SEX WEEK – Destroying What We Love

SEX WEEK

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.

I guess killing Nazis just isn't enough these days.

I guess killing Nazis just isn’t exciting enough these days.

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.)

Well, most of the time

Well, maybe sometimes

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.

About David Prysock

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 reclaimer105.com.
  • Bryan Hall

    Dang! This is quite good, David. Love the King Kong reference at the end.

  • Stephen Lefebvre

    Overall I agree and believe that this is pretty much on the money. There was one thing that confused me, though.

    “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.”

    Now I understand that the way things are going these days, sex will never be taken completely out of video games, but in thinking about this quote in question, I wonder if “depiction” of sex at all is a correct venue. In order to depict a Christian outlook on sex in a video game while still keeping it Christian, it would simply be conveyed in a conversation during one of the dialogues. For example, two characters talking about a sexual experience in little to no detail. Because in Christian standards, sex is to be shared between a husband and a wife. So what does that do to the gamer him/herself as they may possibly see a cut seen of a married Christian couple having sex (which would be considered by most as a write-off like it’s not arguable against because they’re married)? The fact is that any DEPICTION (literally seeing the act of) of sex in games/media is going to cause an effect in the gamer. It’s a portion of desensitization in our generation that seems to have stood still and not been argued that much against because the same excuse is spread around: “Oh, they’re married, so that’s the right type of sex.” …at the same time, pushing away the fact that they’re watching this act anyway. I may have blown this up to a larger proportion than it should be because it’s simply not seen all the time (because what IS seen all the time is the other types of demoralizations of sex), but nevertheless, that excuse is given from time to time which argues that it’s okay to watch such activities because they’re performing the “right kind” of sex.

    • Stephen Lefebvre

      So basically I argue that it’s almost impossible to depict the right kind of sex in media unless it’s simply something that was talked about, not seen.

      • David Prysock

        Stephen, I’m really glad you bring this up. I thought about this issue, but ultimately decided not to discuss it in this post because it was already a bit long. There’s definitely a distinction to be made between the sexual act being depicted and the depiction of said act in the given venue. I agree with you wholeheartedly that a Christian depiction of sex is somewhat of a contradiction in terms since viewing such material causes lust. On the other hand, I would like to see an effort made for some sort of positive depiction of sex within the context of Christian marriage, if for nothing else than to counteract all the negative depictions out there. But to be the devil’s advocate (I still don’t support the use of nudity or explicit imagery), is it still violating the privacy of Christian sex if they are digital characters rather than real people? In this way, video games provide a unique dilemma. Just something to chew on. Thanks for the comment!

        • Stephen Lefebvre

          David, I see what you did there, commenting back as a guest by accident. 😛 Well,
          when I’ve talked about addictions before, which I’m sure most have dealt
          with as well, one of my retired/constantly-battling addictions in my
          life is addiction to porn. It’s something I’ve dealt with since
          childhood and it’s a terrible one. (By the grace of God, I carry on.)

          And let me say that the
          whole genre of anime porn is prevalent for a specific reason. There’s
          no question that anime porn is just as bad as regular porn in the
          realization of sin. God commands us to abstain from evil and delight
          upon the Lord in everything we do. Once characters in animated porn
          become characters or objects of affection inside our minds, it has
          turned into lust. Now, there are some people that don’t gain
          connections to the animated characters, and if they have somehow come
          across it by accident, it doesn’t phase them. There are times that
          people aren’t even phased and drawn to lust by seeing actual pictures of
          naked people or even seeing people naked in real life, for instance if
          someone had a job at a hospital bathing people all day. In the end, the
          imposition of lust inside each of our hearts is different for each
          person, but it is considered lust all the same if we search out those
          opportunities that lead to lust. Back to anime, even if you’re
          researching an alternative way of picturing a new sexual position with
          your wife and don’t want to see real people, you are now delighting in
          the objectification of sex which is a sin of lust as well.
          Have you ever
          asked yourself the question, “Is it possible for me to lust over my
          wife?” People may think that since they’re married, anything they do
          with their spouse is condonable. Problem is that it’s not always the
          case. If someone puts sex before a relationship with the person, it can
          be considered lust. There are even stories of husbands who literally rape their wives (when the wives don’t want to have sex and try to fight back); it happens and is real. Objectification of sex in general is considered
          lust. Look at the early 1900s and earlier when a woman showing her bear
          ankle was considered sinful. Because seeing skin was frowned upon, it
          became more of an object of lust in people’s minds because it was
          something they hadn’t looked at socially before. I bet you people in
          that time wouldn’t be able to handle the idea of nude beaches we have
          today.

          Sex can even be objectified through people’s ability to
          use “x-ray vision” in our imagination to undress people based on the
          shape of their body. The list goes on! There’s so much that people take
          for granted and subject themselves to in sinful ways sometimes without
          even knowing it.

          You can even input this thinking in other sins,
          like killing, for instance. I like first person shooters. I’ve grown up
          with them and enjoy them for the most part. Halo theme, COD theme,
          Golden Eye: my list is short. But I have to say that I’ve never
          considered what I did in games as murder because they’re just pixels,
          but I felt very beside myself when I first played COD MW4 and in the
          beginning it says, “The first mission is considered highly graphic and
          you have the choice to skip it. Do you want to proceed?” And I was
          like, sure, why not? It was the off-script mission that sets the
          catalyst for why the rest of the game’s storyline takes place, but being
          that secret operative spy who infiltrated the enemy and helped them
          mass murder helpless unarmed civilians in an airport in order to keep my
          identity safe didn’t make me feel good about myself. I never experienced what it was like to murder someone like that before. It made me think about shooting people in general and why it doesn’t seem like a big deal. So the next
          question should be for ourselves, is it still considered sin if we are
          desensitized to it? I would probably agree that God doesn’t want us to
          delight in those things. That’s basically it. And God would decide
          who’s actually sinning and who’s not when those events actually happen. At this point, the answer can’t be reached by one person for everybody’s benefit, only him/herself.

  • Guest

    Stephen, I’m really glad you bring this up. I thought about this issue, but ultimately decided not to discuss it in this post because it was already a bit long. There’s definitely a distinction to be made between the sexual act being depicted and the depiction of said act in the given venue. I agree with you wholeheartedly that a Christian depiction of sex is somewhat of a contradiction in terms since viewing such material causes lust. On the other hand, I would like to see an effort made for some sort of positive depiction of sex within the context of Christian marriage, if for nothing else than to counteract all the negative depictions out there. But to be the devil’s advocate (I still don’t support the use of nudity or explicit imagery), is it still violating the privacy of Christian sex if they are digital characters rather than real people? In this way, video games provide a unique dilemma. Just something to chew on. Thanks for the comment!