While over-the-top violence is par for the course in video games, sex remains a taboo. The same can be said of the American entertainment industry in general, but sex in particular is the bee's nest of gaming. There have been numerous virtual sex scandals over the years — the nation sent into a tizzy over a little pixelated skin — ranging from the absurd to the depraved. Today, for the sake of not ruining anyone's day, we're going to focus on the absurd.
3. 'Mass Effect': Sodomy in Space
Romance (and sex scenes by extension) have become a standard element of BioWare RPGs: build your team, flirt your heart out, and find your video game sweetie before saving the world. Prior to Mass Effect's launch, when the world at large learned the game would include sex scenes, some people lost their minds. A segment on Fox News described a Mass Effect which includes full frontal nudity and graphic sex.
Listening to the segment, you'd think Mass Effect was less a game and more pornography featuring CGI aliens. Conservative blogger Kevin McCullough took it a step further with quotes such as:
It’s called “Mass Effect” and it allows its players ... to engage in the most realistic sex acts ever conceived. One can custom design the shape, form, bodies, race, hair style, breast size of the images they wish to “engage” and then watch in crystal clear, LCD, 54 inch screen, HD clarity as the video game “persons” hump in every form, format, multiple, gender-oriented possibility they can think of ...
And because of the digital chip age in which we live - “Mass Effect” can be customized to sodomize whatever, whoever, however, the game player wishes.
Though Kevin McCullough later recanted the outlandishness of his statements, he maintained the sexual content in Mass Effect was offensive.
Considering the most graphic sexual depiction in Mass Effect is a heavily shadowed silhouette of a naked blue lady, this was all just a little overblown. Maybe I played the wrong Mass Effect, but I don't recall full frontal. There's a little sideboob, sure, but I've seen more sideboob while standing in the pharmacy line at Walgreens.
2. 'Overwatch's #buttgate
Blizzard Entertainment's team shooter Overwatch is lauded for its diverse, colorful cast of characters. However, back in the game's beta phase, a fan by the handle of Fipps had some choice words about one of zippy speedster Tracer's victory poses. The forum thread has since been deleted as the game moved out of beta, but the quotations in question have spread like wildfire.
From Mei to Zarya to Widowmaker the female cast reflects a large spectrum of personalities and player fantasies. With that being said, lets talk about Tracer. From a marketing standpoint, she's the star of the show. She's a great hero. When we look at the way she's portrayed in promotional media, lore, and art in game we know a few things about her: She's fast. She's silly. She's kind. She's a good friend. Her body seems to be comprised of about 95% spunk.
Unfortunate phrasing aside, the poster had a point:
What about this pose has anything to do with the character you're building in [Tracer]? It's not fun, its not silly, it has nothing to do with being a fast elite killer. It just reduces her to another bland female sex symbol.
In the same post, Fipps points out these sorts of poses make perfect sense with other characters. Widowmaker, for example, is the classic femme fatale with sex appeal as one of the weapons in her repertoire. If a character is to be sexualized, it should at least fit that character's personality and background. Tracer's victory pose was, essentially, a Plain Jane booty shot. Eventually, Overwatch Game Director Jeff Kaplan responded:
We'll replace the pose. We want *everyone* to feel strong and heroic in our community. The last thing we want to do is make someone feel uncomfortable, under-appreciated or misrepresented.
Apologies and we'll continue to try to do better.
While most sex-related scandals in the domain of video games are the result of sexual content in a game, the Tracer pose flipped the narrative on its head. Instead, gamers went on a rampage to maintain their right to look at a butt. Despite her notes on Widomaker, Fipps's words were interpreted as a desire to remove all sexuality from Overwatch. Jeff Kaplan's words were vague enough to be open to interpretation. Most gamers interpreted the message as Blizzard going along with the request for sanitization.
Combined, these resulted in the internet equivalent of a riot, with gamers picketing their favorite social media with the hashtag #buttgate. As with most of these scandals, the entire situation turned out to be wildly overblown. Did you expect any different? It's a butt. In a video game.
The victory pose was replaced with a rendition of a World War II pinup pose. Given Tracer's in-universe background as a fighter pilot and the long history of pilots painting pretty gals on their aircraft, the more playful pose was more fitting of the character. And if an actual, real-life lingerie pinup pose isn't considered sexual anymore, I'm not sure what to say. Look, if it was good enough for grandpa, it's good enough for me.
Ultimately, Tracer's sexuality wasn't scrubbed from Overwatch. The developers replaced a bland insert-butt-here pose with a pose appropriate to the character. Heck, depending on what you're into, the new pose might even be more sexualized given the emphasis on the leggy runner's... well, legs.
1. Hot Coffee in 'GTA San Andreas'
Hot Coffee is, without a doubt, the single most famous video game sex scandal. 12 years after the release of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the phrase "hot coffee" still carries certain unpleasant connotations. Shortly after the release of the game, modders dove into the game files as an exploratory venture, much like how the buggy was recently discovered in the game files for No Man's Sky.
What they discovered was an unfinished, unimplemented sexual intercourse minigame. While the release version of San Andreas includes implied intercourse with a fade-to-black, the unimplemented mini game would have placed the pleasure of protagonist CJ and his partner in the player's hands. The Hot Coffee mod enabled this minigame, allowing the player to do the dirty.
As is always the case with these things, people lost their minds.
The Hot Coffee mod resulted in the ESRB changing the game's rating from Mature to Adults Only which could have been a death sentence for the game. Most retailers won't even carry Adults Only titles, and indeed, San Andreas was pulled from store shelves. Eventually, Rockstar rereleased the game with the Hot Coffee-related files removed. Additionally, the rerelease included a patch which caused the game to crash should the game files be altered whatsoever, preventing any and all modding for the title unless using an earlier version of the game, which had become a rarity.
To reiterate: Hot Coffee was never playable in the base game. The files existed on the disc, but the minigame was in no way playable without the player modifying their game.
In hindsight, the entire situation is truly absurd given what players do with game mods now. Any highly moddable game (we're looking at you, Skyrim) will inevitably receive player-created mods which do far worse than the poorly animated, almost fully-clothed sex scenes of Hot Coffee. What turned into a global panic for Grand Theft Auto barely registers an eyeroll for Skyrim. Not to mention the God of War franchise has an actual intercourse minigame the world at large didn't seem to mind. Heck, maybe it was God of War who stole Mass Effect's full frontal. That's very rude of you, God of War.
Ultimately, this controversy might have proved beneficial to developer Rockstar: Grand Theft Auto became more of a household name than ever, eventually resulting in Grand Theft Auto V being one of the top 10 best-selling games of all time. And at 27.5 million units sold, San Andreas itself isn't too far off, either.
Without a doubt, there are aspects of gaming which deserve criticism. Games, and their content, should be discussed. Discussion is healthy in any form of media or entertainment. However, when some of the largest scandals in gaming are based on nothing at all, maybe we should dial back the outrage in these conversations — or at least make sure a game includes full frontal before you use it as the basis of your argument.