And yet another new writer comes to Theology Gaming…if not to stay, then at least to say something. David loves Jesus, his family, and nerd culture. He is a mental health counselor by trade and a video and board game enthusiast. Sometimes he’ll even write about these things. You can find some of his work on video games and theology over at Reclaimer 105, which I hear is a website of some sort. But for now, let us read what he has to say about sex. Christian sex. Married Christian sex, probably.
You may wonder what qualifies me to talk about sex. Well, my wife is currently pregnant with our second child, which serves as tangible proof that I had sex at least twice. This means that when I play a video game that includes sex, my point of references comes from real life . That reference point radiates from the Christian beliefs I hold; these affect both my marriage and my approach to video games. The majority of the gaming community does not share these beliefs.
The question I seek to answer is this: what does the depiction of sex in video games say about the culture of gamers? Developers choose their content based on what will sell, and thus we see prostitutes, earned hook-ups, barely-dressed volleyball players, jiggle physics, and storylines set in brothels. We should discern and carefully criticize what sexual content developers include in these games, but the fact that it’s there (and not going away anytime soon) says a lot about the demographic that plays video games (Editor’s Note: Or, at the least, the perceived demographic. Still, I imagine they wouldn’t make them if that isn’t what people wanted). It’s easy to point to the hormone-filled teenage boys, but adult men also make up a significant chunk of gamers, so we can’t blame sex in games only on adolescents.
To describe the situation more exactly, let me use a recent example. A while back I bought some slightly older, less successful games that were much cheaper. One of these was a third-person action/stealth game called Saboteur. The concept intrigued me from the first time I heard about it: you’re a non-Frenchman in Paris during the beginning of the Nazi occupation. You join the local resistance and slowly try to fight back and reclaim parts of Paris. As you do this, the occupied areas go from black & white to color. We would call this a great game if not for the clunky combat mechanics and the fact that, for some reason, I spent 30 out of the first 45 minutes of gameplay driving around without an explanation. The worst part was that my secret hideout happens to be in the back of a strip club. This meant that every time I had to return to base, I’d have to walk through a crowd of mostly topless women dancing and serving drinks. I haven’t even finished the prologue and I don’t plan to continue playing.
Now, thematically it makes sense. Nazis, apparently, become too distracted by boobs to notice a resistance member sneaking in and out with guns and explosives. But let’s be honest, crappy controls aside, this game could have been just as successful and interesting were the hideout location set anywhere else. So why the nudie bar? Excitement, that’s why. Titillation. Sex is the icing on the cake for gamers, the bonus, that extra ingredient, the SPRING in Springfield so to speak. It’s this kind of content that gets games off the shelves. This is an ongoing trend and it’s important for Christians to understand why.
I define Christian marriage as a lifetime commitment between one man and one woman. God designed sex within that marriage for both relational intimacy and procreation. The act remains private, seen and experienced only by the two involved. Rarely we will see it in games, even without the “Christian” part. The reason that this does not show up in games is because heterosexual, monogamous sex within marriage is BORING - at least to most gamers.
You see, God designed marriage the way he did for reasons that most people just don’t see. There’s ups and downs, fights, successes, and failures. Marriage is a lifetime’s collection of mundane, day to day interactions, sometimes sexual, sometimes not. But that’s just so LAME, right? Marital sex doesn’t have the pizzazz, the sizzle, or the excitement that you get from courting a mysterious alien and then loving them up in the engine room. Or banging a hooker before you dump her on the street. Or taking a break from fighting Nazis to enjoy the local gentlemen’s club. I mean, having sex with the same woman and just that one woman for the rest of your life?!? No thanks, am I right fellas?
If my sarcasm in the previous paragraph wasn’t clear enough, video games tend to get sex wrong by taking out all the meaning. Sex as designed by God was intended to exist within a specific context, that of marriage. But these dudes in the gaming demographic know about committed relationships like that – they are, at best, uninteresting and, at worst, difficult. True lifelong intimacy in marriage requires sacrifice and personal compromise, neither of which fit into our collective cultural idea of personal fulfillment. Human depravity means that we will always try to strip off the excess responsibility, hard work, or unpleasantness to get straight to the good stuff. Because we present sexuality in such an easily accessible way, everyone thinks they’re getting the good stuff without the unwanted baggage. In reality, we miss the point completely and they throw the baby out to keep the bathwater.
Does that mean all sex should be kept out of video games? Not at all. I can imagine a possibility in which someone will get it right and somehow depict sex in a way that fits its intended purpose. Given my understanding of ideal sex, it seems that we depict sex best when it enriches a relationship and contributes meaningfully to a story. An interest in sex is not inappropriate because it is part of being human, and even being Christian. Sex can be desired, but it should be a holy desire.
What video games get wrong is that they treat sex as a commodity to be consumed rather than revering it as an experience to be shared. To the common gamer, sex is an end in itself whereas God intended it to be a means to the end of expressing intimacy in a relationship. The most important part of sex, relational intimacy, is something that can’t truly be captured on a screen, with a controller. It just ends up as a random assortment of images and sounds, an ultimately meaningless task the path to some other goal. When you reach a sexual encounter in a game and an “Achievement Unlocked” message pops up, you know that sex is being treated as something less than what it truly is. (Hint: that message does not show up in real life.)
Let’s take the movie King Kong for example. Carl Denham is obsessed with this mysterious creature and he expresses his fascination by chaining it up and dragging it to New York to be put on display for the masses. As this wild, beautiful animal is being helplessly chained and exploited, Carl’s colleague remarks about Carl’s treatment of Kong, “That’s the thing you come to learn about Carl, his undying ability to destroy the things he loves.”
The gaming culture’s obsession with sex speaks to a deep and true desire. Attempts up to this point have only served to spoil what was created to be perfect. The more gamers seek sex in this way, the more they will be left unsatisfied. So keep trying, video games. But you’ll never come close to depicting the true greatness of sex as created by God.