GDC '08: Game devs 'terrified' of sex

Gaming's first lady of sex Brenda Brathwaite discusses developers' fear of the erotic, the "AO kiss of death" at retail, and how a lack of mature content threatens to Disney-fy gaming.

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SAN FRANCISCO--Game developers are frightened of sex, claims the founder of the International Game Developers Association's Sex special interest group. But Brenda Brathwaite isn't talking about nerds living in a basement who are too scared to approach a member of the fairer sex; she's talking about the lack of it in the actual games themselves.

Brenda Brathwaite.
Brenda Brathwaite.

She told the audience at her "Hentai, Hardcore, and Hotties" talk at the Game Developer's Conference that "Developers are terrified of putting sex in games in case they get an AO rating, which is the kiss of death."

Part of this fear is justified, she admits, as even games that get an M for Mature rating are not stocked by the biggest chain stores. "Western sex games like Leisure Suit Larry and 7 Sins didn't sell," she sighed. "And they didn't sell because they couldn't get into Best Buy, Wal-Mart, or Target. If you can't get into those three stores, you're done."

Gaming's first lady of sex also bemoaned the ratings system as blocking the potential for serious, educational sex games. "For example, you can make a game about safe sex for teenagers, and it would automatically get an AO rating," she ranted. "There's absolutely no provision in the ratings system that says anything like, 'unless it's an educational title.'"

Brathwaite admitted she was flabbergasted by the whole furore surrounding Mass Effect, which was briefly banned in Singapore for its girl-on-girl action and contained, according to one report in the mainstream press, "full digital nudity and sex." The sex scene in question was perfectly acceptable, she believes, and didn't offer anything near a hardcore experience. She said, "Why is that not OK? Why is that not alright? If we don't have any sex in games at all, we're going to end up with just those happy Disney games."

Attitudes on sex in games are not universal, and countries like Japan and Germany have problems understanding why a little lovin' causes such issues in the US. She explained, "In Germany it doesn't have anything in the ratings system about sex. It's all about the violence."

She also laughed off the controversy surrounding the sex minigame in Sony's God of War. She said, "If you were watching that on TV, you know with that kind of the vase wobbling on the table stuff, that would barely be a 13. Come on, that's almost Happy Days stuff."

However, Brathwaite doesn't want more sex in games just for the sake of having more sex in games. "Right now, there's no reason for it," she told GameSpot after her session. "Sex games aren't selling, except in a few exclusive markets and in games that have big IP. "Gratuitous sex is usually mocked, particularly when added to games where it has no real point in the narrative."

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