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SXSW: My Blue World: Game Experts Give Red Light Talk

March 17, 2006

Warning: The following article contains explicit depictions of nervous laugher, horrified faces, and lame innuendo. If you are easily offended, do not read this article.

One of the last panels for South by Southwest was "Secret Sex Lives of Video Games" moderated by Tony Walsh. Panelists were Julianne Greer, executive editor of the Escapist Magazine, Kyle Machulis of SlashDong, Glennis McClellan of Republik Games, and Mark Wallace, journalist.

The audience and panelists were unsure of what to expect from such a potentially hot topic. And though there was a mixture of nervous laughter, and weak innuendo, the two never corresponded. Tony opened the panel with a warning, “If you can't handle explicit images, and explicit discussion, you might want to go outside and cool off. It's going to get a little hot in here, hopefully.”

Kyle is on the leadership council of the IGDA's Sex in Games SIG, where they discuss issues of sex in games, and foster new ideas for the game industry. “You don't have to be Hot Coffee, you don't have to be BMX XXX. You can be Indigo Prophecy, or Fahrenheit, or God of War, and actually have the sex fit your games and be part of the plot without seeming seedy.” And, as he points out, “We're moving towards being able to have sex in virtual worlds.”

The "Secret Sex Lives of Video Games" panel: (left to right) Mark Wallace, Julianne Greer, Tony Walsh, Glennis McClellan. Kyle Machulis, seated

Glennis went from working for the Walt Disney company to working on game sex in Spend the Night. “It's a social game. And one of the design challenges was, ‘Do we put sex in the game? Is this something people want? Is this something women want?' We were looking at the dating market, which exploded a couple years ago. It's actually leveling out, because people are finding each other, and hooking up – obviously, they're not users anymore.”

“Another design challenge was, ‘Do you let people level up?' We decided not to do that in the traditional sense of leveling up. I believe there were some discussion on chat boards about how men would level up. I can imagine what they were thinking.” Glennis focused on what the best parts of dating are. “If you go on some good dates, and meet someone you really like, sex is kind of the ultimate conclusion.”

“If you put people into a world where they can make anything,” says Julianne, “And take away the need for food, and shelter and clothing – all of our basic needs that take up the vast majority of our time in this world and move that aside, and say ‘Here, create.' They're going to act out any fantasy they can come up with. And of course they're going to come up with sex.”

Julianne continues, “We cover sex in games in the Escapist because the industry is growing up. The people making games are growing up. We're entering our fourth decade on games. Clearly, there are adults playing these games. And they're going to want adult content. Part of that is violence. And part of that is, of course, sex.”

Mark, who writes for the Second Life Herald says, “We certainly delve into the NC-17 arena from time to time.” The thing they are really interested in, though, is that in these exchanges, there are real people on either end. “That leads us to really interesting stories. Sometimes we're reporting more on cyber-love than cyber-sex.” Mark continues, “You can go into these worlds and make your avatar look like anything you want.” Besides writing exposes on the virtual-world sex, the Herald also runs a weekly feature, called "Post Six Girls," where they feature “particularly well-endowed avatars of various types.”

The "Secret Sex Lives of Video Games" panel

As far as the actual presentation in games, Julianne thinks it's something that hasn't been addressed much. “It's not something that been actually facilitated within the game. It's more of a player creation and hacking in the abilities to do these kinds of things.” She speculates that as developers start creating games like Spend the Night, games that enable players to act out fantasies, and date, and have sex online, or in-game, things will probably become a little more mature. “I think what we can do, as an industry, is get a little bit better about messaging. We're not good at communicating to the mainstream that adults play games.”

“We allow the mainstream to keep thinking that games are toys for children.” Julianne concludes, “Honestly, I think games journalism is partly to blame for that. I think we need to get better about explaining that there are a lot of adults making and playing games.” As soon as we can improve that communication, Julianne thinks we will see a lot more doors opened to handling the subject in a mature way.

After a number of questions, the panel closed with Tony's summation: “It's pretty universal. Everyone likes sex, and everyone is interested in games.”



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