Saturday, January 26, 2008

Context Sensitive

One of the more interesting subjects going around the gaming world at the moment is that of a TV segment based on the game Mass Effect; or rather, a segment based on a particular scene in the game that features sexual interactivity between the main character and one of the other characters depending on how the player progresses the story and character development. The scene in and of itself isn't all that obvious. There's no revealing nudity and it's edited in a way where the scene portrays exactly what is intended - that of a loving relationship between the two characters involved - and nothing more. The TV segment was on Fox News and had a few people discussing whether the scene was appropriate or not and of course, the misconception that the scene featured full-on nudity and that the actual sex itself was controlled by the player. The controversy comes from the gaming world retaliating with the truth - that you can't control it and that there's no full-on nudity like was accused on the segment - and it's been a tennis match ever since.

I'm not here to talk about the controversy of this particular segment though, but moreso about sex in gaming overall and whether it is appropriate.

See, I can't help but laugh at the controversy surrounding this particular scene in Mass Effect and indeed the various perspectives on it. Obviously it has been misconceived, but even so I find it ironic that the game with the sex scene that doesn't really show anything gets the controversy while a game that does indeed feature full nudity goes completely under the radar. The game I'm referring to is Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy in the US). Granted, Fahrenheit flew under the radar while Mass Effect had a bit more mainstream hype before its release, but even with that knowledge I still can't help but laugh at the irony of it all. If the controversy can escalate to the levels that it has with regards to a scene that doesn't show anything, then imagine what it would be like if it was Fahrenheit that had the controversy. It would just be insane.

All this controversy got me thinking though, is sex appropriate for gaming?

Personally, I think so. I mean, movies and shows have it all the time and no one complains or really notices that, so why should it be any different for gaming? You could argue that the whole interaction thing that comes with gaming could define the experience as being different to TV or film, but then any sex scene I can think of that has been in a game has been a cut-scene anyway so to me that takes the interactivity argument out of the question. I will however mention this, I think sex is welcome in gaming as long as it is within context of the game. Having a sex scene in a game for the sake of a sex scene is wrong and doesn't belong in gaming as far as I am concerned (a thing that is unfortunate about movies - almost all of them have a sex scene of some sort).

The two examples above - Mass Effect and Fahrenheit - have their scenes within context of the game. They're there to extend the story and more importantly, the character development and they both succeed. I also feel that whether the 'scene' features full nudity or not is irrelevant. Obviously these characters on screen aren't real and therefore individual privacy issues don't come into play, but I also find that from my experiences with the games I don't even take notice of just how much is being shown. Fahrenheit would be the better example here I think because it does show everything. I remember that when I finally came across the scene (like Mass Effect's, it happens late in the game) I didn't even realise that they were completely naked. I viewed the scene exactly as intended - two people expressing their love, motivated by the upcoming final events of the game. It was only after the fact, during my second play through that I realised that they were both naked. To me, that was awesome because I took the scene exactly as intended and the scene succeeded because I was immersed in the characters and their development, rather than the act that they were performing and how it was being performed.

A reasonably similar thing happened with Mass Effect's scene. Now I will admit, I had seen it already before playing the game because of the game being banned briefly in Singapore and also because everyone was going on about the whole alien lesbian (which is just a possibility of the scene - rather than the defining feature of it) aspect of it. That said, when I came across the scene in the game I didn't take any notice of what was possibly being shown (nudity wise), but rather I took it exactly as intended again - as characters taking their chance to express their love before the final events of the game.

As I said before, both games' scenes were completely within context of their games and I feel added to the story because of it. Because of this, I welcome sex in games providing it is within context and not just there for the sake of it being there. Infact, I wish more games featured it but I guess the time will come as gaming continues to evolve. I read a quote somewhere recently that I can't remember directly, but it likened gaming now to what the film industry was like in the 40s - 60s period. I think the quote is fitting and while it has nothing to do with the subject of this post, it does fit gaming overall. We're still evolving and will continue to do so as the years go on. As we evolve, we'll start to see deeper themes such as sex, or perhaps even homosexuality (something Mass Effect alludes to indirectly actually, with the Asari species) as the stories in gaming evolve and are able to be portrayed and expressed in more detail to the player experiencing the game. Games like BioShock, Mass Effect and the like have shown that games can feel very real while we play them. That will continue as we get more games that are able to feel real and as such, they will connect with us on a deeper level, affect us more emotionally and engage us in more unique and intriguing ways.

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