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Author Note: It probably goes without saying that this article might not be the best thing to read at work/school. Don’t blame me if everyone starts calling you “Herbert, The Wide-Eyed Pervert” because you’re more interested in an article about sex and relationships on a gaming blog (website? Whatever we are) than your job.

Looking back on it, I lost my virginity in a strange way. So, it was Christmas Eve, and I was up in this high-rise building that a bunch of friends and I had unofficially taken over. We’d kinda roped everyone else to hang out with us, including this one girl named Holly. Now, you have to remember, we’re up there, totally unannounced, stealing something like $600 million of bonds from Nakatomi, when the police showed up an- wait. That’s Die Hard. Shit. Well, I mean, I remember losing some form of virginity to that film, which is a lot more than can be said for the games I’ve played.

Games have come a long way since the days of Leisure Suit Larry, and how sex is treated has changed drastically. No longer do we have to scheme ways of getting into virtual ladies’ jeans; now we can just talk to them and get sex as the payoff! Games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age and The Witcher have shown that sex has its place in games, but they also illustrate that games do things more curiously than other mediums. The consequences are… Well, I’m more wary about who joins my DnD group now, but games and sex go hand in hand like Saints Row and The Penetrator.

 
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Classic gameplay

The Other Kind of Suck

Ever since humanity discovered that circles looked like breasts, erotica and pornography have closely followed the advancement of technology. I probably don’t need to tell you how prevalent erotica is in Western culture, not to mention the widespread proliferation of porn, but in case you didn’t know, uh, maybe don’t google it? You can see erotic imagery in ads, there are heaps of sexy novels that you can buy, and as VR evolves, well, let’s just say that the internet is all over it. Now that we’ve advanced to the point of video games, fun virtual sexy times were sure to follow, but they’re a touch more sophisticated than ‘press A to ejaculate’.

As sex seeps into more games that we play, accessing it takes quite an effort. You can’t just turn a game on and expect the carnage of a thousand dildos to pop up on screen without a bit of interaction. Geralt isn’t going to get in with Yennefer without a bit of coercing, nor is that girl in Killer Is Dead going to striptease without you giving them a thorough look over (which is still weird). Not even Mass Effect offers free handout sex scenes, which is remarkable given that’s what most internet forums seem to fixate on. Most of the time, sex isn’t the primary focus of the game, but it’s typically there as a reward for the player.

 
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HEY! Get your head out of the very plainly in view gutter! We’re here to discuss relationships and sex and stuff and now I can’t stop looking either.

Getting to sleep with another character might be trickier than walking up to them and ferociously mashing on the X button, but sex is rarely framed as anything other than a reward. Let’s look at Mass Effect again, where a large chunk of the game involves talking to your crewmates. As time goes on, the sexual tension grows, boils up and then climaxes with an awkward sex scene (or in my case, multiple people asking which one of them I wanted to bone). Sex was the attainable end goal instead of forming a connection with them, which isn’t how most healthy relationships tend to go without both parties already being married… Which I guess isn’t healthy either. When sex becomes the whole point of pursuing a relationship, it makes things a bit awkward when the twin-headed tango gets going, but hey, what were you expecting from a game?

The Other Kind of Hard

Games are abstractions of real-life (or fantasy) interactions, so if a game involves sex, it’s going to be abstracted too. You can’t have a comprehensive simulation of a fully formed human without plugging a brain into a server, so games compromise. The complexities and nuances of human interaction are simplified into a digestible system at the expense of certain aspects of the situation, such as the length of relationships or breadth of possible responses. By limiting how a player can interact with a character, the dynamic of how they get sex is abstracted and simplified into a reward structure.

 
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Can we truly call this a reward?

Any game you play will involve a reward system, but the problem is that sex isn’t a reward per se. It’s not like when you talk to someone you expect to get nasty with them afterwards, right? Well, that’s how a lot of games portray sexual relations, Mass Effect included. It’s not entirely untrue – saying the right thing at the right time can help get you down and dirty IRL – but because of the abstraction the process undergoes, dedicating time to a particular character is the only thing that matters. So, sex is just the end reward of a simplified system, but it gets a fraction weirder. Abstraction and simplification lead us to a strange place, where things we’re familiar with take an eerie twist, which the fleshy ones have named the uncanny valley.

When confronted with beings that mimic nature but don’t quite get there, people tend to get unnerved. Anything that reaches such a level of what-has-man-created is part of the uncanny valley, a term used to describe anything that’s eerily human but not enough to elicit positive emotion. The uncanny valley isn’t restricted to physical beings, though, and video game characters that don’t act quite right (i.e., present conflicting perceptual cues) will be trapped in the valley along with their creepy robot buddies. As you might imagine, video games are a minefield for this sort of stuff, and when sex enters the picture, it almost always ends terribly. The key here is that these are beings that are trying to mimic real people, but games can nail sex in incredible and unforeseen ways if they go the other way.

 
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Life does not restrict you to 3 responses, so, maybe ask for his number?

The Other Kind of Imitation

Games offer a safe place for experimentation, and that can go for both city planning and playboy skills. Now, it’s not likely that you’ll ever have sex on a unicorn, but if you wanted to see what it was like, play The Witcher 3. There’s no need to worry about the uncanny valley if you turn around and reject imitating reality, so fondling aliens can become more appealing than sticking to humans. People empathise more readily with non-human-looking non-humans than human-looking ones, which also helps Garrus be even more of a sexy beast than he already was. Experimenting in games is a safe way to try out weird fantasies, but this all leads to… Well… I think we all know where this is going.

Because games are often set in fantastical worlds that require the player to suspend their disbelief more than a movie, this can lead to gamers having eccentric tastes. I’m not saying that gamers are depraved hedonists sniffing for the next hole to cram their scabbing dicks into; I’m talkin’ preferences. Gamers are willing to play role-playing games (yeah, you can see where this is going now) like The Witcher and Final Fantasy, and it’s not a giant leap to transfer your love of DnD into your lovin’. There’s no one-to-one correlation here, and the thought of role-playing won’t appeal to a lot of gaming fanatics, but there are plenty of people who wouldn’t mind seeing a bit of cosplay in their bed.

 
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Oh god, look at this smut! I need a towel.

The flip side of how sex in games transfers into real life is when you start looking at expectations. Even though I get around as much as used dental floss, I’ve learned multiple times that the dynamics of sex in games is markedly different from real life. For someone that knows that distinction, yay, go us, but what about someone who doesn’t? Take the budding young kid who plays games but doesn’t chat up ladies all too often. This poor kid’s expectations of dealing with potential partners have been informed by games that have abstracted and simplified such proceedings to the point where they’re a bit warped. It’s a fun thing to think about until it gets out of hand.

If sex is built up as the end goal in someone’s head, and the expectation is that sex is inevitable so long as you manipulate the system in your favour, this leads to less than fun scenarios. Sexual frustration stemming from unmet and unrealistic expectations sounds like something you’d just deal with when you finally get in a relationship, but how that frustration is dealt with varies from person to person. We could even say that this sets people up to act like psychopaths, seeing complex interpersonal encounters as manipulatable reward systems, but that’s a bit of a stretch. In a sense, abstracting personal confrontations can help people simplify an otherwise complicated affair, but if expectations about sex in your everyday life come from games, well, take it from me, you won’t be ploughing through alien trousers any time soon.

 
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Oh, and, uh, this isn’t how you do sex. Just, uh… There are already holes…

Final Thoughts

Sex in games is an abstraction of the real-life counterpart and ain’t nothin’ gonna change that. There’s plenty to take from most games with a sexy component, especially if it can help you cope with an otherwise complicated situation. The problem is those in-game interactions are hardly indicative of what to expect in the real world, and dangerous expectations can be set up because of this. Still, it’s not like I’m complaining about seeing sex in games. Hell, let’s have more sex in games. Let’s have games that are just sex. Your move, Molyneux.

Nick Ballantyne

Nick Ballantyne

Managing Editor at GameCloud
Nick lives in that part of Perth where there's nothing to do. You know, that barren hilly area with no identifying features and no internet? Yeah, that part. To compensate, he plays games, writes chiptunes, makes videos, and pokes fun at hentai because he can't take anything seriously.
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