Sex vs. Violence in Video Games

Tonight at Midnight PST, Replay Games is releasing a modern remake of the first Leisure Suit Larry game. It is also the first high profile game project funded on Kickstarter to actually ship.

Historically, the Leisure Suit Larry series is somewhat interesting. Back in the 80s, Sierra Online were mainly known for their family friendly King’s Quest series of games. Despite that, they decided to take a risk and developed a sexual comedy game aimed at adults.

It sold poorly at first. The first month’s sales were abysmal. But every month after that the sales doubled, eventually becoming a great selling title. It also became known for its high piracy rate: they sold more hintbooks for Leisure Suit Larry than copies of the game.

Sierra went on to make 6 sequels, the last one was released in 1996. To date, it is the only high profile game series that focused on sex as a primary objective.

Many of the best selling games these days could be classified as glorified murder simulators. Many are simulations of war where surviving gun fire and killing hundreds of enemies make up the core gameplay.

I’m not about to suggest that the Leisure Suit Larry games are paragons of game design. By today’s standards they can be quite frustrating and tedious. But it is interesting that the industry is so against games that are sexual in nature, yet proudly parades around so many violent titles.

Violence is generally considered a bad thing in society, and sex is something that most people will enjoy and is quite necessary for the human race to continue. Here’s my question: is the video game industry focusing on the wrong kind of content? Should we see more games where sex is the focus instead of violence?


Maybe I’m just jaded, but I want more games that result in less human beings on this planet.

There’s also plenty of prior history on animals that fight mock conflicts as part of mating rituals and as a way to sublimate actual violence that would result in killing their own kind.

I also think war and gaming historically have a lot in common, e.g. “wargaming”.

The first of the military games is thought to have been Wei-Hai (“encirclement”), a Chinese game which is usually now called Go. A later, similar game was the Indian Chaturanga, the system from which chess in its various forms came about. Chess itself gave birth to at least one game which more formally depicted armed combat.

I would argue even at their most “violent”, first person shooter wargames are still quite abstract. If you want to play a game that does an interesting job of showing the consequences of violence as part of the gameplay, in a rather subversive Banksy kind of way, you should check out Spec Ops: The Line.

But don’t take my word for it, most gamers worship this Yahtzee fellow’s opinions on the matter… here’s his review of Spec Ops.

Yes. Play this game. It is the Watchmen of First Person Shooters, and is full of wonderfully uncomfortable moments that make it much more intriguing than most offerings in the genre.

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I suspect that, this is just very similar to the trends in other big American media. That is, we tend to villify sex and promote violence, at least, from some corners of pop culture.

I mean, ideally, we could have games where both relationships and violence serve something else, like story - However, games have to be ‘fun’, and that usually means that either the story has to be engrossing, or actions we take have to stimulate some very human feedback mechanism. Violence is just one of the laziest and most straight forward ways to make us feel like we have Agency in a game to take actions and get results. In a game about getting laid, that can be more complicated, but can also be handled lazily by a developer.

It so happens that, in addition to being more socially acceptable in American discourse, knocking down people by clicking on them is a relatively easy thing to program, whether it is the core mechanic or just a means to an end in your game.

Actually, I just had a thought - Are dating sims and the romance tracks in Roleplaying games ‘games about sex’? In hindsight, the dating sim genre is actually pretty massive, if not mainstream in the US.

Interesting. Is there any way to measure it? Data?

It’s not just the presence of sex that makes games like “Leisure Suit Larry” controversial, it’s the way they objectify women. It’s not like the goal of the game is to foster a healthy relationship built on mutual respect.


I’m suddenly reminded of Hatoful Boyfriend, a game in which you play a human girl who goes to a high school and you have to find a boyfriend. Oh, and all the boys are pigeons. So, does that mean that this game features neither sex nor violence (nor sense)?

I’m all for encouraging experimentation in gameplay, but… wtf?

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Perhaps I should have said ‘Big in Japan’.

Visual novels are a superset of dating sims, and in japan “Visual novels and ADVs are especially prevalent in Japan, where they made up nearly 70% of the PC game titles released in 2006.” or so Wikipedia tells me.

However, the inclusion of romantic subplots in Dragon Age and Mass Effect, big shiny Triple-A Us titles, might say something to there being demand for this kind of experience.

Still, much like violent games, I suspect there is a sort of ‘lazy’ inclusion where there is some bad dialogue between you and your whoopie. Interestingly, I’d call ‘talking to girls for the sake of talking to girls’ less lazy game design than ‘talk to girls to get laid’ but compare and contrast with ‘shooting bad guys for the sake of shooting bad guys’ being lazier than ‘shooting bad guys because of reason X to get to objective Y’.

Obviously, the answer is to get Pick-Up-Artists who want to treat women or men like robots who only need the right buttons pushed, to play these games instead of going out to bars!

But seriously, LSL is a kind of juvenile example of what we should, IMO, want from this kind of genre.

For example, I’d play a game where the date-able NPC’s are all much more competent, fleshed out characters than you and the difficulty is in actually trying to keep up with their adventures and accomplishments so they might notice you - But that’s not exactly a game about sex, or is it?

Also, while a step in the right direction, I think my example still doesn’t automatically, but could potentially, hit that healthy relationship, mutual respect note.

Very good point. The women in the game are objectives to obtain. You can’t objectify much more than that.

I am interested in games that explore more human activity than just killing; sex is one aspect of that. I think it could be done in a healthy and respectful way.


Games that result in less human beings on this planet.

There are better ways to do this than extermination. Gene Roddenberry and his brethren figured out some wonderful options for us to explore which don’t have to result in the reduction of our population.

Some of us just need to/want to get the hell off this rock.

And, somewhat on the same topic I’d just like to drop this off and say I want to play this before I get off this rock.

I’m hoping they keep the option to play 1st or 3rd person like the previous Battlefront’s (all FPS’s should offer this option). As for the sexual side of this thread, I’m down for acquiring some off-earth booty.




I’m okay with this.

Make it so.

(Yes, my words and linked photos are melding ST and SW… it’s okay, I promise.)

He’s the spiritual successor to Old Man Murray, but he is no Old Man Murray.

Eh, Yhatzee’s cranky shtick wore thin fairly quickly. There’s a point where being mad about everything is just uninteresting if not un-funny. See Angry Video Game Nerd.

As for sex in games, I don’t think it’s the anti-violence that some may be looking for.


It’s perhaps a bit perverse, but it’d be rather awkward to sit around in the living room playing sex and/or dating games (no matter how tame) if anyone else is around - whereas nobody would blink an eye at even the most violent FPS. But while obviously that isn’t a huge deterrent, it is going to deter big-money developers from pushing things too far (the hot coffee Grand Theft Auto thing ensuring it’ll be difficult to get sex past the holders of the purse strings for quite some time).

That said, there’s already lots out there, as has been mentioned. I’ve played English-translated Japanese dating sims (some time ago) - they’re surprisingly engaging, but work mainly because they are able to exploit the emotions of lonely nerds with precision accuracy. The actual gameplay is very simple and not engaging in itself, you’re basically playing a choose-your-own-adventure novel.

I’ve also played the two Dead or Alive Extreme Beach Volleyball games, which are basically thinly-veiled lesbian dating sims with some additional context (the volleyball part). And I’ve played the Fallout games, where romance can be used in every imaginable way if you level up your character the right way. In Fallout, when you’re taking a sidetrack where romancing an NPC is involved it can be just as engaging as any other thing in the game - and more rewarding, as well, in some cases.

And yes, I’ve played Leisure Suit Larry, and the Grand Theft Auto games.

So I’d say sex and romance are really rather broadly explored in games already, and that games where it’s the main point are an area ripe for the picking if any developers are willing to take the chance. Building on what’s been tried already would not be difficult, though making it really work won’t be a cakewalk certainly.

To play it safe a game doesn’t just have to be about sex or whatever, it can be a “normal” game with normal game conflicts… but for example, you could choose to advance through the game by sleeping your way to the top instead of shooting your way to the top (those are choices you already can make in Fallout, but to a relatively limited extent). There are already games that can be played with nonviolence as a goal (Mirror’s Edge will give you xbox/playstation achievements for completing the game without killing any enemies, for example), and conflicts of all types can be just as (or more) engaging as basic violence, as movies and literature show.

As capabilities advance, more and more of the things that we’re able to do in real life instead of basic violence to solve problems will become available in games. It’s likely that these games will be heavily story-based, many basically being interactive movies, but I’m sure we’ll see a lot more in RPG games like Fallout, which can be a lot more open-ended.

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On the upside it taught a generation of 10 year old nerds to spell “prophylactic”.

Totally agree with you btw.

You know … the trouble with introducing sex/dating into games is the slippery slope that is

The whole point of Leisure Suit Larry was that you couldn’t objectify women in order to sleep with them. No amount of sneaking around, moves, shallow comments, etc. would let you sleep with women in the games. The fact that the main character is portrayed as a complete loser because he objectifies women underscores that point.

If I remember correctly, it wasn’t until the main character stopped objectifying women that you got anywhere (and mostly that wasn’t sex).

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Why has no one mentioned the european vs. american views on sexuality and violence? Seems like the perfect place to point out how violent media is commonplace here, an sexual media is normalized over there. Then again, that’s a terribly vague generalization that is based on my experience of both cultures in the 80s.

I think the attitudes towards sex as a game or game mechanic aren’t all that different between America and Europe. There’s a certain juvenile creepiness about the idea of having to score to score.

The reason Leisure Suit Larry worked so well is because it skewered the kinds of sex games you’d see advertised in the back of PC Magazine. Playing as Larry put you in the shoes of the kind of guy who wouldn’t think twice about buying one of those games. In the end it offered mild titillation instead of overt pornography.

The thing is that sex isn’t what we should be looking for in games, at least not as an alternative to or antidote for violence. Rather than explicitly sex, we should be looking for explorations of relationships and feelings.