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Who spilled Hot Coffee?
December 9, 2012 7:31 PM   Subscribe

Both characters remained fully clothed and there were no genital shots. But this was still the most explicit sexual content Wildenborg had seen in a video game. “It was at this point I decided to release the patch to the public,” he says. “I tossed the name 'Hot Coffee' on the file, based on the fact that the girlfriends would ask CJ in for some 'coffee' as a euphemism for sex. Hot Coffee was the first modification for San Andreas.” - The history of Grand Theft Auto's infamous "Hot Coffee" mod.
posted by Artw (37 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously
posted by Artw at 7:46 PM on December 9, 2012


Here's a Wired article from 2007, where I first heard about this.

I like this quote at the end, from Wildenborg:

“Why would a 17 year-old be allowed to run around the city bearing weapons, a game in which you're free to shoot cops and beat up women but in which you're not allowed to make love to his girlfriend after dating her for a while? It baffles me how some Americans find two people making love more damaging for a 17 year-old than all the violence in the game.”
posted by mannequito at 7:57 PM on December 9, 2012 [22 favorites]


Hillary '16! I sure don't want to be damaged by the sight of virtual sexual enjoyment in between plowing over pedestrians and killing police.
posted by anarch at 8:07 PM on December 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


Tipper Gore's involvement in the PMRC was the reason why a high-school best friend was vehemently against the Clinton/Gore ticket. Gore wanted to censor the music he loved (while they may have claimed to be interested in merely advising parents, I witnessed a law forbidding the sale of stickered albums to youth in Washington state; later overturned).

The right isn't the only political stripe that's filled with politicians who are ready to censor content.

I'm sorry the company didn't have the guts to stand up to the whirlwind of controversy at the time, but at the end of they day they are there to make money, not fight culture wars.

I hope independent game creators will have the guts to have some interesting games that have sexualized content.

For now we are just left with the normalization of graphic violence and games won't even show the level of sexuality present in PG-13 movies.
posted by el io at 8:15 PM on December 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


God forbid anyone say "fuck".
posted by Artw at 8:28 PM on December 9, 2012


Tipper Gore's involvement in the PMRC was the reason why a high-school best friend was vehemently against the Clinton/Gore ticket. Gore wanted to censor the music he loved (while they may have claimed to be interested in merely advising parents, I witnessed a law forbidding the sale of stickered albums to youth in Washington state; later overturned).

Joe Lieberman spent a good portion of the 90's trying to make a name for himself as the guy who took on the video game companies, which certainly didn't help.

Also, if Tipper Gore and the PMRC are a subject of interest to you, Jello Biafra's High Priest of Harmful Matter contains a nearly hour-long speech from Biafra narrating the obscenity trial that came out of that. I wanted to provide a youtube link, but the youtube video that purports to be High Priest Of Harmful Matter is from a different piece and has Biafra talking about the WTO and trade treaties.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:31 PM on December 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Maybe I'm too cynical, but I kinda don't really believe that GTA would have a lot of sex scenes where both partners were consenting equals. Much less where the sex would be described in terms as syrupy as "making love". (Do you think the idea of the Death Dildo was to smack someone to death with the dildo, or fuck them to death with it? The GTA franchise has been consistently pretty dark, but I suspect it must have been smacking. I hope, anyway.)
posted by gingerest at 8:37 PM on December 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Its also a weird moment in history where politicians put themselves in charge of policing mods Where was Lieberman when they nerfed the shotty in Counterstrike beta 4, eh? Answer me that.
posted by Artw at 8:37 PM on December 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


Even more of a tangent perhaps, but it is a sin to mention the PMRC without linking to Frank Zappa's statement to Congress, because Zappa.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:41 PM on December 9, 2012 [9 favorites]


Its also a weird moment in history where politicians put themselves in charge of policing mods Where was Lieberman when they nerfed the shotty in Counterstrike beta 4, eh? Answer me that.

I tried to get Dick Lugar interested in my campaign to restore the APCs but he accused me of just wanting to grief with them.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:52 PM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Heh heh, dick lugar.
posted by Apropos of Something at 9:00 PM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'm too cynical, but I kinda don't really believe that GTA would have a lot of sex scenes where both partners were consenting equals.

The sex scenes were originally supposed to be the payoff of a sort of dating sim part of the game. The protagonist would meet a woman and take her on dates, and if everything went well enough times she would invite him for "coffee". They only took out the sex part with a few weeks left before the release, so the dating sim part is all still there in the normal version of the game. It was very mild and not at all dark, aside from the explicit sex scenes there's nothing you wouldn't see in Fable or any other RPG that has dating sim elements.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:31 PM on December 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Except the tedious DDR bits.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:34 PM on December 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Maybe I'm too cynical, but I kinda don't really believe that GTA would have a lot of sex scenes where both partners were consenting equals. Much less where the sex would be described in terms as syrupy as "making love".

The backlash still totally comes up whenever it is that syrupy, though. I mean, you don't get much cornier than the sex scenes in Mass Effect and Dragon Age: Origins , but the "blue sideboob" controversy seemed like enough to make Bioware put underwear on the sexing characters in DAO (which is hilarious both because you are apparently having sex through your underwear AND because Morrigan is really obviously not wearing a bra until the cutscene, when one appears); in both Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age 2 the sex ends up occurring off camera, though some of the love interests do appear in a state of undress. (The controversy with both games does have the element of homosexuality, but though Bioware games have often had straight-only love interests, there are no gay-only ones, just bi ones you can romance as a male or female character.)
posted by NoraReed at 9:37 PM on December 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


You're a lot better off just rolling a character on OKCupid if you want to play a dating simulator.
posted by Pudhoho at 10:03 PM on December 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


I hope independent game creators will have the guts to have some interesting games that have sexualized content.

For now we are just left with the normalization of graphic violence and games won't even show the level of sexuality present in PG-13 movies.


Oh, please. There's plenty out there in the Japanese market, depending on your definition of "game". Provided it encompasses something with lots of reading, there's been a lot of quite good material that's come out in the last decade, alongside substantially more supremely pervy and reprehensible stuff. Some of the more successful have received official or unofficial English translations, so if you're interested it's certainly out there. I haven't looked into the field in years, so I don't think I'd be qualified make recommendations.

As for the North American market, is it any surprise after Hot Coffee that no publisher wants to risk their $20-50 million in development costs on any major sexual themes in AAA titles? Mass Effect's romance options had pundits calling for heads to role for what amounted to little more than some uncanny-valley kissing, followed by a tasteful camera-pan away and a fade to black. With the increasing rise of digital distribution, especially for future console generations, it might be less of an issue, but any game with the dreaded ESRB M rating, let alone AO, loses out on a lot of retail options (most famously Walmart, but others also refuse to stock them).

On that note, Bioware may be one of the few big-time developers that bothers to try pushing the boundaries on this sort of thing. The Dragon Age titles had a wide range of romantic options, and both Dragon Age entries and Mass Effect 3 had potential homosexual pairings (Mass Effect 1 and 2 also had potential female same-sex couplings but not male, assuming Asari count as ladies). And Bioware definitely focuses a lot more on the social aspect of these relationships rather than the physical side.

For western-hemisphere indie titles, there hasn't even been too much movement in that direction, implying that either developers don't really care about exploring those themes or have a, probably justifiable, fear of backlash. The only one of significance in the last few years that jumps to mind is Polymorphic Perversity (NSFW) (previously), and it's by a psychotherapist who's approaching the subject from a somewhat professional angle.

So if you want english-language indie games with sexual themes, then I say go for it and whip one up. The market's wide open. But with behemoths like Apple and Steam unwilling to distribute them, it's less a matter of guts than a complete disinterest in commercial viability.

Other than that, straight up porn games have existed for some time and aren't going anywhere. They just aren't very interesting from a gameplay perspective, which is fine because that's not the need they exist to fulfill.

Maybe I'm too cynical, but I kinda don't really believe that GTA would have a lot of sex scenes where both partners were consenting equals. Much less where the sex would be described in terms as syrupy as "making love". (Do you think the idea of the Death Dildo was to smack someone to death with the dildo, or fuck them to death with it? The GTA franchise has been consistently pretty dark, but I suspect it must have been smacking. I hope, anyway.)

I grabbed the Hot Coffee mod back in the day out of curiosity. I think it's described fairly well in the Eurogamer article, but here's how it worked: Throughout the world of San Andreas, there are several specific women that the protagonist CJ can start a relationship with. In terms of game mechanics, this means that you take each woman out on a date a few times by driving to her icon on the map and then going to one of several designated date activities (dinner, dancing, drinks, going for a nice drive, or um, a drive-by shooting for one adventurous girl) which boosts your relationship score with her, clearly visible in the stats section of the game menu. You can also present her with a gift, which can provide an extra boost to the score. Each woman has preferences for date activities, CJ's physical appearance and clothing, and gifts, and doing something unsatisfactory or god-forbid causing her injury will penalize the score. Assuming CJ has been sufficiently charming, at some point he'll be invited back to her place for "coffee" at the end of a date, followed by a view of the exterior of her home accompanied by some moaning. This provides a further boost to the relationship score, and successive dates can also end with "coffee". Once the score is maxed out, generally several dates after first becoming intimate, a unique reward will be unlocked for each girlfriend, like allowing you to keep your weapons after being arrested for dating the policewoman. The sex isn't the reward in gameplay terms, since it isn't the end of the progression of the relationship score and normally first occurred about 60% of the way to unlocking the gameplay award. Obviously it may have been taken as the reward by some of the players.

All the Hot Coffee mod did was restore a fairly basic *ahem* rhythm game when CJ is invited back to her place. There definitely was a gameplay aspect to it, since you could fail it, but two 3d meshes grinding against each other is approximately as sexy as the puppet sex scene in Team America. Interestingly, success or failure was defined in terms of your partner's pleasure. Overall, the whole relationship system wasn't exactly the most progressive thing in the world (CJ is perfectly free to have multiple girlfriends at the same time, and once the reward is unlocked there's no reason to see any of them again, even though they'll occasionally call if he hasn't been around for a while) but it's not a complete horror show.

As for the death dildo, it's a melee weapon. Because beating bystanders to death with a big floppy rubber dildo is completely in line with Rockstar's sense of humour. It can also be presented as a gift to girlfriends, who seem to approve of them.

And on preview I see similar points have been covered much more succinctly above.
posted by figurant at 10:29 PM on December 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


There's plenty out there in the Japanese market, depending on your definition of "game". Provided it encompasses something with lots of reading, there's been a lot of quite good material that's come out in the last decade, alongside substantially more supremely pervy and reprehensible stuff.

I'm totally cool with (and interested in) interactive fiction and romance sims, and I've looked at some of the well-liked ones and haven't found much that I didn't find creepy and reprehensible in some ways. (I did, granted, get turned off pretty early after one too many walking in on love interests in the bath scenes.) It's a combination of playing fast and loose with consent and the discomfort I have with what the other game post today linked to, which is the insert coin receive relationship style of gameplay, and a LOT of dating sims seem really reliant on that.
posted by NoraReed at 10:41 PM on December 9, 2012


el io: Gore wanted to censor the music he loved (while they may have claimed to be interested in merely advising parents, I witnessed a law forbidding the sale of stickered albums to youth in Washington state; later overturned).
Tipper Gore mentioned in a later interview that members of her org came trying to drum up her interest in advocating such censorship laws; at that point she responded, "No, that's censorship! Adults should be allowed access if they want it, I only want to allow parents more control over what their children are exposed to." (More or less; I haven't seen it in a long time.)

So, I'll back up Tipper's claim, because when real censorship was advocated, she revolted against this un-American idea.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:13 PM on December 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


After Hot Coffee, the ESRB put out a directive to game publishers requesting ratings, that they were to disclose any content on the disc that would influence the overall rating or require additional descriptors be placed on the packaging, even if the publisher was sure that the content was totally inaccessible via normal gameplay.

Shortly thereafter 2KGames & Bethesda Softworks put out the next installment of their Elder Scrolls series, Oblivion. Initially, Oblivion was labeled "Teen, 13+" as the series' previous chapter, Morrowind, had been. Much the same as Hollywood's summer blockbusters, this type of rating would let them sell to a much wider demographic.

Now Morrowind had quite an active modding community, and because the newer game was merely an evolution of the previous game's engine, those modders were eager to start doing the same for Oblivion. Within the modding community, there was sort of an unofficial pool over how long it'd take before the first "nude mod" (one that removes the permanent medieval underwear worn by characters when no clothing is equipped) came out. No one expected one to hit within the first couple of days after the new game's release.

What turned out to be an even bigger shock was the fact that this first-out-of-the-gate topless mod worked without any new 3D mesh or texture data, it merely redirected the game engine to use a different 3D mesh and texture that were already included in the game's assets. (To support various female clothing types that were both form-fitting and revealing, there was a separate 3D mesh for the bare skin to be shown; inexplicably, whichever texture artist worked on this mesh made the texture 100% anatomically correct.)

While Bethesda initially tried to claim in press releases that the modder had created the 3D mesh and texture and that they weren't responsible for stuff inserted into the PC version of the game by 3rd parties, those claims were disproven when someone managed to recreate the effect using an Action Replay cheat on the XBox 360 version of the game.

The ESRB caught wind of the story, and Bethesda offered to release an update that would patch over the problematic texture file with one that would be as anatomically incorrect as a Barbie doll. The Board didn't feel that was enough, and insisted that Bethesda re-submit the game for ratings review, requesting that they make absolutely sure that everything that could influence the rating gets fully disclosed.

Because the ESRB reviewers don't actually play the games that they rate, game publishers must prepare a video representative of the game's content. Bethesda realized that their original video had downplayed some of the faction-based side quests in the game in favor of showing off Oblivion's main plot. Not wanting to be accused of hiding anything, they prepared a new video.

Upon watching the new video, the ESRB decided that even though the nudity would be patched out of the game, the levels of blood and gore in the faction quests meant that the game should have been rated "Mature, 17+" all along. Bethesda had to send out stickers to retailers so that the copies of the game still on the shelves could be relabeled, and all copies manufactured after that had to carry the new rating.
posted by radwolf76 at 11:26 PM on December 9, 2012 [9 favorites]


That our standards for sexuality in games makes our standards for sexuality in movies look liberal is not a good thing.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:32 PM on December 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm totally cool with (and interested in) interactive fiction and romance sims, and I've looked at some of the well-liked ones and haven't found much that I didn't find creepy and reprehensible in some ways. (I did, granted, get turned off pretty early after one too many walking in on love interests in the bath scenes.)

I don't want to defend visual novel eroge too much, partly because I really don't have much experience with them and partly because there's a lot that's indefensible. Something like Tsukihime was one that I enjoyed. It follows the harem format, in that there are a number of female characters and the male protagonist has a chance to bed each of them depending on the choose-your-own-adventure choices the player makes (and not in a single playthrough of the story. In fact, you can't get a full picture of the narrative until you've unlocked more options in successive playthroughs). However, the paths that the story takes to get to each sex scene definitely aren't of the I've-done-something-nice-so-now-I-get-sex variety. There's shared danger, adventure, hidden secrets revealed and some heart-rendingly sad stuff in there (also vampires), and the intimacy mostly follows from the development of the relationships between the characters. That said, there's at least one encounter that's a straightforward rape and it's pretty uncomfortable to read.

It's not a porn game, or at least I wouldn't think of as such. You could certainly treat it that way, and I'm sure some players may have played it just for titillating purposes, since hey, it's got explicit sex scenes in it. But I'd think of it as a pulpy page-turner of a story that happens to contain some sex. That's unusual in western video games, but pretty bog-standard for other forms of narrative (the fact that sex appears, not necessarily the explicitness). It's not the greatest thing in the world, but I'd definitely say it might fit under "interesting games that have sexualized content." Some other visual novels might as well, but whether it's due to the biases of the creators or a perceived (or vocally expressed) desire in the target demographic, a lot of them are really, really not going to be great from a progressive perspective, particularly when it comes to consent.
posted by figurant at 11:33 PM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


radolfwolf76: so the moral of the story is that the ESRB finds barbie-doll nudity to be inappropriate for those under 17?

It's frustrating that these private censorship regimes (RIAA, MPAA, and ESRB) exist; they are unaccountable to voters, operate outside of any real over site, and were largely created by the threat of legislation that would have been unconstitutional.

All of these groups are cartels, engaging in censorship where the government wouldn't be able to pass constitutional muster.

All of this is done of course in the name of the children (which bothered me much when I was a teenager and a theater would prevent me from seeing an R-rated movie), but as an adult it bothers me even more that the video games and movies I want to see are 'self-censored' (not really - it's the cartel that forces the 'self-censorship').
posted by el io at 11:51 PM on December 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


The 2005 game Fahrenheit (AKA Indigo Prophecy) had, in it's European release at any rate, interactive sex scenes where your manipulation of the sticks on your controller directly affected the humping technique of the character. I'm at work so can't find a video for it due to filters but I'm sure if you look it won't be particularly difficult to find a one. I seem to recall there being a stripper dancing sans apparel if you completed the game with a polygon Brazilian on full display.

The US version apparently had all the nudity removed but the game's director, David Cage, went on to create the bestselling Heavy Rain and he seems to strongly believe in a movie-style narrative and more emotional content to his games. I have no problem with mature content in games so long as it is not exploitational and fits the story but then I would say that as I only just finished GTAIV in the last two months. I set myself a rule that if I killed any innocent people at all I would restart. It's taken me 4 years to finish it but I am proud that I did it without accidental murders from the boat-like car handling.
posted by longbaugh at 12:17 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


so the moral of the story is that the ESRB finds barbie-doll nudity to be inappropriate for those under 17?

Actually if it had just been the nudity, the ESRB would have let them get by with just a patch.

What really tipped it over into the M category was this moment from the Dark Brotherhood faction quests. That's not Teen level Blood & Gore.
posted by radwolf76 at 12:17 AM on December 10, 2012


Pretty much all of Hollywood's and the US game publisher's output is self-censored to begin with. When we in the rest of the world receives it, it can be pretty striking if you pause to think about it. It leads to situations like where the protagonist kills 50 people, but swears only twice during the whole movie, despite not being raised by nuns. I guess it fades into the background, probably to be mocked by later generations. But other strange things happen on-screen as well, and we accept them (i.e. TV telephone etiquette...)
posted by Harald74 at 12:21 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why isn't anyone talking about the infamous "Wet Teabag - the Earl Grey" or "Scones N Double Cream" mods?
posted by C.A.S. at 1:59 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


All of these groups are cartels, engaging in censorship where the government wouldn't be able to pass constitutional muster.

All of this is done of course in the name of the children


No, that's not correct. The ESRB ratings, MPAA ratings, and RIAA stickers are all done specifically to prevent the government from seeing a need to do so. They were all started under threat of government regulation. They're not doing it for the children, they're doing it because they prefer self-regulation to government regulation.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:06 AM on December 10, 2012


Tipper Gore mentioned in a later interview that members of her org came trying to drum up her interest in advocating such censorship laws; at that point she responded, "No, that's censorship!"

Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas.
posted by Egg Shen at 7:01 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


IAmBroom:
el io: Gore wanted to censor the music he loved (while they may have claimed to be interested in merely advising parents, I witnessed a law forbidding the sale of stickered albums to youth in Washington state; later overturned).
Tipper Gore mentioned in a later interview that members of her org came trying to drum up her interest in advocating such censorship laws; at that point she responded, "No, that's censorship! Adults should be allowed access if they want it, I only want to allow parents more control over what their children are exposed to." (More or less; I haven't seen it in a long time.)
Not quite the exact reference, but el io prompted me to find it. Here's what I came up with in a quick search:

"Censorship is not the answer. In the long run, our only hope is for more information and awareness, so that citizens and communities can fight back against market exploitation and find practical means for restoring individual choice and control."

From an NPR interview on the book "Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated Society" by Mary Elizabeth (Tipper) Gore.
Egg Shen: Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas.
Yup.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:22 AM on December 10, 2012


The 2005 game Fahrenheit (AKA Indigo Prophecy) had, in it's European release at any rate, interactive sex scenes where your manipulation of the sticks on your controller directly affected the humping technique of the character.

This is actually a great example of why games* should avoid trying sex scenes entirely until developers (re)learn any sense of subtly whatsoever. Stuff like this is--well, hugely embarrassing. There really is a certain line you have to walk in a visual medium between being too direct and hamfisted (and spoiling any emotional effect) and being too subtle (and...being accused of prudishness, I guess? Risking an unobservant audience not catching it? I like subtlety). I much prefer the tastefully implied 2D sprite sex and "anime cutscene of both protagonists nude and making out in a dark room" ellipses style of Xenogears way back in 1998 before anyone was really even thinking about this stuff to something that has about as much subtlety as a slap to the face. Sex scenes are hard to direct and difficult to write; games as a medium don't value writing enough right now to make them anything more than cringeworthy at best**.

*In general; some niche things and some things that overlap with "games" are fine.

**Please prove me wrong, videogames. I still believe in you!
posted by byanyothername at 9:28 AM on December 10, 2012


el io: All of this is done of course in the name of the children

Meanwhile, in a different culture:

The Hewletts [anthropologists] relay a song a group of [Aka or Ngandu] children invented after stealthily watching two lovers having sex. In the song, the man asks, "How do you want it?" and the woman answers, "Oh, I want it big." The man asks again, and the woman answers, "Oh, I want it long." The song then enters a refrain with the man thrusting and asking his partner, "Did you come?"
posted by cosmic.osmo at 10:59 AM on December 10, 2012


Pope Guilty: "They're not doing it for the children, they're doing it because they prefer self-regulation to government regulation."

Well, yes, ostensibly this is the reason... And yet... In the PMRC hearings there are two things that come across again and again - the Senators' claims that they have no intention of passing censorship laws (this is repeated by many senators), and also the acknowledgement (by at least one senator) that such laws wouldn't pass judicial scrutiny (ie: that they would be unconstitutional). Still, even though it's acknowledged that censorship would be unconstitutional, it's also apparent that many senators would like to pass censorship laws (and still do).

The transcripts from those hearings are worth reading (thanks for the Zappa link! I went on to read the John Denver testimony and the Dee Snider testimony).

From the testimony: The CHAIRMAN. How could they find out about it?

Mr. SNIDER. Well, quite simply, as a parent myself and as a rock fan, I know that when I see an album cover with a severed goat's head in the middle of a pentagram between a woman's legs, that is not the kind of album I want my son to be listening to.
posted by el io at 11:52 AM on December 10, 2012


Now I'm wondering what favorable congressional treatment the video game hearing got from congress in return for it's self-censorship via ESRB...

Indeed Zappa accused the music industry of trying to gain favor with congress during the PMRC hey-day:

"Indeed the Zappas believed that the reason the hearings happened at all were because the record industry was lobbying for a blank-tape tax at the time — which was later passed — and the PMRC’s leaders used that request as a way to push their agenda forward." via
posted by el io at 12:16 PM on December 10, 2012


The backlash still totally comes up whenever it is that syrupy, though. I mean, you don't get much cornier than the sex scenes in Mass Effect and Dragon Age: Origins , but the "blue sideboob" controversy seemed like enough to make Bioware put underwear on the sexing characters in DAO

I don't understand why GTA:SA and Mass Effect caused big controversies, but I never heard anything similar about God of War, with it's actual naked women and even-more-crass-than-Hot-Coffee QuickTimeSexMiniGames.
posted by straight at 3:21 PM on December 10, 2012


I hope independent game creators will have the guts to have some interesting games that have sexualized content.

Is it even possible to include sex in a game that doesn't end up being a Nice Guy (TM) simulator? Bioware's games are pretty egregious with the whole "Do X Nice Things For This Person And She (or He But Mostly She) Will Have Sex With You" mechanic.
posted by straight at 3:29 PM on December 10, 2012


Is it even possible to include sex in a game that doesn't end up being a Nice Guy (TM) simulator?

I've been giving this a bit of thought since yesterday. I'm not sure there's an easy solution. If the game is simulating the growth of a romantic relationship between two characters, then under the hood it's probably just tracking that relationship with a single value, representing a position somewhere on the scale of I-can't-stand-the-sight-of-you to I-have-to-get-your-pants-off-right-now. Positive or negative interactions between the two characters are pretty obviously the way you get that value to move up or down the scale, and that means that performing positive actions enough times is all it takes for your character to get laid, assuming the game has provided for that possibility.

Of course, that doesn't work in the real world, because real people aren't simple systems you can game with enough niceness points (at least, I hope so). In a broad and unsupported generalization, I'd say that somehow failing to grasp that point seems to be the cause of the so-called Nice Guy mindset, and the frustration it can induce when real women don't operate as expected.

Games, however, absolutely are simple systems, and players are generally really good at learning the rules and manipulating them. If it's figuring out that holding the knife lets you run faster in Counterstrike, then that's fine. If it's viewing interactions with Morrigan as a series of transactions culminating in sex, then that's not great, even though that's really how the game models the situation.

The solution, if you want a game to include romantic options at all, is probably one of two options:
  • Design a subtler, more complex model of the state of a relationship, obscuring the underlying rules as much as possible for the player. Throw in some randomness, have relationships decay over time, map variables to functions with weird peaks and valleys. Make the results of interactions unpredictable. Make it possible for a player's romance with their intended to never quite get all the way to the bedroom for no discernible reason (and perhaps more healthily, don't treat physical intimacy as the endpoint of a relationship. It's not. If everything clicks, it's just the beginning)
  • Eschew simulating the relationship with a mathematical model entirely, and stick to a branching narrative. It's much harder to do, especially to do well, and there's no guarantee that any given branching narrative will avoid skeevy tropes (see: quite a lot of Japanese-market adult visual novels, so I am told). But it gives you the possibility of a much richer range of reactions and interactions than a simple model can accommodate (see also: a small subset of Japanese-market adult visual novels, so I am told). Players can still manipulate a branching narrative once they start exploring it on multiple playthroughs, but you can definitively quash the keep-being-nice-until-sex-happens strategy if you care to by making sure it's not successful in the story you've constructed.
I'm not sure any AAA developers really think that the Nice Guy approach is enough of an issue that it needs to be fixed, but I'd love to play an indie game that covers some of the ways that two people otherwise perfect for each other can somehow manage to completely screw it up.
posted by figurant at 5:20 PM on December 10, 2012


Is it even possible to include sex in a game that doesn't end up being a Nice Guy (TM) simulator?

Basically, the entire dating sim genre in the Japanese market and its derivatives. They've had decades of experience refining the narratives and game mechanics that Western developers don't have the luxury of having.

Katawa Shoujo was linked once or twice on the blue and it's a pretty good example. Serenpidity plays a large role in who you initially hang out and meet with. Then it goes on to playing out the relationships with each person as an individual character: there's a girl with control issues (which I found hilariously apt: you actually more or less play the game on autopilot from then on). There's one that will resent you and dump you if you try to be too nice for her, because she has a complex stemming from feeling too dependant on others. There's one complex artist type with an utterly confusing and befuddling narrative in which 90% of your decisions don't matter but in the end it boils down to whether you encourage her to focus on her career and talent (in which case she dumps you and leaves overseas for university) or whether you encourage her to forget what the world thinks success is like and just live in the moment for her own happiness (she sorta stays with you but not). The stories explicitly do not make sex the endpoint or goal: the entire point, like a book, is to bring the stories to a conclusion - and equal weight and emphasis is given to bad and good endings. It's explicitly not about "being nice" - that would be too easy. It's a sort of puzzle game, where you need to figure out what the best choices are given what you know about the situation. The key challenge is making sure that your branching narrative path makes sense: it can't be too arbitrary or too serendipitous or it breaks the story. In some sense, the game is only completed once you have seen ALL the branching paths: it's like a multidimentional universe game.

I've often thought this model of game design should be applied to all games, not just dating sims. I'm a big fan of well thought out narratives and solid conclusions.
posted by xdvesper at 10:09 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


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