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Game Buzz | Love, Lust and Media Masturbation - A Look at Romance and Gaming's Sexual Immaturity

Author:
Matt Gardner
Category:
Features
Tags:
Game Buzz, Lies, Sex, Videotape

Game Buzz | Love, Lust and Media Masturbation - A Look at Romance and Gaming's Sexual Immaturity

It's been something of an odd week. A sexy week, if you will, with gaming finding itself in a couple of sticky spots that had to do with what happens when two people get together, light a few candles and stick on some Barry White. This, after all, was the week where video games were accused of contributing to a rise in rape occurrences and the fact that a video game had a blowjob scene in it was apparently newsworthy. It's no coincidence, perhaps, that this week sees us count down to a day that Hallmark and florists the world over would like us to believe is the most romantic day of the year. Love, it would seem, is in the air. But all for the wrong reasons.

I'm a romantic guy, I'll admit it. I love Valentine's Day, I buy into its Hallmark whimsy and overpriced flora. I go nuts for candlelit dinners and earnest, hopeful movies. I just finished reading The Time Traveller's Wife and One Day (for the seventh time)...and I cried buckets. In books and movies, songs and poems, plays, ballets, operas and paintings we've seen artistic romantic expression that's been touching and moving, uplifting and heartbreaking, or - at the very least - identifiable.

Video games, I would argue and I'm not the first nor will I be the last, have struggled to find a way of doing this.

Game Buzz | Love, Lust and Media Masturbation - A Look at Romance and Gaming's Sexual Immaturity

Last year, around the same sort of time when all manner of folk were dashing about to frantically buy flowers and cards and trinkets and chocolates in the name of romance and love, I penned a little article looking at the top ten video game couples. You may have seen many examples of such lists around this time of year. And usually there are few surprises. I mean I tried to shake things up a little, and I do feel that my reasoning was sound, but the sticking point is really in the title. It was a list of relatively self-contained couples, looking at the best romantic pairings - not necessarily the romances themselves, although I would argue that some of them (the pairing above in particular) got that right too.

Love, lust, sex and romance - these are themes that gaming has struggled to deal with for a long time. Since its inception, romance - that is to say romantic emotional investment - has been an issue for video games. It's clear that narrative and story tie very closely into this, which is why usually the most effective games at wrapping you up in two characters' voyage of love are often RPGs or Adventure titles - games that make you invest for the long haul.

Chrono Trigger, Infinite Space and Final Fantasy Tactics all offered up complex and layered storylines that allowed for slow yet steady character development, all with romantic elements, although the latter's is a tale of betrayal and misery and serves up all sorts of reasons to not get married. Dialogue and detail were all key, a sentence here, a gesture there. Particularly in the former, which was all understated flirting and casual disapproval when attentions wavered. A good RPG is kind of like a warm bath, you just want to soak in it for as long as possible. If you allow yourself it is the perfect medium for cultivating emotional attachments because it gives you time to invest and isn't afraid of serious downshifting and changes of pace.

Game Buzz | Love, Lust and Media Masturbation - A Look at Romance and Gaming's Sexual Immaturity

The finest games for this sort of thing are, I maintain, to be found in 2D RPGs and adventure games - text and otherwise. The appeal of the text based adventure is clear: it's a finely crafted story in which you make the discerning choices. It's consequential narrative at its purest, but its romantic strengths lie in its literary merits, the game side of things relating mainly to choice. Writing has everything to do with gaming romance - emotional attachment is borne out of wishing the unreal was real, feeling like you actually know the character and fantasising, to a certain degree, that you did.

Buying into character romances involves a certain amount of transference - wishing yourself into Tidus' shoes with Yuna, appreciating and understanding the tender subtlety of the relationship between Jackie and Jenny in The Darkness - and it is a process that is far more direct when it comes to RPGs that have you create your own character. With a virtual embodiment of yourself running about and interacting with these characters, the relationships that build up are that little bit more direct. Again, this is where the choice comes back in - most readily evident with BioWare - where you can identify different romantic character subsets to try and appeal to a broader spectrum of gamers.

Game Buzz | Love, Lust and Media Masturbation - A Look at Romance and Gaming's Sexual Immaturity

However, it is not all about the writing - being a visual medium, the evolution of technology has meant that romantic storylines have a new obstacle to overcome, and that has to do with visual realism. Illusions can be shattered just as much by technological and developmental inadequacy as they can by poor writing, if not more so. Watching CGI characters kiss has always been a little odd to me and 3D gaming - even in something as visually sophisticated as Heavy Rain - has not done anything to change that. Whereas in 2D games, the visuals understandably fall short of photo-realism and make a suspension of disbelief that much easier, we don't want to see rendered dolls smashing into one another. Mannequins aren't romantic at all, in fact they're a little freaky.

Sex is a different matter altogether. Sex and gaming have been inextricably tied together since the very first pair of over-sized breasts was sketched out for a gaming character. In a virtual sphere dominated by male power fantasies, it is no wonder that sex plays such a large part when we're supposedly thinking about it once every four seconds. It's no secret that sex symbols have aided the spread of gaming massively the world over, but it's no longer a subterranean basement hobby any more. Gaming has expanded beyond that...or has it?

Game Buzz | Love, Lust and Media Masturbation - A Look at Romance and Gaming's Sexual Immaturity

I'm not suggesting in any way that Carol(e) Lieberman's statements regarding a relationship between gaming and sexual violence should bear any consideration whatsoever. Quite frankly, mainstream gaming has tended to shy away massively from anything other than PG-worthy sex scenes. The portrayal of women, however, leaves much to be desired. It's getting better, to be sure; there are strong female protagonists who offer much more than physics-defying buoyancy, but it's still pretty new territory for serious consideration - pornographic titles and hentai excluded.

There's a sexual immaturity that gaming hasn't yet shrugged off. When Lieberman talks about the effects such things will have on children, it's because she sees a medium rooted in T and A, and the press don't help matters either. Reporting Dragon Age II's inferred blowjob scene as news is akin to a bunch of schoolboys tittering away at the back of a classroom. We should be able to deal with these things without the stifled giggles of an adolescent who's just discovered masturbation. There are plenty of real teenagers who'll do that.

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