SEX WEEK – Interacting with Video Game Sexuality: A Christian View

SEX WEEK

When I played Bayonetta the first time and saw the introductory cutscene, I was so shocked that I immediately turned my PS3 off. I certainly did not expect that barely 5 minutes into starting the game I would stare at Bayonetta’s crotch as she gyrates and pole-dances to “Fly Me To The Moon” while she blasts villainous-looking angels out of the sky. After turning the PS3 off, I immediately searched “is bayonetta too sexy?” on Google; I couldn’t find a single person who agreed with me. A few days later, I plucked my courage to try Bayonetta again, and found that I could now stomach her sexiness and then completed the game. Till today, I’m not sure if I should be proud or disappointed with myself that I manage to “desensitize” myself to Bayonetta’s hyper-sexuality.

Bayonetta Crotch Shot

Editor’s Note: Even if the game is on The List (click here to read!), I can see it being a problem.

I don’t think I’m the best person to write this article, but if Theology Gaming embarks on a SEX WEEK, someone must attempt this question right? When is it okay and when is it not okay for me to play video games with sexy characters or depictions of sex in them?

What is sex to a Christian? In my theological tradition, we see sex as a wonderful and beautiful expression of intimacy within a marriage covenant. The pleasure and intimacy of earthly sex gives us a glimpse of the intimacy and fulfillment we will experience when Christ comes again as a groom to the church. Hence, the Bible regards adultery and sexual immorality severely – it is not the act of sex itself which is sinful, but the act of unfaithfulness. And the lack of faithfulness towards God constitutes one of the most serious crimes a person commits against God.

Given that, how should we regard sex in video games? A Christian’s ethical dilemmas fall under 3 possible categories: (i) a clearly sinful action or motive, (ii) Something which becomes an issue of conscience, and (iii) Something which becomes an issue of wisdom. Depending on the situation and depending on the person, sex in video games falls under these 3 categories. What I mean will become clear as we move along.

Video Game Sexuality as Sin

As Eric Anderson explained, when video game sex associates itself with lust, we categorize it as sin; marriage adds yet another complication to this sin. It matters not whether video game characters appear realistically, or if the low polygon models make them more representation: If you lust, your heart already commits the sin of unfaithfulness. Because of this, we should vehemently condemn any video game intentionally designed to incite lust (I am looking at you, Dead or Alive series). We can call this a rather obvious case.

However, we can imagine another case wherein video game sexuality turns to sin: if the game turns into self-idolatry with sex as a vehicle. Let’s take Japanese Dating Sims for example. While eroge exist to titillate, at least in some measure, lust isn’t the central sin. Rather, it places players in a position where they, for lack of better words, become the center of the universe. In a dating sim, that means the player knows he’s the protagonist, he knows he can get the girl of his choice, and he knows that the girl of his choice will eventually satisfy his desire to be loved by her (whether or not sex is part of the picture). The central sin is wanting to be the center of the story, and of wanting to be God – self idolatry, in a nutshell. If I may be so bold, I find Christian gamers equally guilty of this without realizing it.

Video Game Sexuality as a Matter of Conscience

Paul deals comprehensively with the concept of subjective conscience in Romans 14. An issue becomes a matter of conscience when a Christian believes it is more glorifying to God to do X, while another Christian may believe it is more glorifying to God to not do X. In the context of Romans 14, X means eating food offered to idols. Different Christians will have different consciences when it comes to video game sex (or violence, for that matter), and the Bible commands us to respect our brother’s conscience lest we stumble him. This means that if you know a Christian brother or sister who finds video game sex or sexiness as “unholy” and unfruitful, and you don’t particularly feel the same way, it may be advisable to just not play such games in that person’s presence.

Respecting that person’s conscience to God is more important compared to your freedom to play this kind of video games. And if YOU are that Christian who feels that video game sex/sexiness cannot possibly help a Christian, I am cool with that. I like the fact that you bring your spirituality into playing video games, and I believe you should follow your conscience as what you feel best glorifies God. But you would do well to note that not everybody’s consciences slide that way. Heed the advice of Romans 14, and avoid condescension upon your brothers who do not share the same conscience as you.

Video Game Sexuality as a Matter of Wisdom

As Paul said, “everything is permissible, but not everything is advisable”. The act of sex in video games (or other media) does not instantly gain the label of sin. Playing as, or interacting with, sexy video games characters in and of itself may not be sin. But is it necessarily a good idea to do so?

A variety of contexts may change whether or not it is appropriate, but it may come down to issues of personal character. Is there anybody else watching me while I play these games? How are these scenes/characters affecting them? How are these scenes/characters affecting ME? An example to note here are the Bioware romances in Mass Effect or Dragon Age series. While I like the way they introduce depth into your companions, it perpetuates a very harmful view of romance, i.e. that sex merely arrives as the prize and achievement of romance and that pre-sex conversations equal obstacles to overcome, stepping stones on the path to your ultimate goal (sex).

While you may not particularly believe in such a philosophy of romance when you start playing the game, consider whether consistent exposure to these unhealthy conceptions of romance will aid you. What  if you know you may actually develop strong emotional feelings for your companion characters? Will your constant exposure to sexy female characters cause you to objectify women as objects of desire rather than fellow image-bearers of God?

Dragon Age Morrigan Gifts

In other words: sex isn’t just an arbitrary list of items for someone to have sex with you.

Even with these 3 filters, do some sex scenes/sexy characters pass the test? Possibly, depending on the Christian gamer and that particular gamer’s temptations. M.Joshua Cauller pointed out ways where depictions of video game romance or sex may be edifying to the player (although such depictions are currently in short supply). I consider Heavy Rain’s sex scene as a potentially edifying example, except the mechanics of the game made it incredibly awkward; it interfered too much with the experience.

It is also good to remember that every work on earth this side of heaven is both partly in a state of fallenness as well as partly a reflection of God’s glory. Video games are no exception to this – they are more than capable of tempting us to sin against God and against each other, but they can also offer us glimpses of God’s glorious redemption plan, and the amazing love He has for His people. Such is the medium we play, and hence it is imperative to maintain a close personal walk with God, such that we can exercise discernment when engaging in a medium as messy as video games. Having said that, I admit I preach this more than I practice it – I wonder if this was why I managed to de-sensitive myself to Bayonetta’s sexiness. So, I’m going to take the next week off gaming and hope to find more time meditating upon the Word, praying and seeking God to give me a heart which desires to put His glory first in all that I say, think or do.

About Yann Wong

Yann is a high school Physics teacher and a part-time seminary student in the city-state of Singapore. He hopes one day to be able to write a book on how Christians can play video games to the glory of God, but until then he is grateful for the Christian gamer community, such as the folks here on Theology Gaming, who have shown that Christians can talk about video games in a way which is spiritually encouraging and which points each other towards Christ. You can read more of Yann's stuff at his own blog Redeemed Gamer (click the link below).
  • Stephen Lefebvre

    Hi, Yann. Most of what you said is completely agreeable, but I feel I have to interject some biblical opinions on something you said, just to clarify. Also to bring up some topics of discussion.

    “It is not the act of sex itself which is sinful, but the act of
    unfaithfulness.” Did you mean to say this to illustrate that the true purpose of sex does not involve the unfaithfulness? I guess the wording was confusing to me. Either way, it made me think of the next verses from the Beattitudes.

    Matthew 5:27-30 makes it pretty clear what is acceptable and what isn’t.
    “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
    But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
    And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
    And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”

    When I read that sentence I quoted from you, I was confused like you were saying that unfaithfulness is different than sin. I thought those were synonyms. To sin means to be unfaithful to God by disobeying him. So there comes a point where if I compare your quote that I’m questioning to this definition, the only question that is left is, “Is sex a sin?” (Beginning of my biblical rant!)
    It is clear that God outlines the true purposes and blessings of sex: to be a physical fulfillment in a spiritual contract that takes place between a man, a woman, and God. As far as the sin of misusing sex, it is clear in Exodus 20:14 in the ten commandments, “Thou shalt not commit adultery. Although most know the definition of adultery, it does make an accurate defining reference in Ezekiel 16:32. “But as a wife that committeth adultery, which taketh strangers instead of her husband!” So we’ve gone back to laymen’s terms with this, but this is important because in Matthew 5:27-30, Jesus himself is saying that by lusting we are committing adultery inside our hearts. A two-for-one sin! But something that’s interesting to highlight itself is the phrase, “That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her…”
    THAT’S IMPORTANT! He doesn’t say, “Whomever looks on someone’s WIFE to lust after her…” So it’s extended to involve any woman you lust over as a sin of the heart! Does that include characters in a video game? That’s hard to say; they aren’t actual women, but is it still a sin of the heart? Either way it’s important to understand that just because we can’t confirm if it’s adultery (concerning animated sexuality) or not, it doesn’t change the fact that lust is still a sin that wedges between us and God (whether we lust over real people or anime).

    Another important idea to gain from, “That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her,” is that looking on women and people in general is obvious. (It’s not like I can automatically choose to blot all women out so I will never see them again.) It outlines the difference between looking in general and looking in lust. This reminds me of what you were saying concerning Romans chapter 14 when Paul talks about respect of a brother’s conscience. For example, when you mentioned how appalled you felt when you played Bayonetta. At that moment, you were so surprised and taken off guard (possibly taken in by sexual devices in your mind that you had to fight against). When you thought about the game later and if you truly “desensitized” yourself against it, you chose not to make the game an object of sexual desire to lust after. Did you sin by doing that? Probably not. There are people who are surrounded by nudity every day from their jobs (like in a hospital or massage pallor) or when people on social media show “selfies” of their bodies, and people don’t search that stuff out nor are they taken in to lust over that stuff yet subjected to it anyway….and then there are others who lust over the simplest things like sexting.

    There are specific guidelines that Jesus gave right in verses 29 and 30 that tell us what we should do with things that cause us to sin. I don’t think I recall any stories of anyone actually popping out their own eyes or cutting off their hands in order to stop themselves from sinning, but that’s a pretty big RED LIGHT that we should be doing everything else just as dramatic and extreme within our power to make sure that we cut everything else off in our lives that causes us to sin. God doesn’t want to share us with sin, lust, our addictions to porn, alcohol, or addictions to candy crush saga (although I’m sure you’d have to stretch really far to sin using CCS). If it causes us to sin, he wants us to push it away and ask him for strength to withstand temptations to sin in those manners. That metaphor (if you decide not to take gouging eyes and cutting off hands seriously) can be applied to everything else in our lives that causes us to sin as well. I think that each person will be different on this and will have to subject themselves to reformation and lots of prayer to ask God what exactly they need to get rid of. If we read 1 Thessalonians 5:22, “Abstain from all forms of evil,” then it’s obvious how God wants us to conduct our lives, searching for him and abandoning evil. You have to find out if Bayonetta is more than just a game to you, and I have to find out if my Halo saga is more than just hand-eye coordinated target practice.

    • wongyann

      Hi Stephen,

      I am agreeable with everything you said. I am unsure about where exactly you disagree with me. I must have written my article poorly & ambiguously and I apologize for that.

      If you have sex with your wife, it is not sinful. Hence I believe, quite obviously, it is not the act of sex which is sinful, but unfaithful sex (in whatsoever form). You make the broader theological point that ALL sin is unfaithfulness (which I don’t disagree), but that isn’t what the paragraph was intended to discuss.

      As regards with the seriousness of lust – again I don’t disagree. I just didn’t feel that there was a need to elaborate too much here, since Eric Anderson already did it in his article (and I linked to it).

      Thanks for your comments!

      • Stephen Lefebvre

        Sorry, yes I misunderstood some wordings. I realize that now. In the end, it became just a discussion of some things I found interesting…I haven’t read all of the Sex Week blog posts, so I really didn’t derive my thoughts from those either. I stand by my statement that it became quite a rant in general…more like a mini epiphany of sorts that i was using not only to validate what you were saying in agreement but expand upon it. I would say that it’s sometimes more beneficial to those who read these posts to also read an opinion or well placed fact that makes connections to something. I don’t want to make them lazy, but sometimes people just might not make the connections even if they read all the posts. But I think I’m gonna go through the other posts I haven’t read yet too so that I’m not lost either! 😛 Thanks!

        • Stephen Lefebvre

          Also Yann, I would tend to disagree with what you said just now that if one were to have sex with his wife that it wouldn’t be considered sin. YES, the sex itself (as you’ve laid out) isn’t the sin, it’s what is resulting from it or through it. In this case, you seem to feel that if it’s in marriage, there’s no way it’s a sin, is that right? I mentioned something like this question on David Prysock’s post in “Destroying What We Love.”

          Let me ask you, if I were to put a mask on in my house and terrified my wife by sexually assaulting her, would that still be considered condonable since we’re married? Even if she knew it was me without a mask and I degraded her and physically forced her to have sex, do you feel that there’s no sin at all there? I would feel that even though the structures of the marriage can be argued to have not been compromised as far as a marriage-sin, the objectification of sex even in marriage can be considered sinful. I know this first hand because for the longest time since I was young, I’ve lived a life of objectifying sex. It’s was in the way of my relationship with God and in the way of my eventual marriage, even to a point where I was addicted to having sex with my wife. I loved her, but I couldn’t separate my addiction from what I thought was love. I’ve learned a lot of lessons at the cost of a very broken marriage. So I don’t take this subject lightly anymore. It’s important that I spread how imperative it is not to tread lightly on it or else besides for my own benefit, nobody else could gain from that experience. This subject is kinda like what Zachery just detailed in the latest post “Media Pornography and True Sexuality.”

          • wongyann

            Certainly you are correct and I can be more clear and careful in my writing and comments. I will strive harder to do so next time.

            Also, thank you for your sharing, and I pray that God will be using your struggles to show you and people around you the greater glory of Christ.

          • Stephen Lefebvre

            Most Def. I just read a Disqus blog called “The American Jesus” that had an article called “How NOT to comment on a Christian blog.” It made me wonder if I’ve been over-zealous in my comments to you. I just want to let you know that I respect your posts among others in the blog group, and when I add opinions, it’s simply that. I’m not out to prove people wrong in spite or wrongfully criticize. Ya know?