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So what are the implications of all this interactively erotic entertainment? There is no single answer, but it’s clear that sexual game content has ramifications in the legal, political, financial, and moral sectors.
On the legal side of thing, Brathwaite explores some of the legislation that has attempted (and in some cases succeeded) to restrict or censor the content of video games. These measures have varied from the innocuous -- such as requiring game ratings to be posted on all game packages -- to the extreme, such as banning games with AO ratings, declaring video games a “harmful substance,” or even banning games altogether – which has happened in two countries.
This leads directly into questions regarding free speech and the First Amendment, which are ultimately at the heart of the sex-in-games debate. Is sexual content allowable under the guise of freedom of speech? Does “interactivity” justify increased regulation for video games? Should sexual content receive less constitutional protection than violent content? Where is the line between an individual’s right to privacy versus the state’s right to regulate obscenity? These are the questions that Brathwaite poses and explores, in each case presenting all sides of the various debates, and examining the current state of affairs on each issue.
There are financial considerations at work here too. Simply choosing to develop an adult title can lead a company into some thorny business issues, such as the specific concerns of managing employees working on adult titles, the high potential for sexual harassment lawsuits, and the challenges of developing a feasible sales model. Once an adult title has been finished, the battle has only just begun – for if a game receives the wrong rating and gets turned down by retail giants such as Wal-Mart and Target, publishers must choose between modifying their game, resorting to alternate sales models (e.g. internet-based sales), or facing economic ruin.
So how can all of these conflicting perspectives be reconciled such that the marketplace for adult games maintains a healthy balance between free expression and the responsible content management? According to Brathwaite, the onus of responsibility lies with everyone involved: parents, retailers, politicians, and perhaps most of all, developers and publishers. This is in fact why the ESRB was created – as a mechanism for formalized self-regulation within the industry – and so the author covers this topic in some depth, examining early attempts to rate the content of games, and breaking down each level of the current ESRB ratings system. There’s also some discussion of what types of material should be appropriate at each ratings level, as well as proposals for how the various social and political groups involved in the ratings debate could work together so as to protect both the right to produce sexual content, and the right not to be exposed to it.
The book also examines international components of the sex-in-games debate, particularly in terms of contrasting sexual mores from around the world and their impact on cultural responses to sex within games. Nowhere is the cultural contrast more defined than in Japan, which publishes an order of magnitude more sexual games than any of the western markets, and where the tolerance for Western sexual taboos such as incest, rape, and sex with minors is seemingly through the roof.
As the first book to thoroughly explore the important topic of sex in games, “Sex in Videogames” is a welcome addition to the marketplace of ideas. Brathwaite’s objective, academic perspective allows her to explore these difficult and controversial issues with clarity and authority, and her meticulous references to other articles and publications lends critical authenticity to a topic that would otherwise be subject to more intense scrutiny.
This book comes at a time when guidance in this area is needed, and will almost certainly give readers from any social group an increased understanding of the issues surrounding sex in games. However the current debates play out, sex and games are bound to be together for many years to come, and whether you’re a parent, a politician, an educator, a developer, or simply an interested observer, you’ll find it useful and informative to read up on this intriguing and controversial aspect of the interactive medium.