The issue of sex in video games is a frustrating one. In particular, it's maddening how the media treats video games and movies differently.
American movies have featured non-pornographic nudity for nearly 100 years, and yet it's still "controversial" whenever a game features a sex scene. Anti-video game activists especially succeeded in making a big deal about the mild sex in Mass Effect, though they had to lie about it to get airtime. (No, the scenes did not amount to interactive pornography.)
But let's be honest with ourselves here: Most of the sexual imagery in video games is not like the sex scenes in Mass Effect. Game developers know that hardcore gamers are disproportionately young and male, and they know that young men like to look at scantily clad women. The overwhelming majority of video game sex isn't meant to advance a plot or explore the nature of human relationships; it's meant to titillate, pure and simple.
The anti-video game crusaders are wrong to try to censor this material. But those of us who love games ought to demand better.
It's not difficult to compile a "worst of" list on this topic. There's God of War, a series whose use of pointlessly topless women is notorious. There's SoulCalibur, a fighting franchise whose women are as sparingly clothed as they are vicious. Let's not forget about Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row, which are intentionally over-the-top but sex-saturated nonetheless. And going all the way back to the PlayStation One era, there's Tomb Raider, whose heroine Lara Croft drew in male gamers with her, er, artifacts. (Interestingly, this aspect of her look—almost certainly the best-known aspect—began as a programming mistake.)
And these are just the big-selling games—the ones that feature carefully crafted gameplay with a layer of sex on top to boost sales. There are also plenty of games that have almost nothing going for them except female nudity. Ten years ago we had BMX XXX, a game that covered up its horrible motocross gameplay by placing a naked lady atop each bike. The Dead or Alive series has padded its revenue by releasing beach-volleyball games featuring its sexiest characters. Then there's the Onechanbara series, in which bikini-wearing women hack apart hordes of zombies.
We gamers sometimes get mad about the stereotypes that society affixes to us, but get real for a second: We're the ones buying this crap. The big video game companies pour tons of money into "market research"—that is to say, they go to great lengths to figure out what we like and what we're willing to spend money on. Companies don't sell games like BMX XXX or add breasts to games like God of War for no obvious reason. They do these things because they've studied us in detail and know what we'll pay for.