Emotion in Motion – Where is sex in gaming today?

I’m by no means old but those “wild” early teenage years seem like so long ago that the mindset seems so alien to me. Beginning to notice girls, tentatively dipping my toe into waters too deep for me, it was an exciting time. However being a geeky guy, short, dumpy and with more hair than a yeti, actually having any involvement with girls wasn’t going to happen for a while yet. Games became my refuge. Other guys lip wrestled girls behind the bike sheds and I was round the front with my Sega Saturn magazines gazing at the glory of 32bit games. That magazine influenced me in several ways. Firstly the writing was of such a high quality that I started writing up reviews on my word processor, so you have them to blame for this article. The second was an advert for Tomb Raider on the Saturn through a mail order company, dear Miss Croft became the first poster girl of my youth. Finally one issue did something that I found remarkable. For eight pages it displayed full page high-res pictures of Dead or Alive characters in bikinis. Tina, Kasumi and Ayane posing like models and there it was, sex had infiltrated my refuge from sex.

As I grew older the jump from analogue stick to clitoris was made and I now sit as a grown man in a long term relationship, in hindsight I can see the immaturity of what I saw then as being sexy and that marketing-wise, Dead or Alive pretty much ripped the £80 out of my savings (imports were expensive then) by their cunning use of breasts. The teenage boy market is a lucrative one and it’s no surprise that they used sex to attract me to their games, what also fails to surprise is that the immature view of sex was the only one present in gaming at the time. After all, it was still the domain of the teenage boy and the teenage boy alone. Electronics Boutique reeked of lynx and body odour, greasy hair hanging over the pre-order section and monosyllabic communication the only way to get through the dead eyes caused by late nights.

What about now though? Dead or Alive got a film, Lara Croft was voted as the 6th top sex symbol by Channel 4 and game shops now have more fitness games than pre-owned games. Teenage boys are outnumbered by girls looking for Professor Layton and women looking for Brain Training in brightly lit and inviting game stores. The industry is older, it’s wiser and it’s for everyone… at least that’s what I thought. Two years ago, Mass Effect’s story included the tamest sex scene perhaps ever created yet Fox News got a hold of it and all hell broke loose. I set out to take stock of where we are when looking at sex in gaming, where we can find it and what the future holds.


I’ll begin with the less obvious place where we can find sex and gaming combining, namely hardware. When people think of games and sex the story aspect is thought of, but increasing immersion and intimacy through hardware is rarely considered. That was until 2005 when Kyle Machulis created the SeXbox and set the blogging world alight. “I realized I have a vibrator, and an Xbox controller, and neither was getting much use. So I put the two together, so that the vibrator would be controlled by the signals from the force feedback motor in the controller. Thus, the SeXbox was born.” Kyle told Ready-Up, “I posted about that on my website (http://www.slashdong.org) and the next day, it’d been picked up by a ton of huge blogs and I had around 60,000 unique visits in the 24 hour period. Then people started acting like I actually knew what I was talking about and I figured “Sure, why not. And here we are today.”

Kyle Machulis
Kyle Machulis

Slashdong houses Kyle’s interest in the field of teledildonics, the coming together of computers and vibrators where the website watches for both engineering interests and for general interests in sex and technology. A casual glance through the site will show dildos, flesh lights and all manner of sex toys hooked up to monitors. Closer investigation shows a world of patents, technological innovations and a meeting of sex and games that is simply inspiring. “Overall, it’s just a really interesting, multi-faceted engineering problem. In terms of sex and technology, trying to build hardware and technology that brings people together in an intimate way that doesn’t feel either cheesy or scary (or in some of the worst cases, both) is something no one has really achieved on the mass market level yet. For games, well, we spend billions of dollars a year in development and marketing of what is basically a platform for living out situations that usually can’t be replicated in real life.” Beyond gaming we have something that can take sex toys onto another level, but the challenge of raising this immersion in gaming is something that appeals to Kyle. “Developing sex in games, and, once again, making it not cheesy (BMXXX, DoA Volleyball) or scary (this hasn’t happened yet, but it could – using sex as a game mechanic is dicey, as failing a sex situation in a game could be a serious insult or embarrassment to the player) is a problem that’s both difficult and interesting.”

It’s not just the issue of sex in gaming being poorly written which is holding it back from making an impact today. A large problem in getting adult content onto the market in the first place is the restrictive nature of the consoles. The three major console makers (which of course also covers the handheld market) refuse to license Adult Only/R rated titles for their consoles, essentially meaning anything too graphic isn’t just difficult to get onto the console but impossible. Consequently the PC market looks like a haven for challenging content, however with the lack of a controlling license holder there are a myriad of issues still present. “Barrier to entry on PC is still fairly high. You can’t just pop a CD in and start playing, there’s installation and hardware issues and whatever else to figure out” said Kyle, “you also don’t have the manufacturer hardware lock-down that you see in consoles. That’s why, a lot of times, the ‘if you can code it, you can do it’ rule gets stretched and we see some sensationalist piece of news about some crap PC game with some sort of brutal sexual violence or something making the blog rounds.” And the issue of crap PC games is a valid one, particularly when comparisons to the console market are drawn. When researching the topic the sexual moments in console games ran into the few dozen, nothing too graphic either. However go onto your PC and you are positively spoiled for choice. Be it boxed games from sex shops, digital distribution through websites or even the humble flash Lara Croft naked game there is variety and true choice. Every taste is catered to, including some very questionable titles… however the risk is inherent when opening up anything with no restrictions. As Kyle said, all it takes is one game with an illegal aspect to light up the blogging world for a day, something not possible on the consoles. A similar problem appears in the MMO world on the PC, all MMO social interactions thrive on emergent gameplay with the world being created and then shaped by those playing it. In Second Life (who’s sexual side is explored in better depth than I could here by Zoey in her feature Down the Rabbit Hole) the issue of legality has been brought up as the world has grown and the fetishes being catered to have started to cross the line into that which is illegal in reality. Yet in controlling it (and the same rationale stands for consoles vs PC) you would be strangling a liberal and open nature which is one of the draws of the service. Kyle commented “Sure, it’s a ridiculously difficult problem, and one that can’t be handled by engineering alone. When you open up a world where people can do anything and be anything, they will do both to the absolute, unpredictable extremes.” Unpredictable is the right word. The innocent and family friendly Sims Online saw this when prostitution and organised crime became major problems within their online world, the prostitution linked to several underage ringleaders. “It’s either one of the greatest triumphs or biggest let downs of humanity, I haven’t decided which yet.” Looking at getting the balance between legality and liberalism, Kyle’s relief at being outside the policy making part of the industry showed. “In terms of actually striking that balance, well, I’m just glad I’m not the one doing it. Trying to keep your fist as close to another person’s nose as possible without actually crossing the line, especially when you’re an international business and that line differs wildly between countries, is a problem that may never be fully solved.”

It’s this issue of balance which seems to be holding back a full and frank exploration of sexuality as most developers, publishers and console makers err on the side of caution. This can be seen clearly through the industry’s favourite bad boys, Rockstar games and the Hot Coffee controversy in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The PC version of the game was released a year after the PS2 version and it was discovered that with a simple change to one line of code in the PC version you could access sex mini-games. Initially Rockstar claimed this was the result of reverse engineering and making significant changes to in-game code. This was later found to be false with the simplicity of the code change being revealed along with methods of altering the console version’s code thus proving that the mini-games were present on the disc and not the result of any modifications by a third party. Several assets from the mini-games were used in more innocuous parts of the game, explaining why it remained despite not being a part of the game. Apologies were forthcoming from Rockstar with the promise of patches and future versions of the game to be altered. However despite not being accessible without either purposely modifying the game code or owning certain game altering devices the controversy drew sharp criticism from all quarters prompting the game to be re-rated as an Adult Only title. Similarly the original Manhunt found itself permanently banned in stores owned by The Dixons Group in the UK after the murder of 14 year old Stefan Pakeerah was linked with the title despite the later discovery that the victim owned the game and not the alleged killer. Such issues arising from putting out Adult Only content make it easy to understand why the big names in the industry who could pioneer the inclusion of sex in games are so hesitant. “It’s still all a matter of money. While we’re starting to see more and more downloadable content, so the ‘WalMart’ problem of distribution (where large retailers simply won’t stock your game) starts to shrink, it’s still coming from a centralized hosting service by a console manufacturer, and that manufacturer would have to be willing to throw the cash into the development of age check systems to make sure the content doesn’t get into the wrong hands.”

The development of age check systems is certainly key to the problem. The 2008 Byron Review called for improvements in restricting adult content getting to children but didn’t call for the complete ban which can occur now. “Unfortunately, there’s a chicken and egg problem there, because no one can prove they have content good enough to warrant such a system being put in place, because there’s nowhere to distribute it to a wide audience.” To make matters worse even with improved ratings and distribution there is still the social stigma of sex not just in games but in all media. “Not nearly as much as I thought there’d be when I started all of this, honestly,” said Kyle, “granted, I started out in a fairly conservative portion of midwestern US and I now live in California, so I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum. In the end though, most people, on an individual level, realise that we all have sex. It’s the mass social voice against that idea, that’s where the fight is.”

The Wii Dildo, not a Kyle Machulis invention but intriguing none the less

After looking at the past and present I actually found the future of sex in games to be promising. Mass Effect broke ground not just in showing a PG-13 sex scene but in relationship development, Grand Theft Auto 4 did similar in developing a realistic relationship and a feeling of intimacy and warmth between characters. Until the restrictive nature of consoles and indeed society is lifted it’s unlikely we’ll see a naked body or god forbid anything more than an insinuation of a sex scene. However, in advancing story telling techniques and the quality of writing, sex scenes will occur more naturally and will begin to lose the immaturity which plagues the industry. You can see hints of this with the big response to the Mass Effect controversy being that it was a natural progression of a story. Heavy Rain is set to do the same as did Metal Gear Solid 4 and in doing this the first signs of growth from the industry’s teenage years can be seen.

Social gaming will continue to give people an avenue to meet new people and interact, if people do that sex is bound to occur and advances in that will be down to technology. For Kyle’s field the future is a challenge, “They’ve [teledildonics] been viable purchase options since the 90s (the SafeSexPlus teledildonics hardware came out in the late 90s, for instance). The problem there is more one of education and interface. Most people don’t think of their computers as sexual objects, because most people don’t really see them as hardware. They work more as a portal, but the only time anyone things about hardware interaction is usually when the hardware breaks. Most online sex still takes place in IMs or web cams. So someone is going to have to make the bridge between those worlds and sex hardware, in a way that’s both comfortable and interesting to the mainstream consumer, and no one has done anything near that yet.” The most striking thing from looking at sex in everything from mainstream to niche areas of gaming is how it’s just evolved that way, it’s natural that we want to look at sex and include it in the industry. “When you hand someone a piece of technology like a virtual world, that most people haven’t even fathomed… you can’t really predict what they’re going to do with it,” said Kyle. All we can do as gamers, from consumer to developer is take the technology and do what feels natural. If we do that then, as we see from how the industry has evolved in the last six years, sex in games will advance naturally. “It’s best just to sit back and let things live up to their “emergent” description. It’s more fun to watch that way, too.”

So whether you encounter sex in games by viewing a sex scene on your PS3 or if you play with sex toys on your PC or even meet someone online who you fool around with, there does seem to be growing developments in all areas of the industry and growth in ways many people wouldn’t be aware of. Whilst I’m fantastically interested by the emergent sexual encounters in MMOs and the sexual technology that people like Kyle are working on, the problem affecting the video games industry is of course one which worries me. The technology, the quality of writing and the talent is all there to help show a wider range of emotions and human interactions than ever before in gaming but politics hold the area back. The world is shrinking and dealing with the wide range of cultures which make up the gaming industries makes including controversial scenes incredibly difficult. A game being banned in a country can be a financial disaster, as is the bad press coming from conservative media and as such, the industry simply isn’t taking the risks required to perfect the art of showing the purest of human emotion. As it is today we still have the styles of sexuality which delighted me as a teenager with the occasional attempt at showing something deeper. It’s by no means ideal but it’s a start, it’s just a shame that it’s taken this long for the industry to start to push the boundaries and explore.







20 responses to “Emotion in Motion – Where is sex in gaming today?”

  1. Van-Fu avatar

    I am clearly immature. Some parts of your blog made me giggle like a schoolboy. “…the jump from analogue stick to clitoris…”, Kyle Machulis’ interest in convergence. He has a complete anti-Nintendo philosophy in getting female gamers to pick up the control pad.

    I have to be honest and say that I stand on the very conservative side of sex in videogames. I am mindful of the fact that my hobby is always the media scapegoat of choice for anything that upsets the general populations senese of equilibrium. In that sense, I am happy for innovation to be stifled in that arena. Give us ever more inventive ways of killing our opponents, but different ways to stimulate and titilate? I can live without it.

    The hypocrisy of the modern media and, more importantly, our lawmakers, could make my hobby subject to even more restrictions than we have now. German gamers are facing the very real prospect of actually seeing violent games actually being made illegal to sell, distribute and procure, not just prohibited from being advertised in the country.

    I’m not a pioneer, fighting for the civil rights of games. I just want to blow people up.

  2. John.B avatar

    @Van but if you don’t fight for the rights of your games then the German scenario emerges naturally. Giving in to the hypocrisy of media who kick up a fuss when there is a sex scene in a game but don’t blink when a game has graphic headshot close ups means they have won, they are the only voice talking. Oh and yay for giggling! I was trying to be funny 😛

    @Del ?

  3. Del Torro El Sorrow avatar

    The whole idea of video game sex peripherals. Makes me feel wrong just thinking about it.

  4. Affro avatar

    I heard a rumour that all people are naked under their clothes, we need to be banning people, in general, it’s a situation we need to take action on NOW.

  5. Del Torro El Sorrow avatar
    Del Torro El Sorrow

    Sorry affro can’t read that due to all the lag. It’s totally illegible.

  6. John.B avatar

    @ Del I was a bit like that when I started researching it but then I remembered when I was young they were selling a bullet vest which vibrated depending on where you were shot in game. You have guns that give kickback and surround sound to fully immerse you in the experience. So why not something to fully immerse you in your sex game?

    @ Affro I think you should phone the Daily Mail with this shocking discovery.

  7. Del Torro El Sorrow avatar

    Or how about just don’t have sex games?

    Like we need to cheapen sex even further in the modern world. It’s so sad…

  8. Lorna avatar

    More sex in games is a good thing IMO – it is part of life, deal with it. This picking and mix style of inclusion is cowardly…violence, check. Sex…ohhh no.

  9. John.B avatar

    For me it’s not just part of life but it’s possibly the purest expression of humanity we have, yet games as an interactive story telling medium have offered nothing thanks to the reasons I’ve detailed. I’m not saying I want graphic shots on the PS3 but what I do want is developers able to explore the issue and show it as a director would or a writer.

  10. RinoaTakako avatar


    That video made me rage, I lasted till she said "They get to choose". Hardly! I thought Mass Effect was more tame than a lot of movies aimed at teenagers. Get a grip, it's life. If it's done well and parents actually educate their kids on the birds and the bees properly then I see no problems with it 🙂

  11. Lorna avatar

    Agreed John. Completely. Fantastic piece and something that I have often thought myself. Superb reading and well reasoned.

  12. MarkuzR avatar

    Some pretty funny comments here… I love purists, they brighten up my day SO much 😀

    Sex is not only a necessary part of the cycle of life, but it can be an extremely pleasurable experience too… so why not depict it in games? If murder is fine in games (and let’s face it… most games have murder) then why not sex?

    Great piece as usual John 🙂

  13. Ironredboy II avatar
    Ironredboy II

    anyone for a game of Samantha Fox Strip Poker? They should put that on Xbox Arcade!

  14. MarkuzR avatar


    I remember playing Strip Poker on the Vic-20 and getting all excited over nothing more than ASCII characters. Ah… childhood… titillation was SO easy back then!

  15. Ben avatar

    Brilliant article John 🙂

    As others have said, if games have matured enough to tap into some pretty real world situations such as Murder and war then why not love and sex?

  16. MarkuzR avatar

    I think realism in TV and movies have made them so much more enjoyable. The saccharin dialogues of older movies lacked so much because we KNOW people don’t talk like that all the time… people swear, they’re rude, they talk over each other… the sooner games start to become more realistic (in terms of content rather than graphics) the better

  17. Darryl avatar

    John, great article.. I have the same thoughts, though never thought of the hardware part, but I have missed the sex in games.. Downloaded a few Adult only games, and they were, well, poorly written and a bit boring.


    I still remember trying to beat Metroid so I could see Simus in a bikini.. heheheh..

  18. David Thomas avatar
    David Thomas

    Banning sex in games while still allowing graphic violence is like carrying a sign that says “Make War, Not Love”
    Sex in games does not need to cheapen sex. If done right, it can enhance people’s lives and relationships. It will happen. Besides, I’m tired of hearing people complain that sex is being cheapened by modern society. A quick glance at any accurate history book will prove that argument wrong.
    Sex is great. We all know it.
    Celebrate it and have fun.


  19. AKO Webmail avatar

    I am developing a blog and I am seeking a new template.Yours seems pretty decent! Feel free to visit my blog and suggest things!

Leave a Reply