Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer
CC2K returns to the taboo topic by taking a look at the unbalanced censorship in Bioware's latest RPG.
Sex in video games is nothing new. We here at CC2K have discussed it before. As I was playing (and greatly enjoying) Dragon Age Origins I couldn't help but notice a disparity between how the depictions of sex and violence were handled. Specifically, the violence is graphic, (very) bloody, and almost over-the-top, yet the sex, which is limited to a scant number of short cut scenes to begin with, is quite censored. Almost ridiculously so. Bioware has gone on the record saying this censorship was self-imposed and an "artistic choice." In my opinion the decision does a disservice to video games as a form of media entertainment, and until developers are free to depict sex honestly and realistically (and no, that does not mean pornographically), video games will be at a disadvantage.
Before I give Bioware a wag of my finger, allow me to give them a tip of my hat (to steal a gimmick from Stephen Colbert). Famously, or perhaps infamously, Bioware explored the idea of developing relationships and romances with non-player characters (NPCs), and actually depicted the consummation of such in Mass Effect. Fox News attempted to scandalize and sensationalize this content with their typical use of hyperbole and factual inaccuracy, but as CC2K's own Mike Leader argued these scenes are "short, erotic and, well, tasteful."
While discussion of the sex scenes in Mass Effect could comprise an entire article itself, suffice it to say as an adult who's actually played the game, in my opinion the content in question is not even in the same zip code as what Fox News was having a conniption over. The sex scenes in Dragon Age Origins are just as short and just as tasteful as what Bioware did in Mass Effect, but no where near as erotic due to the dissonant censorship. What do I mean by that, and why is it a bad thing? Check out the following images:
On the left is how the NPC Morrigan (one of the female NPCs you can have sex with) appears in game normally with her "custom" set of robes equipped. On the right is how Morrigan appears during the sex scene. Can you spot the difference between the two images? If you answered something along the lines of "hey, where'd that bra come from?" you get a gold star. Seriously, you can see more of her breasts while she's fully clothed than during the sex scene. Lest you think I'm focusing too much on female nudity here, I would like to point out that the absence of male nudity during this scene is just as ridiculous. I couldn't find a picture online, but it literally looks like men in Dragon Age Origins wear adult diapers under all that armor.
What makes this even more confusing is the amount of flesh shown at other points during the game. The image below is of a "desire demon" that you encounter and fight on several occasions. While I would prefer it had Bioware created an equally alluring male desire demon to present to gamers who are playing as a female character (I mean, it would make sense, right?), that is neither here nor there. The point is aside from some pasties and chains hanging from her nipples and a narrow swath of cloth concealing her nether regions, nothing is really left to the imagination.
As much as it makes sense to show this much flesh in the context of a "desire demon," why is it not okay to show the same amount of skin during a sex scene? I don't understand the rationale here. But that isn't even my main complaint about the depiction of sex in Dragon Age Origins. I started this article talking about the disparity between how violence and sex are depicted in the game. As I said this game is violent and bloody, so much so that developers coined the term "sword porn" to describe it all. Blood spray, decapitations, blood spatter, dismemberments, there's enough blood to make Dexter Morgan think he'd won the lottery.
And let me be clear about one thing. I'm okay with all of the blood and violence. Absolutely fine with it. What I'm not fine with, and what this article boils down to, is that I have a problem with the fact that there is a double standard when it comes to depictions of sex and violence in video games. If there's enough graphic violence to propel Dragon Age Origins to M for Mature rating status, why would the inclusion and honest depiction of a sex scene elevate it to the sales-killing Adults Only (AO) rating (which I presume it would, which is why Bioware censored themselves in creating these scenes)?
For the sake of argument, let's assume that video games are on the same level as movies. Consider Commando, Predator 2, Under Siege, Double Impact, The Terminator, or any other action movie receiving an R rating due to violence and sexuality/nudity. If you removed all of the nudity and sex, would any of these films get dropped to a PG-13 rating? Hell, for that matter as our own Rob van Winkle pointed out Doc Hollywood managed to keep a PG-13 rating with one of the greatest nude scenes in film history (or his youth, at least).
Yet this all becomes even more confounding when you consider the rationale of those absolutely opposed to such mature content in video games. If you watched the clip from Fox News above, you know the reason given. It's because of the children. Because even though these are designed by adults, intended for adults, and rated accordingly, the mere fact that they are games implies, no enjoins that they will be played by kids. And to include mature, sexually explicit content in these games? No different than handing a child porn. No. Worse. Interactive porn.
The problem is that there is a double standard here. For all the controversy Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 generated with its terrorist level and depictions of violent destruction within our own borders, the fact remains that it is by far the biggest selling game of 2009. You can still go into your local Wal-mart or K-mart and buy a copy. It hasn't been boycotted by retailers. It didn't receive an Adults Only rating by the ESRB. Hell, even CNN gave it honors in their list of the top video games of 2009.
For all the controversy, violence in video games is accepted. It's okay. But try and include sexually explicit content in a video game, well, it just doesn't happen. But it should. The day our society can look at video games as just another artform, can see that there is a place for sexually mature content intended for mature audiences in mainstream video games, the day game developers don't have to censor themselves in such ridiculous fashion, that's a day that as a gamer I look forward to.