Friday, 4 January 2013

Does SEX sell video games?

Does SEX sell video games? First allow me to explain what I mean by that exactly; by adding sexual themes and scantily-clad females in their games, are companies able to sell more games? Does this compensate for a lack of substance? Are the consumers really that easily charmed by a pair of pixelated breasts? And just how much SEX do we see in our games? 

That confused expression ain't fooling anyone; you knew what you were doing, Lara.

To better research the subject matter I decided to look at probably the most controversial gaming series on the market: Dead or Alive. Some gamers argue its main selling point is its buxom babes and that as a fighting game its shallow at best, whilst others claim the girls are little more than an aesthetic used to showcase the intelligent and intuitive fighting system and its lightning-fast action. Personally, I'm with the latter; the visuals are nice to look at but the core experience for me is all about the fighting. In a poll yielding results from over 400 gamers I asked them this question (concerning the games most recent iteration - Dead or Alive 5): Did SEX sell this game for you personally? Underneath are the results from both PS3 and XBOX360 owners of the game:

Results from the online polls I conducted
Compiled in a pie chart for universal comparison and data collection

The most popular answer was Partially voted by 31.93% with Not really following closely with 29.61%. 17.13% of gamers voted Completely, citing that the sex appeal was the main factor which compelled them to buy the game with 11.24% voting Mostly. The least popular answer voted by 10.10% of gamers was Not at all.

Firstly, there are statistically more male gamers than there are female. Something which this survey did not take into context was gender and sexual orientation; meaning that it wouldn’t be inconceivable to assume that the 10.10% of gamers that voted Not at all may in fact be straight women or gay men. Another mistake I may have made with this poll was to add a potentially safe option; this also happening to be the most popular answer. Allowing someone to fundamentally vote for both sides yields potentially superficial results which aren’t as useful as votes for options situated closer to opposite ends of the spectrum. However, from these results we can deduce that over 60% of gamers which voted were for the sexual themes in Dead or Alive 5. Does this prove that the game would not have sold quite as well without it?

Dead or Alive 5 producer, Yosuke Hayashi seems to think it was a pretty relevant process

The Dead or Alive series is constantly accused of using sex to sell its games; I guess their Dead or Alive: Xtreme side series is partially to blame for that. But lets take a look at other games of the same genre; Tekken and Soul Calibur are two of the most respected fighting series’ in gaming. A large number of people argue they incorporate deeper fighting mechanics and do not need to rely on sex to sell the games…is that so?

Zafina, Tekken 6: Since the character was apparently intended to be of middle-eastern descent, muslims took offence over her revealing clothing stating it left a poor impression of arabic women; causing Namco to redesign her outfit. Obviously sticking a pair of baggy shorts on her instantly made her less offensive.

Ivy, Soul Calibur series. Current place-holder for largest breasts on a video game character.

Lets give them the benefit of the doubt and just call it fan-service. However, there are some games that probably rely on said fan-service in order to appeal to a part of a particular demographic. A game I shall use as an example (which also happens to be a personal favourites and one I plan to review) is Haunting Ground. This game features a unique game mechanic which involves hiding and escaping your pursuer rather than battling them head on. Fiona (the main protagonist) is not alone in purgatory, but accompanied by her faithful albino German Sheppard, Hewie. It features beautiful gothic artwork, challenging puzzles and a distinctly unique approach to scaring the viewer (all of which I shall detail in my upcoming review). The only problem here is that the average gamer enjoys games like Halo and Call of Duty, games in which action and speed play a key role to the enjoyment factor. Even games like the Resident Evil series has had to quicken its play style in order to appeal to the modern gamer. They may have abandoned their roots to some extent but at least they didn’t need to resort to using sexually provocative imagery to sell their game…oh, wait.

The first boss you face in Resident Evil 6 also happens to carry the majority of the fan service. 

Anyway I digress, the point I was trying make was games like Haunting Ground will never appeal to the average gamer. Its mechanics and ideals stray too far away from popular gaming. So in order to appeal to the demographic more, they needed to sex up their heroine. They did this by giving her breasts so large they became awkward and a skirt so short it might as well have been a belt. Alternate costumes, exploitive camera angles and the not-so subtle sexual undertones help make this game a little more ‘user-friendly’ for the predominately male audience. Despite these attempts, however, the game only sold around 70’000 copies making it a financial flop. So apparently the fan-service didn’t help sell the game so well; so did it actually contribute to any of the sales or was it not even a considered factor.

"Illegal in Some States". Personally I think the name says it all.

Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 (a game in the DOA side series) was an experience that was based solely on sex. The whole premise of the game was to dress your girl in increasingly skimpy outfits and watched them partake in rather simple sport simulation games. Something the game is notorious for is the invention of ‘individual breast physics’; a necessary addition to the game? Well, for this sort of game - yes, it was. Unfortunately the boobs ended up moving like piles of jelly trapped in a tumble drier. Despite these efforts the game didn’t sell particularly well and was met with harsh reviews.

Oh look! They do tricks!

So far my research seems to point to a general favouring of sexual content in video games, but judging by the poor sales of games that use it as its main selling point it seems there is a discrepancy. It is nearly impossible to come across a game which doesn’t use some form of sexual exploitation; whether it be something as subtle as the cut of your female accomplice’s blouse or something slightly more obvious like the naked 50 foot Cleopatra attacking you with her bare breasts! Resident Evil 6 and Dante’s Inferno both sold respectively with sales in their millions. Both had pretty strong uses of sexual imagery - the latter having considerably more so.

"Go nipple! Attack NOW!"

It may be safe to assume then that sexual content might not affect sales so explicitly. The Call of Duty series (to my knowledge) uses no sexual gratification in their games, yet the most recent iteration broke the sales records for 2012. Most sales were made by male gamers, unsurprisingly. Besides; what’s more manly than shooting down a bunch of terrorists? This leads me to my final theory: gender maintenance.

Gender maintenance is a widely respected theory in anthropological and sociological circles. It basically defines a human beings instinct to reinforce their own image in accordance to what is typical of their sex. In laments terms, a man will wish to exert a sense of masculinity whilst a woman would with femininity. Obviously this theory would really only apply to heterosexuals, though what is interesting is that homosexuals (is that word okay to use or is it too stigmatising?) will often try to exert a sense of what the opposite gender might demonstrate.

 Karl Marx. One of the first Psychologists to theorise Gender Maintenance. 

Anyway, the point I’m trying to hint at is that it doesn’t seem to be a case of game companies choosing to use sexual content in their games; more like its almost expected of them and they unconsciously make decisions leading to more sexually explicit design decisions. One only needs to look at television and the media today to realise that sexual exploitation has practically become the norm. So really, it would be a poor business decision for game companies to not follow suit.

So in conclusion, perhaps the real question we ought to be asking is are we actually consciously aware of the sexual content in games, or has it simply become the norm? Furthermore, are we really that shallow; that we require some form of sexual gratification in order to make our games playable? Finally, can we blame it all on human nature and a need to exhibit our natural urges? Either way, it seems both sex and action come hand-in-hand nowadays, and who are we to complain about the ’natural’ order of things? Personally, the only thing I find worrying about the whole affair is the fact sex will always be condemned over violence. Perhaps there’s where the real problem lies…

Lets finish off with something less offensive now...

My polls on

N4g's article on sex in videogames:




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