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).