First with Mass Effect, and now with Dragon Age Bioware are making a serious attempt to bring sex into videogames. Sex, they sensibly argue, is an integral part of human relationships, and its inclusion could result in a greater level of maturity in game storytelling. I understand the point. In books and films your characters are bonking all over the place, why should gaming be any different? (Let’s put aside my view that sex scenes in books and films are universally pointless and almost always awful).
But I’m here to say that in this instance gaming needs to take a step back. Sex in games is a terrible idea.
I’m not offended by nudity, or explicit sex (unless you count a creeping feeling of awkwardness that I should turn the screen off and let these poor folk have fun in private). I’m not against sex before marriage either. In fact, the sex part is fine. The trouble is this: when it’s done badly in games it’s really, really horrible to watch. And I mean, really bloody awful. Soft focus polygonal models rubbing up against each other, ragdolls awkward movements as animators try to avoid their virtual lovers’ bodies from getting carried away and clipping madly into each other. Wooden, comical, disturbing and just embarrassing to watch. Ugh.
So the rule is: don’t do it unless you’re going to do it well. The trouble is, doing it well is going to mean doing it at least ten times better than it has ever been done before. We’ve only just reached a stage where we can stand to hang out with AI buddies like Alyx from the Half Life series.
Actually, that reminds me of pretty much the only moment of closeness in gaming that has worked for me. There’s a moment in one of the Half Life 2 Episodes where Alyx discovers that you, the mighty Gordon Freeman, are safe having survived another cataclysmic event. Her response, as natural as you like, is to throw her arms around the player and give them a hug.
The most impressive part is that I hardly noticed. It didn’t stand out at all, there was no oddness or awkwardness, it was just a natural expression of emotion. I shudder to think of the amount of work that must have gone into that one impulsive gesture. When it comes to human intimacy, the uncanny valley is much wider and deeper than in any other case. Getting something as personal as a hug or a kiss wrong is going to smash any sense of immersion into a million uncomfortable and slightly weirded-out peices.
Uncomfortable and wierded-out, just two of the feelings you may experience watching the Dragon Age intimacy scenes. Those scenes alone should act as a bold warning to other devs determined to get their kink on in their next release. Unless you want to be laughed out of the preview room you’ll have to be better than any of your predecessors. If you’re not completely confident of this, don’t do it. Please.