It goes without saying that sex is something a lot of people experience in their lifetime, and as such it’s a common ground of understanding for humanity as a whole. Having such a huge reference point in the human experience like this means that the appearance of sex in art and media is plentiful. Whether video games are art or not is an ongoing debate – and a hill I don’t plan on dying on today – but they certainly are media and, oh boy, they definitely contain a lot of sex. As with any industry worth more than $140 billion there’s a whole lot of bad, but that doesn’t diminish the presence of the good and this is absolutely true of sex’s place in video games. But before that a quick piece of history: the first game to actively include sex was Night Life, released in April 1982. Published by Koei – known for the Dynasty Warriors series – this game was developed by husband and wife duo Yōichi and Keiko Erikawa as an aid for couple’s sex lives, and includes thrilling features such as a period schedule, a digital Kama Sutra, and black and white horny drawings.
Fast forward to 2018 and video games have changed quite a bit, and the representation of sex within them as well. In October I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum, specifically the video games exhibition they were running at the time. It was at this exhibition I saw ‘how do you Do It?’, created by Nina Freeman and her team as part of Global Game Jam in 2014. The concept of the game is simple enough, you control an eleven year old girl trying to figure out what sex is, the player takes control of the girl’s arms as they flail a couple dolls – reminiscent of a Barbie and Ken – next to each other trying to emulate what they think sex is.
An autobiographical game by Freeman, it’s based on the memory of her attempting the same thing after watching Titanic for the first time, perplexed by what was going on between Rose and Jack inside that car. The game ends with the girl’s mother returning home having run some errands, and she may catch you performing these acts with the dolls depending on if you’re able to hide the dolls before she enters the room. This is then followed by a screen telling you how many times you ‘might have done sex’ (my record is 160). In my opinion, this is absolutely my favourite depiction of sex in video games; not because it has the best looking graphics, or has the hottest characters going at it, but because it so effectively puts forward that childlike curiosity on the topic. Many parents don’t want to talk to their child about sex, so it becomes this secret adult topic like death or, to a lesser extent, swearing. Children are aware it exists but don’t fully understand what it is and—due to the fact their parents don’t like talking about it—they know it’s a taboo topic, so they have to work out the rest themselves.
This small and charming game is a nostalgia trip to various points of my youth, such as walking in on my sisters watching American Pie and seeing a pair of boobs on the TV screen for the first time, sitting with my friends in junior school as we read up on what a vagina is in the dictionary, seeing some lady suck Nicholas Cage’s tongue in Face/Off – were these examples of sex? Sex in all media can be gratuitous and unnecessary, but children are innocent and inquisitive and this game demonstrates that perfectly. It’s joyful and wholesome in a form of media that for the most part is not, and because of this I recommend visiting Freeman’s website (ninasays.so) to try the game yourself for free. Whether you see it as a silly fun game, or something deeper than that, Nina Freeman is one of the most interesting and important creators currently in the field.
Unfortunately, not all games follow suit. Whether it’s button mashing your way through the brothels in God of War or video game director David Cage being a disgusting pervert to Ellen Page during the development of Beyond Two Souls, as well as continuing to put all his female characters into gross exploitative positions since his directorial debut in 1999. It’s evident that not all games are thoughtful towards their sexual representation. This isn’t me attempting to be a prude and making sex to be something sacred and protected, but it cannot be denied that still to this day – despite gaming’s large and diverse audience – games are developed in the male gaze, where women get skimpy bikinis while men get the full suits of armour. But this isn’t destined to be the case forever; with inspiring developers like Nina Freeman continuing to explore themes of sex and relationships in a meaningful way, the future is certainly exciting.