Taboo Topic: Let’s Talk About Sexuality In Video Games

Joel Harvey


Now that we’ve got your attention, let’s talk about something else. Because not talking about sex is exactly what’s been happening in gaming for years, so why change the habit of a lifetime? Let’s embarrassingly shove the topic under the carpet. We don’t need to discuss sex in video games ever again.

Except, we kind of do need to talk about it. And not just in a “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” way, either.

The gaming world suffers from a lack of conversation about such topics, often turning it into something for comedic effect. This inability to address sexuality and adult situations in, well, an adult way, leads to stifled and reserved attitudes. And this means that everyone shyly stares down at their feet and eventually shuffles away from the discussion without saying anything of interest.

But let’s be frank right now, let’s address a thing that happens in the world: people have sex. The problem is though, video games are uncomfortable around this reality. Or when they do address this, it’s more as a joke to ease the discomfort.

Even worse, some games over-sexualise everything and add an unrealistic pornography filter, resulting in women becoming big-breasted caricatures who play volleyball all the time.

Yes, we’re talking about you Dead or Alive.

These are things that need to change. Because the less open and realistic gaming is about sexuality, the more problems it faces in terms of being accepted as a bona-fide part of culture.

If the industry wants to be taken seriously, then it really does need to talk about sex.

Lads, Lads, Lads

Video games haven’t had a great track history in dealing with sexuality. In the past, sex in games has been portrayed with little in the way of tact or nuance. The tendency was to show you rude moments in a “phwoooar look at page 3” kind of way.

This low-brow, suggestive titillation has been pervasive in gaming since it first started. And this is because the target audience of games was considered to be primarily men. Or to be more exact: teenage boys.

It seems ridiculous to think about gaming audiences like that today, but female gamers simply didn’t get a look in. As a result of this over-balance in the gender force, games that dared to feature any kind of sexuality did so in a way that wasn’t aimed at women. And in the nineties, this meant games were more laddish than ever before.

Which brings us to Lara Croft.

My favorite model of classic Lara. #TRII

A post shared by Lara Croft (@laracroft.jolie) on

Tomb Raider really should’ve been a progressive achievement in gaming. Here we have a female lead character in an action-adventure game, a genre that’s often dominated by male characters. Lara Croft had all the potential to be a champion for a more balanced form of gender politics in video games; a revolution in how women are accepted in a male dominated… oh never mind – they’ve just given her huge breasts and short shorts. Back to square one we go.

But sadly, none of this was a surprise. Lara Croft was not designed to empower women; she was designed to provocatively grab the attention of a young male market. And things didn’t improve much in the new millennium.

Hot Coffee

The Grand Theft Auto series dared to explore the world of sexuality but when it did, it was once again done so through exploitative eyes. Once GTA hit the 3D open-world, the player could drive around the city and pick up prostitutes. At the time, this became one of the more notable and famous uses of sex in video game history.

Depressingly though, this landmark moment in gaming represented sex as nothing more than a transactional act which ultimately degraded women. And what’s worse? You could kill the woman afterwards and steal their money. Sheesh.

In GTA: San Andreas, there was a slight progression. You could now date women in the game and engage in a proper relationship, one which might result in the possibility of sex. But although Rockstar didn’t design any in-game sexual acts, some modders did and the infamous Hot Coffee mod was born.

Here you could control your character, CJ, as he had sex with his girlfriends. It was crude, silly and hardly added to the development of sexuality in gaming. And due to the immense popularity of the GTA games, it drew mass controversy and outrage in the United States. Even Hillary Clinton expressed her disdain over the whole affair.

Yes, a game that heavily featured violence and mass murder became more controversial because of sex. Only in America, eh?


Gaming though has managed to improve in recent years in dealing with sexuality. The industry has come to realise that (shock!) women play video games too, and they don’t particularly enjoy seeing themselves portrayed as unrealistic, porn-like figures in games. The landscape has changed and taboo topics like sexuality are now becoming less taboo.

There’s games like Mass Effect, where exploration of not only heterosexual relationships are explored, but also same-sex relationships too. And all within an emotional context, adding a layer of complexity to the sexual situations that end up happening in the game.

And yes, Heavy Rain has its critics and the QTE sex scene is clumsy and awkward as hell. But in fairness to David Cage, he hasn’t created a scene that’s much worse than what you’ll find in most B-list Hollywood fare.

What these games, and others beside them, are doing is opening a door to sexuality in games becoming more than just a joke. And this allows developers to be braver in dealing with more complex and more adult narratives. Which can only be a good thing for us, the gaming audience.

Does this mean we’ll get more sex on the back of unicorns though? Only time will tell.

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