Warning: Videos and images contain virtual nudity!
There's a moral double standard in mainstream entertainment, one that's most keenly felt in video games. Namely, it's perfectly OK to engage in all forms of graphic virtual violence, but if you show anything sexual ... well, it's game over.
Nudity in video games is relatively rare, and sex is much rarer. Out of the tens of thousands of video games reviewed by the Entertainment Software Rating Board regulatory body since 1994, only 21 -- fewer than 0.1% -- bear the "Adults Only" rating, a commercial kiss of death even more dire than an NC-17 rating for a film.
The newest member of that exclusive club is Seduce Me, an interactive erotica computer game released this month by Amsterdam-based No Reply Games. Seduce Me casts players as a strapping young stud visiting a sprawling Mediterranean mansion, with the ultimate goal of wooing the game's four main female characters into intimate, explicit liaisons.
Illustrated with hand-drawn artwork, the game requires players to navigate the mansion's finely decorated rooms and interact with characters through small talk, flirting and a handful of other forms of communication, played out in the form of challenges based on card game principles.
Seduce Me made headlines last year when it was removed from the indie game incubator on Steam, the popular digital download platform for PC and Mac games. The developers are now selling it directly on their website at www.noreplygames.com for about $17.
No Reply Games co-founder Miriam Bellard said that in hindsight it wasn't surprising Seduce Me was pulled from Steam. But when Fifty Shades of Grey and its many explicitly erotic cousins are freely available for sale in a variety of virtual and physical bookstores, it's odd that games are still held to such a different standard. "Erotica is treated as a normal and natural part of the book world," said Bellard. "It's just another category, there is no controversy."
Games have made some progress in the mature depiction of sex, thanks to Edmonton-based BioWare's Mass Effect sci-fi series and its adult handling of romantic relationships, and Polish developer CD Projekt's Witcher series, which doesn't shy away from showing bare flesh among its swords and sorcery. Still, an average episode of Game of Thrones contains more nudity than both combined.
With Japan being home to entire sub-genres of erotic video games freely available for sale, Bellard and company are hoping Seduce Me will be a small step towards convincing western game developers that sex isn't scary or dirty. Their home base in the Netherlands seems like a good place to start.
"The reaction to our game from people we know in Amsterdam has been very different to what we received on Steam," said Bellard. "The Dutch attitude to sex is definitely more relaxed."
Video game sex
More and more mainstream game developers have begun experimenting with depictions of sex. Here are five recent examples of video game coitus.
God of War III (2010)
The warrior Kratos has (off-screen) sexytime with the love goddess Aphrodite, while her topless handmaidens breathlessly watch.