One year ago this month, a new landmark in computer gaming was set by a 36-year-old hacker whose talents simultaneously uncovered an explicit adult scene in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and lifted the veil on an industry that has been largely ignored in interactive entertainment.
The discovery of simulated fellatio buried in the GTA code resulted in an international scandal and lost its publishers millions of pounds after the game was removed from sale. It has since been the cornerstone product that has sent the games industry from courtroom to courtroom, defending itself against allegations of pornography.
Yet, sex in games has been around since the 1980s. No one noticed the awful Sam Fox Strip Poker, the terrible Stroker or the appalling Lula series because these products had no erotic potential. In fairness, GTA’s simulated sex act doesn’t stimulate much arousal either; its phenomenal sales weren’t the result of the interactive hanky panky lost in its bits and bytes.
Historically, sex in games has been a real turn-off. It seems remarkable that an industry that has had young males as its core demographic has seen so little sexual output. But the tide is turning. According to Brenda Brathwaite, veteran games designer of 21 nonadult titles and 2005’s Playboy: The Mansion, the earliest sexual activity in computer games was 1981’s Soft Porn Adventure. Brathwaite, who maintains the International Game Developers Association’s Sex in Games Special Interest Group and convened the first Sex in Games conference held last week in San Francisco, contends that many of today’s products are replete with implicit sexual interaction. Like most creators of adult-themed games, she suggests that creating products with explicit sexual themes will help developers represent the complete spectrum of emotion, rather than the narrow continuum catered for in contemporary gaming.
One of the key problems that dogs the industry is the perception that its products are for kids, so when jiggery pokery is discovered in an age-appropriate title, the moral majority proclaims it inappropriate. By that argument, much of the content on the radio, television and in film should also be treated as pornography. It seems extraordinarily inconsistent that a love scene in a movie only garners a 15 rating, but sexual activity in a game is bumped up to an 18.
If the GTA scandal has had any positive impact, it is that interactive entertainment has had to look inward and focus on the adult content of its output. And so, the cosmic balance of media and sex has been re-established in the computer games industry.