Sex in games: David Cage asks why standards in video games are much stricter than those in film
David Cage is the CEO of Quantic Dream, the studio behind Heavy Rain and the upcoming Beyond: Two Souls. He described his process for writing games, and it sounded much like how one would write a novel: He locks himself away for a year or so and works on the story, dialog, and characters of each game. During a speech at the D.I.C.E. Summit in Las Vegas, he seemed frustrated by the oddly puritanical standards often imposed on video games.
“All real-world themes should be used,” he argued. “Anything you know in real life, and that you see in movies or TV series should be used in a game. Could we make games that deal with human relationships, that deal with feelings and emotion, that talk about politics or homosexuality? Why not? We need to put games at the center of our society and our lives.”
You can show a headshot, but you can’t fondle a breast
“I see myself as a writer. I try to write scripts talking about characters’ emotions, relationships, and dialog. Sometimes I use violence, sometimes I use sex, and that’s fine. Most of the time it’s fine. But now I have someone over my shoulder looking at what I’m writing and saying ‘oh you can’t do this,’ ‘you need to change that,’ ‘no that’s not possible,’” he said. The freedom you’re given to express yourself with violence in video games is all but unlimited. The freedom to show sexual situations is a little more constricted.
He pointed out that many of the things we see in films wouldn’t be accepted in a game. “The answer is always the same. It’s because you are interactive. That’s your problem. It’s difficult because there have been many, many experiments worldwide, it has been demonstrated a thousand times that being interactive doesn’t change the impact of the experience. It’s been judged here in the court in the US, they said it is no different than films of TV series. And it should be protected by the First Amendment. Freedom of speech. This is very important,” he continued.
“As long as violence or sex is put in context, and supports the narrative in one way or another, that’s fine. Why do we have different constraints than film or TV series?”
I caught up with Cage after the speech, and we talked for a bit about the problem.
“If you take cinema as a reference, you realize that the censorship to games is similar to the censorship of films in the 50s. Today in films, everything seems acceptable, but that’s not always been the case. If you go back, there are things you couldn’t do. It would be a real scandal if you were to show tits. The same thing is going to happen in games,” he said.
“I just wish it wouldn’t take another 100 years. I’d like to work with complete freedom of speech. I’m not far from that, because Sony is incredibly supportive, and because what we do has a context. The ESRB and all these people they did a great job of understanding the context. We don’t show tits to be naughty, we ask what place it has in the experience and that helps. It helps a lot. But I still think we can do a better job.”
It’s an interesting issue. We are starting to see nudity in games, but the idea of a frank depiction of sex between two people would likely cause controversy. As far as we can tell, only one game has shown full-frontal male nudity. Even hints of sexual assault cause the press and gamers to wring our collective, virtual hands endlessly. Our culture is much less accepting of depictions of sexuaity in games than it is in film.
“Each territory has its standards, and even the United States, depending on the state you live in, you have different sensibilities about this,” Cage said. “And we should respect that. We’re not telling people what they should accept, I’m saying that whatever you accept in film, you should accept it with the same rating in a game.”