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.


The Sports Satirist said...

Naked women!!!! Now, this is my kind of content. Oh, dear. I need a cold shower.

NebachadnezzaR said...

That was a great read, gnome. Congratulations.

In this matter, unlike the RE5 racism case, I pretty much totally agree with you on the various topics you talked about. I also can't understand why a mere picture of a naked body is considered pornography, or why the hell people consider the natural act of sexual engagement way more offensive than blowing heads or bodies cut in half, specially considering that everyone, sooner or later, will have sex, while just a few of us will actually kill people like we do in games, and those are usually not consider "normal" people, but rather criminals and the scum of society.

Fortunately sometimes there are games that boldly dare to push the boundaries by showing sex, even if not totally explicit, and even better, not as the main attraction of the game, but as just another natural part of it. Yes, I'm talking about Mass Effect, and I definitely hope that we'll see more games like that in the future, because this industry really needs them.

gnome said...

Ah, so glad we are back to agreeing with each other dear Nebachadnezzar... Mind you, just remembered the only disturbing sex scene I've ever seen in a game and it was in Fahrenheit. Oh dear... zombie love is creepy...

Jonathon Wisnoski said...

I don't remember any zombies in Fahrenheit or the sex scene being disturbing...

But anyways, nice post.
I would agree with everything everything you said.

Unfortunately any more sex in games at this time would probably only inflame opposition to games in general.

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