The video game industry has seen its fair share of debate about content. Despite the lack of a clear correlation between video games and violent behavior, that argument rages on and rears its ugly head every six months or so. In actuality, your mileage may vary when it comes to violence and the ESRB rating system. Most don't pay it any mind unless it comes with some unfortunate message. But things aren't so simple when it comes to playable sex.
The Curse Of Adult Only-Rated Games
Sex itself doesn't appear to be the problem for gaming—there's plenty of that to go around. It would seem that the quickest way to land yourself an AO (Adults Only) rating would be to make the sexual content in your game interactive or make it all about sex.
With an AO rating, you must be 18 or older to buy but—unlike the M rating—a parent buying the game at the store with you wouldn't quite cut it. Doesn't seem like a huge deal, right? Nevertheless, you'd be hard-pressed to find an AO-rated game in a brick-and-mortar store. Why? It's essentially the commercial "kiss of death".
Adult Games Don't Sell (Sort Of)
There's a totally readable list of AO-rated games that have been released in the United States. That's how few there are. But most of them are #VideoGames that were cut to get an M rating. What gives?
One of the most obvious reasons that companies don't like to publish games with an Adult rating is because they won't sell as well. Now, it's not that there aren't enough potential customers out there that are 18 and older, the apprehension has more to do with the fact that the people who are most likely to spend their time playing games are not old enough to purchase them and, even if they could, their parents are less likely to fund them out of concern for the content.
The other issue is that most major retailers won't touch the game if its content is considered controversial. Stores like Target, GameStop and Walmart don't traditionally stock AO-rated games—Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was famously yanked from the shelves following news of the Hot Coffee Mod. Essentially, an adult rating is just bad news for sales!
But It's Not Always As Simple As A Sales Goal
Adult ratings carry a stigma as a result of their sex-related content. This isn't completely unfounded—excessive violence is very rarely the reason for a game being slapped with an AO sticker. Remember that list of games? All you have to do is read through them to see what I mean.
The logic behind all of this seems pretty straightforward—if a game is entirely about sex or if its gameplay revolves around sex at any point, then it's probably a porno game. I'm assuming this is the ESRB's logic. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like they're capable of sticking to their own rules.
The components of sexual content seem to be okay when they are presented in parts instead of a whole and especially when they are put in some sort of subversive light. At least when it comes to dicks.
When it comes to boobs, they are usually placed in the most boob-relevant contexts possible and the ratings don't seem to suffer either way. Think about #TheSims—it's a T-rated game with a boob slider. There's certainly some form of a double standard where things get tricky below the waist. And it's not just with games! Take the film industry, for example...
Films Struggle With Sex And Ratings As Well
This content struggle is nothing new for the film industry. A long history of censorship and sales data lies behind a studio's reluctance to release films with more restrictive ratings. Sex and violence do sell—but only some and, even then, only from specific perspectives. In 2010, both Blue Valentine and Black Swan struggled to stay within the parameters for an R rating because of their depictions of oral sex, specifically involving women. They eventually won the battle, but would have suffered monetarily were they pushed into the dreaded NC department. But it is a very strange line in the sand that can be difficult to uncover.
Consider superhero films. Most of them are PG-13 because they allow a larger audience to see them freely—most importantly, teens. These guys are the ones with the time and "infinite" flow of cash that lets them watch new releases over and over again with their friends. Missing out on this demographic can mean the downfall of a film.
You'll often hear about filmmakers that cut scenes out left and right in an attempt to get an NC-17 rating down to an R or to get an R rating down to a PG-13 one. It's always a controversial move. The art vs. money debate lays heavy on the frontline when it becomes a question of protecting content or maximizing profit.
As with video games, cultural precedent comes into question—maybe even more so. There are more people out there that may not have played a game before but watch a lot of film. As a result, a film's success often relies on maintenance of the status quo and the purchasing choices of the masses that reflect that. Can you think of many families that would feel comfortable taking their kid to see Finding Nemo in a theater that also screens Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Peen? Probably not.
How Are Adult Games Different?
Without the necessity to strictly adhere to cultural precedent, the trend we've seen in gaming has been more like a rollercoaster than a straight line.
In the 80s and 90s, it wasn't that uncommon to find games with adult content sprinkled around the market. As a matter of fact, in the 80s, you could find fully pornographic games for home consoles. Perhaps games like this flourished because they existed during a moment of time in which scrambled porn was the only viable alternative.
Pornographic games, while more common in places like Japan, are virtually non-existent in the mainstream market that we've come to embrace. Though you'll see things pop up on the indie market, the issue of finding a proper publisher and a marketplace for selling or promoting remains.
Cobra Club HD—a game about taking dick pics—is a free download (you're welcome) because PayPal forbids the use of its payment platform for the sale of sex-oriented goods, plus the developer, Robert Yang, feels that a statement needs to be made. He's probably right.
It's going to be forever mind-blowing that creating games about something we're all well-acquainted with continues to be treated like black market crime. But maybe one day, when everyone knows how to code, we can at least return to the sketched-out world of bootleg porno games that we all deserve to inhabit.
Don't you think we are long overdue for a Playboy Mansion remake?