When asked to point out the sexual content in Zoo Tycoon™ 2, most people aren’t readily able to. “There’s no sex in that game,” said one. “In Zoo Tycoon? Are you sure you have the right game?” said another. However, breeding animals is very much a part of the game’s appeal. The sexual content in the game, though, is fully abstracted.
“In order to successfully breed animals, you need to care for them properly and care for their surroundings,” said Linda Currie, a designer on Zoo Tycoon 2 and now producer at its developer, Blue Fang Games. “Happy animals make baby animals. You need to meet their basic needs like hunger, thirst, and environment, and their more advanced needs including mental stimulation, social interaction, exercise, and privacy. You must also have a male and female animal in the same exhibit” [Currie01]. If all the conditions are met, the baby animal just shows up.
The Sims™ also abstracts the actual reproductive act. Like Zoo Tycoon 2, specific conditions must be met, but once met, a baby arrives. Grand Theft Auto 3 also featured abstracted sex. Although the game was much maligned for allowing players to have sex with a prostitute, the actual sexual content in the game was relatively tame. Players saw the car bounce up and down, nothing more.
Family Friendly Content
Sexual or “racy” content found in games for children, if it is found in a nonabstracted form at all, tends toward three things: clothing, comic mischief, and kissing or other gentle expressions of affection between game characters. Clothing on game characters can at times be revealing, although in games designed for a younger crowd, it is rarely more than tight-fitting outfits, the occasional bikini, or a bare-chested male character.
As the age of the game’s target audience rises from children to teenagers, the sexual content found in games increases. Revealing clothing and crude jokes are more commonplace, and romantic relationships between characters may develop. In The Sims™ 2, players can watch characters kiss and make out and even have “woo hoo,” although the latter is far more comical than titillating. From time to time, The Sims characters even remove their clothing to change clothes or to shower, for instance. When The Sims characters are nude, the game pixel blurs their bodies so the player cannot see anything vaguely sexual. Underneath the blur, however, The Sims characters aren’t revealing much. Anatomically, they are the video game version of Barbie® dolls.
There have been games released to a teen market that did feature partial nudity, however. Titles such as Breath of Fire™: Dragon Quarter™, Shadow Hearts®: Covenant™, and Atlantis Evolution all feature partial nudity, although the duration and context of the nudity is quite limited. Whenever partial nudity is found in a T-rated game title, it is always noted on the box cover in the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) content descriptors.
The Mature Audience
As games target an older, more mature audience, those 17 and above, the amount of sexual content increases still more. A character’s clothing may become far more revealing and suggestive. A character like BloodRayne™, from the game of the same name, is exceptionally attractive, and her clothing leaves little to the imagination, even when she’s mostly covered. Within games, animations sometimes become more suggestive and sexy, particularly “idle” animations in which female characters stand still waiting for another action or those that do not directly affect the primary game (e.g., noncombat animations in a combat-intensive game). The dance of the Night Elf in World of Warcraft® is among the animations regularly cited as particularly sexy among gamers. Dialogue may comment on a character’s attractiveness, and situational humor may become suggestive. The writers of Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude, Ed Kuehnel and Matt Entin, mastered the art form within their game, which was ultimately nominated for a Game Developers Choice Award for its writing. For sexually themed games, mechanics may include soft-core sexual situations, including prolonged kissing, fondling, fetish realization, and actual, but obscured, intercourse. In such games, penetration is not seen, but rather implied. The characters may be animated, performing sex while still wearing underwear or while obscured by pixel blurs. God of War™, for instance, features a threesome between Kratos, the lead character, and two women. Rather than seeing any sexual action, however, the camera focuses on a bedside table and a vase wobbling thereon. Other games like 7 Sins, Playboy: The Mansion and the first iteration of the “Hot Coffee” mod shows characters having sex with their underwear on.