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Women aren't vending machines: How video games perpetuate the commodity model of sex




Alpha Protocol Screenshot

Or: Why I am dreading Alpha Protocol.

This post requires a bit of background. I highly recommend reading Thomas Macaulay Millar's essay "Toward a Performance Model of Sex", from the recently published anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape. You can read the essay on Google book search. This post intends to look at video game relationships in the context of the two models Millar describes, so please read it if you have the time.

In short, Millar describes how society sees sex as a commodity, and argues that the commodity model—which enables rape, allows the concept of the "slut" to exist, and frames consent as "the absence of no", rather than "the presence of yes"—should be replaced by what he calls the performance model, where sex is seen as a collaborative effort between two equal participants, like two musicians playing a song together. In this excerpt he describes the commodity model:

We live in a culture where sex is not so much an act as a thing: a substance that can be given, bought, sold, or stolen, that has a value and a supply-and-demand curve. In this "commodity model," sex is like a ticket; women have it and men try to get it. Women may give it away or may trade it for something valuable, but either way it's a transaction. This puts women in the position of seller, but also guardian or gatekeeper … Women are guardians of the tickets, men apply for access to them. This model pervades casual conversation about sex: Women "give it up." men "get some."

The commodity model is shared by both the libertines and the prudes of our patriarchy. To the libertine, guys want to maximize their take of tickets. The prudes want women to keep the tickets to buy something really "important": the spouse, provider, protector.

(There is a LOT more to the piece, and it's fascinating and clear, so definitely read it.) To give an example: a guy I know once received a call from a couple of his friends, who asked if he wanted to go to a strip club. He said something like, "Why would I want to go to a shady bar and pay a random stranger to show me her boobs when I can have sex with my girlfriend?" And his oh-so-clever friends informed him that Hey! When you think about it, you are still just paying to see boobs! Except the payment is in dinners and dates and compliments, rather than dollar bills.

Ha. Ha. Get it? Because all women are prostitutes.

There are so many things wrong with the "joke": it ignores the fact that the girlfriend likely enjoys sex, too, and that the guy also gets companionship, stability, love and attention out of the relationship, in addition to sex. It ignores the fact that theirs is a sexual and social partnership, not some kind of transaction or business arrangement. But the relevant part here is that the "joke" just doesn't work if the participants aren't invested in the commodity model of sex described by Millar.

Alpha Protocol Screenshot

So what does this have to do with video games? Well, some video games allow the player character to have sex with NPCs; even more allow the player to have romantic relationships with NPCs. What the vast majority of these games inevitably do is present relationship mechanics that distill the commodity model down to its essence—you talk to the NPC enough, and give them enough presents, and then they have sex with/marry you.

This design approach is extremely simplistic and perpetuates the commodity model of sex—the player wants sex, they go through certain motions, and they are "rewarded" with what they wanted (like a vending machine). Furthermore, when sex is included in a game, it is generally framed as the end result—the reward—of romance, rather than one aspect of an ongoing relationship/partnership. For example, one gamer commented that the romance in Mass Effect seemed like the romantic interest was really saying, "Keep talking to me and eventually we'll have sex". The relationship is not the goal; the goal is the tasteful PG-13 sex scene. The NPC's thoughts and desires aren't relevant; what matters is the tactics you use to get what you want. This is a boring mechanic in games and dangerously dehumanizing behavior in real life.

Where the simplistic relationship mechanics really get problematic is when someone makes a game where your protagonist is a James Bond-wannabe and there's an achievement for sleeping with every woman in the game. I am talking, of course, about Alpha Protocol. The quotes in the linked MTV Multiplayer article are infuriatingly sexist (as well as displaying insultingly limiting definitions of masculinity), but the relevant part is the bit about the "Ladies' Man" achievement.

It is seriously problematic to have a game where the male player/avatar can have sex with any and every woman in the game. On top of reinforcing the commodity model of sex, it is desperately heteronormative. For all the player's "choice" of with whom to engage, there's no possibility that the player might want to have a relationship with another man. It also shows that lesbians just don't exist in this world, if every single woman is open to a sexual encounter with a man. In addition, it perpetuates the narrative of the Nice Guy (described in Millar's essay, and elsewhere): that men are entitled to sex from women if they follow the rules and do the right things, or in the case of Alpha Protocol, "select your responses wisely." It is not only dangerous but just plain unrealistic to portray a world in which every single woman is a potential sex partner: in the real world, there are lesbians, and there are straight or bisexual women who won't sleep with you no matter what you do, because they are human beings with their own preferences and desires and interests. (If I remember correctly, a counterexample may be The Sims, where often certain personalities just won't get along well enough to develop a relationship no matter how hard you try.)

So what can video games do to portray better relationships? For one, they can stop being so goddamn heteronormative and allow options for queer relationships. And secondly, designers can start thinking of sex as a collaborative performance between two equal partners, and romantic interests as actual human beings with lives and thoughts and preferences outside of where they intersect with the player, rather than as conquests. And everyone would do well to read Millar's essay!

Read more on the While !Finished blog.


Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360   PS3   PC  
Developer(s): Obsidian  
Series: Alpha Protocol  
Genre(s): Role-Playing  
Articles: Editorials   Best Work  
Topic(s): Sex & Relationships   Gender Roles  

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Wonderful article

@ Alex
Thank you for this thoughtful critique of a disturbing trend in gaming. I don't have much to add to your post, but I hope developers begin to realize that games mired in a stereotypically masculine, fiercely heteronormative perspective are alienating to at least 50% of potential consumers.

But regardless of the bottom line, developers, simply as a matter of improving their craft, should avoid commoditizing sex for the reasons you've already identified, i.e., it doesn't remotely encapsulate a romantic relationship. I treasure my relationship with my girlfriend because she's a sparkling conversationalist, a generous lover, and a decent person.

Sex is only one component.

If developers want to tackle romance, they need to appreciate its nuance. If they can't do that, maybe they should stick to what they know.

@ Anonymous
A comment as intellectually bankrupt and morally depraved as yours does not deserve a serious response. Crawl back to your parent's basement and let the adults have their discussion. You can come up when you're ready stop calling women whores.

Did you even read the

Did you even read the article? Thanks for your insightful response, Anonymous.

Anyway, Nice piece, Alex... Although it would be stronger if it was written after AP was released and you could include some (i'm sure) telling moments from the actual game, your thoughts are interesting ones.

I'd like to hear more about how you think the issue could be resolved, though... ; )

Good read

Good read. Although I'm curious..say that some of the more complex aspects of relationships are introduced in the way you propose in a game like Mass Effect, and the relationship went beyond a simple "keep talking to me and we'll have sex" scenario where the "reward" is the PG-13 sex scene.

What would be the player's reward for bringing a relationship to fruition? A relationship as a goal/reward in and of itself doesn't seem like it would cut it in a game where the relationship is not the primary goal. Romance in Mass Effect is, for lack of a better term, a side-quest, and side-quests need to have some kind of tangible reward for completing them. Even if it is some crappy sex scene, it's still something the player can work towards.

Don't get me wrong-I'm all for additional depth in player-NPC interaction, and I think there should be a better (i.e. non-sexual) reward to work for than 30 seconds of alien lovemaking, but I always wonder what that reward would or even could actually be.

Richard Naik wrote: Don't

Richard Naik wrote:

Don't get me wrong-I'm all for additional depth in player-NPC interaction, and I think there should be a better (i.e. non-sexual) reward to work for than 30 seconds of alien lovemaking, but I always wonder what that reward would or even could actually be.

That's a good question about rewards. The problem with videogames is that they cannot offer what is experienced and sought-after in real-life relationships (e.g. long-term companionship, moral supports, trusts, social partnerships) whenever players interact with NPCs, so they instead need to reward players with something more tangible and visible. Some videogames, like Persona, rewards the players' rare in-game items when their virtual selves get romantically-involved with NPCs, but that's just as shallow as scenes of lovemaking.

argh, stupid grammatical

argh, stupid grammatical error. I mean to write "Some videogames, like Persona, rewards the players with rare in-game items..."

"You can read the essay on Google book search"..

..not quite so, at least from here (Italy).. any alternative links?

Implementation

I'd like to hear more about how you think the issue could be resolved, though... ; )

Even though Fable 2 is deeply invested in the commodity model, I think it does a lot of things right. Start by giving each NPC a sexuality, personality, and preferences, but make those actually mean more than they do in Fable 2 (you can't turn a lesbian straight--thank goodness--but you can overcome clashes of personality and preference with enough gifts and fame). This would probably be really complicated to code, but I'd like to see a romance system where how you behave affects the NPCs' view of you (Fable 2 attempts this but in a very binary, shallow way); where you have to do more than simply give gifts, though I am not sure what else would actually work in a game setting at the moment. Also, do away with the "love meter"--it doesn't work that way.

Of course, this leads to the other question about rewards. I think one way, instead of gifts and sex scenes, would be to have the player's in-game partner or family more involved in the story. Again, Fable 2 attempts this to a small extent. The reward is a richer story experience; of course, this would only work if story is one of the things that makes your game interesting, such as in an RPG. The fact that only tangible rewards are considered important or worthwhile is unfortunate, and I think some types of games (certainly this wouldn't work for every game) should try to be more emotionally rewarding as well.

Now that I am actually playing Mass Effect (unfortunately I wrote this article before I even had a 360), I can say for sure it definitely does a lot of things right, though the problem of sex as the goal is still there. Perhaps combining the best aspects of Fable 2 and Mass Effect would net the ultimate romance system?? Or at least an interesting one! ;)

Game relationships are often independent of sex scenes

What skews the feasibility of meaningful relationships in video games is that almost all options within a game require a commodity model of behavior. Most actions in games that bear no game effect or have no 'reward' are derided. If saving the human outpost from the rampaging tribe of orcs carried no tangible reward, no environmental penalty, and didn't progress the story forward, it would be nonsensical.

The only way to present the relationship as rewarding is to establish two characters within the narrative who share a rapport so strong that as an audience, we'd emotionally like to see them get together. This is tough enough to do in a Hollywood film in which the relationship is the main narrative. To accomplish it in a game about saving the world from the clutches of evil... that's rare. It's been done... but it's rare.

Sex scenes, however, in both film, books, and games are primarily there for the audience to get their rocks off. Occasionally they may reveal a deeper insight about a character, but not really.

Great article

I always had a sort of sketchy feeling as I read Alpha Protocol previews. I was always interested in the spy stuff and the interesting idea of putting an RPG in that setting, but I couldn't put my finger on what was "off" about it. You hit the nail on the head. I find the idea of a "Ladies Man" achievement disappointing.

What skews the feasibility

What skews the feasibility of meaningful relationships in video games is that almost all options within a game require a commodity model of behavior.

Great point, but I don't think this is necessarily required, if the actions are fun and/or engaging enough. Take Metal Gear Solid 4, for example: in the early levels you are making your way through a war zone where two factions are fighting. One faction is suspicious/neutral/friendly toward you and the other will kill you no matter what. Otakon tells you that you are a neutral party and shouldn't get involved in the conflict, however, you do have the option to help out the side that is more friendly. It doesn't change the story in any way, you don't gain any bonuses if they "win" (I'm not even sure it's possible for that to happen), you could get much more loot by fighting both sides. And yet I helped out the rebel faction because it was engaging in and of itself, and the AI reactions were interesting. In one memorable moment I took out all the enemy soldiers in one area, and a cheer swept through the faction, along with cries of "We did it!" After which they milled around doing nothing. But having something cool or interesting happen can be a reward.

Of course, this largely depends on the player's interests. I am always curious about characters in a game and love learning about them, so talking to and aiding the rebels was interesting to me. As another example, a lot of players were (IMO, rightfully) angered by the Gold Skulltula quest in Ocarina of Time when the only reward turned out to be 200 Rupees. But I'm sure there were also many players who enjoyed the pure challenge of collecting all 100 tokens. I think some games can benefit by having a variety of activities that might not necessarily have tangible rewards, but cater to the interest of certain types of gamers--if it fits within the scope and themes of the game, of course.

The only way to present the relationship as rewarding is to establish two characters within the narrative who share a rapport so strong that as an audience, we'd emotionally like to see them get together.

I don't think that's the *only* way, but that would definitely work. Mass Effect comes very close to this while also allowing for player preference by allowing him or her to choose between two characters. If only it weren't so heteronormative!

I think some games can

I think some games can benefit by having a variety of activities that might not necessarily have tangible rewards, but cater to the interest of certain types of gamers--if it fits within the scope and themes of the game, of course.

Bleh, scratch this sentence. What my overall point was that it would be interesting to try and expand what qualifies as a valid reward for any given action (including romances).

@Bruno
Sorry, I have no idea... unforunately Google books was the only place I could find the essay. If anyone else has any idea, please let me know.

Perhaps

Alex R wrote:

The fact that only tangible rewards are considered important or worthwhile is unfortunate, and I think some types of games (certainly this wouldn't work for every game) should try to be more emotionally rewarding as well.

Perhaps tangible wasn't the right word-an obvious, apparent, or even implied reward is what the player should be presented with to work towards. And as you said, that can be something akin to Fable 2's incentive of a more intricate storyline.

However, romance in a RPG such as Fable is still a side-quest, and if the player is going to take part in a more deep and meaningful relationship within the game then the reward must be greater, as in wholesale changes to the main story based on your relationship, not just enhancements. And even then, it still can't deliver the benefits of a real relationship, so the relationship by itself as a reward is moot.

Wow-I've used half my lunch break writing this :P

As a side note, an

As a side note, an additional problem I have with Fable 2 is that while it does a good job of fostering within the player fondness toward her or his spouse, the kind of fondness is more like that between a person and their hampster rather than between partners.

romance in a RPG such as Fable is still a side-quest

True. I don't see that as necessarily a bad thing.

Now that I think about it, I think we already have a game about a romance between two people who engage with and learn about each other, grow together, and act as partners--2008's Prince of Persia! Of course, there's no player involvement--we simply follow the story along--and the attempt at non-linearity makes the development of the relationship muddled and mostly nonexistent. But it has some good elements!

Quote: And even then, it

Quote:

And even then, it still can't deliver the benefits of a real relationship, so the relationship by itself as a reward is moot.

I think it's heavily influenced by the characterization. If you like a character, for whatever reason, you can get a sense of reward from having them shack up with your player character. The Aeris vs. Tifa argument has gone on for 12 years, because people connect to these characters. You can take any reference of popular character shipping and add a mini-game to it and players will rejoice.

What I would like to see is a game build a relationship in the uber-complex, sometimes nonsensical way that human emotions work. Right now it's mostly based on figuring out what they want to hear, and saying it regardless of truth or not. This is game behavior, and it makes all of those interactions feel influenced by the seduction community.

This still doesn't dress the wound of the sex scene being expressly for player titillation.

So your're saying sex in

So your're saying sex in games is exactly like sex in real life then. But you desperately wish that weren't true.

Anonymous wrote: So your're

Anonymous wrote:

So your're saying sex in games is exactly like sex in real life then. But you desperately wish that weren't true.

You are oversimplifying what people have said. The point is that there are predominantly two ways of looking at sex, and that many games promote one of those views. No one said all real life sex is a certain way.

I would personally like to see the partnership aspect more on display in games. Currently games focus on spatial awareness and physical interactions because those are easy to code, but I think we are going to need games whose focus is on relationships. That is going to require AI that acts much more believable as a human with a unique personality, including the ability to converse with you. That kind of AI is still a bit away, it seems, but it would revolutionize the face of gaming, in my mind.

Quote: Thank you for this

Quote:

Thank you for this thoughtful critique of a disturbing trend in gaming. I don't have much to add to your post, but I hope developers begin to realize that games mired in a stereotypically masculine, fiercely heteronormative perspective are alienating to at least 50% of potential consumers."

It's called heteroNORMATIVE for a reason. most people have such traits as dominant. It is not the personal responsibility of every producer/artist/creator to appeal to absolutely every single demographics' sensibilities. Sorry.

There are no 'disturbing' trends in games. it's a game. dont like the content? don't buy it. complaining about this stuff is the adult version of "billy keeps making fun of me because I like X!! make him stop" Pathetic.

Quote:

But regardless of the bottom line, developers, simply as a matter of improving their craft, should avoid commoditizing sex for the reasons you've already identified, i.e., it doesn't remotely encapsulate a romantic relationship. I treasure my relationship with my girlfriend because she's a sparkling conversationalist, a generous lover, and a decent person."

Sex is a commodity because that's how both genders have treated it since the dawn of sexual reproduction. Women treat it as something to be won, so the male pursues it and does everything he can to live up to expectations as a provider. In return, he expecting her to give him what he needs. Those ARE the instincts at work whether you want to admit it or not. That IS the give and take. Just because YOU value those things does not mean everyone else does, or should. Quit preaching. Women are NOT victims anymore. If anything, all this feminism and masculine 'redefinition' is turning girls into unmarryable prima donnas and guys into insecure sorry saps. Quit spreading fud.

Quote:

"A comment as intellectually bankrupt and morally depraved as yours does not deserve a serious response. Crawl back to your parent's basement and let the adults have their discussion. You can come up when you're ready stop calling women whores."

Try this more adult approach:
You're more than welcome to join us and spew your thoughtless, fallacy filled, group-think opinions all you like. However, you might want to consider moving beyond hypocrisy. It's a tough task, but possible. You pine away bigotry against females, and then support the stereotyping and denigration of maleness. You are a prime male example of what happens when 16th century chivalry is combined with 21st century feminism: someone who thinks he's 'supposed' to think he's dogshit and should place women above him because that's proper 'etiquette.' It's too bad too because this attitude is what prevent women from truly learning what it means to be responsible equals in society.

From what I can figure

From what I can figure beyond the use of trendy sociology buzzwords, the author would more hope for games with an actual AI system that would I guess play a character, that might turn you down randomly because she has a headache or just doesn't "feel like it", and to hell with story climax (no pun intended) or if you spent all that time letting her know you care and saving her brother from space bears and the both of you are going on a suicide mission the next day.

And I can't exactly wonder why we want that in a story-based game about making choices.
Is the problem that there's a brief visual (or audio) display letting you know the two knocked boots? The fact that it is just a "Turing Test", where you are actually choosing scores, wrapped in a story and dialog, and the event occurs if you reach a certain point with a certain score?

All of the games listed involve the relationship as a part of the experience - Fable 2 is about as sexy as Viva Pinata and it's treatment of the bedroom is about as realistic as ANYTHING else in the game, that is, not in the least. You're supposed to contribute to these little sim people's world by seeing "what will happen" like some sadistic virtual Steve Irwin.

Alpha Protocol is building off of an expected genre convention. To not have chances for the player to romance while playing a superspy is like having a Kung Fu game where we can't see the player hit people or preventing him from spouting engrishy metaphors ("When the tree falls, the monkey runs!")

Mass Effect is oddly the exact case of what the author wants to encourage- not cheap one night stands, but the building of relationship between a friend, helping one another, and that grows closer until the player reaches near the endgame.

So why not any of these uses? Because someone might see them and think that all real women will say yes to a romp in the sack if they do a lot of things for them? Isn't this the same argument made by the Watchdog groups for violence? That we're all just a few pixels away from snapping and throwing women back in the kitchen and the maternity ward?

If so, what could we say about clearly female focused stories that feature such acts? What about "Sex in the City" or "The Bridges of Madison County"? Do those stories enforce committing adultery or sleeping around with about the same morals as two dogs in a park? Or are they just stories, fantasies we can experience and enjoy?

Interesting article, and a

Interesting article, and a subject I've thought about for some time mainly in relation to a game I played years ago that I felt got things mainly right, Star Ocean 2.

Relationships in SO2 were built the same way as in most games, a series of hidden tallies that you could effect by taking certain actions and making certain choices. One thing SO2 did differently, however, was it tended to stay away from obvious black and white choices in it's dialogue trees. It also made things other than just your dialogue choices impact the relationship (things like if you paired characters together in combat, if you didn't heal them when they were hurt, etc.).

In the end, the actual "reward" wasn't a love scene and it wasn't even restricted to male/female pairings. The reward was actually a couple of varying cutscenes and varying endings. If you managed to establish enough of a positive relationship between 2 characters using the hidden tallies your reward actually was an ending promising a continued relationship between the characters. If a romantic spark existed, you would get a romantic ending. If, however, the characters just did not like each other you wouldn't get romance, you'd end up with, at best, a guarded friendship.

I've often wondered why no game I've played since, even those within the Star Ocean series, have done a relationship "system" anywhere near as well as SO2 did.

Actually...

After reading this article, the first anonymous commenter actually seems to have captured my thoughts pretty well. But I'll try to phrase mine a little more constructively.

First of all, the "commodity model" of sexuality is not a scientifically validated model, and its core concepts conflict with well-established evolutionary models of sociocultural attitudes about sex. The idea that rape exists because sex is viewed as a commodity profoundly oversimplifies the dynamics of interpersonal relationships and the psychology of rapists. For example, being an interdependent species with moral social norms, and being that we ostracize those who do not comply, being branded a "rapist" is not exactly a commodity. And there's a whole ocean of factors such as sociopathology, empathy, our need to integrate ourselves with others, and on and on. Perhaps the author would be better served learning about sexual science from evolutionary biologists, sociologists and psychologists who actually do research rather than someone using a pen-name.

Secondly, I don't think it's the responsibility of games or any other work of artistic fiction to present "realistic" attitudes or choices regarding sexuality. Must we ensure that 5% of the sexual choices in all games with sexual choices are homosexual, since that is a rough approximation of the demographics of homosexuality? Nonsense. If developers of a game like Alpha Protocol want to depict a machismo chauvinist who charms women into sex for his personal or professional gain, then more power to them — it's a fictional character. If developers of a game like Mass Effect want to portray more meaningful relationship and dabble in inter-species lesbianism, more power to them, too. The author never supports the assertion that it's "dangerous" to portray machismo fictional characters, nor is there anything intrinsically unrealistic about chauvinistic charmers who seduce lots of women for their own ends.

Quote: It's called

Quote:

It's called heteroNORMATIVE for a reason. most people have such traits as dominant. It is not the personal responsibility of every producer/artist/creator to appeal to absolutely every single demographics' sensibilities. Sorry.

There are no 'disturbing' trends in games. it's a game. dont like the content? don't buy it. complaining about this stuff is the adult version of "billy keeps making fun of me because I like X!! make him stop" Pathetic.

Which has nothing to do with an entire society and every facet of it being geared towards creating people to match this sort of set up. And again, the Alpha Protocol issue is that it makes the entire playing field heteronormative. Every woman in the game "gives it up" easily, they're all heterosexual, and none of them are, for any otherwise reason, unavailable. Now THAT'S faithful to reality.

And don't bother getting your balls in a twist over what is otherwise a non-aggressive (unlike my comment, which isn't so much) article if it's "just a game". Hell, there's at least twice the ridiculous indignation in your posts here and every other post like them than there was in the article or otherwise, so stop jacking it in the mirror about how cool you are and come off the high and mighty.

There's shit wrong with the world. Everyone should be concerned with it, including content creators. So, it's odd now that people want them to at least be aware of it?

And again, somebody posts an inoffensive article on what they think, and people come in here name calling and shit and you seriously think you're the genius here? By calling someone a child? Internet: where being whiny, insulting, and childish about somebody making a straightforward argument is super cool and just making a straightforward argument means you're totally an idiot.

Quote:

Sex is a commodity because that's how both genders have treated it since the dawn of sexual reproduction. Women treat it as something to be won, so the male pursues it and does everything he can to live up to expectations as a provider. In return, he expecting her to give him what he needs. Those ARE the instincts at work whether you want to admit it or not. That IS the give and take. Just because YOU value those things does not mean everyone else does, or should. Quit preaching. Women are NOT victims anymore. If anything, all this feminism and masculine 'redefinition' is turning girls into unmarryable prima donnas and guys into insecure sorry saps. Quit spreading fud.

Except where in the instances and societies where that wasn't the case.

If you really want to stick to a lifestyle wherein we treat one sex as less than human and trade their rights for basic commodities then you should probably look into not wearing pants, shitting where you stand, and beating people to death that you don't like. I mean hey, that stuff was done by people before, so why not keep doing it?

Shit, "wimmin is becomin' dykes and doods is becomin' sissies". Sounds close enough to me.

Quote:

Try this more adult approach:
You're more than welcome to join us and spew your thoughtless, fallacy filled, group-think opinions all you like. However, you might want to consider moving beyond hypocrisy. It's a tough task, but possible. You pine away bigotry against females, and then support the stereotyping and denigration of maleness. You are a prime male example of what happens when 16th century chivalry is combined with 21st century feminism: someone who thinks he's 'supposed' to think he's dogshit and should place women above him because that's proper 'etiquette.' It's too bad too because this attitude is what prevent women from truly learning what it means to be responsible equals in society.

Vying for equal rights: totally "group-think". Cupping the balls of the power structure of the entire western world and all your unaware guy buddies by attacking teh wimminz: Not being a sheep at all.

Funny, though, I thought I was just being a decent person via seeing women around me get the short end of the stick and trying to do something about it. You know, like not being a naive ("hurrdurr the world is shit guess I'll be shitty too and not try and change it" Could these people maybe try aping motivation from a group of people other than comic book villains?) misanthropist.

No, you know who's really fucking over men? Men. That's who. Hugging themselves into a goddamn clique like a bunch of giggling high schoolers, (but shit, being in the "drink and fuck" club could never be like a childish clique, right? Right?) telling the entire world, "there's nothing wrong with me, it's all about you!" and then saying any guy that doesn't meet their stringent requirements is a dickless lady. Fuck that noise.

Art and Entertainment Immitate Life

I would like to start off my response to this article by addressing the issue of the Commodity Model of Sex and the implicit and explicit negative connotations the author ascribes to such behaviour. If you carefully examine Western society and culture you will find that the Commodity Model is as commonly used in "Real Life" as it is in the virtual world portrayed in Video Games. The author would have us believe that our society does not, on a regular basis, define most aspects of a relationship as a form of commodity exchange. The custom of giving flowers or jewelry as form of apology, or the requirement that individuals consume commodities like movies or lavish meals prior to exchanges of information about one another, are good examples of this behaviour and seem to refute this claim. Certainly in the "Real World" use of this model in excess can be destructive and, or can lead to destructive behaviours. However, within a virtual environment I would hope that scenarios that would not be possible outside could be played out. As long as the individual engaged in the activity is capable of making the separation between the two, it would not necessarily lead to destructive consequences. I would strongly recommend that prior to making any assumptions, broad social studies of the phenomenon be undertaken.

I would also like to briefly address the issue of heterosexual normative stereotypes and values being reinforced in games. I am not certain how familiar the author is with the role playing gaming genre; however, from my own limited experience, I have found that these video games, rather than reinforcing conservative values often provide significant positive reinforcement of non-heterosexual norms. One of many examples of this is the Fallout game series, which offers both male and female player characters opportunities have sexual interactions with non-player characters of both sexes; allowing the player character to form a sexual identity of their own choosing. However, just as in Television and Movies, doing so is not as widely advertised due to considerations of commodity value and marketability in conservative countries like the United States.

I would suggest that prior to assigning blame for social ineptitudes and problems, ethnography studies that examine both insider and outsider perspectives be conducted on the subject of western entertainment as a whole and the gaming sub-cultures within it. Until such time I would strongly recommend that causal theories be expressed with enough qualifiers so that it would not appear that political and or commercial interest groups are attempting to subvert the process of the creation of knowledge and the definition of facts.

[Wall of text hits you for 9000, Critical Hit!]

This post requires a bit of

This post requires a bit of background. I highly recommend reading Thomas Macaulay Millar's essay "Toward a Performance Model of Sex", from the recently published anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape."

Oh, that sure sounds like a really smart book. A world without rape? Impossible, except with highly advanced technology (that we don't have). Feminists think that as long as the world isn't perfect for women, it's inherently oppressive and unjust towards them. Since the world can never be perfect, this ensures that feminists can continue their crusade indefinitely. A brilliant move, I must admit.

In short, Millar describes how society sees sex as a commodity, and argues that the commodity model—which enables rape, allows the concept of the "slut" to exist, and frames consent as "the absence of no", rather than "the presence of yes"—should be replaced by what he calls the performance model, where sex is seen as a collaborative effort between two equal participants, like two musicians playing a song together.

No, what enables rape is that there exist people who don't have any morals and thus take what they want by force, even in a society that prohibits rape both legally and socially. As for the concept of slut, I don't see what's supposed to be bad about it.

On top of reinforcing the commodity model of sex, it is desperately heteronormative. For all the player's "choice" of with whom to engage, there's no possibility that the player might want to have a relationship with another man

Heterosexuality is the standard and the norm, and most people are heterosexual. That's just how it is. The developers are under no moral, ethical or legal obligation to make the protagonist gay or bisexual.

Oh, and seeing as how you can't play as a female or as a black person, I guess the game is racist and sexist too, am i rite? And Resident Evil 5 is racist because suddenly there are black people in Africa. Video games are so unprogressive.

It also shows that lesbians just don't exist in this world, if every single woman is open to a sexual encounter with a man.

I can't say I've played Alpha Protocol or know much about it, but I am fairly certain that the player will not be able to have a sexual encounter with every woman in the world.

So what can video games do to portray better relationships? For one, they can stop being so goddamn heteronormative and allow options for queer relationships.

I really, really resent the way queer activists try to force their shit on everyone all the time. Go make your own goddamn game if this is so vitally important to you.

Interesting read

I don't disagree with the points in this article, but I want to address the following section.

"So what can video games do to portray better relationships? ...designers can start thinking of sex as a collaborative performance between two equal partners, and romantic interests as actual human beings with lives and thoughts and preferences outside of where they intersect with the player, rather than as conquests."

The problem I see with this from a design standpoint is that nobody in a video game is equal to the protagonist because nobody else is controlled by a human. The actions of the protagonist are the raison d'être for the entire world of the game. In such a setting is it even possible for another character to have equal importance, and humanity as the protagonist?

"Feminists think that as

"Feminists think that as long as the world isn't perfect for women, it's inherently oppressive and unjust towards them. Since the world can never be perfect, this ensures that feminists can continue their crusade indefinitely. A brilliant move, I must admit."

Yeah, it sure is dumb to think that if something isn't perfect, then there's something wrong with it and people should work to fix it.

By that I of course mean,

By that I of course mean, "if something isn't perfect AND there's something wrong with it, THEN people should work to fix it", since something being wrong is the corollary of a lack of perfection.

In a multiplayer game, yes.

In a multiplayer game, yes.

Alpha Protocol achievements

Alex, your article raises some valid points, but I wanted to let you know that Alpha Protocol also has an achievement for having sex with none of the women in the game. The number of women with whom Michael Thorton can sleep can be counted on one hand. While it is certainly possibly that even among a group of women that small, one might not have any sexual/romantic interest in men, I do not think it is outlandish that they do.

I also believe that while games should continue to develop more nuanced relationship mechanics, it generally follows that if you behave in a way that a person approves of, they are more likely to have a positive relationship with you. Romance/sex is one aspect of your relationship with women in Alpha Protocol. Characters like SIE and Mina can have a direct impact on other aspects of your gameplay. If you generate positive relationships with these women, you can always opt to keep it strictly professional; you still have strong motives to stay on their good sides.

That essay is terrible.

The music parallel he tries to shoehorn in everywhere is an enormous failure. I know he's arguing that sex is as unremarkable and fleeting as playing music, or dancing, or performance art; but despite his protestations there are still perfectly decent people who don't look at it in such a callous way.

One can view sex as something other than a commodity without going all the way over- as he does- into believing it's an entirely selfish act. And this is exactly what he's proposing on page 39. Frankly he comes off as just as much of an unfeeling sociopath as the people he's attacking.

Thanks, Arc

Couldn't have put it better myself=)

Great post Alex, This piece

Great post Alex,

This piece really got me thinking. I'm not how a video-game can avoid these situations. The interactive nature of the medium makes a commodity system for sexual relationships a lot easier. The A.I can't gauge your soul or heart but it can determine what your actions and speech selections were and calculate "love points"
The only way around this that I can see is if a game had a set narrative that did not involve player choice. For instance, a Final Fantasy style game where the protagonist has a love interest. This would be a set in stone part of the narrative and not a "choice". There is no specific dialogue options or gifts required but rather, as the story progressed the romance would progress and sex may or may not be a part of that depending on the writers and not depended on the gamer.

How're they gonna make a

How're they gonna make a parody of a spy game without being able to sex everyone?

Anonymous wrote: By that I

Anonymous wrote:

By that I of course mean, "if something isn't perfect AND there's something wrong with it, THEN people should work to fix it", since something being wrong is the corollary of a lack of perfection.

Feminists think that the world being imperfect is something that only affects women, as if men are living in some kind of patriarchal utopia. When they start fixing the world, or rather remaking it in their own image, they do it entirely from the perspective of feminists and don't care what effects it has on everyone else. And they will never, ever stop their victimhood pity party since the world will never, ever be perfect.

Your argument is flawed...

Your argument is flawed because

a) Mass Effect allows you to get men and women into bed in exactly the same way, there are also an equal amount of male and female and alien options, so it isn't sexist.

b) You assume that the game rewards you for having sex with loads of people, when it has been discovered that it is less than 5, and it also rewards you for avoiding them. The game isn't even out, you don't know how it will be portrayed!

c) other games i can think of which involve sex are-
-Sims, I'm having problems even getting girls to like me in that game, i only have 2 female friends... :(
-Fable 2, some people just won't go for you, there are also gay and bisexual people and you can be a man or woman
-GTA:SA, you had to go on dates with the women, a lot of them, before you could have sex. Unless you had sex with an actual prostitute

In all the games i listed, you can either do/say the right things to get them to like you. In all the sexual relationships I've been in, we stayed together because we made each other happy, by doing/saying things they wanted to hear/do. I don't know what you expect from a game but it isn't going to spend huge amounts on providing an arduous journey to get no reward, because that won't satisfy customers. I enjoyed just talking to the characters in ME, but some people don't.

I find this article to be

I find this article to be lacking in true critical thought.

Since when is sex not a reward? A goal to be achieved? Even in the most loving couple, sex is viewed as a good thing, something ok to want. In some games, sex is not placed within the structure of a relationship, and in others, it is placed within that structure. Just like life! In GTA4, you have to take the girls out on dates, and get to know them. In Mass Effect, you have experiences with your female NPC friend beyond sex.

If anything, I think your criticism really is focused on that the systems surrounding sex in games aren't complicated enough for you. I think that says something. You think that sex in a game without the structure of a relationship lowers the maturity of it, but is it always fitting to insert "You've Got Mail" into every game that wants to portray a sex scene?

Is it also appropriate to give players a choice all the time? Not all games are meant to have multiple choice outcomes. Some have a story to tell, a plot that must be advanced along. What if the developers wanted sex to happen?

Many of these games already are portraying a dirty, violent, improper image. Trying to sweeten up sex in those games is like asking Eddie Murphy to do stand up without cursing.

I'm not saying there isn't a place for a real romantic structure within games today, but I don't think it's fair to demand it, or to criticize the idea of horny guys looking to see some 3d boobs. Sex is a very multifaceted subject only a very limited set of views on it can be considered wrong, with the vast majority merely being preference.

I think you're misreading

I think you're misreading Alex's article. His point is not that sex is not a reward nor is it suppose to be something pleasant and enjoyable, it is that sex has only ever been treated as a reward to some preconceived set of actions and nothing else.

Although I don`t know if I agree with Alex on everything that he`s arguing for. One thing is that in the case of Mass Effect, if it has not been spoiled to you that there is a PG 13 sex scene at the end of your interactions with your potential partner and this portion of the game is a side quest with no consequences to the story, how can it be considered an example of the commodity model? If you had no idea that there is such a "reward" at the end (and I haven't finished the game yet, so I'm assuming that they do not make it explicit that you will "get some"), how can your actions be considered merely a means to the reward of sex?

Furthermore, it seems to me that the commodity model of sex does not need to be a heteronormative or a phallocentric model at all as Millar have suggested. It can be the case that two people (or more) of differing or same sex can seek sex as a reward at the same time and so goes through the actions that they feel will help them achieve that reward. So I don't think that the commodity model is morally inferior to the performance model of sex, or do they need to be conflicting models (both people seeking for the reward of sex, which is a collaborative performance they can enjoy together and nothing more).

Finally, for people who are saying that feminism is only concerned with the well-being of women, please try to familiarize yourself with more feminist literature first. Feminism is the view that the world is imperfect because one sex/gender has been underrepresented and it is harmful to society as a whole (i.e. to both sex/gender), and thus we should try implement ways in which everyone could be represented equally.

You shouldn't assume that a

You shouldn't assume that a world that is better for woman wouldn't also be better for men. Feminists aren't out to elevate women by bringing men down.

I've spoken to many

I've spoken to many feminists and with the exception of a few anonymous posters in dark corners of the internet, I've never heard one express beliefs anything like this. How many feminists have you met or spoken to?

I can't accept this argument

I think that there isn't much problem with this game and its "bang all the girls" achievement. I don't see it as serious. I see it as ridiculous. When you're playing as a gun-toting Rambo who destroys enemies with the greatest of ease, taking this element and putting thought into it is a waste of time.

Yeah, I can't argue that games like these don't think much of women, but, like you say, this is a game which takes its cue from James Bond. I see this game just as I see James bond. It's popcorn, it's not to be taken seriously and it's fantasy. I think many other players see it the same way.

This is serious? Hello, it's

This is serious? Hello, it's a videogame. I really don't care that everybody is absolutely traumatized that sex is appearing in videogames. Have any of you watched a music video recently?? Many of them border on softcore pornography, but nobody complains. Why? I really don't know. You people should leave it as it is. A videogame. That's not real. Don't like it? Don't buy it. Trust in the judgment of other parents or whatever, and let it go. Sex is bought, sold, traded for, given out for free. I think that we can just stop being so trigger happy about these videogames. Seriously.

Did you actually read the

Did you actually read the entire article? Clearly you couldn't have! No where is there any "feminazi ranting" about video games turning teens into rapists or johns or any of that, and your term "feminazi" is HIGHLY offensive!

The article is about how sex is portrayed, viewed, and used in video games. It asks for a better portrayal of the characters involved. It asks for there to be not only hetero relationships and for there to be ACTUAL relationships. It's not about the effect games have on teens or anyone. It's more then a feminist rant. It's about the portrayal of sex as something to be achieved or acquired instead of something performed by consenting people.

Give your head a shake. Open your eyes. Read the article again. You missed the point entirely!

This is a feminazi style

This is a feminazi style post which demonizes men's natural desire to reproduce. There is nothing wrong with making a sex game reward. Girls can do it too, Thats what feminism was supposed to be about. People will gain pleasure in a virtual environment any way they want; just like in real life. Who are you to tell them its wrong? Maybe you should check your morals at the door and just let people be free.

ghost4 wrote: Feminists

ghost4 wrote:

Feminists think that the world being imperfect is something that only affects women, as if men are living in some kind of patriarchal utopia. When they start fixing the world, or rather remaking it in their own image, they do it entirely from the perspective of feminists and don't care what effects it has on everyone else. And they will never, ever stop their victimhood pity party since the world will never, ever be perfect.

Now that's funny, because in EVERY SINGLE Women's Studies class I've taken and every conversation I've had with people who self-identify as feminists, the general consensus is that the patriarchy as it currently exists isn't perfect for either women OR men (for all that it may benefit white hetero cis men as a system).

Is the world of Hollywood-style espionage really generalizable?

Although there are valid points in this article, I'm slightly wary of excessively over-used analytical concepts such as "commodification"; which seems to be the incriminatory stamp progressive-minded academics invariably put on just about every single thing which they happen to have more or less understandable ideological reservations about.

Also, I'm not so sure that the fact that your character in Alpha Protocol can potentially sleep with every single woman to be found in a very specific context - in this instance a stylized representation of modern day espionage - can be meaningfully generalized and extrapolated in the way Alex Raymond does here. For example, I'm hard-pressed to believe that the writers involved with AP's story and dialogue ever intended to suggest that the psychological makeup (or even the sexual preferences) of this particular game's female characters should be representative of women in general. By contrast, the gameplay in The Sims 3 clearly tries to convey some kind of ordinary middle class existence (albeit with a mildly satiric edge to it), and if someone were to remove the personality incompatibility element from that game I would a bit more concerned than I am by the sexual shenanigans of Alpha Protocol's Hollywood-style agents...

Congragulations. Nothing happend.

This article started out with a lot of positive feedback followed by a lot more negative feedback. While I did like several points by Raymond, I think I did count many more points against him that I agree with. While I'm glad to see many people bringing up many sides of the story I have to ask myself, "What good has come of this?"

Is "winning" this debate going to do anything? People are always going to target video games/music/art/movies for "demeaning" [blank] people, yet life goes on. Developers are still developing and critics are still criticizing.

I'm tired of people getting so offensive and pissed off about pointless little things that aren't going to change. How about instead of bashing games or people we don't like, we can complement the games and people we do like so they can say, "Hey, look how profitable this demographic is, more people like this!" and maybe you'll get you more romantic/realistic dating sim. Or go to Japan, they've invested quite some money in developing some more interesting (for lack of a better word) sims.

I'm sure some one out there has a good counter to my opinion, there always will be. Fire away! I probably won't read it.

the topic

Sex is just like anything else represented in a game - it's something that occurs after certain conditions are met. That's no different than living, eating, saving the world, dying or any other abstract concept. This is because games can only be represented as a collection of systems - you can't really change that without creating some sort of sentient AI. They're scripted and they're deterministic because they have to be.

Is that necessarily a bad thing? That depends on your viewpoint. If you *look* at the sex acts (or any other acts) in a game as an output for a given set of inputs, then that's what you're going to get, just like obtaining the Wombat Sword of Doom is the result of a certain set of inputs, or falling off of the Austere Bridge of Hell is the result of a certain set of inputs. It's the equivalent of watching a movie and knowing that at 47:38, a sex scene will happen. Is it because it is 47 minutes and 38 seconds into the film? Yes, that's true, but it's not the whole truth. You can look at the motivations of the characters and the story of the film, but you certainly don't have to. Saying that there will be a sex scene at 47:38 is just as true.

If you are suitably immersed in a game, then the sex is (usually) depicted as an act between two people in some sort of relationship for a reason. Maybe it's because they are in some sort of emotional turmoil, and a physical act helps them hold it together. Maybe it's the culmination of a relationship that's been brewing for a long time, and the circumstances are finally right for it to happen. Maybe they are just both really bored, and some sort of stimulus sparks a connection. I don't know. It's perfectly fine though, because those are all legitimate reasons to have relationships both in real life and in games.

Is it just the naming convention for the achievement? If the achievement criteria was written as "Fully explore relationships with all possible results", would that have your knickers in such a twist? If some (or all) of the relationships did not culminate physically, would that make it more acceptable?

The main issue is that you seem to be disregarding the major parts like story and relationship, and commoditizing the sex acts, but that's nothing that doesn't doesn't occur in any other media that depicts the sexual act. Why single out video games for this particular problem when it is really quite universal?

--Rawr

I want to shake your hand so

I want to shake your hand so much right now.

Very few games allow me to

Very few games allow me to be gay or play a female character that is equally able to pursue a sexual relationship. Why are they demonizing women's natural desire to reproduce?

"I'm tired of people getting

"I'm tired of people getting so offensive and pissed off about pointless little things that aren't going to change."

Why do I have to hide my gender when I'm playing video games? Why are people rewarded for female objectification? Why do I have to deal with incessant sexual harassment? Why do I have to listen to endless homophobia and racism? Why am I treated as less of a person and my voice is less valid as a female gamer? Why do you get to choose that these things are pointless, are not worth complaining about, and never will change?

Dear Alex Raymond, thank you

Dear Alex Raymond, thank you for this post; your brain is good and posting this was also good.

Good job Mr. Sawyer!

I wonder how many people reading the various back and forth arguments on what this article means have yet to realize that one of the game's gorram designers felt the need to step in and clarify things. Probably unnecessary really, but good of him to do!

With the point made that there is a corresponding achievement for being super professional and NOT sleeping with any of the female NPCs I think all of the preceding is pretty much rendered void. Since the outrage seems to be over the fact that there is an achievement for sleeping with every available girl in the game, and thus this behavior is being treated like a good thing (since all achievements are always a good thing), the corresponding achievement proves that the developers are really in no way encouraging any one style of play or "heteronormative" belief structure. Since it is after all a western styled RPG, then shouldn't a player should have their choice in the matter and get rewarded for whatever path they take?

This is no different than the Fallout series and Fallout 3 in particular (since it has achievements). Do Todd Howard and the folks at Bethesda encourage the "psychologically perverse" crowd for reaching level 20 in Fallout 3 with Evil Karma when the game also offers corresponding achievements for neutral and good paths? No? Oh well, quit bitching then.

This game looks great to myself and a great many people for attempting to bring a lot of depth to a genre that has for the most part, had little. Spy games aren't terribly well executed when so many people still think that Goldeneye is one of the best examples of the genre. I mean come on, how much actual spying is there in that game compared to shooting Russians in the head while a block-built woman "types" on a computer? How much actual spying is there in Metal Gear Solid? Not much compared to the philosophizing or the ridiculously named bosses. This is a game that is honestly attempting to try some new things while still keeping some sort of appeal to the mainstream. We should be lauding it for even making the attempt and not get into another ideological debate over what probably amounts to 10 gamerscore.

And if there still needs to be some sort of outrage over a game's (which has yet to come out) achievements, how 'bout this?

Where's the achievement that represents the hero falling in love and building a relationship with one woman, only to have her killed by the very government he strives to defend? You know, the theoretical middle ground in the game? You could even call it "Bad to the Bourne" or something similar.

Personally, my biggest beef with the game so far is simply the fact that I think the pics I've seen so far (though I've been depriving myself of most of the info so I don't spoil anything and I don't know if this can be modified visually) of the lead character are kind of bland. Other than that, it looks great.

Oh and to point out something I think needs to be said: It's a fucking spy game!

Traditionally sex is used as a very deadly weapon in the world of espionage. I have the feeling that just getting this achievement is probably incredibly hazardous to the player's health and ability to survive. It's almost a guarantee that at least one of these female NPC's is going to attempt to stab the hell out of the player's neck when they go to make whoopee in the embassy coatroom. If that's not female empowerment, I guess I better get back to feminist class, cause I don't know what is.

I also like the AXE body spray ads I'm seeing while typing this. Oh positional irony . . .

Oh and one more thing . . .

Very few games allow me to be gay or play a female character that is equally able to pursue a sexual relationship. Why are they demonizing women's natural desire to reproduce?

Go play the more recent Harvest Moon games. These allow you to raise the farm as a socially independent woman who only wants to be judged by her merit in the fast paced world of farming for profit! You can date any of the available bachelors of the township that you sell your overpriced crops to (thus bleeding them of their precious resources while you get rich off of your elven slave labor plantation whilst keeping them reliant on you), and choose when and who to marry if at all?

Still not enough?

OK then, go play Fallout 2! You can play a semi-retarded tribesman who due to simple natural curiosity ends up in a shotgun wedding with another naturally curious young man! Then you can lovingly create whatever fantasy life you prefer with your spouse!

There are actually plenty more examples out there for options such as these, just not that many that are well known or terribly popular. There may not be many now, but hey this industry is still growing and there's something for pretty much everyone, or there soon will be!

Atomically Incorrect

Atomically Incorrect wrote:

If that's not female empowerment, I guess I better get back to feminist class, cause I don't know what is.

Uh... yeah, you better, because what? A female NPC using sex to lure a man somewhere so she can kill him is female empowerment?

No. No, not really. While you made some points with the rest of your comment, that shows you do indeed need remedial 'feminist classes'.

Also, throwing out two examples of games that have options for female main character romance options and gay romance options is nice and all, but you do realize that women make up half the worlds' population, right? So then there should be just as many games where people can play female characters who can romance whoever they want. Or if you want to go the good old "but less girls play games so they should cater to guys!" route, how about we get some statistics up in here and find out if it works out? Is the proportion of games with a female main character and a romance option equal to the proportion of female gamers?

I doubt it. And the gay options are so few as to be nearly nonexistent. It's disappointing to anyone who isn't a straight male gamer, and there are more and more of us as time goes on.

Obviously, not for women

This is exactly why I roll my eyes hard enough to strain something when some Nice Guy complains about the lack of women at cons, into video games, or participating in the video game and technological culture at large. It's a self-perpetuating prophecy: there's no girls who play video games. We make what the audience wants. The audience wants heterosexual misogynist male-dominated narratives because there are no girls who play video games. We can't be assed to delay development to make something for a market not there. The market isn't there because we make heterosexual misogynist male-dominated narratives and nothing else. And so on and so forth.

Of course, the whole thing gets much worse if you have the audacity to be a gay female, or, godforbid, a gay male. The Dudebro culture of videogaming thinks of homosexuality as some sort of disease. It's not masculine and cool. Or if it's women's homosexuality, then it's a spectacle for heterosexual men rather than a viable fulfilling relationship without the Cock in the Room.

What happens is that this all leaves me, a homosexual female, with absolutely no content in video games that ultimately doesn't offend me or doesn't emotionally move me. I can't relate to a heterosexual male protagonist who views women as commodities. His view of the world and how he interacts with it doesn't relate to my fantasies or experiences at all. Which is why, after the 90s height of side-scrolling video games, I'm very loathe to sink significant capital into gaming systems or games themselves. Why buy a book if you think it's unrealistic offensive tripe? Especially if that book is $70 and requires a $300 platform to read?

But the marketing perspective is not really the crux of the argument--and I'm really thankful that you address that in your article. The bottom line is that the total lack of video games that do anything but perpetuate misogynist cultural scripts isn't just bad business (which may or may not be true), it's damaging to society, full stop, and it further isolates demographics from the enjoyment of activities that they would otherwise like to do. Under no circumstance would I want to play a game over a network in which teenage boys use slang like "faggot," "rape," and "bitch" to describe other players and how they interact with them. Such language is alienating. And by refusing to do anything about it, or condemn it, one is ultimately justifying it and aiding its proliferation.

I do have a brother which enjoys platform gaming with a headset over a network. He has monumentally increased his use of racist slurs and such, because the demographics of who enjoy the games are overwhelmingly white heterosexual men, and that is the language they feel entitled to utilize with each other. In an area without diversity or any sort of penalty for such backwards thinking (where the content of the actual game encourages such behavior as well), it makes sense that the activity would be isolated to a single socially dominant demographic to the detriment of all other demographics.

How someone can fail to see that this is a problem is beyond me. Of course, it always looks a lot better from the inside, when you're not the one excluded and made invisible and belittled by content and the attitude of the players. It's not a problem if it doesn't effect you, right?

We really ought to discourage such navel-gazing selfish behavior.

Anonymous wrote: This is

Anonymous wrote:

This is what passes for critical thinking around here?

Awful college aged feminazi ranting about how video games will turn teenagers into serial rapists or serial Johns, trying to pay women for sex all of the time?

I hate to burst your feminist bubble but with some women all it takes is going through the motions (exchange of commodities, ie dinner, drinks) to get sex as an end game.

"end game." You sound mature.

"I know he's arguing that

"I know he's arguing that sex is as unremarkable and fleeting as playing music, or dancing, or performance art; but despite his protestations there are still perfectly decent people who don't look at it in such a callous way."

What?! I'm sorry you can't appreciate music or the arts, but the author never so much as implied that sex OR the arts were unremarkable. The arts are an expression of the human experience, and have been of great importance in almost every culture in the history of mankind. And, er, of course it's "fleeting" -- most people don't/can't have sex, or sing or dance, for days on end -- but that doesn't make it any less beautiful. How the hell is it *callous* to suggest that sex is more like baring your soul than hawking goods on a street corner?! The 'selfishness' business is completely ridiculous. When people sell things, it is for our own benefit; we need money and that we're helping the other person is usually of little consequence. When we buy something, it is for our own benefit; we need the goods we're buying and that we're helping the other person is usually of little consequence. When we sing or dance with others, we do get a rush, but part of that is that we're sharing the experience with those other people. The commodity model of sex is far more selfish, callous, and disgusting than the performance model could ever be.

"Feminists think that the world being imperfect is something that only affects women, as if men are living in some kind of patriarchal utopia. When they start fixing the world, or rather remaking it in their own image, they do it entirely from the perspective of feminists and don't care what effects it has on everyone else. And they will never, ever stop their victimhood pity party since the world will never, ever be perfect."

LOL. Thanks for telling me what I think, but that's not what I think, and that's not what I hear my fellow feminists saying, either. Patriarchy only benefits men so long as they are willing to follow their prescribed roles, which requires them to do a lot of nasty things to themselves and others. One example: locking away the parts of their humanity that allow them to appreciate relationships on a deeper level than sexsexsex. Men who refuse to deny themselves their feelings are "wusses", "pussy-whipped", etc., while men who embrace that expectation are "pimps" and "players". Some other things men are punished for: not making enough money, not buying the right things, being unwilling to inflict pain on themselves/others, and taking part in activities or careers that are coded female. Both men and women have harmful gender role expectations, and both men and women are shoehorned into them from childhood, if not infancy. In the end, power is the reward for men who buy into the system, whereas the reward for women who buy into the system is a relationship with a powerful man. But I think life would be a far more rewarding experience for all of us, male or female, if this system wasn't in place.

Women feminists do tend to talk more about the women's side of things, because we're women and we have a deeper, more personal understanding of that side of things. But we certainly don't ignore men's issues, and there are also many men feminists who talk more about the men's side of things. Hugo Schwyzer is one I read regularly. Now, it's unfortunate that there aren't more male feminists, but we can't force men to take a serious interest in gender equality. A lot of men make up their mind about feminism long before they understand what it is, thanks to the people who take it upon themselves to consistently misrepresent us. How many people still think that Andrea Dworkin believed all men were rapists, even though she was in a relationship with John Stoltenburg (a male feminist) from '74 to her death in '05? Her writing about sex, porn and rape was a criticism of the commodity model of sex, but most people will only read a few sentences or paragraphs, taken out of context, and decide that she is a "man hater" without ever bothering to read a single one of her books.

By the way, if there are any

By the way, if there are any lesbians out there looking for some queer-friendly games, Harvest Moon DS: Cute might be one of them, maybe. It's a remake of Harvest Moon DS, but you play as a female character who can marry male characters instead of vice versa. There's also a "Best Friend" system. You can woo and become "best friends" with any of the female datables from the original, but becoming "best friends" looks a lot like gay marriage by another name. Instead of getting married at the church, you'll meet at the beach for a "best friends" ceremony, after which she moves into your house. A little while later, she'll magically find a child that the two of you will raise together. :P Unfortunately, I think this is only available on the JP version, and the HM series does suffer from the commodity model. The storyline as a whole is quite sparse, though, so I tend to roleplay in my head as I play, which allows me to frame things a little differently.

To respond to a point.

Quote:

Uh... yeah, you better, because what? A female NPC using sex to lure a man somewhere so she can kill him is female empowerment?

No. No, not really. While you made some points with the rest of your comment, that shows you do indeed need remedial 'feminist classes'.

That was me just kidding around. But I guess I shouldn't do that since this is such a SERIOUS ISSUE!

Quote:

Also, throwing out two examples of games that have options for female main character romance options and gay romance options is nice and all, but you do realize that women make up half the worlds' population, right? So then there should be just as many games where people can play female characters who can romance whoever they want.

Or if you want to go the good old "but less girls play games so they should cater to guys!" route, how about we get some statistics up in here and find out if it works out? Is the proportion of games with a female main character and a romance option equal to the proportion of female gamers?

I doubt it. And the gay options are so few as to be nearly nonexistent. It's disappointing to anyone who isn't a straight male gamer, and there are more and more of us as time goes on.

I suppose the only real reaction to this is Why is it so outrageous that this isn't happening right this very second?

I mean come on people, video games are fundamentally about actions that people undertake. The simpler the action, the simpler the game (pong is a great example). The more complicated the action, the more complicated the game (there are plenty of examples, but let's go with say, the Civilization series).

Now you want developers to focus on easily the most complex series of events and choices the average human being will ever undertake. One, which if everyone is being honest here, no one truly understands the real mechanics of, because there are so many factors involved most women and the vast majority of men can't fathom them all into a logical or often even explainable fashion. This is a hard process. One that yet to truly be realized in any game in depth, and only in part by a scant few.

And this is even WITH the standard "boy meets girl" concept that is the most familiar to all those involved in the creation process. Now you want those folks involved in an industry that is filled by the overwhelming majority of straight, white, males and who probably don't have as much involvement or experience with a female or homosexual perspective in romance or sex to make games that depict them, AND as a core gameplay element?

Do you really want more games like Fear Effect? Cause that's what you're going to get.

Videogames simply haven't had the ability to effectively portray romance (hell I would argue even natural human conversation) or sex very well over the years they've existed (and every time someone tries to push the envelope in a remotely sexual direction they get lambasted for it). They're getting better at it, and I do think the folks involved should keep striving to make and craft new experiences and that yes some of them should include romance, and sex, with fully definable characters, but come on, the guys and gals who make these things are only human.

They are not monolithic gods made of ones and zeroes who conjure up every game possible for every audience possible and certainally not in equal quantities. But there are many more of them now, trying many more ideas and different avenues. A lot of this stuff is just going to take some time. Yelling at people who have already worked hard on a game that's pretty much done and isn't going to change much now that it's slotted for release will accomplish nothing.

Or to answer your questions more directly:

Yes, I know that there are quite a lot of women out there.

Yes there are statistics available about the amount of women who play videogames. Though I'm not going to do any grunt work for anyone else, if I recall correctly, the vast majority of women play puzzle/card games as their primary videogame experience, with several other categories of the "old school" video game falling far behind that one.

And no the proportion of games with lead female characters who can "romance whomever they want" is not equivalent to the amount of female gamers. But neither is the proportion of games with male leads who can screw whoever they want proportionate to that of male gamers.

So I reiterate, the diversity is currently often there, just not widely publicized. It's getting more diverse everyday. If you don't want to spend any of your time actually looking for this material, then make it yourself. If you don't want to do that, stop whining.

I hate to burst your

I hate to burst your feminist bubble but with some women all it takes is going through the motions [...] to get sex as an end game.

And that makes it a good idea?

That makes it something to encourage, let alone glorify?

"And secondly, designers can

"And secondly, designers can start thinking of sex as a collaborative performance between two equal partners, and romantic interests as actual human beings with lives and thoughts and preferences outside of where they intersect with the player, rather than as conquests."
Okay... now how do are programmers actually supposed to DO that?

Most of the reason the commodity system exists in video games is because it's the simplest (and possibly the only) way to model a notoriously messy and complicated aspect of human behavior in virtual form* while still giving the player a choice in the matter. In fact, most of the time it's an attempt to duplicate the progress of a real relationship (as in Harvest Moon, where the girl gradually falls in love with you as her heart level increases).

*While writing the relationship into the story yields a deeper and more realistic relationship, being stuck with a Designated Love Interest removes the player from the equation entirely. And on the rare occasions you do get to choose your love interest, either all the differences between the options is mostly cosmetic, or the game relies on a relationship point system to determine who you end up with...

What an amazing age we live in!

Our grand nation's matronly saints, the women, can post on the inter-net from the comfort of their space-age kitchens! While preparing a tasty and nourishing casserole for her husband and strapping young boys, she can play casual games on Facebook, while gossiping with her lady friends.

Take that, Russkies!

Advances in science by our boys at DARPA allow the busiest of broads the world over to post on the inter-net while ironing, doing dishes, or being pregnant! Capital!

(And boys, while she's bent over a keyboard or a stove, you can still get a good look at her sweet, sweet, American gams. Bee's Knees!)

commodification?

I don't see how the commodification model of sex 'enables rape, allows the concept of the "slut" to exist, and frames consent as "the absence of no", rather than "the presence of yes".'

I'm not in favor of everyone adopting a "commodification model", but I really don't see how it leads to legitimizing rape. That would be like legitimizing theft, so long as what is stolen is the stock in trade of a merchant. Nor is a merchant, or anyone else who sells something, obliged to sell to whomever wishes to buy. Although I have unfortunately met people who believed this.

So if this is a commodification model, it is a sick model on its own terms, and supported only by sick people.

In a way, it is too bad that sex is not a "commodity", when offered for a price by prostitutes. Because then they could call the police when they were raped (robbed) and they would be treated like people. Oh no, wait, that could only happen if everyone who reported rape was treated like a person. And we know that's not true.

I fucking love you for this

I fucking love you for this comment. THANK YOU.

Another option is to have

Another option is to have relationships as a mandatory part of the storyline and the options be either "you're in this relationship" or "game over". This is done very frequently in the visual novel genre of games, where the interactions are almost entirely scripted beforehand and you--at best--get to pick which of a few heavily linear paths you want to go down (possibly with one romance each).

I hate male feminists. If

I hate male feminists. If you don't have a pussy, don't act like one.

video games treat relationships like a REWARD SYSTEM because VIDEO GAMES ARE BASED ON REWARD SYSTEMS. video games are NOT REAL LIFE. there has been no proof that playing mario brothers makes you want to eat mushrooms and fuck around in sewers, and no REAL proof that shooters cause kids to shoot people. enough with this bullshit that video games corrupt our youth. video games do not make men think that they can fuck me if they push the right buttons. we women perpetuate that myth ALL BY OURSELVES.

excellent points! making

excellent points! making video game relationships as complicated as real life would be cost prohibitive and frankly, boring and stupid. the entire game would have to revolve around that aspect, and these people should be trying to get it on in real life instead.

video game developers and

video game developers and companies are not asking you to hide your gender and are not subjecting you to sexual harrassment. other players might be doing this, but that is generally because they are about 12 years old and anonymity makes a person act out in ways the wouldn't if you could see their faces. it is not the job of the video game company to police the behavior of its customers.

A Male Feminist Writes...

I think, although you comments are generally unhelpful, you have a point - Games are based on rewards, in the most part.

But suggesting that all the blame lies with women is a strange burden to land yourself and your gender with. To seperate society into factions of gender is a self fulfilling prophesy - you are certainly perpetuating the myth all by yourself.

Games have, for a long time, featured some fine examples of binary opposition. There is always the good and the bad, this becomes worse in more modern games because we have been attempting to turn complex moral systems into simplistic points systems. This applies equally to "romance." Because we cannot accurately recreate anything close to mix of biological and sociological factor that go into any real life situation we have, until now, avoided it entirely.

I see now way you could have a reward form a partnership in a game which did not appear sexist somehow. How can we represent sex/romance in a game without it being somehow pornographic? We are in a visual medium and voyuerism of "I made them do that," is unlikely to sit well with most gamers. The one game I could point you to which presents partnering in a non-comodity way is Passage. This only works however because there is no rewards in the game at all for making the choice - it is an "experience" as opposed to a game. I think when we reach this point in larger budget games we will have stopped making games at all - a game must be "winnable," or at least present a "challenge" to be considered a game.

Does this mean all games are sexist in nature? If not sexist they are unlikely to be able to present the complex post modernist morality structure we find in life.

I think the bigger question is "what do you want games to be?"

The truth of the matter is

The truth of the matter is that sex sells. Whether it be movies, commercials, of videogames, this is one unfortunate truth that wont go away. Not only do the majority of videogames have unrealistic relationship scenarios, but 99% of women in videogames are given unrealistic proportions and hardly wear anything. Of course, you shouldn't lose hope. Two games that have a realistic girl and portrays a more realistic relationship are Knights of the Old Republic and the new Prince of Persia. While even these games can improve, they are sure signs that certain people in the industry are trying harder to make videogames more mature and sophisticated in this area.

femminazi?

How about framing your arguments (a) less abusively, and (b) by bringing up clear examples of how the article is flawed. Don't attack the person.
No-one was saying that paying for sex makes a man a serial anything. What the writer is saying is that by perpetuating a commerce-based sexual world in video-games, marketing, and indeed, anywhere you might happen to look, perpetuates the issues that exist in the western world: where there are a percentage of men who take advantage of women because they're told by society that they can.
Ultimately you might try putting the shoe on the other foot instead of getting all defensive, and put yourself in the position of a highly sexualised and supposedly submissive group.

Modeling real life in video

Modeling real life in video game form is an incredibly daunting endeavor. I feel the author's grievances have more to do with technical limitations than any malicious intent on the part of game designers.

P.S. Legalize prostitution.

lol @ "feminazi" Where are

lol @ "feminazi"
Where are you from? The 80s?

Why not...

look at it this way. The whole idea behind videogame sex symbols comes from what Hollywood, and the like, put into film. Not to mention TV series, reality shows, and other televised programming, all have women portrayed in a negative light. Almost all movies today are inclusive of at least one sex scene, most with graphic nudity, often not of a romantic nature. Before you blame videogames for portraying women in a negative manner, look to the cause of societal change and incorporation of such biggotry into our entertainment. If you take the WORST portrayal of a female from a videogame and pitted it up against what you find in todays movies, you will find your agrument holds no value.

expedience or evil

I'm sorry but not surprised to see you've received a variety of ridiculous comments on this article from people swinging the anti-feminist bat. At least it's a useful filter on comments worth reading.

I'd like to challenge a few points.

Games by their nature restrict the player's options. That's one reason why open world games that stretch that can be so exhilarating, they try to present you with huge amounts of options, but ultimately they are restrictive.

Would it be nice of games optioned more varied options for relationships? Sure. But ultimately the simulation has to start and end somewhere. With many games it may be the question of, are we going to simulate relationships at all? If so, how can we do so simply? What's the best bang for the buck? That's game development.

A heterosexual protagonist? Sounds like a reasonable simplification. Would it make sense to make all protagonists in all games bi? Probably not. It's not homophobic to make this choice in an individual game.

You mention in Alpha Protocol that every woman will sleep with the protagonist. When I'm watching a James Bond movie, I don't think that lesbians don't exist because James doesn't seem to encounter them. When I watch a kung fu movie and the vast majority of people appear to be martial artists, I don't think that people who are untrained in martial arts don't exist. In any entertainment experience you're going to see trends where certain groups are prevalent. In Alpha Protocol it sounds like they wanted to present the experience where the male protagonist would encounter only women he could be sexually compatible with. This doesn't make me think that gay women don't exist, it's just a fairly obvious restriction on character types, like a world full of martial artists.

You mentioned Mass Effect (which I worked on) and one gamer's take on it that the relationship simulation was "Keep talking to me and eventually we'll have sex". That's one gamer's take on it, but that's not how it was actually implemented. In Mass Effect you actually have relationships with all your squad members, and in a few cases, yes, sex is a possibility. The same underlying system is used for managing relationships with all squad members regardless of their gender, or your gender.

While you can deconstruct most relationship systems in video games to a point system of some kind (do things they like get good points, do things they don't like get negative points) it's the player experience that ultimately matters. Are you buying chocolate and giving stacks of chocolate to an NPC to make them like you? Are you having in depth conversations with them where certain options have +s and other options have -s? These are two very different things.

Allow me to further

Allow me to further elaborate on your point.

Look at a video game of that nature like an interactive book. The character that is controlled by the player is the main character of the book and therefore by dint of that visualization, he is more important than any other character in the story except for the antagonist.

That is the essential conceit of any story ever written; the main character is the most important individual in the story's universe.

It makes no sense to belittle that concept for the sake of social mores; imagined or realized, unless you expect to change the overall concept of storytelling.

Another Anonymous

Another Anonymous wrote:

Also, throwing out two examples of games that have options for female main character romance options and gay romance options is nice and all, but you do realize that women make up half the worlds' population, right? So then there should be just as many games where people can play female characters who can romance whoever they want. Or if you want to go the good old "but less girls play games so they should cater to guys!" route, how about we get some statistics up in here and find out if it works out? Is the proportion of games with a female main character and a romance option equal to the proportion of female gamers?

I doubt it. And the gay options are so few as to be nearly nonexistent. It's disappointing to anyone who isn't a straight male gamer, and there are more and more of us as time goes on.

That is because the primary demographic for video game players are heterosexual males. That is even more so for platform-based video games.

When more women and (openly-declared) gay men start buying video games and making their voices heard, then the market will reflect that...oh, wait. That's already happening now. And yes, considering the number of role-playing video games out and the fact that multi-branch developed games are relatively new (10 years), there is a significant number of games that allow female/same-sex oriented options in regard to character relationships.

Furthermore, you have to consider how few games actually go into the open-ended relationship concept. Bioware (the makers of Mass Effect) was one of the companies that brought the multi-faceted relationship tree into common usage. Have we forgotten "Jade Empire," where you had a good number of characters and you had your choice of romantic entanglements?

By the way and speaking of Bioware, I love how everyone is omitting the fact that in both Jade Empire and Mass Effect, there is a side consequence of the relationship engine. If you decide to try to be a player and not devote yourself to one character romantically, the romantic arc will end with both female characters (or the female and the alien in Mass Effect) deciding to cut you out of the picture because you refused to commit to either one of them.

The Final Fantasy roleplaying games cannot be held to your standard because they are a fixed and established story. To condemn a writer because he wrote a story that you can't relate to is the height of selfishness. If you don't like it, then write your own story, the way you want it. Small house videogame companies are coming out of the woodwork; get one made with the kind of story you want.

You people who are so upset over the hetero-dynamic in video games can take a page from the porn industry. If you all are so fired up about this issue, then make your own games. When feminist women wanted to see more romantically/female friendly porn, they made it.

Why can't you do the same? Create products for the market you fee is under-represented.

When more women and

When more women and (openly-declared) gay men start buying video games and making their voices heard

Um, that's what this post is. A woman who buys games making her voice heard.

"Um, that's what this post

"Um, that's what this post is. A woman who buys games making her voice heard."

Yes! Too bad all the games I see anyone are boring-ass war games with super ugly dudes as the lead. Let's be honest, for the main character to be interesting (to me) he's either gotta be a hottie or a cool chick. I'll point to the female-high popularity of FF RPGs and Resident Evils to prove that. And before you jump down my throat and call me a "feminazi" or whatever, just look at 95% of the female characters in games. They are all sexy and lots of them are dressed like they're about to work the pole rather than kick some ass. So you can't say I'm being sexist by wanting a hot main male character when you all pretty much demand hot women.

I am NOT surprised by all the anti-feminism sentiment going on here. It's probably all coming from the under 18 crowd or really depressed middle-aged men.

I agree with a lot of people that video games are a reward system. I see the idea that you might as well reward getting laid, after all you get rewarded for MURDER. I think games are fantasy-based and I don't think it can turn people into rapists or whatever. I likes mah killin' sprees without the threat of prisons.

I also agree with the sex commodity. But..women try to get laid too! You just don't often hear the story about the woman trying to get into the man's pants. I'm thinking alot of the fellas here would call this woman a "whore." Which is in fact the problem!

I wonder what it'd be like if that Alpha game was a lady who went around scoring with hot guys. I'd totally buy that game...So I feel like I can't rip on it just because it's a man doing women. But I would like to stand up as a woman and ask where are my games that let me objectify 3D male representations? See? I'm not asking for more, I'm just asking for equal. :)

And stop calling the author a "pussy." I'm sick of hearing from [Edited by moderator. Please refrain from insults.] who are just trying to take down men who are women-friendly. Or are at least trying to see things from other perspectives!

And for all the guys who think feminists are just out to make the world female-dominated? Well obviously none of you know anything about feminism. It's about equality. The problem comes when people realize that equality is equal. That means in order for women to share the pie, you have to give up some of yours!

You can say video games are a man's thing but they are also a money-making thing! However in order to get that money they'll have to start making female-oriented games that extend beyond a preschool level. Mario and Dora the explorer are cool but they should be asking what a teenage girl wants to do. Or what a 20-something woman wants to do. And no it's not cooking mama. I think there's more money to be made for these designers but they're all too afraid to take risks. :/

You're walking a thin line

You're walking a thin line here, Alex. To say that video games reinforce aggressive commodity-oriented dating behavior is to say that video games also train us to become efficient killers.

Yet, in reality, most gamers learn very quickly they can't hit the 5-ring with a match-grade pistol at 7 yards by just aligning the sights and that dating women is much, much more complex than James Bond fantasies.

Secondly, you're ignoring that video games are a consumer-driven market and single males have a lot of free time and video games are some of the most cost-effective entertainment you can find. Trust me, I would know, especially since an injury took me out of all of my favorite sports for a month. In this respect is a particular level of cherry-picking here that conveniently ignores the big picture; that is most video games like Alpha Protocol are testosterone-injected fantasies. The sexual behavior is but a small part of the package.

Personally, I never cared for video game romances. They are unrealistic for many of the reasons you said and if I wanted a sex scene, there are obviously easier to ways to get better ones for free. However, I'm also not a fantasy-oriented gamer. I turn on the machine for an instant challenge and good old fashioned comic violence.

I also don't necessarily agree with your view on Millar's work. He oversimplifies the commodity model to mean something offensive like "all women are prostitutes." Generally speaking, when sociologists call something a "commodity," they are not referring to it as a "material to be traded," so to speak. A social commodity is general viewed as a commodity in context of the social exchange theory. In few words as possible, not only is sex a "commodity," so is emotional support and good conversation (both can trade equally in this case), for example. That also doesn't mean that you just have keep trading and eventually you will get sex.

This in mind, women are the gatekeepers of sex because men do get more out of sex than women. Women can enjoy it a lot, mind you, but the feeling a man gets during sex is indescribable to women. That is why there are prostitutes - not because of any woman's action but because of the presence of many willing male consumers. I've witnessed a man go through all nine circles of Hell for just some sex.

The "double standard" exists but its not all flowers and sunshine on the man's end either, in my experience. A shy man is likely to be alone forever. Women don't have that problem. They come to you, you just go along with it or don't. Men work up the courage to ask and women work up the courage to say no. Rape is always a serious concern, however, and to that I'll say learn from your video games ;) See that tool in James Bond's hand? That's a Walther PPK. It is very compact and very lethal and .380 autos aren't even that loud. Put it in your purse.

I feel the real problem is

I feel the real problem is people who interpret these scenes as a reward to work towards rather than an element of the plot and a bold attempt to allow the character to connect with another. (In Mass Effect at least, although in the case of Alpha Protocol, you'd be right) ME approached it rather well, there's a lot of complaints on the net about how PG-13 the scenes are, in spite of the fact that the point of the entire scene isn't how much dicking you can pack into it at all.

As for the issue addressed in the article at large, it's usually just an unfortunate side-effect of a new storytelling element having to be simplified to a rather basic degree, and should no more offend people than 8-bit era game graphics should offend people who believe the developers intend to depict people as ugly blotches of off-colour pixels. In time, narative storytelling will progress (most likely when game graphics reach their peak, unfortunately) and these interactions will be far more complicated and inclusive.

Dear, dear Alex. If

Dear, dear Alex. If something can be traded for money, then that something most certainly is a commodity. Whether that notion gives you the vapors has no bearing on its factual nature.

How DARE someone ask for a

How DARE someone ask for a game situation which treats half the population like human beings? Shame on them.

Over the top

I think this is a little out there. Sure, video games don't really represent a true-life version of male/female interactivity, but when you choose Alpha Protocol you should equate it to something similar - like a James Bond film. In the Bond films, every woman IS a potential Bond girl. I'm not saying it's right, but it's the way the spy genre functions.

collaborate with a machine

this question about how a video game ever gets to-how do you make a non-human, non-sentient bit of code able to be callaborative? the outcomes have to be predetermined in order to code the response. I don't know how to get around the whole "they're inanimate. video game sex will never be real sex" unlike most of the . . . stunning models of humanity. . . lower in the thread, I do think this is an issue worth addressing, and worth seeing if it transfers into the real world.

sigh

"...with some women all it takes is going through the motions (exchange of commodities, ie dinner, drinks) to get sex as an end game"

*sigh*
this is the problem, anonymous. this is the problem, and this article was addressing one of several probable causes for this problem.

Men aren't the only ones subject to social brainwashing.

some women view themselves as sexual vending machines. some women view themselves as worthless because they have a high bmi. some men have crippling anxiety because they think their penis is tiny.

obviously this is a result of their innate natures, and not because the media is flooded with propaganda telling us that women are only good for sex, that women who have worth have all their ribs showing, that the only desirable man has an elephantine schlong.

unless, of course, these women you are referring to were wholly isolated from western culture up until the point you paid them for sex.

Older wrote: So if this is

Older wrote:

So if this is a commodification model, it is a sick model on its own terms, and supported only by sick people.

In a way, it is too bad that sex is not a "commodity", when offered for a price by prostitutes. Because then they could call the police when they were raped (robbed) and they would be treated like people. Oh no, wait, that could only happen if everyone who reported rape was treated like a person. And we know that's not true.

The book addresses this, by talking about a prostitute who called the police when she was raped but he was charged for stealing goods. Stealing! Not RAPE, which is what it was. Rape is not robbery, its both an act of violence and a sex crime. Because of this commodity model we don't take rape against sex workers seriously, and we don't really take rape seriously at all. A lot of times people try to justify rape as something that was that the rapist was entitled to.

And think about the concept of slut and virgin. A slut is someone who "gives it away" and must therefore be shamed, and a virgin has something precious to give away and can feel shamed if he or she gives it away to someone and then regret it. Sex isn't something that can be "given", its an act between two willing participants and thats how it should be treated, but more than often its not.

Well done! This was really

Well done! This was really interesting and thought-provoking.

I'd agree that the Sims is a fairly appropriate counterexample, mostly because each sim is so user-controlled. I can make sims that don't like other people much, at all, sims that are gay, straight, or bi (sims are not really picky, just so long as the personalities align well) and sex is not the end result. In fact, married or dating sims "want" to talk to and otherwise interact with their significant others as well as "woo-hooing." I was interested to find that the Sims 3 had a few gay sims already in the neighborhood. I was less impressed when I discovered one had a pink bedroom, but that's a different story entirely.

Can I just say: you are

Can I just say: you are amazing. That comment just rocked my world. [Edited by Moderator. Please do not insult other commenters.]

The FABLE games good about

The FABLE games good about this--there's still some sexist elements and trade-for-sex going on, but there are lots of bisexual or queer characters in the game. Also you can play as a male or a female. It's an improvement, even if it is still the barter-for-sex concept in some ways.

Whoops, didn't see the

Whoops, didn't see the comments section before I posted...you've already mentioned Fable 2.

Still a great post!

Erant, they're not all like that

What happens is that this all leaves me, a homosexual female, with absolutely no content in video games that ultimately doesn't offend me or doesn't emotionally move me. I can't relate to a heterosexual male protagonist who views women as commodities. His view of the world and how he interacts with it doesn't relate to my fantasies or experiences at all.

Point taken, but there are great games on recent systems that aren't like this. Games like Burnout Paradise and Little Big Planet have no human characters at all, and I can't imagine how they might offend you emotionally, unless Burnout's car crashes trigger some bad memories. What I really want to recommend, though, is Mirror's Edge, a game with a female protagonist who is not defined by relationships with men and whose physical appearance does not pander to a presumed straight male audience. The main character's primary motivation in the game is protecting her sister. It's also the best game I've played in more than a year.

Nailed it.

@Torpid Porpoise,

You've nailed it, right there.

To my fellow males saying, "Who are you to criticise what we want in games?", you've missed the whole point guys. But not just here -- in real life also. This isn't just about feminism, games or anything of the sort. Those are just concepts, constructs. This is about HUMANITY. This is about how you relate to other human beings -- treating them as human beings -- valuing them in as sensitive a way as you would value yourself -- or else simply accepting the commodity model, which is that women are game to be caught and had, and physical and aesthetic pleasure is all there ever has been and will be.

If you have little real empathy for other human beings who are on the other side of the "desirability line" (covering homo- and heterosexual here), then it explains why you would want to use them to have plastic, meaningless relationships in the first place. It shows that there are things you do not value because you do not comprehend them -- such as a romantic partner who has value beyond sexual use, financial stability, use as a status symbol, and childbearing.

Like attracts like, going back to what Torpid Porpoise said. Yes, there's this ever-growing commodity sex market. I don't like it because it generates plastic people all over the place, who fit the norms and play by the commonly discussed and accepted rules just in order to have frequent sex. It is a cop-out. Do these people know how boring and soulless this makes them? I'm glad to say there are still a lot of "real" people out there who value relationships and appreciate that sex without love (or at least a good deal of true affection) is a pretty pointless proposal.

But, well, if one is already an adult and can't see that, I can't see how anyone else is going to teach that person something so innate at this late stage of their life.

I feel sorry for the kids growing into sexual maturity who think it is a game that has to be played this way, because it's pretty much all they ever see around them. It's not, and it doesn't. The sooner boys and girls start learning that, the sooner people can just chill the hell out, stop primping all the time and just be themselves, realising that everyone else is doing the same and everyone's getting laid, regardless.

FTR...

For the record, my post above replying to Torpid Porpoise wasn't meant to be anonymous.

A Woman who buys video

A Woman who buys video games. wrote:

...just look at 95% of the female characters in games. They are all sexy and lots of them are dressed like they're about to work the pole rather than kick some ass.

From what I saw of Bayonetta this weekend, the female character you play as manages to do both in one move.

J.E. Sawyer wrote:

The number of women with whom Michael Thorton can sleep can be counted on one hand. While it is certainly possibly that even among a group of women that small, one might not have any sexual/romantic interest in men, I do not think it is outlandish that they do.

31 isn't that small a group of women, especially for a video game ;)

Falty assumptions

As an avid video game player and male, I feel I have to come to the defense of both my hobby and my gender. Although I definitely agree the the commodity model of sex is rampant in our society, it is by no means universal. Furthermore, to argue that video games featuring sexual content unequivocally reinforces the commodity model is reductionist.

You, and Friedman and Valenti, argue the under the commodity model, the main purpose of the nice things men do for women are to "buy" sex. However, in this case you are making assumptions about the male's actions. When he is on a dinner date, his only purpose may be to loosen his date up for sex, it may be to have an enjoyable conversation with an interesting person, and it may be some combination of the two. Now, many men ARE solely interested in the rituals of relationships as a method of "acquiring" sex, but to make the assumption that all men operate under that goal structure is unrealistic.

Now the same argument can be applied to sexual content within videogames. You argue that within these games, the whole point of interacting with romantic interests is for the sexual payoff at the end. However, you are underestimating the depth of the decision making that goes into setting up these sexual encounters. For example, in Mass Effect, in order to progress relationships to the point where sex occurs, you have to have in depth conversations with the your romantic partner, explore their entire life story, help them work through childhood trauma, make moral decisions they agree with, and save their life. The relationship you need to develop with this fictional character is arguably more complex than the one many real people develop before sleeping together the first time. In your article, you are assuming that because this relationship is fictional and digital, it holds no emotional resonance for the player, but one of the points of mass effect is to emotionally invest characters in the fictional universe and characters. You also assume all players of the game ignore those conversations, or see them as a means to an end, and many of them do! However, for every player only interested in the destination, there are some interested in the journey, and you can't assume what proportion of players is one or the other. That is certainty the intention of the developers of the game; they always say, when asked in interviews, they are trying to create a simulation of the deep emotional bonds people experience in real life. Maybe they are lying, but that to is an assumption on their character.

You are also incorrect that there are no gay relationships in videogames. Of the six games that contain sexual content (Jade Empire, Mass effect, the Witcher, Fable 2, and Dragon age, if I missed one, I'm sorry) Jade empire, Fable 2, and Dragon age contain gay male relationships.

Re: Eric's assumption

"You, and Friedman and Valenti, argue the under the commodity model, the main purpose of the nice things men do for women are to "buy" sex. However, in this case you are making assumptions about the male's actions [. . .] Now, many men ARE solely interested in the rituals of relationships as a method of "acquiring" sex, but to make the assumption that all men operate under that goal structure is unrealistic"

That's what the commodity model is: thinking of sex as a commodity men receive from women in return for romantic/friendly attention. Even when a man is partially interested in the rituals of courtship as a method of acquiring sex (in the sense of "be-friendly-and-get-sex"), the commodity model is applicable.

Of course, being flirtatious solely for the sake of having sex with an equally sexually enthusiastic partner doesn't fall under this model (if i'm understanding it correctly)

Eric "For example, in Mass

Eric
"For example, in Mass Effect, in order to progress relationships to the point where sex occurs, you have to have in depth conversations with the your romantic partner, explore their entire life story, help them work through childhood trauma, make moral decisions they agree with, and save their life. The relationship you need to develop with this fictional character is arguably more complex than the one many real people develop before sleeping together the first time."

In your description, all of these actions are still considered means to an end. The end goal is not to help your romantic partner work out her childhood trauma, or even save her life. You still acknowledge that all of these things are steps toward the ultimate prize.

Violence in games is a

Violence in games is a comparable issue, and there's already been plenty said on that front. In particular; people's ability to discern between games and the real world, and games as an outlet.
Perhaps tied to that is the fact that many games are targeted at an audience which is in fact not adult (or not mature). GTA, what is effectively a crime simulator, is the most popular game franchise ever. So to discuss mature themes is somewhat moot.
Furthermore 'games' are, in purest terms, a challenge to overcome obstacles to achieve a goal. They are not simulations.

Beyond its posturing, this piece seems like a vessel for complaint against heteronormative (implying that heterosexuality is the only normal and that gender defines role) environments in video games. I would suggest that sandbox style games can't afford depth of character interaction, while story-driven games are driven by the story. Perhaps the character can't sleep with men because he is not gay? Games designers have the right to choose what they feature in their games.

After reading this, I have a few questions to think about:
How important is representation of minorities in games versus how they are represented?
Can homosexuals relate to, or enjoy, a story with a heterosexual avatar?

I admire the article and

I admire the article and points being discussed, here. I would point to the fact that videogames are entertainment and relationships are work. Relationships require honesty, upkeep, humility, compromise, grief, shame, pride, admitting faults.... and a million other qualities that would not fit comfortably at all in a medium buried in white teen male wish fulfillment.

If you're going to talk about real relationships in videogames, what you're really talking about is portraying real love, and that can be some dangerous stuff.

thank you

i just read the article "Toward a Performance Model of Sex" and was doing some research and found this article. awesome! i love it. thank you for writing.
i am more into music than games, so the article has been challenging me on how to think differently as well as how to interact differently with partners and friends in regards to healthy communication about sexuality and consent conscious relationships.

yeah.. its tough to grip at first, but its awesome to know that your partners are totally there with you and if not, a situation has hopefully been created so folks have space to say "nah, im not into that", or just a plain ol' "fuck off."

oh life! keep writing, keep listening.

Part of your critique

Part of your critique mentions the lack of homosexual motives within games. Please note that there are some legitimate concerns and reasons for the lack of those concerns.

One is the simple fact that relationships of that sort may simply not be a part of that games societal structure. Games set in the times of swords and sorcery for instance, since death and destruction does not give most of those that live in the war torn area much leisure time that gives some the moments to think on such matters, and sex is more straightforward, short and done for simple reasons rather than because of romantic wooing.

Another reason is controversy. No matter what happens in this free society, homosexuality is gonna turn heads and be seen as a anomaly. It may be "normal" for those that seek out and have "gay" relationships, but it will still not be normal for others that see it as an abuse or a fetish.

Another reason, one that some may find as lazy, is that it is to much work to include within the simple structure of the flawed Ticket/Buyer paragon.

A typical right wing

A typical right wing response. Things are the way they are because that is the way they have always been BS. You have no idea how things were since time began. Sex has not always been a commodity, but from your (typically conservative) egocentric view of the world things are and always have been the way you see them. What an idiot. You say if you don't like it, don't buy it. If I don't like it and my neighbor buys it, who protects my daughter from the effects - and there is a lot of research out there to show that it does have its effects. Ask the parents of the kids killed at Thurston, Columbine, etc. How do we protect our children and ourselves from people like you?

On the flip side..

While that's a well reasoned article, I'd like to point out that Alpha Protocol as a game is meant to flow in a James Bond / Jack Bauer / Jason Bourne style spy world. Which yes, is usually that slightly over the top male universe. There's a certain tongue-in-cheek humour to the game.. and while there is a perk "Ladies Man" if you carry out a romance with the 4 "romancable" character within the game, there is also a perk which provides in-game benefits if you say "no" to them.

One of the possible romances is set up to provide a certain amount of emotional angst when a choice develops within the story to save a group of innocents from a bomb or to leave them to die to save the girl...

Also, the "sex scenes" aren't. They're generally the fade to black from a kiss, just like the original Bond movies were.. So not exactly set up to provide large amounts of titilation.

When an in-game relationship is put in just to say "yes, we're making this a mature game and there's sex in it" then it's making light of the nature of relationships. But if it has the potential to add depth to characters, the story, the emotional investment you have in it.. then it's a worthwhile attempt to make. Computer games in many ways are still a young and developing area (especially if you're talking of story heavy games). The industry is bound to make some mistakes, suffer from some growing pains. But if they don't experiment with these areas, how will it evolve?

I enjoyed this article...

I enjoyed this article... but I think you are being a little unfair on the gaming industry. I don't believe that any game (yes, even bioware games) have ever introduced a romance as a major part of gameplay. This is probably because (unfortunantly imo) the majority of gamers don't play the game with those parts in mind. So I don't think you can blame developers for using a simplified and easy to understand mechanic to deal with romances. And as to the real world consequences of doing so, you'd have to address violence and other imoral actions in games.

Having said that, I would love for games to take romances more seriously. And it could very well happen. In fact, one of the reasons I was so excited for Mass Effect 2 was because the "sex reward" would not be the goal of the romance, since I thought we'd pick up the romance threads from ME1. I was looking forward to a relationship where sex was just a part of it, and not the primary purpose or goal. Instead ME2 pushed the reset button and I found myself in the same situation as every other romance dialogue mini-game, which is fine imo, just not quite impressive enough anymore. But I would like to mention that until a true romance can become part of the gameplay, I hope it at least gets explored through the narrative, where conventional cinematic experiences prove that romance can be well represented.

Interesting...

As I think other people have pointed out (I confess to not having read all of the comments) part of the problem here seems to be that while women might not be vending machines, video games kind of are.

Ultimately it's not just sex that games treat as a reward for taking the "right" set of actions, it's ... well ... everything. The mechanic you use to seduce women in /Alpha Protocol/ is the same as the one you use to romance Alistair in /Dragon Age/, which is the same as the one you use to encourage Kelgar to renounce violence in /Neverwinter Nights 2/.

To put it another way, the problem with /Alpha Protocol/ isn't that you can seduce all of the women in it, it's that all of the women in it are characters you can seduce, if you see what I mean. If they'd just, by default, implemented the option to seduce NPCs it wouldn't be a problem (especially if they implemented the option for men as well) the problem is that the only women in the game, as far as I can see, are specifically "romance options".

It doesn't help that Obsidian made the decision to restrict you to playing a (heterosexual) male character, which further served to pidgeonhole the female characters into the role of "sex girl".

So yeah, I think you're right that there are issues here, I don't think you're right that they're rooted in the game mechanics.

look at the fable and mass

look at the fable and mass effect series, you can play a female or male character and be gay,straight,or bi, at least in fable for the most part, you can now have same sex marriage and have kids

Your criticisms of AP and insinuations are invalid misanalysis.

Alex, I disagree with your criticisms of this game and insinuations that it is sexist material.

In defense of Chris Avellone and the way he designed this game... He did NOT incorporate the player giving "commodity tickets" to females for sexual purposes. Despite the manipulative aspect of feeding people what they want to hear, the exchange that takes place is through social interaction. The only real exception to this is when the player finds incriminating information in missions. He has the option to sell it on the black market, bribe the individuals involved, or give it to a female journalist. The female journalist pays you a small negligible amount of money compared to the other two options, but you rise in favor with her. You can sleep with her at the end of the game and just like the other female NPC's the available option is a threshold line that is based on your favor with her. She is also the easiest person to sleep with in the game and there are many opportunities to rise in favor with her through social interaction and there is no need to give her this information (as a ticket), you simply speak to her so much you can establish rapport with her. Isn't that the foundation of any relationship, sexual or not? An established rapport?

Social engineering/Manipulation is a factor in order to get people to "like you"... but this is not any different in the real world. Keep in mind, that in this game, the player gets what they want from men in the exact same influential way. There are some differences, and gender roles are clearly defined in one of the characters that the player interacts with in Italy... But for the rest of these females, their gender roles are extremely delineated from cultural norms or sex roles and these females are portrayed as independent agents, wealthy, socially and sexually liberated beings -NOT sex commodities! SiE is clearly a dominatrix... It is a very short-sighted misjudgment to write this game off and it's designers as somehow sexist because of the "ladies' man" achievement. There are literally hundreds of achievements in this game, few of them are sexual but many of them are social relations based with each character or groups of characters. I disagree that there is anything wrong with the player being able to sleep with every woman in the game. Why should it not be an option to the player when it can be attempted to do in real life? Just like in real life, it's really very hard. You're ratings go down with some females when they go up with others. The achievement is also misleading as there IS a major female character you can ally/work together with but CANNOT have sex with in the game... So your argument is rendered invalid anyway since your analysis is incorrect. I agree that it is problematic that you cannot sleep with some of the male characters in the game... some of which are even rumored to be homosexuals, but that is less likely to be an error on part of the designers and more of the cultural stigma and a content rating issue that would prevent it's publishing or retail.

The social/sexual relations in this game ARE (for the most part, depending on the player's chosen style of role play) collaborative efforts. This is most visible towards the end of the game. There is even an attempt to promote equality by letting your favored "partner" fight along side you in the final mission. You would do better to play this particular title a few more times, and vary your play style and see the wide variety of choices of play available before writing it off so quickly based on what options you first discover and fixate upon. Compared to other games, it's considerably more open to non-standard gender roles and breaks completely free from the commodity model. This isn't the case at all with The Sims or other "dating games".

Some Interesting Points Raised

I think this article highlights some genuinely problematic trends in the portrayal of sexual relationships in games. I think a major issue that has to be considered here is that the ‘commodity model’ of female sexuality fits in really easily with typical game mechanics in the absence of a critical awareness of this model.

Performing the correct actions and being rewarded for it (with level-ups, game progress, achievements etc.) is what pretty much all games consist of. So, if sex is going to be included, and if the main character is going to be a straight man (almost always), this ‘commodity model’ of female sexuality is what we are most likely going to end up with.

The Sims is mentioned above as a game which manages to defy this trend, and it seems it does this by not only by explicitly including characters that aren’t straight men, but also by virtue of being pretty different from the typical game in that one of the main points of the game is having your characters get involved in complex relationships with other characters.

One game that’s a bit more similar to the likes of Mass Effect and Alpha Protocol, but which nonetheless manages to get a lot right in terms of representing intimate relationships, is Skyrim. First off, in Skyrim you get to choose the gender of the character you play (although in in-game interactions you are sometimes gendered male even if your charcter is female…). Your sexuality isn’t relevant to the game except when it comes to doing the optional ‘getting married’ side quest, and here you can choose to marry a character of any gender out of a small selection of in-game characters you have already interacted with.

Physical intimacy isn’t represented at all as part of the marriage option, however there is still the issue of marriage being an inevitable outcome of helping NPCs out. I’m not sure how it would be possible to get around this problem, other than making the dynamics of human relationships in the game a lot more complex (as in The Sims) or making sexual relationships purely an issue of story line, so the player’s choices have no effect on the outcome of sex.

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