Come to think of it, this post is going to cover the same ground as something I did years ago, when I was just a little baby blogger. Just, saying it now in a different way. So consider this the HD Remix of one of my most popular for probably the wrong reasons seminal posts of why and in what situations sexiness can be good.
Sexuality is awesome, isn’t it? It grabs people at a very instinctual, emotional level, it brings people together, and makes us feel whole. It makes us healthier physically and mentally, it gives us drive and energy, and it feels so innate to us that most consider it a significant part of our identity and our society has adopted a rather complex set of cultural practices surrounding sexuality. It likely comes as no surprise, coming from the world’s sexiest man as determined by a survey of myself and my mirror, but to me, sexuality is a marvelous thing to be celebrating.
Media producers often work sexuality or titillation into the works they’re producing. This is not a new phenomenon, it’s been going on for hundreds of years. Just think back to all those classical paintings you spent way too long staring at back in middle school. And it’s no wonder why. We’ve got an instinctual draw for it, and it’ll capture or attention in a way that little else will. And it works on an instinctual level, just like we react to the simulated intensity of danger or the fear of horror, so too do we get a thrill from sexiness when it’s coming through our screens, canvas, or pages. And in contrast to what many may say, I’d posit that that’s a good thing that we can get that hook in us when we wish.
Which makes me wonder why so many creators get it so wrong.
Recently I was playing Oneechanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers, which is part of a strange and eclectic collection I call “Games I own because of the women I’ve dated”. Which also includes the first three games of the Hitman series, Onimusha, Final Fantasy VII Dirge of Cerberus, Dynasty Warriors III, the entire Fable series, Syberia II, the Wii version of Oregon Trail, and the absolute bane of my existence, Fur Fighters. I’m coming to realize that my ladyfriends have some really mixed tastes. Not sure what that says about me. Anyways, in this case, as you can probably tell by the title, this is a total fanservice game. It exists to put scantily clad women in front of you. And yet I found the sexuality there really wasn’t working for me. It’s kind of a middling game without it, yet the sexiness, I found, actually dragged the experience down. I was wondering about that. I’ve played a lot of other games where I enjoyed the sexuality there or felt it actually uplifted the experience. And it got me thinking back to what made the difference there.
And that got me thinking back to that post I mentioned above. And, you know, almost six years later, I still stand by that post. I occasionally look back over my old writings and find something I may not agree perfectly with now, but that one, that still holds up completely. But the thought still remains in my mind, of the differences between the works that do their sexuality right and those that don’t. And I’d like to explore that here, today. I’m not going to walk in my own footprints and re-make those same statements I did years ago, so check that post if you’d like some background on this whole deal. But I would like to delve into that concept again. This time, let’s take a look at how it works specifically, comparing and contrasting a few examples.
With Oneechanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers, you know what you’re getting. It’s right there in the title. You get young women in various types of revealing clothes slaughtering hordes of zombies. Where’s the problem with that? For me, I was feeling a pretty strong dissonance between the game’s visually sexual content and the fact that it played its plot and setting, such as it was, way too straight. Outside of the design of the main characters, it had absolutely no levity to it. It’s all grim, dark, grindhouse-inspired plot dealing with conspiracies and and curses and everything always getting worse forever. Hell, one of the game’s leads goes on and on between levels about how tortured she is, how her blood has locked her into a never ending conflict and she’s always on the verge of losing control and she has to watch as the only person she loves is dragged unwillingly into this as well. Which is all well and good. Except she’s dressed like this.
Which is not to say that sexy people don’t go through some trauma. Trust me, I know this very well. But a character’s visual design communicates things about them. And there is absolutely nothing about that character that communicates that she is deeply unhappy and feels torn apart by the strange turns her life has taken her on, at her core. And yet the visual design, the overt cheesecake there, is completely unsupported by the rest of the game. The lead characters almost seem like they were transplanted to this game from a completely different project. It’s trying to have it two ways, and not really getting either out of it. The game’s world or plot does not exude any sense of happiness or fun at any moment, with which we can properly get into the feel for fanservice times. At the same time, the sexy character designs end up distracting and detracting from the gritty story of personal torment that it’s trying to tell. I mean, not that it tries very hard. But still, the parts of the game don’t match up. Not saying you can’t have a a dark story alongside sexy characters, but there has to be some kind of connecting thread in between them, else the parts will fight against each other.
Let’s take a look at the flip side of that coin. Bayonetta. The game is absolutely in-your-face sexual. Your lead playable character is also ludicrously dressed. And, just like in Onechanbara, you’re mostly fighting freakish monsters that wouldn’t be out of place in horror games. And yet it Bayonetta makes it work. So what’s the difference there? Well, one is that Bayonetta’s gameworld is one in which this sexuality fits. It’s a place that can have its serious moments, but it’s otherwise just full of fun. Sexuality needs levity to hit home, and Bayonetta allows for that in spades. And even as ludicrous as its sexuality is, it goes to the extremes in other areas as well, so the degrees don’t feel out of place either. Bayonetta’s character also perfectly embodies her visual design. She absolutely revels in her sexuality, she takes very little seriously, and she’s constantly pushing things to the extremes while being absolutely casual about it. And she doesn’t do so as a show, either, that just seems to be who she’s most comfortable being. And it really helps that it seems to have a place within the game world, too. Outside of the other otherworldly beings that were also part of Bayonetta’s culture, all the normies absolutely don’t seem to know what to make of her. She’s just as bizarre to them as she would be if she showed up in our world.
So let’s talk the Witcher. Which has an interesting take on this, going farther with its sexuality than most games would. Geralt, much as he does in the original novels, has a lot of sex. When you court a partner, you go for the classic fade to black cutaway just as things are getting steamy, only for that to be interrupted with a rather intricately painted picture of what they look like naked. You following along so far? Good. Now, I’m not going to say that you can’t make something like this work out. But the Witcher doesn’t do it that smoothly. For one, in contrast to the cold, reserved, confident individual he is the rest of the game, Geralt’s dialogue and delivery often turn him into a bit of a bumbling dweeb when he’s trying to intimate himself with someone. So the out-of-characterness is a bit off putting already. But there’s typically very little development or build up for it, and the stark transitions between normal gameplay to weird romance characterization to completely different art-style romance card makes it feel a bit immersion breaking. It doesn’t help that the reward I was looking for there was a bit different than Geralt’s goals, moreover separating myself from the character. In a lot of ways, the sex scenes there feel really tacked on, a last minute addition made by a different party to what was already a full adventure story with everything you’d expect. On top of that, while I have often wondered what a certain character looks like naked and may be convinced to push for more games following suit, not everyone wants to be confronted with full nudity in a game that’s known and designed for so much else, where you’re not really given to expect it until it’s already in front of you. It could be rightfully off-putting to plenty of parties that would love everything else from the game.
On the other side of that, let’s take a look at Katawa Shojo. Using this picture because it’s one of the few SF-This Site pictures I can find that vaguely gets the point across. It’s an H-Game, so you know what you’re getting into with it already, although you can just turn the porn off if that’s where your sensitivities lead you. But the sex scenes there flow a lot better. They come with a long build up and work themselves strongly into the plot, wherein the sex scenes typically include events and activities that actively move it forward. Given that they do fit the design of the rest of the game, they keep the immersion really intact, and they have a lot of impact on later events. Katawa Shojo has a really heavy plot, and it’s one that wouldn’t be the same without this type of character interaction taking place.
Then there’s Mortal Kombat. Which has its sexual appeal spewed haphazardly all over the place. Most of the women are of modelesque proportions and scantily clad. Half the men weigh 230 pounds with 9% body fat and come from cultures where shirts were never invented. And frankly, it gets stale. Because they all look the same, body-shape wise. It’s at the point where the fully dressed characters are far more visually interesting, because there’s no variety there to keep things fresh and the sexy character just stop at that point. “Make them sexy” was the entirety of their design concept, and it just stops there. Given how few of the women were given anything beyond that, it really makes it difficult for them to stand out.
Let’s compare that with Guilty Gear’s cast of characters. That series has some incredibly far out there designs. A lot of them are very oversexed. But they’ve all got more going on then just “show some skin”. And the design of the thinly dressed characters takes as many features and flairs on as those that are completely covered, enabling them to stand par with everyone else. Showing skin is a part of the design, not all of it. It helps that they keep the genders on a rough par as far as how exposed they make them, too. You got I-no and her barely there shirt on the women’s side, you got Testament wearing a skirt and not much else for the men. You have bad-ass big-titted Baiken crushing your foes for you, you get Zato-1 fighting with his painted on clothes. And you get a lot of variety too, which helps keep all of it fresh. You have characters more classically dressed. You have characters looking absolutely crazy. And everything in between. Point is, the sexuality of this game is drawn into its art style, and makes part of a complete whole. It sells the whole experience a lot better, and works in service to the characters much more.
There. I don’t have a cool way to close this out, but that’s my piece, I’ve said it, so let’s all get to enjoying the good sexy in our games and other media. And let’s also take a moment to acknowledge all the folks who are going to mistakenly find this post in internet searches hoping for other things entirely. Thanks for sticking with it this far, friends.