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The Sexual Politics of Role-Playing Games

A serious look at a nonsensical issue.

Reader discretion is advised. Advised, but not mandatory; after all it is a lack of discretion in the more prurient pursuits which has led to the creation of an entire industry revolving around whether or not You Are! The Father, and the cottage industry of video game reporting of matters regarding pixelated private bits: which while games focused on these matters have been around since the 8-bit era it is only in the modern era that those who report on gaming have deemed them to be matters of more than a mere curiosity of the culture and industry of gaming.



Gaming itself seems to be in those awkward adolescent years so it is no surprise that sex is so prevalent in gaming and gaming reporting. In fact there is a deluge of articles and editorials on the subject almost daily on almost every gaming site. Sometimes I just want to find some new info on the latest Smash Bros game, but the actual news is sandwiched between opinion pieces lambasting Samus for wearing rocket boots, or which feature hypnotic .gifs of Palutena and her divine hips.
 

 
As a gangly, growing lad, gaming and gaming reporting is focused only on the most superficial traits of sexuality: articles shout excitedly over knobbly bits and skimpy outfits and ohmygosh you won't believe what that tramp is wearing, let us burn her at the stake, but very little thought about the role of love, romance, and relationships. Like many teenage boys, gaming and gaming reporting seems to talk a helluva lot about sex, but has no clue as to what it is all for and what it is at all like.




This sexual frustration appears to spillover into the discourse within gaming reporting and gaming communities about the role and function of these matters in the culture, industry, and games themselves. The mob assembles. The torches are lit. The human body has become the political, and someone must either hang or be shamed. The mob must sate its lust.



"The mob is a dire mischief" as Euripides warned, and the role-playing game, and more specifically the Japanese role-playing game, has increasingly become the object of mischief for this mob. But it is not just the approach of the mob to these games which reveals the nature and role of sex and sexuality, love and romance in gaming but how these games are approached by those who make them.



Gamers and game developers both have unrealistic ideas of sex, if the games themselves are anything to go by. The mob will accuse game makers of unrealistic portrayals of gender ("Are you saying these air-brushed, photo-shopped, blue-skinned babes are meant to be the, the ideal woman? How can I compete against an Asari with an algorithmically-perfect ass?!"), and the game makers will be completely unable to adequately explain why Shepherd can seek to repopulate the entire galaxy yet not come across Space Herpes, or how children in space must really be born in a vacuum because out of all the babymaking going on no babies ever seem to be made. Perhaps the Genophage isn't the only form of infertility in-universe.



Ideas of dating in gaming are almost barbaric as well. Often taking the form of a mini-game, often inconsequential to the main story, often revealing a quite Social Darwinian concept of love and romance: the player-audience will max out the Social Links in Persona because to play the game of love this game says the only obligation one has to others is to maximize utility, one literally never need to hang out or even call the conquered after "maxing the link" so to speak; developers create a system where the only way to win favor of another character is to ply them with gifts, turning compatibility and love itself into a system of statistics and check lists. Check all her flags if you want her to check you out. Love is multiple choice, make sure you got the cheat guide.




Inclusivity has become a political orgy of shoving and shouting and frustration with game makers and other gamers. Yet what exactly does an "inclusive" game say? That sexuality is a choice, that it is something a player-avatar may "experiment" with and if not getting the desired gameplay outcome to simply reset to a previous state of sexual orientation. Yet that is definitely not what those who want those gameplay elements about sexuality to be: what, then, is an acceptable alternative? If the uproar over "Tomodachi Life" is any indicator, it would appear that this, this game is the one game which would herald a revolution in how games approach sex and sexuality and inclusivity if one is to approach the uproar over the game logically. But logic often has no say in matters of the heart or bed, and so is the case with Tomodachi Life, a game which proudly eschews logic. But that is not to say that it is lacking in design: and it is this design which makes it a game about lifestyle choices, a game caught up in the cause of those who want the choice included which they vehemently assert is not a choice in any other capacity, which is just fine because in many ways Tomodachi Life is about the principles of determinism. For relationships in Tomodachi Life are not created through any agency of the player but through a process which is determined by the software, yet this factoid was quite ignored by those who were complaining about how they were being ignored: Tomodachi Life revealing the often absurd ways we approach love, romance, and sexuality through the maelstrom of absurd rhetoric around an absurd game, life imitating art imitating a game imitating the most intimate dreams where Reggie Fils-Aime whispers into your ear, "My body is ready."
 

 

 

Of course if there is any consolation to be found in the ways video games approach sex and sexuality, love and romance, it is that even though one can run over hookers in Grand Theft Auto, turn your spouse or partner into a pack mule in The Elder Scrolls or Fallout, that games still recall that the purpose of sex is to be within the confines of a relationship between a man and a woman, all for the purpose of matrimonial mating to spawn mystical magical star babies so as to conquer the world.


 

A cornucopia of concubines, perfectly in tune with the practices of the patriarchs found in the religious texts of those who routinely criticize video games for immoral decency.








Because when a game player and a game maker come together......





Well, that's when magic happens.







Want to share the magic with me? Follow me on Twitter @CodeNameCrono, or lets get (meta) physical in the comments below! ("Gamasutra" has never sounded more appropriate....since this is a community of developers, and those who report on the industry, I am quite curious about the way "discretion" is approached: games are over the top. Discretion seems to be a word not in the game design manual: the politics of gaming seem to mirror this. How can a developer even approach the politics of gaming?)

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