through easily-accessible media channels. Or what they learn in school. At some point, they’re going to have experiences beyond your control.

            Now, not to put words in your mouth, but I think you fundamentally agree with me, based on your statement “I don't seek to expose them to every perversion possible, but I don't shield them from it either. Instead, I instruct them about the plain effects of whatever it is they are interested in or experiencing.” So I’m probably quibbling over wording. But I think it’s more accurate to say, “Parents might not have complete control over their children’s experiences, but they have a lot of influence on how their children interpret and contextualize those experiences, and they need to exercise that influence.”

            1. Paul Spooner says:

              Oh, I totally agree that children become more and more out of parents control as they grow older. I’m pretty sure the whole “out of control teenager” thing is often a result of parents never willingly surrendering their control until absolutely necessary. It results in young adults unable to deal with life (college freshmen) and parents wringing their hands powerlessly. This is actually a powerful argument for exposing children to (and training them how to deal) with uncomfortable experiences while they are still young.

              So, yeah, I agree with your rephrasing, with the added principle that parents should surrender their power over their children as early as practicable. (see below on letting kids make mistakes in order to build trust)

      2. MichaelG says:

        I had a friend who almost put his eye out with a home made bomb as a kid. It was something to do with match heads and a bolt. I don’t know the details. The result was a bolt fragment imbedded in a tree about an inch from his head. If he had access to “The Anarchists Handbook”, who knows what he would have tried?

        And as for porn, spend a few minutes reviewing “Goatse” and “Two Girls, One Cup”, then get back to me. Oh, and throw in a few “Hellraiser”-style horror movies. I’m sure you want to talk to your kids about that…

        All that said, I do not want to restrict adult viewing in any way. But kids are a problem.

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          So, I’ll bet your friend learned a lesson about wearing safety glasses huh? That seems pretty valuable.
          Yeah, I tried getting my hands on the Anarchists Coook Book as a kid. The local library had a copy, but it was always marked “stolen” for some reason.

          Reviewed. Really, those examples seem like excellent arguments for my perspective. Nothing is going to turn kids off from perversions like seeing suddenly witnessing their final stages. People get hooked on this garbage through small steps, which are enforced by the “safeguards” which are ostensibly meant to guard against them. I don’t see how withholding information from people helps prevent this process in any way.

          It seems like your stance comes down to “People do stupid things! Shocking huh?” Is this the pith of your argument, or am I missing something?

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            “So, I'll bet your friend learned a lesson about wearing safety glasses huh? That seems pretty valuable.”

            So you teach your kids that fire is hot by letting them burn themselves?That electricity is dangerous by touching live wires?Somehow I really doubt that.

            However,thats not important because youve missed the point of what MichaelG was saying.

            “People get hooked on this garbage through small steps”

            1)No,they dont.
            2)Read again what Shamoose said about people driving slower and faster than you.

            1. Paul Spooner says:

              I do, actually, let them learn about fire by them burning themselves. It goes like this.
              Me: “This is hot, don’t touch it.” (I place the object within reach)
              Child: (touches object) “Ow!”
              Me: “It is hot, don’t touch it.”

              They have gotten a couple second degree burns this way, but now they understand exactly what “hot” means.

              And (more importantly) they have absolute trust that what I am saying is true. This, more than any possible rating system, will help me protect them from unhealthy experiences. But this requires consistent truthfulness, which is more than most parents seem to be able to pull off.

    3. Zak McKracken says:

      I’m very sceptical about expecting some regulating authority decide what is available and what not.

      For Background: The British government passed a law some months ago that requires ISPs to filter The Web. The idea is to keep some content from children. If you want the filter turned off, you need to register with your ISP.

      Problem with this: It cannot possibly work.
      1: Of course there’s still loads of sites with content that would be a very bad idea to show to your children, and as soon as they’re old enough to know what a name server is, they can get around it.
      2: It’s of course massively over-blocking. Some helpful websites for the LGBT community, sexual health and on drug abuse have been blocked, and the process for getting on the list is intransparent, as is the one for getting off of it (or realizing your site is being blocked in the first place).

      Oh, and the third problem of course: Worried parents with not much technical knowledge are encouraged by this to think their kids were “safe” now. The truth is that children have always and will always find ways around attempts to “protect” them from inappropriate content. Be it by looking at Daddy’s Playboy (BTW the fact that Daddy reads Playboy is much worse influence than the magazine itself IMHO) or other avenues of information.

      Next piece of background: The German government passed a law a few years ago toblocked unwanted websites. This was supposedly limited to child pornography (and of course nobody wants that), but of course overblocking happened very quickly, it did not do anything to curb child pornopraphy and was rejected by the supreme court a while later. It was then replaced by a programme where sites with illegal contents can be reported, are then classified by legal experts, and then the person who operates the website will be prosecuted if possible or at least the hosting company made to take the site down. Seems to work much better so far, and nobody is complaining.

      That said: Age ratings on movies and games are probably a good idea, although the process of how they come to be should be matter of much more debate. And there is still software that worried parents can use to block unwanted web sites.

      But in the end, I’m fairly convinced (although admittedly not being a parent) that it’s way better to prepare children to deal with inappropriate content (and guide them through the web as you would through the real world) than to think that it could ever be possible to find a push-button solution to the problem. Any technical solution can only be of limited use and comes with many potential problems on its own.

      1. Steve C says:

        To be fair those ISP blocks etc do not have anything to do with blocking pornography. Oh sure that’s the sugar coating. The real reason is to have the capability to block what they want.

        Nothing has changed since the 1960s when pirate radio was a thing. It wasn’t to stop the music, it was to control what was on the air. It’s not to stop the boobies. It’s to control what is on the web. It’s about control and power which is timeless.

  27. Jexter says:

    If computer limitations at simulating the human mind are the primary reason we don’t get sex in video games, this leads to an interesting prediction: The invention of True AI will coincide with the rise of sex in video games.

    (Or at least, the relationship side of it. Sufficiently advanced virtual reality would make even the physical side possible.)

    The more you know, I guess.

    1. Zak McKracken says:

      AI is usually only about kognitive side of intelligence, sometimes the creative side, but not the emotional one.
      So in order to simulate relationships and all that goes with it you’d need a simulation of emotions.

      That said: A very realistic simulation of emotion would probably look very unrealistic to most people because everyone has a completely different idea of how these things work.

      Also, it would be frustrating to most people if succeeding in the game would require the same things as in real life, since those who can either “get girls” or have a healthy stable relationship (people want different things from life…) will likely be much less interested in a simulation of that then those who have no idea why they’re still single.

      1. Jexter says:

        Heh, I am aware of some of the issues, it was mostly a joke. Personally, I’m of the opinion that True AI would likely be very different from any human intelligence, unless explicitly modeled after humans. The possible space of all minds is much larger than just humanity, after all.

        There would be all sorts of ethical ramifications to using a fully sentient mind as part of a video game of all things, so it’d probably be better to imagine half-sentient intelligences for such a role, if partial sentience is even possible. Like the Mass Effect VI, for example.

        I think you may be incorrect on the possibility of simulating emotion – there’s a large space of research suggesting that human emotions are a human universal – everybody agrees what anger, excitement, etc. are, and their corresponding facial expressions. People say they have a different individual conception of emotion, especially of love (since that sounds romantic,) but the evidence points to the contrary. There might be slight individual differences, but overall the actual emotions are pretty close.

        Still, I’m not sure if people would even want such a thing, as you said, so I’m only thinking about what’s computationally possible. Theoretically, once we had the computational power to simulate a mind, human-like or not, giving a convincing imitation in a “game” would probably be possible.

        1. Zak McKracken says:

          Sorry for not noticing the Joke, I feel silly now :(

          I think a “proper” AI wouldn’t need to be self-aware, at least if it’s just doing the kognitive part. A simulation of emotions wouldn’t be that, either (everything combined… no idea).

          Yes, people probably agree very much on what constituts a certain emotion, but people disagree extremely often in what emotion would be an adequate response to some input. Actually, I think most disagreement, quarrels, and actual fights between two people can probably be traced back to one person saying something, expecting a certain reaction, getting a different one and concluding that the other person must be too stupid/cold-hearted/whatever to “get it” — simply because they assume they understand what’s happening inside the other’s head but actually are completely wrong. This goes from failed romantic plots to international politics.

          Most games that try to sort-of-simulate emotional states do so in a very very simplistic way that betrays the world-view of their creator. (Romance-options in Mass effect or the Witcher, anyone?). In order to do it right, these things would first need to be understood muuuch better then they are today, and then the game would need to still do it in a way that the player can make sense of it because in the real world, more often than not, you can’t, and that’s frustrating.

  28. Rutskarn says:

    Corollary to “why don’t we see the Porky’s of video games?” (with the unspoken addendum “in Western markets”):

    When you talk about cheesy, salacious, softball American erotica like Porky’s, there’s three ways the films make money. There’s theater showings, there’s rentals, there’s home video purchases. This wasn’t really my era, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say the first two were probably significantly more popular. It’s all about how we self-stigmatize our consumption of pornography.

    The first two means are small disposable purchases for short-term gratification. There’s a reason the average person uses the incognito window of a browser for 11 minutes a session; erotic material is best consumed in short doses. Culturally, we psychologically don’t feel as ashamed of spending a little money for a sexual day-trip as we do spending bigger money on a long-term investment. It’s why buying sixty bucks worth of Playboys over the course of a year is seen as roguish at worst, while buying a new $59 statue of a naked anime woman every year is seen as depraved, perverted, and sad–the magazines are small investments you use and throw away, while the statue is a long-term investment that’s not going anywhere, even after you’ve done your do and your arousal has ebbed. That’s the thing we find weird–the idea that someone’s erotic purchase will remain a constant even in between bouts of horniness.

    Similarly, spending $50 US on a videogame that will remain in your Steam account indefinitely that you transparently bought because it had tits in it? The possibility of peer stigmatization, no matter how hypocritical it might be, is far too high.

    1. Humanoid says:

      Thus marking another victory for DRM-free platforms!

      That said, I’m happy enough to say I supported the crowdfunded Blu-ray release of Radley Metzger’s legendary porno-chic The Opening of Misty Beethoven. It’s the Citizen Kane of porn!

  29. Sombersome says:

    I agree with your statement that “Your particular standards for what is “offensive” are no more valid than anyone else’s.” but individual opinions have nothing to do with it. The human body, and sexual intercourse are two completely natural things, and so people in general should be expected to be able to handle them as such. I’m reminded by Stephen Fry’s line “It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what.”

    The problem of how to silence the quacking of these geese wouldn’t even exist if things were properly labeled consistently, so that those who do take issue with seing such things for whatever reason could effortlessly avoid them. This would let us remove the censorship and age restrictions: Simply require content creators to provide a list of common controversial subjects and themes that feature in their work. This system is flexible enough to accommodate shifting moral values, and diverse cultural frames of reference about any subject: Violence, Christian Iconography, Black People, Polkadancing, and anything else can easily be handled in this way.

    On teenagers getting to see films that would be deemed inappropriate for their age with this system: Parent your spawn properly, and this will never be an issue.(not mentioned, but I thought I’d comment regardless)

    Regarding ‘danger surfing’, why not just switch the damn channel when things like this crop up, and address potential awkwardness to diffuse the situation.

    From personal experience I would agree with your postulate about why we object more strongly to intimate scenes than violence, but I would add that it’s not necessarily because of how we actually feel, but how we’re assumed to feel. It also goes for things like comedy and horror: Ever been the only person to laugh at a joke, or jump in your seat when the big bad gets his surprise closeup? Same thing.

    I remember Chris making the same point about why we don’t see sex in games, only in a more general sense, and it sounds as logical now as it did then. I’m surprised you didn’t mention the fact that AAA studios don’t have enough faith in dialogue driven games to even try. It makes me sad when even a hardcore RPG like Dragon Age can’t keep its dialogue system because the game “has to have a voiced protagonist”.

    As for potential buyer’s remorse on account of interactable coitus, I feel like that would be its own item on the aforementioned List of Moral Brouhaha.

  30. MikhailBorg says:

    “While you can ease the impact of violent imagery by reminding yourself it’s “just a movie”, that’s not so easy to do with sexual content.”

    I’m aware I’m unusual, but that’s not the case for me. I have to be very careful what kind of violent imagery I expose myself to, lest I start hyper-focusing on exactly what’s happening to the character and end up vomiting and shivering in the corner. For example: as awesome a movie as the original RoboCop is, during the sequence where Murphy is maimed I have to shut my eyes and concentrate on happy thoughts until it’s over. Zombie movies are generally unwatchable.

    Explicit sexuality, on the other hand, bothers me very little unless the writer’s depiction of it bears little resemblance to any reality with which I’m familiar.

    1. Humanoid says:

      I’ve chosen not to watch Robocop for that reason (well not the vomiting and such, just the discomfort) – I guess I was ‘lucky’ to miss it back in the day (or perhaps it was my parents’ good judgement to ensure that, I don’t actually remember) and never did get around to it until the days of Wikipedia. My own ‘line’ is probably in Commando, which I adore, and am totally fine with except for the garden shed scene.

      So yeah, obviously no horror movies for me (though perhaps oddly I was fine playing VtMB), and certainly no Cronenberg-esque body horror.

      The ‘line’ in erotica for me is similarly violence related. I’d guess I’d be unable to watch most of Jess Franco’s output for instance.

      1. Joe Informatico says:

        It’s interesting where lines are drawn sometimes. I saw both Commando and Robocop before I was 12, and neither ever had an effect on me. On the other hand, any eye trauma really squicks me out. Even in the context of a documentary about eye surgery with no violent or horror context whatsoever. And it doesn’t bother me with my own eyes–I put eyedrops and contact lenses into my eyes daily, and have had corrective laser surgery twice, with no problems.

        1. Humanoid says:

          Heh, yeah, I bought a BD copy of Un Chien Andalou and have been too nervous to watch it despite having an interest in it historically (in 1929, one of the first surrealist films). It may be the first example of that fear ever committed to film. :P (Was a double bill with L’Age d’Or though, so not a total loss)

          But more broadly I’m uncomfortable with cutting, totally fine with stabbing (and by extension shooting, which is just stabbing by proxy).

  31. Cybron says:

    Everyone who disagrees with me is a disinfo agent sent by THEM to discredit me and obfuscate the obvious truth!

    And before you ask, THEY know who THEY are.

  32. Dreadjaws says:

    I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of people who are fine being aroused near their mothers. That’s, of course, the kind of people I never want to be in the vicinity of.

    I see a bunch of people in this comments section disagreeing with the article because they don’t react the way you do to depictions of violence and sex. It’s like they don’t understand the entire subject of all of this being a blurry line because everyone reacts differently.

    I guess it’s not only in The Escapist that people don’t read the article before commenting.

    1. Bubble181 says:

      This is at least partly brought on by the fact that Shamus first clearly notes the lines are blurry and personal, then goes on to use culturally depended clues to try and find a general rule. “You’d watch violence in a room with children, but not sex” is very, very America-centric. This discussion was had a couple of posts up, but yeah.

      My parents have watched Game of Thrones (some episodes with me, even, and no, I never felt uncomfortable). They don’t really care about the sex, but the violence is a bit on the heavy side for them. Does this make them monsters, or does it just exemplify that personal taste and even what we’d consider “general” feelings or “obvious” feelings are still very mch formed by our own culture?

      The comeback “would you want to see fluid-exchanging orgies in a room with oyur grandmother” isn’t valid – I wouldn’t watch a horror movie where Hannibal cuts out pieces of a guy’s brain with her, either. But a series where a woman happens to be naked because she’s taking a shower? Who cares?

      The currently imposed/implied rules are much harsher for sex than for violence.
      Most TV shows deliberately show almost consequenceless violence (bloodless shooting, wars without PTSD, protaginists getting hit over the head and being “knocked out” only to get up 5 minutes later and shrug it off,…). The less consequences are shown, the more “kid-friendly” it’s supposed to be. However, children don’t always realize they’re being shown cleaned up versions. Thhe amount of children that honestly believes knocking someone over the head is a perfeclty OK way of taking someone out temporarily is staggeringly high (it isn’t. Being knocked out to the point of being unconscious [which is far more difficult than you’d think]is an almost guarantee of brain damage, and having it happen several times is a good way to end up like Mohammed Ali). Children imitating what they’ve seen on TV is common, and children imitating violence they believe isn’t harmful is dangerous.
      The gradient for violence is also fairly fine: from 3 years on, children will regularly see “cartoonish” violence. A few years on, bloodless “real” violence. At 12 or so, they”ll see shotwounds with some blood. At around 16 or 18 you’ll see monsters gruesomely ripping off bodyparts with sinew and muscles and blood spattering all over.
      On the other hand, nudity (not even talking about sex!) is a big no-no in American culture. A bare female nipple is something no-one under 16 should ever see! A naked body? 18+, always. No reason why the gradient implied nudity/nudity/frontal nudity/erotic nudity/sexual acts/graphic sexual acts/abnormal sexual acts should be treated that much differently from cartoon violence/implied violence/mild violence/bodily harm/graphic violence/etc yet they are. The difference between where those lines are drawn is really a cultural thing, and yes, America does it “backwards” from practically every other culture in history (Arena fights were only for adults in Roman times, for example, while slave markets where females were usually displayed naked were a perfectly normal public place where children could walk by, to immediately argue against the most common counterpoint of “violence as entertainment in history’).

      Bodies in autopsy are always lighted just so that you can’t see any of the “naughty” bits. Never mind the bloody slash across the throat and the poked-out eyes, but let’s not see a pube!
      Saying seeing sex is traumatic may be true…But it’s a cultural trauma. Seeing a dead body has been proven (insofar as anything can be really proven in psychology) as being traumatic for across cultures. In most cultures, people will have seen a naked body by the time they’re 6 (mostly either parent or a sibling). Most people, luckily, aren’t confronted with death at quite such an early age.

      Man, such a wall of text (on a 3 day old article – like anyone will ever read this!) and I haven’t even mentioned that even the idea of sexualising nudity is a fairly new one. Nudity isn’t necessarily sexual, “we” make it so.

      1. Shamus says:

        “The comeback “would you want to see fluid-exchanging orgies in a room with oyur grandmother” isn't valid ”

        You’re missing the point of it. The point wasn’t to prove that sex is worse than violence or whatever. It’s that everyone draws the line SOMEWHERE. People saying “You’re just being prudish” are bringing their OWN cultural biases to the table, and assuming their biases are more valid than the prudes. Somewhere, you’ve probably got some kind of line of content that you don’t think should be crossed with children. If someone tried to cross that line, you’d be the prude protecting the kids.

        80% of the column was spent trying to avoid this very argument and head off the “You’re a prude!” posturing. I REALLY wanted to shove this out of the way and talk about “what computers are good at” from a gameplay standpoint. But everyone is always primed to have this fight and are just looking for a chance to launch into their bullet-points.

        1. Abnaxis says:

          Like I said below, the problem is that “you’re a prude” underlies every point in the entire discussion. Speaking for America, the protestant ethic runs straight through the middle of our art, our ethics, and our government, and we have that to thank for the roots of the issue. Whether you are religious or not, if you are American you live in a society that was built by puritans fleeing from religious persecution, and I for one can see their fingerprints all over this discussion.

          From a “what are computers good at” standpoint, the discussion doesn’t have much merit. For one, just because the computer is bad at it, doesn’t mean developers won’t try to do it if there’s money in it. FMV games are one example of a terrible gameplay idea that was nonetheless tried because it was seen as a shortcut to high graphical fidelity. However, you don’t see any games in the US being made about sex period.

          At the same time, there are plenty of other countries that aren’t shy about sexual conduct in their interactive media, like the Wiutcher or Japanese dating sims. Again, if the real issue were “computers are fundamentally bad at this,” that wouldn’t be the case.

          The real roots of the lack of sexual games are cultural, not technical. I think people intuitively understand this to be true, and thus that’s where the discussion is going to go no matter how you try to steer it.

          1. Shamus says:

            “Speaking for America, the protestant ethic runs straight through the middle of our art, our ethics, and our government, and we have that to thank for the roots of the issue.”

            I can believe that there are cultural artifacts in our society leftover from that time, but to use it as a central explanation for videogames is silly. Yes, the first few Americans were puritans. But the DROVES of immigrants that came later overwhelmed them in numbers and had no such background.

            “FMV games are one example of a terrible gameplay idea that was nonetheless tried because it was seen as a shortcut to high graphical fidelity. However, you don't see any games in the US being made about sex period.”

            So because there’s one example of games doing something they’re bad at, that means gameplay is NEVER informed by technology.

            “I think people intuitively understand this to be true, ”

            See? People agree that I’m right. You should just agree with me. EDIT: OOPS. I see you were saying this as an explanation for why people keep making this argument, not in support of your argument. My bad.

            1. Abnaxis says:

              The droves of immigrants who came over certainly did have an effect on our culture, but at the same time they also integrated into the culture that came before when they came in. I would say the result today is a one of a mix of influences, but a lot of the big items like the American Dream, the principle of “all men being created equal,” and–relevant to this discussion–the idea of protecting children from the devilish influence of sex, can be traced in part back to those founding puritan settlers who wrote the Mayflower Compact.

              Note that I’m not saying that it is evil Christians holding everybody back, or that we live in a puritanical society. It’s just that these norms were there at the founding of our way of governance and are the roots of American civic thought. Yes, America today is a far cry from where it was three and a half centuries ago, but that doesn’t mean the influence isn’t still there.

              Further, I’ve thought about it more, and the more I ponder it, the less I see a technological barrier to games about sex. Yes, computers are terrible at simulating interpersonal relations, but games about violence are pretty terrible about simulating violence too. The principle of video game design is not to create a perfect simulation of your game’s subject, but to create an abstraction that evokes the correct feeling to match with the activity you want to have fun doing. That falls far short, yet goes far beyond, simulation.

              There’s no peripheral to make my guts quiver when explosive ordinance goes off nearby. There’s nothing to simulate the feeling you get when a bullet whizzes by your ear. There’s no way to translate the tilt of running up a hill to your inner ear, or the feeling of gravel beneath your feet as you walk. When I am hit by a bullet, all that happens is either a number gets subtracted from a life score–there’s no agony or paralysis incurred.

              To make up for these things, game developers create abstractions. Glowing mushrooms on walls to counteract your lack of sensory awareness. HUD elements to tell you where damage is coming from when you are hit. Respawn timers. Life bars. Grossly unaware AI in stealth games, because YOU are grossly unaware of you surroundings when you are limited to a narrow FOV camera for input. Vibrating controllers to tell you something is shaking somewhere around you. Magical guns, that let you discard a clip after firing a single bullet, yet you don’t lose any ammunition when you do that. We make these abstractions in many cases because they make up for techniocal limitations of the media, and in many other cases because to do otherwise would detract from the feelings the developers want to evoke.

              Making a game about sex would work the same way–abstractions would have to be created to evoke the feeling of sexual conduct to overcome the shortcomings of the technology and enhance the feedback from the gameplay. That’s far from impossible, and I would point to Crusader Kings as a good example of a game that uses abstraction to create the feeling of being a medieval political actor trying to best their political opponents. It’s far from a simulation–ultimately, the attitudes of other NPCs toward your character breaks down to a number–but for an anecdotal perspective, I quit the game after feeling completely scuzzy and uncivilized, because I steered my character into having an affair with his own daughter-in-law, because his son had been married for five years without any heirs–only to find out she was pregnant at the time of the affair. It made me feel like a barbaric feudalistic asshole who would gladly tromp over the rights of others if it meant extending the family line, even though the game wasn’t a great simulation.

              If making a game that feelis like complex political intrigue on that level is doable, then making a game that FEELS like dating, foreplay and/or sex is doable even if making a game that passably simulates dating, foreplay, and/or sex is impossible.

  33. Michael R. says:

    My thoughts on the difference between violence and sex:

    I don’t like Woody Allen movies. It’s not because they’re bad, it’s just that watching him nervously mutter his way through Annie Hall reminds me too much of myself. Instead of laughing, I become ashamed of my own neuroses. So it is with sex.
    When people experience violence in movies, TV, or games, they are more forgiving of it. Why? One reason is because it’s escapism, a way to vicariously live through fantasies no one would actual act on in the real world. But sex is different. Unlike violence, sex is something everyone has at some point. So, instead of indulging in a fantasy, people are reminded of their own experiences, which reminds them of their suspected flaws and deep-seated fears. This leads people to be much stricter in regards to sex.

    1. Sleepyfoo says:

      In a similar vane, I am quite incapable of sitting through Romantic Comedies. My visceral empathic reaction to the Humiliation Conga of the protagonist that those movies play on leaves me in terrible mental shape. Often long before the pay off of the character overcoming it and “winning” for whatever value of winning. It’s not just rom-coms that do it, but they are the worst

      Violence and Sex have to be exceptionally extreme to get a reaction anywhere close to that from me.

      Semi-related, I’ve got an anecdote of multi-generational response to violence in Movies. If you haven’t seen Scrooged, it’s a Bill Murray modern adaptation of A Chrismas Carol. In it the ghost of Chrismas Present is rather impressively violent in a thoroughly conventional slapstick manner. My mom was watching it with my niece, Mom was laughing her butt off, my niece was horrified (both at the action on the screen and mom’s laughter) and I didn’t find it as funny as I remembered from when I watched it as a kid. Horrified is probably an exaggeration, but the sentiment was there.

      My niece was a Teen when this took place. I don’t know if it’s just a personal thing, or an example of standards and tolerance changing, but it was the most interesting part of that particular viewing of Scrooged for me. : )

  34. andy_k says:

    The people who disagree with me are *definitely* number 1.

    They all said I couldn’t build a giant space monkey colony on the moon and take over the world. But I will show them; Project Atlantis Monkey Butt is tracking on budget and *ahead* of schedule. I will show them, I will show them all! Villains, Sheeple and Morons! The lot of them!


    Ahem. Sorry.

    Nice analysis on the issue; the analogy of people driving cars, and personalisation of the experience definitely resonates with me.

    Anyhow, I tend to play older strategy games and sims, and they are full of sexual intrigue. It’s just that it is all in a narrative that I have to construct for myself. Like Simcity 4 – full of naughty little sims having clandestine trysts all over the place.

  35. Aitch says:

    Possible solution: severed breast?

    Really though, blown away Shamus had the je ne sais quoi to tackle this subject on such a public forum as The Escapist. It’s something I’ve wondered for a while and just had to file under “Complete Lack of a Clue”. Now I get to see his views, the site’s follower’s views, and the average gamer views via the Escapist comments. At the least it’s somewhere to start on a rational basis.

    Seems I can never stop being grateful for finding this place.

    1. Akri says:

      “Possible solution: severed breast?”

      Now I know how guys feel when they see someone get hit in the crotch.

      1. Dragomok says:

        Just for the record, the feeling I have about seeing someone kicked in penis is exactly the same as the one about seeing finger cutting, pulling out fingernails, eye mutilation, teeth breaking, female circumcission, people being stabbed in vagina and most Medieval torture devices.

        EDIT: Er, exactly the same, but with different severity.

  36. Michael R. says:

    I find it interesting that when violence is treated one way, and sex another, many people proclaim, “Double Standard!”, when it’s not. Sex and violence are two different things, that instigate different sets of emotions and reactions. It’s not that they don’t interact at all, just not to the degree some people think.

  37. John the Savage says:

    Shamus, your age is showing. “Channel Surfing”? Who even does that anymore?

    1. Dragomok says:

      People with television?

      1. John the Savage says:

        As in, going from channel to channel, one at a time, spending a couple seconds on each channel? Why would you ever do that, when you have a “Guide” button now?

        I know a lot of people my age who don’t even watch television anymore, they just watch stream services. Those who do watch TV do so with objectives; to turn on the TV without knowing what you want to watch is really unusual.

        1. Dragomok says:

          I guess not in Poland.

          Then again, the last time I personally did that was 3 years ago (I don’t even own one – and don’t want to), have only seen that behaviour recently in people over 35, and the only three guys my age I know who watch TV series are presumably “binge watching” them on torrents. Or possibly whatever legal outlet that’s either Polish or that doesn’t do the “We’re sorry, but that content has been blocked in your country” schtick. (Blocking one, and only one, completely random Al Yankovic video? Seriously, VEVO? Is that “Bob” song too glorious to be experienced outside of USA?)

          1. syal says:

            …was it because ‘Bob’ mentioned Warsaw? That’s all I can think of.

    2. Depends on location, even here in the states. We don’t have tv but extended family does, as does my place of work. And yes, people still channel surf, even kids. They even call it that around here.

      1. John the Savage says:

        Out of curiosity, has Pittsburgh gone full-digital yet? Here in Wisconsin the cable companies sent out decree a couple months ago that every TV needed a cable box. It’s got my mom foaming at the mouth, because now she can’t watch TV in the kitchen without paying another $6 a month.

  38. Chris G says:

    You consistently misspell genitalia as “genetailia” in your article.

    1. Humanoid says:

      Maybe it’s the new way to dodge the Google censor-bot as to prevent any further unpleasantness with them. :D

      1. Trix2000 says:

        But the Google-bot is gone now…

        1. Humanoid says:

          (On the Escapist)

          (For some reason I keep wanting to pronounce it the es-ca-pist, which makes no sense because I don’t have that urge when the word appears in a normal context)

          1. Trix2000 says:

            Oh, derp. I somehow forgot that important detail.

  39. Dragomok says:

    I just wanted to say, the -er- cover image? (title image? headline image?) for the article is perfect.

    I have never seen Venus of Milo fit any context better.

  40. Dragomok says:

    This article was really eye-opening. It’s a perspective I have never seen vocalized and I feel enlightened.

    Thank you.

  41. Mathias says:

    Since this *is* a column about sex and sexuality in video games, I’m just going to do everyone a solid and introduce Cara Ellison’s bi-weekly RPS column S.EXE (Warning: Might not be entirely safe for work. Content warnings are in there.)

    It’s a very interesting look at games that do explore sexuality, everything from kind of obscure independent stuff to some more high-budget games. Plus the writing is just damn good.

  42. Retsam says:

    Not sure if it’s a helpful analogy, but I might compare the potential problem with having sex on television to a hypothetical channel that does nothing but broadcast the words “SANTA IS YOUR PARENTS” with pictures of the real north pole 24/7.

  43. TMTVL says:

    Liezi talks about society in Yang-chu. It sums up my feelings on the topic rather well: link.

    The problem is with society, as with many things, considering man was built for the stone age, not for the modern age.

    Anyway, the great thing about the modern age is that you have choice, want to play a violent game? Play a violent game. Want to play something naughty? Play something naughty. Everything goes, as long as you’re willing to put effort into it.

  44. I think there’s something to your idea that the lack of sex in video games and interactive media in general is largely due to the awkwardness of the media, but I’m not buying the rationale that sex onscreen produces too many different reactions to be a comfortable subject. I’ve experienced way too many violent physiological reactions to violence in movies and shows to imagine there could be a clear-cut line between “this has mental effects, that has physical effects”. Heck, the stuff I personally have the hardest time watching is people *embarrassing themselves in social situations*, which has nothing to do with either sex or violence. My housemate has a violent physical reaction every time he sees someone get stabbed with a needle (which they show on TV and in movies a lot).

    The difference is that we don’t frame objection to violence (or social embarrassment) in moral terms. It’s just something we, personally, don’t like. In psychology terms, we place the locus of control for our reaction (even if we don’t like our reaction) internally. It’s in us, not in the content we’re viewing.

    Most people, however, frame their reaction to sexual content and nudity in MORAL terms. The reaction, to them, is in the content, not in themselves. They can’t just say “I don’t like it, so I will turn it off.” Instead, their reaction is more along the lines of “OMG this thing is ATTACKING me”. To them, the reaction *originates* in the content, not in their approach to that content. And it’s just not possible to have a discussion about their reaction with someone who *fundamentally believes* that their reaction is externally inflicted instead of internally created. To them, it’s some kind of malevolent force that they can’t escape, so of course their reaction is along the lines of “KILL IT WITH FIRE!!!” instead of “maybe I should change channels”. If you feel helpless in the face of the booby, yeah, you’re going to assume that the booby is all-powerful and soon will be plastered all over every available surface if you don’t fight back NOW.

    It’s also a mistake to believe that content has “generally” been getting more racy as time passes. Actually, Americans in particular are more prudish TODAY than we were, say, 80 years ago. These things tend to go in cycles of increasing permissiveness followed by a strong reaction against it. I don’t think, for instance, that the availability of porn has ANYTHING to do with the degree of booby in R-rated content. I think it’s more likely an effect of FCC crackdowns and the increasing desire for long-term residuals on movies being shown on TV. If your movie has a lot of booby in it, it’s VERY hard to get that movie to enjoy a long series of re-showings on network TV, and those residuals are BIG moneymakers. You probably have to make a pretty strong case to your producers that this sort of movie likely won’t get carried on network TV ANYWAY to get your booby greenlit.

    Also, you misspelled genitalia TWICE in your article.

    1. Smile! says:

      I also can’t watch anything with embarrassing social situations. It makes movie nights risky. :)

      I think a lot of the !!PANIC!! about content comes from people who simply haven’t articulated their concerns well. It’s perfectly understandable – being articulate is hard, and especially in the US there isn’t a good universal vocabulary for moral concerns.

      It does mean that people who have strong positions on issues get overlooked or denigrated when they aren’t talented with words, or don’t have the time to sit down and think out their position on moral issues. I think a basic moral education is important so that people are used to talking about these things. If people were educated in how to make moral decisions and what is morality vs culture I think these debates would be less fraught.

      1. Shamus says:

        I’ve named these kind of movies “humiliation comedies”. The genre includes pretty much everything Ben Stiller has ever made. The “comedy” comes from having someone say or do the stupidest and most embarrassing possible thing, and then contriving ways to prolong and intensify the awkwardness. I hate it. It’s not at all funny to me, and really miserable to watch. Also, the characters have to lug around a massive idiot ball to make the joke work, because a simple apology or moment of self-awareness would shatter the mood.

        Sorry. Sore spot with me. I hate sitting down to watch something funny and discover it’s a humiliation comedy instead.

        1. RCN says:

          I think you misspelled “Adam Sandler”.

          Really, Ben Stiller is not bad. Zoolander and Tropical Thunder are genuinely good comedies. He’s done some questionable stuff, but at the very worst his movies are still at least watchable.

          Adam Sandler, on the other hand…

          In my country, capital punishment (IE. Death penalty) is almost inexistent (it is ONLY applicable during wartime, and only to punish a huge mistake in the failing of following orders that end up costing lives), so I don’t really say that lightly, but Jack and Jill is grounds for death through starvation while watching Jack and Jill.

        2. Bubble181 says:

          I think most people with variations of social awkwardness dislike that kind of movie. Humor based on “laughing with fat people” or “laughing with racial stereotypes” is now considered politically incorrect. Humor mocking the socially awkward is still perfectly a-ok, but it’s still basically making fun of people with something of a “disability” (by which I don’t mean to imply any introvert or socially nervous person should consider themselves handicapped – we’re not…At least not all of us).

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            “Humor based on “laughing with fat people” or “laughing with racial stereotypes” is now considered politically incorrect. ”

            It is?Someone shouldve informed tyler perry.

  45. Veloxyll says:

    I am terribly amused at this section:
    “I think this is a bit like the Empire vs. Stormcloaks fight in Skyrim: You've got two sides, both of which want reasonable things[1], and which could easily resolve their differences if not for a malicious third party. (In this case, cable companies…)”
    Because the idea that Cable Companies are the antagonisers in Skyrim amuses me greatly.

    And god, you’re all giant nerds. Who channel surfs?
    ANYONE who is looking for something different to watch. I’m not going to open the TV guide to find out what else is on. I’ve got a magical device which, when I press a button, it SHOWS me what’s on the next channel. No fancy pants reading required.

    As for the article, I think as well, a lot of us are more comfortable discussing violence. Or being okay with others seeing our reactions to violence (I legit cannot watch people get injections, for instance. But I managed 95% of the Saw movies that I’ve seen just fine.)
    How we react to sexually provocative material though, is a very personal thing. So we’re not as comfortable sharing it with other viewers.
    Which is pretty much what Shamus said. Welp.

    1. Retsam says:

      Who you calling “giant”? I’m “big-boned”!

  46. Ingvar M says:

    I’d say ” a mix of 1 and 2; probably 99.999…% in category 2″.

    Enjoyable article, though.

  47. Cat Skyfire says:

    I think there’s a few reasons for less sex in videogames. One, is the limitations. (What do you mean I can’t ___ the ____?!)

    Another is the uncanny valley. The people still look…off…and that is harder to work with on a physiological level.

  48. Daimbert says:

    I think that one general issue here is that explicit sex scenes are, in general, not as relevant to the plot as more explicitly violent scenes are. Violence in general is plot-relevant in many stories, and it’s a bit of a gray area whether your violence is really relevant to the scene or is just gratuitous. For sex, most of the time explicit sex scenes AREN’T relevant to the plot, unless you’re making a movie or a game specifically about sex itself, or there’s some point you want to make about sex or sex scenes using that. An example of this sort of thing is actually Hot Shots, where the point of the more explicit sex scene was to make fun of explicit sex scenes. Compare that scene to the one in Top Gun and it’s far easier to call the scene in Top Gun gratuitous than the one in Hot Shots.

    I’m rewatching all of the James Bond movies I own, and certainly in the early ones when Bond does his seduction you get the intro and then the fade and then you jump to the aftermath, and no one feels like they missed anything (yeah, they had really great sex. We all get that). But you couldn’t do the same thing for most of the action scenes. You couldn’t set Bond up with, say, seeing Jaws show up to fight him, and then cut away to the Bond and the Bond girl walking away saying “That was brilliant!”. We want to know HOW Bond got out of that, and in that sort of story that means what violent means — or ironically non-violent means — he used to win that fight. We don’t really care about how Bond, er, “romanced” the woman specifically, but we do care about how he specifically dealt with that violent situation.

    Thus, in media it’s easier to at least claim that the sex is gratuitous than that the violence is (although the latter certainly can be). And if the sex is gratuitous, then it’s just there for titilation. And if it’s just there for titilation, that isn’t something you want to see in family-oriented entertainment. If you want titilation in your movies or TV shows or video games, well, there are … things for that. For all of them.

    Note that you do get similar reactions to gratuitous violence; the Saw series, for example, is popular but is also niche, as many people — myself included — will stay away from it because its violence may seem more gratuitous and that’s not what we want in our entertainment (disclosure: I haven’t watched any of the Saw movies). Games can hide gratuitous violence in gameplay even better than movies and TV shows can.

  49. Anon732 says:

    I hope you’ll understand my desire to remain anonymous with this comment.

    One issue I never see addressed in this debate is the very real phenomenon of pornography addiction. Which I have dealt with and still have to be very careful about.

    It was awful, I would lose hours at a time to it. I did some very stupid things that should have had terrible consequences, but I was very lucky. This is just to point out that it can be a very destructive and negative thing, and why I never want to go back to that.

    I do a good job of avoiding it these days, but any time I see something that is similar to the porn I used to consume, I feel like I’m high. It often takes a lot of will power to fight it off. All it takes is a glimpse.

    So for me, a proliferation of racy content just means more stuff I can’t participate in. Imagine how it would be for a recovered alcoholic if restaurants were allowed to randomly put alcohol in soft drinks without consulting or informing the customer; he would never be able to order a soft drink again.

    I don’t know if people can become addicted to depictions of violence or not, but for me that’s why I prefer violence over sex every time.

    Edit to add:
    And this is why I feel that racy content in general should be fairly limited in publicly available media. I’m not entirely sure what got the addiction started for me, because it seems to have started when I was very young. But I know that racy images I was exposed to in my young teenage years definitely contributed to the problem.

    1. Akri says:

      I don’t quite agree with your alcohol analogy. Restaurants spiking soft drinks takes something that the alcoholic has reason to believe is safe for them, and making it unsafe. That’d be like if there was a show or movie which was marketed as “kid friendly” but had a graphic sex scene in the middle–you would have gone into it with a totally justified expectation that it would be safe. Your problem seems to be more that you can’t be certain if something is safe, and so there’s a risk that it will expose you to content that triggers your addiction. That seems more like if an alcoholic couldn’t stand to see someone else drinking (which I do believe is the case for some people). The alcoholic might think that we should limit alcohol so that it’s only served in bars, not restaurants.

      Presented like that, I think it’s much less clear what the best course of action is.

      1. Anon732 says:

        Yes, I think that’s a fair criticism of the analogy. When I was making it I was thinking of it more as a response to the idea that sexual imagery can’t be harmful to anyone, and an illustration of what it would be like if sexual imagery were allowed into any and all public media. There would be very few ‘safe’ areas where one would be certain of avoiding triggering material.

    2. Smile! says:

      Excellent point. I think a lot of people overlook this. No one wants to talk about why reasonable restrictions on content are a good idea, or how unrestricted content is harmful. It’s possible to be too restrictive, but it’s also possible to be too permissive. And few people can have a calm discussion about hot-button issues.

  50. Benderson says:

    In the Escapist article: “You can stop believing in a movie, but you can’t control what sorts of things arouse or embarrass you.”

    I am pretty sure that some people can control those reactions and, over time, make them innate/reflexive. I could apply some particular terms to the psychological profiles and neurotypes that I suspect are capable of these feats. But I bet that most of the population cannot.

    I have no point to make here, unless it’s that there’s a small subset (or multiple small subsets) of the population with exceptional levels of control in these arenas of human reaction, and statistically, their presence broadens the lack of consensus on ‘how much is too much’ even further.

  51. Zak McKracken says:

    wow, that very much is my opinion, and it’s always been hard for me to explain it to others with a more “absolute” view on things.
    For reference, I very much don’ like what the Witcher is doing and most people I do know don’t mind at all. Also, sex scenes in movies are awkward.

    Wih regards to violence, I think it’s similar, but in a different way: It’s just a matter of how “serious” the violence is, and how much a viewer can relate to it. If it’s far enough removed from personal experience, it might be gross but otherwise okay. But if it’s something the viewer may have experienced themselves or maybe have a personal phobia (e.g. I could not watch that scene in “Tank girl” where she gets stuck in a narrow glass pipe — never finished that movie! Quentin Tarantino stuff is okay, though, but only just).
    => I think as everyone has different views on nudity in media, so people have different views on violence, depending on personal background and how “realistic” something feels. The thing is that much of the violence shown in entertainment media is so far removed from most of the audience that it becomes a very abstract thing.

    … and I’m saying all of this as a European. Looking from here, my impression is that the debate is louder in the US because there are more people with moral absolutes, and at the same time more people who hate moral absolutes (let’s call them moral anarchists”)*. I.e. the spread with regards to what’s acceptable and what isn’t is just much wider in the US, which in turn favours much more heavily entrenched opinions.

    * And a third group: People who hate their parents’ moral ideas and in turn create their own version of how things ought to be, then try to enforce that with equal pressure. Those are annoying.

  52. Smile! says:

    I love this site. Instead of religion-bashing and bigotry, we get a reasonably thoughtful debate on measuring intelligence. Go Shamus!

    I agree with several points made in the Escapist article. I also think the people objecting to restrictions on sexual content have a point – there is a worrying tendency to be more relaxed about violence in the US.

    IMO the answer to ‘If [violent act] is OK then why not [arousing act]?’ isn’t ‘Sure, show [arousing act]’, it’s ‘Yeah, [violent act] is over the line too’. This is not a popular attitude with my fellow gamers. :)

    One more thing about games vs movies – games are often power fantasies. Violence ties very well with power fantasies. The set of issues is fairly well understood and can be reasonably discussed by most people. Sexuality-as-power-fantasy is very problematic (even the consensual version needs careful negotiation and things games are terrible at). I don’t blame developers or players from steering clear of it.

  53. Chris Robertson says:

    “Assuming you’re not making some sort of juvenile stick-thrusting minigame like hot coffee, then a game about sex is probably a game about people and relationships, and we’ve never been good at systemizing that sort of thing. We can’t do games where people talk about sex…”

    It has been done (back in 2002, no less), and in my opinion, done really well. The linked article ought to be SFW (why are you surfing Twenty Sided on company time?), but the game in question, (Masq) not so much. The download page (http://www.alteraction.com/downloadpage.php) was a bit wonky (apparently not being interpreted properly as PHP), but the direct link to the executable (http://www.alteraction.com/masq67.exe) seems to work. Just be warned, it does require Adobe’s Shockwave Player to be installed.

    I would totally like to hear our host’s perspective on this entertainment.

  54. RCN says:

    It was an unwise topic to discuss. Both because it is extremely subjective and inflammatory, and because you just don’t have the background in social sciences to start to guess, which doesn’t so much make you unqualified to discuss it as you’ll have no credibility to discuss it…

    Though I do find interesting the discussions that did spark up, and the extreme different reactions to violence and sexuality around the world.

    As my two cents, in Brazil the stance against sexuality and violence is very similar to the US. Maybe a bit more open to sexuality and a little less open to violence, but the tabus are similar enough that the European point of view is also very strange to me. Sexuality is openly discussed on prime time shows in open TV, and a lot of care is given to discuss safe sex (although topics like abortion are like asking to be buried alive by cinderblocks, even though technically the law permits it). As for visual sexuality, only during Carnival open TV is more lenient to visual sexual content as long as it relates to asses and female breasts, but that’s a very clear line.

    As for violence, we’re a bit more averse to it. Gun ownership is legal, for instance, but it is much, much more legally controlled than in the US. Lots of people own illegal guns, though. Civilian-owned guns are usually associated with drug dealers and country people, though, a real far-cry from the US view that guns are an insurance of freedom. As for visual violence and gore, it is heavily censored when children are involved, but anything aimed at adults has no qualms about it. Games and movies are never censored (unless they’re on open TV), for instance, but they receive a pretty hefty age restriction. Something that’d be restricted to 14-16 in the US is usually restricted to 18+ here, in regards to violence.

    1. Steve C says:

      Your first paragraph is a logical fallacy. Specifically “Appeal to Authority.” By the same logic everyone can dismiss what you have to say about differences in world culture as you are not an expert. By starting with an inflammatory logical fallacy you’ve lost your own credibility to argue any point.

      1. RCN says:

        Well, that’s precisely my point. As I said, this makes him in no way unqualified to discuss it. It is just that a lot of people can dismiss it because he doesn’t have that background. Shamus specifically tries to avoid inflammatory topics, specially when there’s no real reason to delve into it. But his argument is too easily torn apart through this fallacy because he has no academic credibility…

        I am not endorsing this argument, I’m just pointing it out.

  55. Abnaxis says:

    Damn-blast it, you always make posts I want to reply to when I’m too busy to reply to it, then I wind up missing the best part (the discussion)

    I like your article. It’s a detailed accounting of some of the difficulties inherent in creating a well-regarded work of art that delves into the subject of sex. It’s a very pragmatic approach, that I could tell was written by an experienced engineer with good writing skills even if I didn’t know you wrote it.

    It’s also completely off-base.

    Don’t gt me wrong, there are certainly practical limitations on an author that make it difficult to cover sex as a valid topic, but you want to dance around “the culture wars” and the “prudishness vs. hedonism” debate, when that’s what is underlying the entire premise.

    Historically, the US was founded by puritans fleeing from English persecution, whose ideology can be found throughout our politics and our culture. “…all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” owes its roots to the puritans. I would also argue it’s why Europeans see Americans as prudes.

    Think about it–why is it so “awkward” and “personal” to have a reaction to a sexual image, more so than any other individual reaction? Do you check over your shoulder, or turn red-faced when you feel cathartic when the bad guy dies, or do you cheer when someone scores a goal in hockey? Why does feeling pleasure in one context cause you to worry about social stigma, when enjoyment in the other context does not?

    I understand the phenomenon you are describing–I always feel awkward when I see a sex scene, even wth people I am comfortable with. However, when you talk about the awkwardness, I feel you are only addressing a symptom of the issue that trails its roots back to our shared puritanical heritage. As a society, we are far, far cry different than we were in the 1600s, but sex is still considered a taboo, sort of necessary evil to be engaged in only for the purpose of procreation in many corners of the country. Moreover, people are regularly judged by who they have sex with, how many people they have sex with, and how they conduct their sexual relationships. No matter who you are, you have to deal with a society that will shun you or accept you according to methods by which you seek (or belay) sexual gratification, and it’s not just because of religion as we know it today–I’m in the same boat, despite being atheist–but rather due to the religious influences of those who came before us.

    I understand you want to avoid conflict, and flame wars over politics and religion, but in this case I would suggest you avoid the subject altogether. All the people whinging about “oh noes the Christians are so oppressive” are…still not exactly viewing the issue from a productive angle, but they are closer to properly characterizing the roots of the problem than you are by chalking it up to individual discrepancies and logistical difficulties.

    If it were all about pragmatism, there would be a bunch of experimental games on the market that do a terrible job of systematizing sex, and developers would give up after those failures. We don’t see that–except largely from non-American developers a la Japanese dating sims–because there are deeper cultural forces at work that have their roots in centuries-old American religious mores.

  56. Steve C says:

    After thinking about the article a bit and the comments here (particularly Heather’s) I think the real reason why there’s not sex in games is because of laziness. The easier path is taken because there’s not enough benefit from the extra difficulty.

    Violence is easy to pull off successfully in a game. Comedy is harder to pull off successfully so we don’t see it as much. Sex and eroticism is even harder to pull off than comedy so we see that even less.

    For the same reason we have a glut of white bros in games is the same reason we don’t have working VR yet- it’s difficult. The reason why we don’t have games with sex- it’s easier not to.

  57. kdansky says:

    > Your particular standards for what is “offensive” are no more valid than anyone else’s.

    That’s just grossly incorrect. Not every opinion is equal! Sometimes we have to make a stand and just say it: Some opinions are stupid, usually because they require the facts to change. You may have such silly beliefs, if you want, but that makes you wrong. If you are of the opinion that all grass is blue, then your opinion about grass is less valid than mine.

    If someone is offended by other people drinking a glass of water at lunch, then that guy is wrong. There is no other way to put it.

    I mean, I agree with most of what you say in the column, but this sentence is incorrect, and a big reason why crazies like Young Earth Creationists and moon-landing conspiracy-theorists are running rampant: We (as a society) give them too much credit for crazy opinions. They deserve no respect for that.

    What you completely ignored is context. Taking offense is highly contextual. That is why the US rating system for movies or games is so bad. South Park the Movie nearly got censored because of too much cursing. The topic of SPtM is: The US starts a war with Canada because Canadians curse too much. The irony is unbelievable. Similarly, calling someone Nigger is generally a curse, except that the black community is using it as an endearing term. Context!

    1. Zak McKracken says:

      Most of your post focusses on opinions that are either true or false (but may not be known precisely). And that part is correct.

      Shamus’ quote, though, is on opinions about what is offensive and what isn’t.
      And that is definitely and purely a social construct. In the medieval ages (or parts of it at least), it was completely okay for a noblewoman (but never a commoner!) to not cover her breasts, but would have caused great offense if she showed her ankles. That would make zero sense today, but what is and what isn’t acceptable in these terms is purely a cultural matter. During times when everyone pooed in public, of course not just defecating publicly but also the sight of feces in public places (and the smell of urine coming from under your bed) was common and accepted by everyone, including Kings and Queens.
      … just try putting that thing in a current movie and see what happens.

      In these matters there really and truly are no absolutes, and if someone says they feel uneasy when they see a certain thing, then that is a statement of a fact, not an opinion, and needs to be accepted.
      Of course, every society tries to reach a consensus in these things because it makes life much easier, and noone can be expected to never offend anyone (if someone from the medieval came to visit, of course not all women could be ordered to cover their ankles — the poor guy would have to live with it) — but that’s not the same as saying that his taste was invalid or wrong.

      In other words: Try to differentiate between the taste of a person and the opinion that the rest of the world should conform to this taste. The first is every person’s own thing, the latter can be debated.

      1. kdansky says:

        You’re right, in the context of the bare-breasted issues, there are no hard and clear right and wrongs.

        It’s kinda funny to me that I complain over the lack of talking about context, only to completely miss the context of the work I’m complaining about…

        1. Zak McKracken says:

          I think that’s what happens if you happen upon a discussion while being occupied with thoughts about something similar but not quite applicable in the given context. Even more so if those thoughts are linked to emotions.

  58. Steve C says:

    A Vice article compiled a list of the sex games over the years.

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