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.



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108 Comments on "Women aren’t vending machines: How video games perpetuate the commodity model of sex"

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Lemonate
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Lemonate
4 years 17 days ago
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… Read more »
Universal Logic
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Universal Logic
6 years 2 hours ago
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.… Read more »
John Duke
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John Duke
6 years 2 months ago

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

Dan Hemmens
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6 years 2 months ago
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… Read more »
ElfTheHunter
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ElfTheHunter
6 years 2 months ago
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… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
6 years 3 months ago
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… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
6 years 8 months ago
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… Read more »
thaX
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thaX
6 years 8 months ago
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… Read more »
byron
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byron
6 years 9 months ago
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… Read more »
RandomRob
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RandomRob
6 years 9 months ago

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.

Anonymous
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Anonymous
6 years 10 months ago
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… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
6 years 10 months ago
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… Read more »
Lurking Beardo
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Lurking Beardo
6 years 10 months ago
“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… Read more »
Eric
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Eric
6 years 10 months ago
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… Read more »
Kit
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Kit
6 years 10 months ago
[quote=A Woman who buys video games. ]…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. [/quote] From what I saw of Bayonetta this weekend, the female character you play as manages to do both in one move. [quote=J.E. Sawyer ]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… Read more »
Nick Wiggill
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6 years 10 months ago

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

Anonymous
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6 years 10 months ago
@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… Read more »
Franklin
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Franklin
6 years 10 months ago
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… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
6 years 10 months ago

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

Still a great post!

Anonymous
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Anonymous
6 years 10 months ago

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.

Anonymous
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Anonymous
6 years 10 months ago

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

Georgie
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Georgie
6 years 10 months ago
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… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
6 years 10 months ago
[quote=Older] 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.[/quote] The book addresses this, by talking about a prostitute who called the police when she… Read more »
torpid porpoise
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6 years 10 months ago
“…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… Read more »
kb
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kb
6 years 10 months ago

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.

Phil
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Phil
6 years 10 months ago

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.

Danii
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Danii
6 years 11 months ago

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

Anonymous
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Anonymous
6 years 11 months ago

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.

Anonymous
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Anonymous
6 years 11 months ago
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… Read more »
Bryce
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Bryce
6 years 11 months ago
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.… Read more »
A Woman who buys video games.
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A Woman who buys video games.
6 years 11 months ago
“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… Read more »
Alex R
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6 years 11 months ago

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.

Demosthenes XXI
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Demosthenes XXI
6 years 11 months ago
[quote=Another Anonymous] 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… Read more »
Demosthenes XXI
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Demosthenes XXI
6 years 11 months ago
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… Read more »
Christina Norman
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Christina Norman
7 years 7 days ago
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.… Read more »
MCR
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MCR
7 years 17 days ago
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… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
7 years 17 days ago

lol @ “feminazi”
Where are you from? The 80s?

Spokker
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Spokker
7 years 18 days ago

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.

gotheek
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7 years 20 days ago
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… Read more »
Niet
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Niet
7 years 21 days ago
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… Read more »
P.Turnbuckle
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P.Turnbuckle
7 years 21 days ago
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… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
7 years 22 days ago

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.

sally
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sally
7 years 22 days ago

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.

sally
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sally
7 years 22 days ago
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… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
7 years 22 days ago

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).

Arconcyl
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Arconcyl
7 years 23 days ago

I fucking love you for this comment. THANK YOU.

Older
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Older
7 years 24 days ago
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… Read more »
Roy S. Finkle, Esq.
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7 years 24 days ago
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,… Read more »
Titanis walleri
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Titanis walleri
7 years 25 days ago
“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… Read more »
Anonymous but not the other Anonymous
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Anonymous but not the other Anonymous
7 years 25 days ago

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?

Atomically Incorrect
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Atomically Incorrect
7 years 25 days ago
[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’.[/quote] 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… Read more »
Meg
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Meg
7 years 26 days ago
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,… Read more »
Meg
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Meg
7 years 26 days ago
“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,… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
7 years 26 days ago

[quote=Anonymous]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. [/quote]

“end game.” You sound mature.

Erant
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Erant
7 years 26 days ago
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… Read more »
Another Anonymous
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Another Anonymous
7 years 26 days ago
[quote=Atomically Incorrect]If that’s not female empowerment, I guess I better get back to feminist class, cause I don’t know what is.[/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’. 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… Read more »
Atomically Incorrect
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Atomically Incorrect
7 years 26 days ago
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… Read more »
Atomically Incorrect
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Atomically Incorrect
7 years 26 days ago
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… Read more »
Claire
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7 years 27 days ago

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

why do you get to decide?
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why do you get to decide?
7 years 27 days ago

“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?

Anonymous
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Anonymous
7 years 27 days ago

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?

Anonymous
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Anonymous
7 years 27 days ago

I want to shake your hand so much right now.

Rawrasaur
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Rawrasaur
7 years 27 days ago
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… Read more »
Anonymous117
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Anonymous117
7 years 27 days ago
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… Read more »
Demiath
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7 years 27 days ago
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… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
7 years 27 days ago
[quote=ghost4]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.[/quote] 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… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
7 years 27 days ago

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.

Anonymous
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Anonymous
7 years 27 days ago
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… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
7 years 28 days ago
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… Read more »
V. Smith
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7 years 28 days ago
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… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
7 years 28 days ago

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?

Steve
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Steve
7 years 28 days ago

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.

Tim
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Tim
7 years 28 days ago
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… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
7 years 28 days ago
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… Read more »
J Harris
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J Harris
7 years 28 days ago
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… Read more »
ghost4
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ghost4
7 years 28 days ago
[quote=Anonymous]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.[/quote] 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… Read more »
Dick Richards
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Dick Richards
7 years 28 days ago

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

Falen
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Falen
7 years 28 days ago
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… Read more »
aesquire
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aesquire
7 years 29 days ago

Couldn’t have put it better myself=)

Anonymous
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Anonymous
7 years 29 days ago
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… Read more »
J.E. Sawyer
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7 years 29 days ago
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… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
7 years 29 days ago

In a multiplayer game, yes.

Anonymous
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Anonymous
7 years 29 days ago

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.

Anonymous
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Anonymous
7 years 29 days ago

“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.

Gouki4u
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Gouki4u
7 years 29 days ago
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… Read more »
ghost4
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ghost4
7 years 29 days ago
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,… Read more »
K
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K
7 years 29 days ago
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… Read more »
Arc
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Arc
7 years 29 days ago
[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.[/quote] 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… Read more »
Mike Doolittle
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Mike Doolittle
7 years 29 days ago
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… Read more »
ShinryuxWx
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ShinryuxWx
7 years 29 days ago
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… Read more »
Mike
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Mike
7 years 30 days ago
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… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
7 years 30 days ago
[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.”[/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… Read more »
Odofakyodo
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Odofakyodo
7 years 30 days ago
[quote=Anonymous]So your’re saying sex in games is exactly like sex in real life then. But you desperately wish that weren’t true. [/quote] 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… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
7 years 30 days ago

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

Dustin Brody
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Dustin Brody
7 years 30 days ago
[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.[/quote] 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… Read more »
Alex R
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7 years 1 month ago
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… Read more »
Richard Naik
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Richard Naik
7 years 1 month ago
[quote=Alex R]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.[/quote] 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… Read more »
Alex R
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7 years 1 month ago

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.

Alex R
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7 years 1 month ago
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… Read more »
Eaps
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Eaps
7 years 1 month ago

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.

Dustin Brody
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Dustin Brody
7 years 1 month ago
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… Read more »
Alex R
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7 years 1 month ago
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… Read more »
Bruno
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7 years 1 month ago

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

shun
Guest
7 years 1 month ago

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

shun
Guest
7 years 1 month ago
[quote=Richard Naik]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. [/quote] 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… Read more »
Richard Naik
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Richard Naik
7 years 1 month ago
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… Read more »
Brad Gallaway
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Brad Gallaway
7 years 1 month ago

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… ; )

aesquire
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aesquire
7 years 1 month ago
@ 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… Read more »
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