Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

3 August, 2010

Blood Elf Porn
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 2:24 AM
(This post has been viewed 14322 times.)

Did that title get your attention? :)

Tobold wrote about this topic, looking at why MMOs don't have more sexually-themed content. He points out that in the U.S., the porn industry is bigger than the MMO industry. So, why don't we dip their chocolate in our peanut butter and get two great tastes that taste great together?

Damn, just about any metaphor I might use is going to sound dirty, isn't it? Ah, well, let's take a look at the problems of translating sex to games and MMOs.

It's been done before

What most of you probably don't know is that I was actually an adviser on a porn-themed MMO that never saw the light of day back in 2006. A major pornography website wanted to branch into games, and a lawyer I know introduced them to me. They had chosen a web developer to develop the game and were having some troubles. I was supposed to see what was causing the delays and help them get back on track. I'll not go into details except to say it's not (entirely) my fault. But, it introduced a lot of the problems with translating porn into games.

I also wrote a review of Playboy: the Mansion for a game site. I actually played the game and took a look at what it offered and what it lacked. So, let's say I'm not exactly a prude when it comes to sex in my games. Like most guys, I have a healthy interest in games.

The idea of mixing online games and sex isn't new. Richard Bartle designed a sex-themed text MUD back in 2000. I've heard that Second Life has a thing or two relating to sex within it. And there are some sex themed games flying under the radar for years. (Note that they charge $15/month plus an item shop. You can also buy per week. I'm surprised they don't have an hourly rate...) It's just that there's been no big-name game with sex in it. Which makes sense... how many pornography companies are household names, besides a few big magazines?

Brenda Brathwaite has given some great conference talks and even wrote a book on Sex in Video Games. It's worth noting that she was the designer of the Playboy game I previously reviewed.

"You want to put what in my what?!?"

And by that I mean put "sex" in "video games" you pervert.

The first problem is that games are still seen as something for children. Therefore, sex isn't seen as an appropriate topic for the media of computer games. To take a glimpse at what happened last time sexual themes were introduced to a "medium for children", do some research on the history of the animated movie Fritz the Cat. Even though the movie wasn't intended for children, one of the main problems people had was that it was a cartoon with sexual themes. The "X" rating for explicit content rubbed some people the wrong way, even though there had been other movies with explicit content.

We have the same problem here. Putting sex into a video game means that it's intended for children. "Think of the children!" the social conservatives will cry. Not that kids should be wasting their time playing those shooter games when it's a perfectly nice day outside anyway!

S-e-x in the U.S.A.

Now that we're done thinking about children in a completely innocent way, let's look at how sexuality is treated in the U.S. to really understand some of the core problems with trying to put pornography into an MMO. As Tobold points out, the U.S. is the biggest producer and consumer of pornography. This isn't because we have a healthy attitude toward sexuality or our open attitudes. In fact, it's mostly because of the exact opposite: most people feel sex is a shameful thing and should be hidden. As people joke, if a kid sees someone get blown away by gun violence on TV, that's fine; but a split second of Janet Jackson's nipple during the half-time show of the Super Bowl? HEADS MUST ROLL!

Sexuality just isn't something we discuss with others. For example, note that there are an estimated 71.5 million results for "talking about sex to your children" on Google; it's so awkward that a ton of sites are out there to help parents work up the nerve to discuss it with their kids. For most people in the U.S. the topics of sex, sexuality, and pornography are private. Of course, this comes with a healthy dose of hypocrisy, where we tolerate rather blatant sexual themes in our advertising. From jeans to alcohol commercials, we see very sexual images paraded before us and before children. But, it seems people are fine with this level of titillation, or if they don't like it they aren't upset enough to do much about it besides grumble to themselves.

Sexuality and Privacy

This attitude toward sex is one of the main reasons why an MMO wouldn't work, because many people in the U.S. don't want to share their sleazy pornographic ideas with others, especially not a rotating group of regulars you'd meet in a game. Insert your own joke about "soloing" here.

But, let's face it, an MMO about sex is going to be, uh, about sex. Let's add voice chat, video cameras, etc. I've heard rumors that people will expose themselves on the internet in front of strangers, so let's accept that this will be part of any sexually-themed MMO. So, what happens when someone's evening as "DANJUAN6969" gets posted up on YouTube for his boss to see? Or what about if embarrassing/incriminating photos get posted up on Facebook? Thought that drunken party pic was your worst fear? Wait until the co-workers find out about that diaper fetish.

Speaking of Facebook, why not add a social network to the sex MMO? Mix in a little dating site with your sex game! Yeah, don't laugh.... that was what the game I advised wanted to do. I raised concerns about privacy issues, but let's just say they were noted and not acted upon.

It's not good to be uncanny

Another big issue is what Tobold discusses in his article: the uncanny valley. This was one of Brenda Brathwaite's main points about why sex doesn't work in games; in her conference talks she has some hilarious slides showing what are intended to be romantic scenes, but with robotic, or even stiff (heh) zombie-like avatars in the screenshots. It's not sexy, alluring, or even arousing... it's just scary. It illustrates perfectly why a sex-themed game won't work too well, despite it seeming like a natural fit.

It's going to take big bucks to put the resources behind this type of game to make the characters look like actual people. Unfortunately, a big company with those types of resources are unlikely to touch such a project because...

I've got a reputation to protect!

In an industry where we're worried about moral obligations and the darker side of metrics-based design, sex is a touchy topic. I've made the joke before that my mother tells people that I'm a drug dealer because game development just isn't cool. Now imagine trying to tell your parents that you're not only a game developer, but also a pornographer. There's a reason why I don't advertise the fact that I worked on a sex-themed MMO, because it might color some people's perceptions of my quality as a game designer. I don't quite have the long history of successes that Brenda Brathwaite has in order to talk about sex in games quite so openly.

But, could you imagine a large company making a sex-themed game? Disney Interactive? Absolutely not. EA? Activision? Blizzard? Yet, this is the size of the resources that would be necessary to not fall into the uncanny valley. Without large resources, all we are going to get is games with frightening visuals. Mmm, hope you're a fan of robot zombie sex!

There's a reason...

So, there are plenty of reasons why a major sex-themed MMO hasn't been released yet. "Protecting" children, attitudes toward sex, privacy concerns, poor presentation, and professional reputations all conspire together to keep porn-themed games obscure. The reality is that we simply won't see a big porn-themed game anytime in the near future. But, you can still do a Google search for "blood elf porn" if you need to sate some unnatural sexual craving, just like Tobold did! ;)

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18 Comments »

  1. I actually had the opportunity to use a company credit card to purchase a one-month membership on a 3D MMO(ish) porn site - one of my favourite work-related stories as an older female web professional. :) I was the project manager of a very interesting social networking startup (educationally based), and the porn membership was research since Jewel of Indra was using a similar technology to the virtual environments that we were implementing. (We were using X3D for drag-and-drop creation of personal spaces and learning environments. For instance, if you were building a lesson on Ancient Egypt, you could build a marketplace or a temple or whatever, and add it to the page - quite cool!) Anyway, during work hours the environment was mainly unpopulated, with shops, kinky furniture stores, etc., as well as dungeons with dubious implements. It was interesting, graphically horrible, and as I said ...empty.

    Comment by Ravven — 3 August, 2010 @ 6:06 AM

  2. Let's not forget that it's much more better to say "just a sec honey I must kill a couple more or orcs to hit next level then I'm all yours" than "just a sec honey I must ... eh, grind a couple more chicks then I'm almost all yours" ... *cough* ...

    Comment by Dave Toulouse — 3 August, 2010 @ 6:21 AM

  3. Another (potential) issue: I've occasionally wondered how anyone would go about making an actual "game" out of a sex-themed MMO, at least without simultaneously undercutting the presumed primary goal of stoking the libido?

    My assumption has been that any gameplay focus would be on the flirtation stage of interaction, with the subsequent focus shifting ever more toward arousal, but I really don't know. Frankly, it almost seems a mismatched set of goals to me. (Strip poker isn't really all that much about the play of the cards, after all... but then again, it might be an example to analyze for how to make it work, hmm...)

    Also, given that sex is _the_ area where gender differences would seem to require some logical consideration: what complications does that create?

    I certainly agree the U.S. is not going to be the source of any sex-themed MMO any time soon, but how about the rest of the world? Not every culture views sexuality through a puritanical lens: it seems odd that there would be no development efforts elsewhere at least vaguely along this line?

    Just some random thoughts...

    Comment by DamianoV — 3 August, 2010 @ 7:32 AM

  4. I may be weird, more likely I'm projecting what I want on everyone else, but I don't think people want a sex-themed MMO - what they (we/I) want is the ability to have sex with the hot avatars in existing MMOs - as a break between going out and killing things and doing quests, not as a replacement for killing things and doing quests.

    Comment by silver — 3 August, 2010 @ 1:30 PM

  5. Without even going into the real content, your first couple paragraphs still have me chortling. Chocolate and peanut butter, indeed!

    Comment by Tachevert — 3 August, 2010 @ 3:55 PM

  6. One issue to consider was brought up by my GF: the difference between having a sexually-focused game and having a game that also has sexual content. I think it would be hard to do the latter, since you'd need to dedicate so many resources to it, as I said above. One could argue that Age of Conan took some tentative steps in that direction by having topless females. Nudity isn't sex, but it's more than I can get in most other games.

    Speaking of AoC, it's also interesting how topless females conflicted with the game. If you wanted to go around shirtless (as either a male or female character), you would be missing out on some stat bonuses. Which side of the player wins: the sex pervert or the stat whore? :)

    Comment by Psychochild — 3 August, 2010 @ 6:23 PM

  7. Minor gripe: "'Think of the children!' the social conservatives will cry."

    C'mon, now. Conservatives are hardly the only folks to try to justify their political agenda by saying that they're "doing it for the children." Need I remind the gentlefolk here of Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman regarding computer games or Tipper Gore and music albums?

    It was an easy shot to help make a point in an interesting way, and not that big a deal. Even so, there actually are some people to the right of center who read and enjoy the generally smart commentary on this site -- why unnecessarily (and in this case unfairly) poke a thumb in their eye?

    At least be an equal-opportunity poker. ;)

    But to the subject at hand (*cough*), it seems to me that sex games are already not unlike dang near every MMORPG out there.

    Consider: sex games are generally for men and are designed to support a definite and specific ending. MMORPGs, with their emphasis on violence and token-accumulation over relationship-building, are generally for men. MMORPGs are also designed so that anybody can "win" if they just keep grinding long enough.

    Setting aside the uncanny valley and reputation issues (which are non-trivial), I'd say MMORPGs are already well on their way to being pr0n.

    Comment by Bart Stewart — 3 August, 2010 @ 11:27 PM

  8. Adult Themes in MMOs – Selling Point or Limiting Factor?

    [...] Themes in MMOs – Selling Point or Limiting Factor? By Chris on August 4th, 2010 Psychochild has an interesting article up this morning dealing with the problems of sex in MMOs. Essentially, it boils down to America not [...]

    Pingback by Game by Night — 4 August, 2010 @ 3:34 AM

  9. And you say linking sex to MMOs is my favourite topic? ;)

    I agree with everything you said. A sex based MMO just wouldn't work, not neccessarily I believe due to technical issues, but rather because of the societal ones. We like to think of ourselves as modern, sophisticated, enlighened human begins but when it comes to sex we're no further forward in our attitudes towards it than our Victorian cousins were. In fact, we're probably worse.

    Having grown up in the Netherlands somewhat I was pretty shocked when I came to the UK as a child of 6 and discovered that none of my school mates knew anything about sex (I took it upon myself to teach them, much to the dismay of their parents). In Holland it's a very open and natural thing and discussed openly whereas in the UK it's still seen as a very taboo subject. The irony is that Holland has the lowest rate of teenage pregancy in the world whereas the UK has one of the highest. Funny how these things work out :)

    Comment by We Fly Spitfires — 4 August, 2010 @ 10:04 AM

  10. Fighting Blood Elf Porn

    [...] has some insight into the realities of such [...]

    Pingback by The Ancient Gaming Noob — 4 August, 2010 @ 1:32 PM

  11. Bart Stewart wrote:
    Conservatives are hardly the only folks to try to justify their political agenda by saying that they're "doing it for the children."

    Notice I said "social conservatives". On the scale of world politics, most U.S. politicians are socially conservative. Lieberman in particular is about a socially conservative as they come, even if he was at one time part of the Democratic party. I intended to point out all the people who do it without dividing things along U.S. political party lines. Equal opportunity and all that. ;)

    Comment by Psychochild — 4 August, 2010 @ 3:08 PM

  12. On the scale of world politics, most U.S. politicians are socially conservative.

    At least when compared to us Canadians :) Our current "conservative" government would probably be considered liberal from the point of view of the US ... That's why those tags are just misleading when you link them to political parties.

    Comment by Dave Toulouse — 4 August, 2010 @ 6:12 PM

  13. You ever watch Fritz the cat Brian? It got its X legit and in many ways is still more worthy of it than a lot of films. It wasn't just the sex, it was the drug use, the racial stereotypes, and the hardcore violence. Bakshi captured the entire dark side of the 1960s better than any film ever made.

    I think people tend to whitewash porn online a lot. Gordon is talking about how we haven't made much progress form the victorians: I don't think the victorians ever had a Rule 34, for one.

    Comment by Dblade — 4 August, 2010 @ 9:59 PM

  14. On the offensive

    [...] saw this come up on our RSS feed, I simply dismissed it and move on. It was not until I came upon this (someone I tend to take a bit more seriously) that I decided to go back and at least glance at the [...]

    Pingback by No Prisoners, No Mercy — 5 August, 2010 @ 3:31 PM

  15. I'll second DamianoV; what's the point? Would sex be a foundation for any real quality *game design*? I suspect that it would be just more prurient drek to pull in the low hanging wallets.

    Besides, there's plenty of titillation already in MMOs. Those elves in WoW aren't exactly nuns.

    I think there might be a case to be made for exploring sexuality as an aspect of human relations, trying to demystify some of the stupidity around it, inasmuch as games have potential to educate... but porn comes at it completely from the wrong direction.

    Comment by Tesh — 6 August, 2010 @ 9:46 AM

  16. Games as a mirror

    [...] especially since the game does not require it to progress. This is also sexual in nature, and we know how Americans feel about sex. But, I think there's also an element of discomfort with people looking at their own attitudes [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild's Blog — 8 August, 2010 @ 1:56 AM

  17. I had a chance to spec out a project for a company called Hentai Key. They wanted to add a Hentai MMO to their $.99/day offering of hentai. Interesting company. They believed that with a rudimentary MMO, they could extend the subscription life of their current and future userbase from six months to nine months. The site had some 100K paying users+. I don't think that a sex-themed MMO could ever float on its own two feet as a free-standing IP. It's too vulnerable to attack. Hidden behind an existing service, it's not impossible for a "good" game to eventually take over the user base's primary reason for maintaining a subscription. Unfortunately, $.99/day is significantly more expensive than WoW so there would be pressure to improve the game to WoW level quality or reduce the cost of entry which would mean that the site would have to expand it's userbase almost three fold to compensate.

    In the end, they almost pulled the trigger on a half million dollar project. Thankfully, it didn't happen because the company was investigated by the US DoJ in what appeared to be a large scale "child porn" sweep across the country. Hentai, being cartoonish with child like appearances, wa a natural target of this sort of investigation. The site survived in tact. The MMO plans were scrapped and they ended up building a bunch of smaller flash based games instead.

    My point here is that in my experience with adult-themed MMOs any large scale MMO with sex themes will have to have the same budget as a large scale MMO and a sizable secondary budget to keep the "social conservatives" and "enterprising politicians" at bay. I can tell you that it would also have to be self funded without direct ties to pornography money because traditional VC won't ever touch a deal like that. Reputations to protect and all that.

    Comment by Derek Licciardi — 24 August, 2010 @ 9:46 PM

  18. LOL @ Elf Porn!!! That is hilarious!

    Comment by bishop — 5 October, 2010 @ 2:39 PM

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