Friday, June 13, 2008

Oh video game pornography, where art thou?

Let's get one thing out of the way first. I don't believe porn, or pornography as people in weird grey-ish clothing tend to call it, is evil. Or inappropriate. Or even inherently sexist. What I actually do believe is that -in all its varied guises- porn is both interesting and a frankly under-explored medium. Also, I quite love it, and if you don't or have anything against mankind, sex, having fun and/or life in general, and thus feel offended, well, that's not my fault. I'm a bloody misanthrope too, you know (especially on Mondays).

Besides, porn wasn't the first thing that came to my mind for my belated Game Cabaret premiere after all. It's just that tackling deep ludologic issues might be a bit too much for me at the moment. Urban geography is taking up far too much time, and I obviously digress. Also I should have finished this article ages ago.

So, what is porn really? Or, to rephrase the question, is every depiction of sex pornographic? Well, no, though admittedly the answer could change depending on the society within which the matter is discussed. 18th and 19th century Europeans for example were so shocked by the perceived obscenity of ancient Greek and Roman nude statues, that literally went on and chopped their dicks off (the statues', not theirs unfortunately), whereas pornographic depictions of sex were pretty standard in the practice of a variety of more humane religions. Personally -obviously influenced by contemporary society, too- and while cunningly avoiding narrow puritan definitions, I do tend to define any attempt at intentionally, sexually stimulating ones audience as pornographic.

Whether I (or anyone else) is actually stimulated is another matter altogether. It's the creator's -perceived or actual- intention I care about, in a way not dissimilar to what I would use to classify a horror movie. Or game.

video game pornWere I actually discussing cinema, I would definitely not consider any uncensored sex scene as reason enough to classify a film as porn. Baise-moi for example does sport quite a few sexually graphic scenes that are definitely not meant to arouse. The contrary rather. Then, there are films like Novecento where one or two sex scenes are merely added as just another story element or for purely realistic/artistic/whatever reasons. Wouldn't call that porn either.

Proper porn movies, on the other hand, the garden variety of dirty flicks if you wish, fail on everything else besides the sex scenes, and one could even argue that most of them aren't that good or varied to begin with. It was Clive Barker I believe who actually tried to define quality porn, as something that manages to captivate its audience even after said audience has climaxed and, sad as this sounds, the only porn movie I think managed to achieve such a lofty goal was Deep Throat with its -at times- brilliant humour (mind you, humour and porn do work quite well together it seems).

Thankfully though, quality porn is more than a theoretical construct or merely a wish. It can be found -among other places I'm sure- in literature, and as most should be familiar with Marquis/Citoyen De Sade's works, indulge me while I go on and briefly focus on Andreas Embirikos. Embirikos, you see, besides being my favorite surrealist poet, a pioneer in Greek psychoanalysis, a photographer of beautiful girls, an excellent writer and, when in the mood, a socialist, was also a great pornographer. And an immensely proud one too. His greatest contribution to porn, Megas Anatolikos (The Great Eastern), was an epic novel spanning one hundred chapters, taking place on the titular cruise ship and eloquently showcasing the glory of almost every imaginable perversion. Frankly, absolutely nothing was considered taboo or perverted enough to be left out and, were the book released in our era, the censors would be having an editing party. What's more, the sex scenes were at once poetic, funny, arousing, plot advancing and brilliantly complemented with giant penises rising from the ocean or extensive descriptions of the ship's library. Oddly, it was quite a publishing success too.

Let us now move from literature to video games (a humongous leap indeed), where the story so far is rather sad. Pathetic even. To begin with, sex, let alone pure gratuitous porn, is virtually absent in the mainstream and to such a degree that a semi-naked woman is easily considered scandalous, whereas -say- a mutilated corpse goes largely unnoticed. Standard puritanic medium-wide ethics aside, even when sex is present, it usually is presented in a ridiculously sexist/immature way and lazily treated as a reward for gamers. Interactive sex, truly arousing scenes playing on the medium's strengths and thus proper video game porn is, for the time, nigh-on unthinkable.

Cataloging every attempt at sexy games is of course beyond this article's scope, but briefly discussing a few of the niches in porn games most definitely is not. First of all, we have the virtual dollhouse games a la 3D SexVilla or the less germanic Virtually Jenna, that besides their grotesque attempt at realistic graphics don't offer much of a gaming experience either. Pathetic and marginally more fun than undressing your children's dolls or something is what they are. Then, we have more or less proper games that tend to vaguely stick to a genre or another, while cunningly introducing an erotic theme and a few sex scenes, just like the Lula series that eventually spawned the atrocious Lula 3D, or a variety of Tetris-clones and chess games that sort of reward the player with the odd video of a tit being all titty. Slightly better are the Japanese choose-your-own story offerings, which aren't totally unlike watching a hentai porn DVD with a marginally less than obvious chapter selection feature. Finally, and after ignoring such bizarre masterpieces as the wonderfully nonsensical Sex Station 7, we do have games (in name only) that are nothing more than glorified adult chatrooms. Oh, yes, and a myriad of games like Leisure Suit Larry that never claimed to be pornographic, never tried to, but were still horribly misunderstood by the sex-starved gaming audience (and this of course does not include our readers; male or female). In a nutshell: video gaming porn is and has always been in dire straits. At best.

The question thus can only be: Could it work? Could there actually be a video game that manages to be arousing? Well, I'd say yes, but only in theory and in the realm of the indie scene, as I just can't see anything interesting happening in the world of children focused consoles or mainstream PC gaming. Quite obviously an erotic text-adventure/piece of interactive-fiction would be a nice start, and a rather easy one too, especially if one were to follow -as is rather typical for this kind of games- classic literally rules while adding a touch of interactivity. Interestingly, and that could be a positive sign indeed, women have been -up to now- more interested in the sexier side of gaming (have a look at the Sexy Videogameland)...
This could probably spare us the sexist bits.

Oh, and on an absolutely unrelated and definitively closing note, let me remind everyone that Woody Allen (I think) was correct: being punctual is a very lonely experience indeed. On the other hand, I'm absolutely positive Mr. Allen was the one to also insightfully notice that sex between two people is a beautiful thing. Between five, it's fantastic.


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Resident Evil 5 - No Changes After Racism Charges

After charges of racism, the Resident Evil 5 team made no changes to the game.

Anyone who works in the U.S. for a company of almost any size has probably had training on sexism in the workplace. The point that is made time and time again [as I have had about 4 of these sessions at different places] is that sexism is not a matter of intent but of perception. Argue with that if you want, but that is the definition.

The point is that it is not up to the speaker to decide what is sexism but the victim. So does this logic apply to other forms of prejudice. And there is a simple explanation for this perspective: it is possible for us to speak or act in a way that is offensive even though we might not mean it as such. But ignorance does not cut the prejudice to a less harmful dosage. It is simply then unintentional racism.

For example, years ago, I was at a small party of about 25 people in Indiana. There's one who has smoked and drinked a bit, so he's talking loudly and says something about a "porch monkey." The party was almost entirely white. Almost. Two black men were there and became irate. The woman hosting the party talked to them, aware of their anger and then went to the guy and explained that he had been offensive. I believed the guy when he said he had no idea that "porch monkey" was a prejudiced term . . . he thought it just referred to yard statues. He wasn't even aware of the black men or talking about them. He apologized profusely. The black men accepted it, although they were amazed that someone would claim to be so ignorant. It was a clear tale of different experiences for it is possible for some to speak and behave in a biased way without knowing the meaning behind it.

I doubt that the Capcom team intended racism. But it's the context and perspective of the victim that matters. Sure, white guys get killed in games all the time. It doesn't matter if no one said anything about Latinos getting shot in other games.

There were ways to address the issue without throwing the game to wayside and starting over. For them to disregard the complaints is a worse action, one done not ignorance but in purposeful defiance. The original charge of racism against Resident Evil 5 seems no different than Sony's "white is coming" ad.

But their response would be, thus, be the same if Sony hadn't pulled the ad but stayed with that campaign. I honestly don't believe that Jun Takeuchi is racist, but I think the game's racist perceptions are valid. I also think it's mistake to judge racism by claiming that it wasn't intended. We know that racism is often expressed in coded but ambiguous terms. I've seen it in play, learning that "welfare" and other terms are loaded, with a wry smile or subtle expression to convey the real meaning. We've seen the "dog whistle" messages at work in the U.S. this campaign season. Whether we like it or not, the victims get the first right of refusal, however inconvenient that may be to some. This is the price of history, which can't be conveniently wiped away within a generation and after happy-happy-joy-joy political speeches.