Mar 23, 2022 - Technology

How developers are rethinking sex in video games

Illustration of a pixelated bird and bee flying across the image.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Artful depictions of sex have a crucial place in video games because of how they allow people to examine their ideas of romance and relationships, according to one developer.

Driving the news: Designer and writer Sharang Biswas gave a Game Developers Conference talk exploring how sex is, and can be, depicted in games.

  • From the beginning, video games have often problematically incorporated sex, with rampant sexism, glorified assault and transactional approaches to pursuing romance.
  • Many tend to be goal-oriented, where the objective is to build a romance with a character just to sleep with them.

The big picture: Games depicting sexual behaviors are often a way to discuss broader societal issues.

  • “Expanding the conversation about sex through our various artforms, including games and playful experiences, is important,” Biswas said.
  • Just as important, he said, is to ask: “Why shouldn't we include sex in games if sex is a facet of human experience? If it's a thing that many people derive pleasure from, we can also put it into games, which is another thing many people derive pleasure from.“

The very act of sex, Biswas said, whether it’s who we have it with or when, “has been a reason that people have been persecuted” since the beginning of time.

  • “Sex can help build queer communities, because sex and queerness has a lot of links,” he said.
  • Furthermore, “some people argue that queer sex is in itself a revolutionary act of resistance.”

What's happening: Gamemakers in the indie scene are leading the charge when it comes to games that explore sex and sexuality, without actually having to have sex.

  • Robert Yang is one of the best-known developers tackling sexuality through games like Hurt Me Plenty that explores consent and care.

Naomi Clark’s two-player card game Consentacle is about navigating boundaries and figuring out how to please a sex partner.

  • “The game is all about when you have a body that's not considered normative, how do you have sex?” Biswas said.
  • “There is no one way that people have sex,” he says, nor is there one specific body type that should be allowed to.

Biswas advises developers to think about getting weird, and consider “mechanics that aren't directly about sexual acts.”

  • “We all have normative notions about what sex looks like,” Biswas said, pointing to questions like what kind of bodies are permitted to have sex or what objects people are allowed to use.
  • “These ideas are ingrained in society,” he added, and the best way to question them is to use speculative fiction.

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