Metacritical

Because games are about more than headshots

Why Sex Scares Me

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Yesterday, while paying CD Projekt’s seminal RPG ‘The Witcher’, I came to a startling realisation: That I had developed an fear of character’s making sexual advances towards me. Not with sexuality in general. I’m perfectly happy to see prostitutes on street corners and the ‘Vampire Brothel’ quest ended fabulously, giving me the freedom to allow a young girl to follow a sexually free but ultimately self destructive path. I love the way that the game constructs a misogynist approach to sexuality and then compels the player to give into the time, challenging the strength of the player’s real life convictions. However, I find myself terrified whenever a NPC whom I care about makings an advance on me. Why?

Because it means that any meaningful relationship I may have with the NPC is about to die.  It is an established trope of the RPG to make sex the pinnacle of an interpersonal relationship, after which there is nothing. In Bioware’s exemplary ‘Knights of the Old Republic’ series, characters receive one final batch of lines after sex and that’s it for the rest of the game. The dialogue tree persists in stasis for the rest of the game, unless the character has some reason to sacrifice themselves towards the game’s conclusion.  In ‘The Witcher’ character’s whom you’ve bedded often lose their dialogue trees altogether, responding to attention with only one or two lines of generic dialogue, all their interactivity stripped. These relationships are utterly ludicrous and shatter the player’s immersion, unless of course the player was personally disinclined to ever make contact with the PC after sex. In that case the developers time would’ve been well spent.


Some games don’t fall victim to this as much as others and ‘The Witcher’ is interesting because while it contains some of the most egregious examples of this crime, it also features some of the most mature romantic relationships in RPGs. In particular the relationship with Shani, who while at first falls victims to the ‘2 lines after sex’ example later returns to the narrative as both a pivotal plot character and as a woman who wants to make Geralt (the player and titular ‘Witcher’) settle down into a steady relationship, with her and her adopted son. This marks a total upheaval of the attitude towards that has been established by the title thus far, which is that sex is a goal and women are disposable, creating some interesting problems for the player.

However, upon further playtime it turns out that after an implied agreement between Shani and Geralt to stay together and marry, she does again revert to the ‘2 line dispenser’, at least until the plot is forwarded again, which is unfortunate. However, this relationship still goes some distance towards creating more believable romance and stands head and shoulders above the competition.

Bioware’s latest RPG, ‘Dragon Age: Origins’ serves as pretty extraordinary counterargument to my contention however, with the character of Morrigan. I shant spoil the title as alot of people (myself included) have yet to get a hold of the thing, however the player’s relationship with Morrigan can be ended with sex, however it’s handled in a pretty amazing way, turning sex into a moral choice which forces you to balance the strength of your beliefs against your feelings for a character, all executed in a surprisingly sophisticated manner.

Despite Dragon Age's sexually progressive nature, sex is still limited to young people

For the time being however, it would be best if Morrigan’s surprisingly engrossing sex was merely the exception to the rule. If writers were forced to include sexuality as something that happens in relationships instead of as a trophy for completing a long series of dialogue trees, then writers would be forced to create not only more interesting and believable romantic encounters, it would also necessitate more interesting characters, to maintain player interest after the elusive beast that is sex has been obtained.

Obtained.

Finally and possibly most important, implicit in all of this writing is a frustration that sex as a final interaction reinforces the ‘Sex as a Commodity’ model, with (usually) female NPC’s having to be convinced to give sex to the player. Whether conciously or not, this reinforces the model in the minds of players, which is not a good thing.

Sex as a commodity: Confirmed

Below is a trailer for Bioware’s upcoming RPG, ‘Mass Effect 2’ showing off ‘Subject Zero’ (a stereotypical and cliche`d ‘Child Experiment Turned Badass’)  doing her best to destroy my interest in picking up the sequel.The scene where she appears to come onto Shepard forcefully (Chris Remo of Gamasutra describes it as rape), totally interrupts the traditional ‘Sex as a Commodity’ representation in games and it would be really interesting to see player’s reactions to having what is traditional a much sought/lusted after reward forced upon them.  The only other case I know of where the player (as a heteronormative white male) is raped is at the climax (poor choice of words) of F.E.A.R. 2, however that game executed very poorly on the idea, leaving players mostly bewildered instead of feeling violated and scared. I’m a proponent of games exploring new territory and providing the player new experiences, as long as they’re well executed.

I somewhat doubt that actually happens in Mass Effect 2, however. Which is a shame, as Bioware could probably pull it off.

PS: Dragon Age’s neutered and awkward sex scenes also scare me.

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Written by Aonshix

January 11, 2010 at 9:24 pm

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