Jan 7, 2011

Oh video game pornography, where art thou?

What you are about to read, oh precious reader, is an edited and updated version of an article that appeared a few years back on the now defunct Game Cabaret blog. It also is slightly NSFW, but only if you work at some sort of weird ultra-conservative place where nobody has ever been to a demonstration for the past five years.

Let's get one thing out of the way first. I don't believe porn, or pornography as people in weird grey-ish clothing tend to call it, is evil. Or inappropriate. Or even inherently sexist. What I actually do believe is that -in all its varied guises- porn is both interesting and a frankly under-explored medium; or is that genre? Also, I quite love the idea behind it, and if you don't or have anything against mankind, sex, having fun and/or life in general, and thus feel offended, well, that's not my fault. I'm a bloody misanthrope too, you know (especially on Mondays).

So, what is porn really? Or, to rephrase the question, is every depiction of sex pornographic? Well, no, though admittedly the answer could change depending on the society within which the matter is discussed. 18th and 19th century Europeans for example were so shocked by the perceived obscenity of ancient Greek and Roman nude statues, that literally went on and chopped their dicks off (the statues', not theirs unfortunately), whereas pornographic depictions of sex were pretty standard in the practice of a variety of more humane religions. Personally -obviously influenced by contemporary society, too- and while cunningly avoiding narrow puritan definitions, I do tend to define any attempt at intentionally, sexually stimulating ones audience as pornographic.

I'm so proud of this little collage, I think I'll print and hang it outside the Lair HQ. It so NSFW, it is.
Whether I (or anyone else) is actually stimulated is another matter altogether. It's the creator's -perceived or actual- intention I care about, in a way not dissimilar to what I would use to classify a horror movie. Or game.

Were I actually discussing cinema, I would definitely not consider any uncensored sex scene as reason enough to classify a film as porn. Baise-moi for example does sport quite a few sexually graphic scenes that are definitely not meant to arouse. The contrary rather. Then, there are films like Novecento where one or two sex scenes are merely added as just another story element or for purely realistic/artistic/whatever reasons. Wouldn't call that porn either.

Proper porn movies, on the other hand, the garden variety of dirty flicks if you wish, usually fail on everything else besides the sex scenes, and one could even argue that most of them aren't that good or varied to begin with. It was Clive Barker I believe who actually tried to define quality porn, as something that manages to captivate its audience even after said audience has climaxed and, sad as this sounds, the only porn movie I think managed to achieve such a lofty goal was Deep Throat with its -at times- brilliant humour (mind you, humour and porn do work quite well together it seems).

Thankfully though, quality porn is more than a theoretical construct or merely a wish. It can be found -among other places I'm sure- in literature, and as most should be familiar with Marquis/Citoyen De Sade's works, indulge me while I go on and briefly focus on Andreas Embirikos. Embirikos, you see, besides being my favorite surrealist poet, a pioneer in Greek psychoanalysis, a photographer of beautiful girls, an excellent writer and, when in the mood, a socialist, was also a great pornographer. And an immensely proud one too. His greatest contribution to porn, Megas Anatolikos (The Great Eastern), was an epic novel spanning one hundred chapters, taking place on the titular cruise ship and eloquently showcasing the glory of almost every imaginable perversion. Frankly, absolutely nothing was considered taboo or perverted enough to be left out and, were the book released in our dark and ultra-conservative era, the censors would be having an editing party. What's more, the sex scenes were at once poetic, funny, arousing, plot advancing and brilliantly complemented with giant penises rising from the ocean or extensive descriptions of the ship's library. Oddly, it was quite a publishing success too.

Let us now move from literature to video games (a humongous leap indeed), where the story so far is rather sad. Pathetic even. To begin with, sex, let alone pure gratuitous porn, is virtually absent in the mainstream and to such a degree that a semi-naked woman is easily considered scandalous, whereas -say- a mutilated corpse goes largely unnoticed. Standard puritanic medium-wide ethics aside, even when sex is present, it usually is presented in a ridiculously sexist/immature way and lazily treated as a reward for gamers. Interactive sex, truly arousing scenes playing on the medium's strengths and thus proper video game porn is, for the time, nigh-on unthinkable.

Cataloging every attempt at sexy games is of course beyond this article's scope, but briefly discussing a few of the niches in porn games most definitely is not. First of all, we have the virtual dollhouse games a la 3D SexVilla or the less germanic Virtually Jenna, that besides their grotesque attempt at realistic graphics don't offer much of a gaming experience either. Pathetic and marginally more fun than undressing your children's dolls or something is what they are. Then, we have more or less proper games that tend to vaguely stick to a genre or another, while cunningly introducing an erotic theme and a few sex scenes, just like the Lula series that eventually spawned the atrocious Lula 3D, or a variety of Tetris-clones and chess games that sort of reward the player with the odd video of a tit being all titty. Slightly better are the Japanese choose-your-own story offerings, which aren't totally unlike watching a hentai porn DVD with a marginally less than obvious chapter selection feature. Finally, and after ignoring such bizarre masterpieces as the wonderfully nonsensical Sex Station 7, we do have games (in name only) that are nothing more than glorified adult chatrooms. Oh, yes, and a myriad of games like Leisure Suit Larry that never claimed to be pornographic, never tried to, but were still horribly misunderstood by the sex-starved gaming audience (and this of course does not include our readers; male or female). In a nutshell: video gaming porn is and has always been in dire straits. At best.

The only exception that springs to mind is the 2010 release Ute, but the question remains: Could it work? Could there actually be a video game that manages to be arousing? Well, I'd say yes, but only in theory and in the realm of the indie scene, as I just can't see anything interesting happening in the world of children focused consoles or mainstream PC gaming. Quite obviously an erotic text-adventure/piece of interactive-fiction would be a nice start, and a rather easy one too, especially if one were to follow -as is rather typical for this kind of games- classic literally rules while adding a touch of interactivity. Interestingly, and that could be a positive sign indeed, women have been -up to now- more interested in the sexier side of gaming (have a look at the Sexy Videogameland)... This could probably spare us the sexist bits.

Oh, and on an absolutely unrelated and definitively closing note, let me remind everyone that Woody Allen (I think) was correct: being punctual is a very lonely experience indeed. On the other hand, I'm absolutely positive Mr. Allen was the one to also insightfully notice that sex between two people is a beautiful thing. Between five, it's fantastic.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:


  1. Two thumbs up for this article.

    Some remarks:
    - Dragon Age handles erotic scenes quite fine (also this: http://borderhouseblog.com/?p=732 )
    - I would differentiate between pornography and erotica - some stories might be spoilt by too explicit sex scenes, while others on the contrary could benefit from them;
    - ...

    ...and some other, but I have to go, so in next comment. :)

  2. As far as discussed movies go - on the negative end of the spectrum is Tinto Brass' "Caligula" which is, let's face it, not great by any means (although I do own it on blu-ray). On the positive there's "Shortbus". That movie made me change my opinion on hardcore sex in movie. I highly recommended it, but it's not for the faint of heart.
    And c'mon! The humor in "Deep Throat" is not that brilliant and it's NEVER been that movie's main feature. You can make sure of that by watching Deep Throat 2 which was R rated and didn't have any hardcore sex in it. The appeal of it disappears instantly. Although I have Deep Throat shot glasses in my rather large shot glass collection, so yeah. :D

  3. @ Barts: Why, thank you kind Sire. As for Dragon Age's erotic scenes, I really wouldn't know... I would though differentiate too between porn and erotica and agree that sometimes explicit scenes simply don't work. Keep them comments coming.

    @ Anatoly: Well, I'm not a great fan of those Tinto Brass sexploitation films either, though they are mildly interesting. You got me there interested in Shortbus though. Got to watch it. Oh, come on you, I did laugh quite a bit with Deep Throat, despite humour not being its main theme; obviously that was, well, deep throating. You really should have a look at those cult Greek porn movies of the 80s/70s, mind...

  4. My main problem with Shortbus is that it only exists to prove a point. The director obviously wanted to make a statement about sex in films and delivered an experience where sex and plot are inseparable. It's not that great and drags a bit in places, but you can't deny that pornography is an essential part of this picture. Or is it art at this point?
    I've seen a few 70-80s Greek porn flicks. Just some random stuff. Don't remember the titles anymore. Oh well, I'll revisit them once again when I have free time on my hands (pun not intended!). I'm actually a big supporter of pornography and even have been saving money to open my own production company some time in the near future. (Yes, I know, I'm a Jack of all trades. What can I tell you? I've got a lot of hobbies!) :)

  5. A true homo universalis then!

    Meanwhile I'll try and watch Shortbus myself.

  6. http://i55.tinypic.com/2w5vhtu.png

  7. Aha! Not bad, not bad at all!