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Cross to Bare
by Marc Bell on 08/27/12 09:50:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Boobs. I’ve talked about them before, and had argued the case for context providing legitimacy for nudity in video games. Critics and gamers alike are too quick to call foul and point the finger when the bare female form appears on screen, yet happy to look the other way in the case of the odd sex bonus stage; a quick romp amongst a few hours of bloodshed is just a bit of fun, right?

Can the medium of video games show a bit of skin without being criticised for immaturity? In my previous piece linked above, I posit the view that it is the gamers and critics themselves who lack the maturity and level of professionalism to feel comfortable with the mature themes increasingly penetrating the hobby. Indeed, we are so caught up with being taken seriously that we are far too reactionary and therefore seen as argumentative, exclusive, and bratty. How can an artist appease an audience of children?

Nudity can be done badly of course, and most often is. In film the horror genre is full of skin-flicks and a shower scene or torn shirt is par for the course. It is here in the horror genre of film and video games, and specifically Shadows of the Damned and Splatterhouse, that the topic has been brought back to mind. As both have their own flagrant propensity to sling the odd boob around and both, at first glance, with no reason to do so.

Shadows of the Damned sees Garcia ‘Fucking’ Hotspur attempt to rescue his love Paula from the clutches of demons and chase them all the way to hell. Here, Paula traipses around in lingerie teasing Garcia onward. Further, in one particular chapter a giant representation of her is the ground for which Garcia walks, topless, moaning and generally conveying eroticism.

Splatterhouse has Rick attempt to rescue his love Jennifer from the clutches of a doctor gone mad (though as a doctor of necrobiology that was never in doubt), and along the way collect parts of photographs depicting Jennifer nude. The photos will show her in various poses and attire, and are scattered throughout the mansion of which Rick journeys.

Why the nudity here? Is there a particular point this is attempting to convey?

As mentioned previous, horror has an affinity to nudity and there are valid emotional responses that the creator wishes to tap into, beyond the surface level titillation. I did specifically mention the common shower scene before, and many horror stories will feature something happening in at least a bathroom environment. Why? The reason is simple; it’s where we are at our most exposed. Clothes-less, defenceless, sight can be obscured by water, shower curtain or mist, mirrors provide windows into nooks and crannies in the periphery. It is very easy for a story teller to project urgency and unease in the viewer using these environments that we all understand and find ourselves in every day.

Another common tool used to create such feelings in the viewer is sex; two lovers engaged in the act of sex being crept up on by a would-be murderer. The victims here are utterly distracted, exposed, and defenceless.

Abstracting these concepts further, the more basic visage of a woman topless will again heighten the feelings of vulnerability as the heart lay bare. Innocence too, flagrant in the face of violence. The viewer knows there’s reason to be cautious – it’s a horror film after all – yet the victim openly displaying how unaware they are.

So there are reasons for nudity in horror; It’s not just a bit of fun, but a conduit of emotion from creator to viewer. But that’s not to say all attempts work.

Shadows of the Damned and Splatterhouse? Not so successful. Obviously Paula was exposed as she traversed her way through hell, but no sense of urgency passed on to the player. Likewise, the assumed attempt at projecting innocence and intimacy between Jennifer and Rick a more miss than hit affair. The view into their playful relationship providing little back story needed to foster empathy or connection.

Regardless of the quality of the implementation present in the video games highlighted, the approach can be reasoned. Instead of dismissing these as immature and throw away, there are lessons to be learned. One; that video games have a ways to go in maturity of technique compared to film. And two; The critical eye must grow with the medium as it expands and explores adult themes and pushes artistic boundaries.

(This post has previously been published on Digital Romance Lab

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Matthew Downey
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Surprised with the lack of comments. This is really good.

I had a film teacher that loved horror and he echoed a lot of these opinions.

One reason why Psycho was so different compared to every other horror film was because not only did it have a toilet in it but it also flushed (which was a taboo that to my awareness had not yet been broken).

Like you said it had all of the things that would induce a feeling of vulnerability plus a few you didn't mention. Camera angle had a lot to do with it, generally as I remembered the camera was looking down on the protagonist during the shower scene and at some point at the protagonist's heels, which like the wrists induce a feeling of exposure or weakness or both.

There were some other interesting opinions my teacher held: the idea that sex and [edit:] violence were two sides of the same coin, and while I don't agree, I can see where he's coming from.

I think the issue lies in gratuitous boobage. And bad critics--again and again--will try to lump everything into one pile.

[edit: I wonder if diffusion of responsibility has something to do with the lack of comments. Usually when being the first to comment on sexuality, there's a degree of shame and/or humility associated with it.]

[edit2: it's also interesting to comparing the comments on this article to 388 on Brandon Sheffield's article: (
e_Gaze__are_we_men_or_boys.php), although his article was featured on the front page with hi-rez butt, so I guess that alone accounts for the discrepancy]

Maria Jayne
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I don't think gamers help themselves, often reacting in ways that reinforce their stereotypes and fronting hostility to everyone even within their community. However I do think it is very much about the culture within which games are made, western games are starting to diversify, but the majority are still being made by the US and dare I say the US is one the slower cultures to accept sex and nudity compared to violence.

I think the problem is that despite excessive violence, most people still consider video games as a childrens past time. Being a gamer is more socialy acceptable now, but only on select "fashionable" platforms and with select popular games.

When you apply the stigma "video games are for kids" then whenever people hear about nudity or sexual content within a video game the association is jarring and causes a backlash. Because those same people haven't accepted some video games, as with movies have been made only for adults.

It is changing and will continue to do so, but it requires generations to become acceptable, those offended and angered by such scenes will fade into obscurity as "gamers" grow up and take their place. Evidence of this culture shift is apparent in the fact we see news paper and magazine articles, tv ads, movie franchises and start getting opinions from none gamers, all of which previously would have never been worth talking about outside of gaming circles. The sphere of gamings influence is growing and with it, acceptance and variety will too.

John McMahon
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I disagree, I never heard anyone complain about nudity in L.A. Noire. Sure they were victims of a crime scene, but no one hooped and hollered about it.

Though in 2007 we all can recall Fox News' infamous segment on Mass Effect allowing players to "engage in sex" *shock*

Sure some mainstream news shows and mainstream audiences can't see games as anything but a child's toy.

But as far as gamers crying foul for when nudity ever shows up in games. I disagree with that premise.

Sure there are some obvious ways nudity and sex has been objectified and not treated as serious theme. Look at Mass Effect habit of panning to Miranda's arse when in conversations with her. Show it's a cinematic angle, but it's done too often.

The first Mass Effect had sex scenes that didn't show anything and was done aesthetically pleasing. Then in the subsequent sequels, aesthetics were thrown out for a more "get to the good stuff" methodology.

Most gamers are intelligent enough to call out the BS. While some are quick to defend whatever their scared developer gods decree.

You have two battles in this usage of sex in video games. The mainstream audience that isn't connected with the community and culture, and then you have the gamers. One must not confuse one for the other.

Chris Crawford
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The use of sex is appropriate only in the context of an emotional bond between the two characters. If the game doesn't address that emotional bond, then the use of sex is merely salacious. Until games start implementing substantive adult emotional interaction, their use of sex is necessarily salacious.