Is 'Adults Only' descriptive enough for adult games?
Mild sexual content is pulled from digital shelves in Naughty List News #75
This week’s edition of Naughty List News was sponsored by Paradise Lust, the erotic dating sim about a stranded pleasure yacht full of beauty pageant contestants looking for a way home.
The game Duel Princess was recently delisted from sale on the Nintendo Switch console and the Steam marketplace. Although no official reason was given by its publisher Qureate, there was some speculation that this removal was over the game’s sexual content.
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But the actual sexual content in the game is incredibly mild. At most, players get to see a partially undressed princess in a mildly suggestive pose. Is that really enough to warrant Duel Princess being pulled from digital shelves? And what does that say about the categories we use for rating games?
What is actually in the game?
Having played and enjoyed Duel Princess myself, I can personally attest to the mildness of its sexual content. The game is a rogue-like card collecting tower defense game. You play as one of the princesses in their quest to “unite” the world against a common evil. As the princess, you defeat three of the other princesses in tower defense combat and then “punish” them to extract their magic crest.
This punishment occurs via a massage minigame, where you apply various items to the different parts of your opponent’s body. It is essentially a puzzle where you have to figure out how to use each item for the most impact. But even though you raise a love bar of sorts, the princess does not writhe in pleasure, nor does she climax when you fill the bar. She also remains in the same state of semi-undress throughout; at most, you get to see her royal undergarments.
The only other reference in the gameplay that could be construed as sexual is that some of your opponent’s clothes fall off when you defeat them in combat. But again, this merely strips them down to their underwear.
So if it’s true that multiple stores delisted Duel Princess because of its “sexual content,” isn’t it strange how that puts the game in the same category as Wild Life, Custom Order Maid 3D 2, and the infamous RapeLay?
The start of game ratings
When we tell the story about how the games industry got its act together regarding violent and sexual content, we often talk about one game in particular. Mortal Kombat was first released in the arcades in 1992 and was highly controversial for its graphic violence featuring realistic graphics. When the game was subsequently released for home consoles, concerned members of the American public reached out to their representatives, resulting in the infamous 1993 United States Senate hearings on video games.
Senators really put the feet of video game publisher executives to the fire. The message from legislators was clear: if the games industry didn’t start regulating itself, the United States Congress would do it for them. Luckily, the games industry developed a satisfactory solution in time. By late 1994, several of the largest publishers had formed an independent body to establish a rating system called the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). This board still applies ratings to games sold in the American market today, but other territories often have their own rating systems.
But there was actually another game discussed at this Senate hearing that was equally controversial. Night Trap was a game for Sega CD that tasked the player to observe teenage girls during a sleepover in a house occupied by vampires. The game was a point-and-click adventure interspersed with full-motion video cutscenes. But what got everybody’s heckles up was a game-over state where one of the girls, dressed in a nightgown, is captured by the vampires to get her blood drained. Even though no actual violence occurred on-screen, Senator Lieberman claimed the game promoted violence against women.
I think this shows that even at the inception of the age rating system for games, the mere hint of sexual content was treated by legislators to be at the same level as the most egregious violent content.
Sex is just different
When you look at the current Rating Guides from the ESRB, they list five categories of violence in video games:
Violent References - References to violent acts
Cartoon Violence - Violent actions involving cartoon-like situations and characters. May include violence where a character is unharmed after the action has been inflicted
Fantasy Violence - Violent actions of a fantasy nature, involving human or non-human characters in situations easily distinguishable from real life
Violence - Scenes involving aggressive conflict. May contain bloodless dismemberment
Intense Violence - Graphic and realistic-looking depictions of physical conflict. May involve extreme and/or realistic blood, gore, weapons, and depictions of human injury and death
And there have five categories of sexuality:
Suggestive Themes - Mild provocative references or materials
Sexual Themes - References to sex or sexuality
Sexual Content - Non-explicit depictions of sexual behavior, possibly including partial nudity
Strong Sexual Content - Explicit and/or frequent depictions of sexual behavior, possibly including nudity
Sexual Violence - Depictions of rape or other violent sexual acts
These categories are intended to be broadly applicable to a wide variety of games, but I think this shows a stark difference in how these subject matters are treated. For example, while the guidelines make a distinction between “Cartoon” and “Fantasy” violence, games could be categorized as having “Strong” sexual content if they merely show full nudity.
This type of categorization is ultimately doing a disservice to the medium of adult games. These games can cover a wide array of the human experience, from romance games to gender explorations to straight-up avatars having graphic sex in a sandbox environment.
So why should all those different experiences be lumped together under a single label, called “Adults Only”?
I can see how Duel Princess qualifies for Sexual Content under the ESRB guidelines. But does that justify the game being pulled from multiple stores, allegedly over said adult content? And even if it were to return with the rating upgraded to “Adults Only,” would that not set the wrong expectations and leave buyers disappointed about the lack of sex in the game?
These non-descript qualifiers ultimately hold back the adult games industry. But, just like with games about violence, it should be possible to tell at a glance what kind of sexual content is featured in a game. Does the game merely suggest sexual interaction? Or is this an exploration of the sweatier parts of the human experience? And can I avoid engaging in heterosexual romance in this game, or am I forced to play as an ambiguously bisexual protagonist? These are all reasonable questions to ask about an adult video game experience. And I think they could be answered with a standardized rating system for adult games, at least in part.
Unfortunately, the adult games industry has lately been too preoccupied with other issues. Who has time to worry about more detailed ratings for adult games when lobbying groups would prefer the whole adult genre of entertainment to just disappear? I fear that we’re so busy defending this medium from anti-porn attacks that we forget to improve the experience of selecting a game that fits the needs and wants of our intended audience.
I sincerely hope that when it comes to adult content, we can move beyond slapping an “Adults Only” label on a game and calling it a day. Until then, I will keep writing about the breadth of experiences the medium of adult video games has to offer.
Writing Wrap-Up 📖
The gods play a perverse battle royale with humans in Champion of Venus. Will your sponsor’s boon be enough to save your skin?
PirouVR allows couples to act out their fantasies in VR. But only if they can get the cable management for their dual VR set up under control…
Woodhull challenges the constitutionality of FOSTA-SESTA in court. The U.S. law was signed four years ago and has endangered the safety of sex workers on the Internet and caused widespread censorship of sex-related speech.
The European Parliament is not moving forward with a controversial phone registration for adult content creators. The European Sex Workers Alliance was worried this requirement would endanger the right to privacy of their members.
Cheeky chuckle 🤭
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