When I first read the prompt, for some reason an idea along the lines of “because sex is a taboo in america, why should it be in online narrative games as opposed to anywhere else?” I don’t know how long this thought lasted…but it couldn’t have been more than perhaps a tenth of a second. There is sex everywhere. From most Grey’s Anatomy episodes on ABC to real brothel footage on HBO, from fanfiction smut to “romance” novels, advertisements, porn sites, and, yes, even many homes all around us(it’s in our houses?!), it’s everywhere. For fun, for profit, for whatever. We love it, and it sells. So why not in MMO’s? Scantily clad humans are no stranger to video games, and some even have cuts scenes or plots that imply such activity…so why not MMOs?
I would say this involves two key reasons:
The first, is fairly simple. I believe it has to do with the fantasy/sci-fi setting of many of these games. Most of the out-in-the-public sex follows fairly strict guidelines (i.e. disregarding stuff such as specialized porn sites and smut). I can’t really think of the last time I saw a homosexual advertisement, or even an interracial one. I’m sure they exist, but they are certainly the exception rather than rule. For all the effort companies put into having a diverse crowd (you know those posters, a little asian girl pushing a black boy in a wheel chair who is catching a football thrown by a white guy, and they all have huge smiles on their faces) it seems there is quite a lack of that in the more risque’ advertising. You have to admit we’re getting better, better all the time about such things, but while they’re becoming more common they are certainly far from common. And with MMOs, even these would be the least of the game-designers problems. I think most people are okay with the whole Aragorn/Arwyn (elves are just sexy people with pointy ears right?), but imagine Tauren on Elf action, or mon-calamari getting down with the twi-leks. I think a lot of people would be okay with such things, but I’m certain it’d cause an uproar somewhere, and I’m sure that the companies involved with the game would lose some, if not a good deal of, profit.
But let’s say for a second, that it’s universally accepted that these things are okay (or perhaps the game designers go for a work around to try to ameliorate the issue such as species can only bone those of the same species) and a company wouldn’t lose profits for that sepcifically. Assuming this, I believe the interactivity of MMOs would truly cause problems. Almost all other interactions with sex in our society have a sort of one sided control. The media center shows can strategically place that leaf or that sheet. Models are either scantily clad or crossing their arms or something. Even with porn or smut, you can always pause or close your media, and usually one knows what they’re getting themselves into (perhaps less so with sketchy internet sites these days, especially shock sites). MMOs bringing sex into their midst would something we haven’t really encountered before.
A programmer quoted in the Taylor article said that the more people that are involved in something, the less the designing company has control. Giving tools for sex would open up the ability to use sex in game in a way that the game designer’s had never intended. And even the basic designing could be a nightmare. Would it be purely a baby making mechanism (let’s not even think about the abortion issue), or should it be opened up to role-playing? Would rape be allowed? How about masturbation (and should it be an alone thing or could groups do it together?)? Should hobbits be able to bump uglies on farmer maggot’s fields, only in the privacy of their own homes (new edition to the home utility perhaps?), or should there be special POP (player on player) areas? Should it affect gameplay in any way, with stats and items playing a role, or should it be more separate and aside activity in the game? With each area, a thousand new possibilities for abuse comes up. There would possibly be problems with people bringing inappropriate or unwanted material into sessions. Would this cause POP areas would have to be segregated by preference, yet to no avail?
Sex would either be a runaway bandwagon of new decisions involving sex itself as well as marriage or parenthood, or only a small little petty thing that really didn’t add anything to the game. And either way, some organization would have a field day with it…more likely than not harming the profits of the game company.
Complex algorithms and more server space for less money? It’s no surprise to me that sex isn’t in online narrative games.