Sweet Virtual Love

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, now is a good a time as any to dim the lights, pop a bottle champagne and spend some quality time with a loved one. Unless, you’re single and are instead living your love live vicariously through video games. In that case, sorry lovelorn, but fictional characters have it better than you do.

Though proximately geared towards males, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a more romantic side of the industry. With such powerhouse couples as Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher from Uncharted, Guybrush Threepwood and Elaine Marley of the Monkey Island series, and obviously Mario and Princess Peach from Mario Bros., video games have provided some great love stories over the years. Though it’s nice to see the hero get the girl, the most inciting part of any relationship is not what happens onscreen, but behind closed doors.
The inclusion of sex in games has been a controversial topic since the early days of the industry. One of the first usage of sex in games was a text-based game called “Softporn Adventures” in 1981, in which users played a down-on-their-luck-party animal who was required to obtain certain items that would allow them to knock-boots with a series women throughout the game.
Though text-based, it was one of the early usage having sexual intercourse be a type of reward in games. A feat that inspired the graphic adventures of the Leisure Suit Larry series, where a pudgy 40-something cartoon character spent entire games chasing after bodacious cartoon women wearing a leisure suit.
Many similar games have followed since, such as “Cluster’s Revenge”, a 1982 game revolving around navigating General Cluster through levels to commit coitus with a bound and helpless Native American woman.
As expected, sex is still a very taboo subject, and “Cluster Revenge” for example was so controversial that when it hit retailers it was sold in a leather case with a lock on it. Though it’s ridiculous now to look back on the 8-bit game and wonder how something as silly as pixel-based characters shagging could be censor worthy, there are still reservations about sex in video games.
In early 2008, Bioware’s first Mass Effect had already hit shelves to positive reviews from both press and players for it’s engaging game play and gripping story. However, the fact that there was a sex scene in the game somehow made it to someone at Fox News’ ears and the network continued, in its usual fashion, to cover the story with its overzealous and inaccurate reporting.
During their segment, Fox News erroneously stated that the game gave “the ability for players to engage in full graphic sex” when in reality the love scene was quite tame, and handled much the same way of a network prime-time show. It also claimed that the game was being marketed towards children, a claim that was never backed-up factually. Even though Bioware sent an open letter to the network to retract the false statements, Fox News refused, and instead wanted creators to go on air and debate the game further.
Regardless of all this, the game went on to sell millions of copies, produce two sequels and win many awards. However, the knee jerk reaction of the media seeing sex in games shows the discomfort that still rises from the idea of sex in games. Though a problem for western game development, in Japan there is an entire genre of games solely dedicated to simulated dating and sexual encounters.
In these games, which are more commonly referred to as “dating sims”, the player controls an avatar surrounded by either male or female characters. The game play involves conversing with a selection of potential mates, attempting to woo them by increasing their internal “love meter” through correct choices of dialogue. When the game ends, the player either loses the game if they have failed to properly win over any of the love candidate, or “finishes” one of the character’s stories, often by having sex with them.
Unlike a game like Mass Effect, where romancing a character is a completely optional side-quest, dating simulators’ focus lies entirely on bagging a mate. Though popular, some alarming stories have emerged on just how much players love these games. In the case of a dating simulator called “Love Plus” for the Nintendo DS, one passionate fan on Amazon wrote in a customer review that he and his virtual-girlfriend “definitely have luck together as a couple.” and proceeded to thank the game’s developer.
In even creepier news, while most dating simulators focus on traditionally wooing ladies, there’s a bit of an underground genre of dating simulators that are a bit more creepy. While not as popular as traditional dating simulators, some titles take a more “adult” approach allowing the players to creepily watch school girls’ skirts blow up in the wind and stalking them to their houses. Though games like this is on a completely different spectrum than more traditional games, not only do they exist but they have an audience.
So this Valentine’s Day, even if you’re not spending it with a real-life loved-one, don’t fret as there’s plenty of fish in the virtual sea.