Does Nudity Have a Place in Games?

Sex sells, and we're buying.
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The Last of Us was a brilliant game with beautiful visuals, an incredible story, and fun gameplay. There’s even a small love story between Joel and Tess, but it doesn’t get very much buzz. After thinking about it for a little while, I decided why it is often overlooked in the grand scheme of things, and I’ve figured out the one thing it needed that would have made it better:

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Pushing the Envelope Is A Good Thing… Within Reason

Obviously I’m kidding about the scenario between Joel and Tess, but it’s starting to seem like maybe this is what game studios are thinking. Over the last few years we’ve seen a lot of games that have included some nudity, and not just a little bit–we’re talking full-on frontal nudity, and even sex. The most recent of these examples is Grand Theft Auto V, where you can enter a strip club, get a private (topless) lap dance, and if you spend enough time with her and “woo” her, she’ll let you take her home.

This isn’t a condemnation of GTA V or any other game featuring nudity, but I was reminded recently that even games you wouldn’t expect to have nudity are trying to push the envelope a little bit as well.

Beyond: Two Souls recently made headlines when nude images of Ellen Page (the actress who plays the character Jodie and was fully motion-captured for the game) surfaced on the internet after being pulled from hacked files found in the game’s code. The images were reportedly incredibly realistic, so much so that the developers even had to come out and say that the animated images were not of Page’s actual body.

While these nude images weren’t in the actual game, the Jodie character takes a shower and the player is given the (somewhat creepy) option of watching her, and you can see a lot more skin than you might expect. I understand that in the context of where this shower scene appears, it makes sense. But the amount of Jodie that we can see seems really unnecessary.

I have to think that scenes like this are designed to create buzz and get more people to buy the game based purely on the fact that people might get to see some skin. I imagine the conversations developers hope people are having sound something like this.

Player 1: Dude, have you played Beyond: Two Souls yet?

Player 2: No, what’s that?

Player 1: It’s a game that uses real actors, and you can watch the girl from Juno take a shower!

Ignorance Is Bliss

Clearly, most people buy games for the gameplay, story, or experiences that they provide, but there will always be a population of kids (and some adults) that pick up games because they get the opportunity to see some things they may not normally be allowed to see. Nudity, violence, drug use, and more are all things that earn games “M” ratings from the ESRB, but unfortunately, that doesn’t actually mean kids won’t be playing them.

Kotaku put up a letter that was written by someone who works at a video game retail store, and he was talking about some of these same issues. He mentioned that recently, his store sold around 100 copies of Grand Theft Auto V to parents of children who “could barely see over” the counter.

He then went on to say almost exactly what my biggest fear is if games continue heading in this reckless direction, especially as the parent of two young girls.

“I don’t tell you these things because I don’t like your parenting style. It is because, when I look at little Timmy there in my store, I can’t help but picture him as the little boy sitting across the table from my daughter in her first grade class.

“Now this is where those of you who are not parents will sound off with ‘you should let them judge’ or ‘I killed hookers in GTA III when I was five and I turned out fine.’ That is great. I accept your opinion. Although, when your daughter comes home from elementary school crying because someone called her a b***h, you might change your tune.”

I do not want my children to be affected by the poor decisions made by other parents. 

Pushing the Envelope is the Norm

But blaming parents is a whole other topic that I’m saving for a rainy day. I want to focus on whether we’ve created a world where games need to have nudity or sexuality just to compete with each other. If Grand Theft Auto V didn’t have stripper nudity and it didn’t have scantily clad player-created females in GTA Online, would it have sold quite as well?

People aren’t buying that game simply so they can see half-naked strippers, but you better believe one of the first things many of these teenagers are doing is heading straight to the strip club. And Rockstar knows this. So from now until who-knows-when, Rockstar will be including this type of envelope-pushing content to see just how far they can go, and how many new, curious gamers they can attract.

Again, I’m not blaming Rockstar here, because the problem runs deeper than that. This is what the games industry has become. Just like in the early days it was a battle for more “bits.” Eventually we wanted full-motion video in our games. Soon came an era where we wanted to be able to play online with our friends, and soon after that, we wanted to play with EVERYONE (MMOs).

Now, a culture that exists where we are able to make games that look damn near lifelike, which means slipping in naked women is even more alluring because the models look so realistic. No longer is this Leisure Suit Larry where it’s obvious we’re looking at a cartoon. Those nude images of Ellen Page’s Jodie probably fooled a lot of non-gamers into thinking they were real. That’s the world we live in today.

As developers continue to push the envelope and the limits of technology, we are bound to get even more games that shove sex in our face, and this makes me sad. My daughters will grow up loving video games, and I’m concerned what they’ll be seeing in the future. Will they grow up thinking that this sexualized world is just the way it is? Powerful women can only get respect if they are scantily clad? Taking off your clothes is a good way to get what you want? Kids today will not grow up in a world like we did where this kind of content in video games is taboo. Instead they will grow up at what appears to be the dawn of a video game sexual renaissance. As parents and responsible adults, we need to be aware of this and monitor our kids’ games.

Let’s Ban All Games! (Ok, Not Really.)

I’m not saying children should be forbidden from playing games (although keeping them to games that are age-appropriate is probably a good rule of thumb), but knowing what they’re playing and being in the room with them while they play is important. The only way we can have impact on our kids is if we know what’s going on and communicate with them. So get involved.

I wouldn’t normally have a problem with the hacked files of Beyond: Two Souls getting leaked onto the internet. I mean, after all, those images were never supposed to be in the game. But it does make you wonder why they were there at all. Were they left intentionally, knowing that someone would find them, post them, and drive more attention to their game? It’s sad that we live in a world where the only way we can drum up buzz about our games is to leak nude images.

Sex Sells, But So Did The Last of Us

I began this article insinuating that the only thing that could have made The Last of Us better was a nude Tess. I think you know now that I was 100% being facetious, and that this would actually have harmed the game. Call me old-fashioned, but I want games to get back to blowing our minds with amazing stories, thrilling gameplay, and beautiful graphics. Leave the cheap sexual tricks for the Leisure Suit Larry franchise.

If I have my way, my girls will grow up knowing that they are strong and powerful enough on their own, WITHOUT taking their clothes off. They won’t live in a world where sex and flaunting the female body is the only way to sell a product. Maybe I’m naive for even thinking this is possible, but as parents, we certainly have the power to help change the world through the way we parent our children.

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Brian Armstrong
Proud gamer parent and freelance journalist (and fundraiser). I cover anything and everything that's interesting about the gaming industry, and even some stuff that isn't so interesting.