How Japanese Developers Approach Sex in Video Games


Nick gets down and dirty with the Japanese approach to graphic sex in video games.

So last week I dared to ask the question of whether we need mindless violence to make video games great. For some reason, we are really attached to violence as a form of entertainment and we are not shy about expressing it. There’s another half to the entertainment equation of sex + violence, but we hate to talk about that. Well I’m talking about it, so put the kiddies to bed.

And let me warn you, gentle reader, that this is not going to be a discussion about skimpy clothing or PG-13 cutscenes or simple nudity or anything that makes its way into mainstream gaming in any meaningful way on a regular basis. I’m not talking about just sex in games. I’m talking about games about sex. Like, sex being the point of the game. To get to the bottom of this, I took a journey through the gaming underground and came back with some (hopefully) interesting observations about them.

Out of sex and violence, I find it interesting that while woo-hoo is an infinitely more desirable outcome in real life, it’s an extreme taboo when it comes to virtualizing it. If we derive pleasure from massacring hundreds of bystanders and the police officers who attempt to defend them in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, it’s cool because it’s only a game. But when a mod allowed you to unlock a silly little fully-clothed simulation in the same game, the media lost their fucking minds. What do you think this says about our culture?

There are games that exist to scratch that itch for virtual sexual contact that we clearly have beyond the tiny portions that the current rating system typically allows to be sold in stores or made for consoles. You have to go looking for them to find them, but they are there. So I went looking. I found distinct differences between the Japanese and Western variants so I’m splitting this virtual sexpose’ into two weekly articles; one for each hemisphere.

Japan has a massive industry for bishojo or “gal games”, a lot of which feature pornographic content. Let’s start there. Gal games are low-budget visual novels in which you attempt to romance, seduce, and have sex with any (or all) of a cast of attractive female characters.come see me tonight 2

Gal games factor into anime plots fairly often so I assumed that they are a significant entity in Japanese pop culture. I elected to give this genre a try some years ago to satisfy my curiosity since there is no Western equivalent. This represented the first and last time I spent money on such a thing. I scored a translated version of Come See Me Tonight 2 off of Ebay after seeing a trailer for it on G4. I was pretty appalled, not because of the content, but at the sheer shallowness of that content.

99% of the game was reading text and after every ten minutes or so of text, the game offered you a choice from among the girls. You had to choose the same girl every time, though or you got a bad ending and no lovin’. I was quite annoyed to have to find this out by trial and error. So why even offer you the choice more than once?  Damned if I know. That was the extent of the “gameplay”.

So the entire game was reading, looking at a handful of static images, and making the same choice over and over until you progressed the relationship of choice enough to endure painfully written sex scenes and see some hentai images. This is what they do for cheap thrills over in Japan? Good god, man. Do they not have the internet over there?

My curiosity unpleasantly satisfied, I decided that this genre clearly did not hold the answers to how to effectively portray graphic sex in video games. Are gamers worldwide so hard up for a virtual portrayal of humankind’s favorite IRL pastime that Japan can build an industry out of this crap? There has got to be more to it.

kataea shuojo hanakoYears later, a free game hit the net made by a handful of Western anime enthusiasts who met on an anonymous message board. Their goal: to build a better gal game. Eventually, the game garnered itself a reputation on the internet community and I was forced to give it a go. It was free, after all.

The game was Katawa Shoujo, which means…..ummm….”crippled girls”. Yeah. That’s another reason I didn’t play it at first. The plot was that you play a guy with a bad heart who is sent to a school for physically disabled students. What I was picturing was horrible jokes about people with disabilities and freak show sex scenes, but after seeing repeated testimonials around the web praising the game for a year or so including some legitimately touching non-sexual tribute art, I started to believe they were not trolling.

In spite of its questionable concept, Katawa Shoujo turned out to be a respectful, well-written, and often genuinely romantic story with engaging characters, branching story choices that often subtly led the player towards his girl of choice with meaningful results, and multiple endings for each path. The creators even made a non-hardcore edit so that prudes could hop onboard and experience the feels that have made the game somewhat legendary in the online community. Okay, so maybe there’s something to be said about the possibilities that style of sex in video games presents after all, even if the sexual encounters in this case were pretty few and far between.

Gal games aren’t really a line I was ever looking to pursue. After all, they are more like visual novels than actual video games. I needed to get further to find a traditional video game that allows the gamer to really interact and not just make choices that unlock different scripts. Enter the distinctly non-sexily titled Artificial Academy.

Now this one I was pretty impressed with. I’d almost even pay money for it… Almost. The game has no story other than the one you create for yourself. It was somewhat modeled like an anime version of The Sims that takes place at a high school artificial academy hugand features seriously involved sex acts. Yeah, I know this would never fly in the States, but Japan’s cultural standards are different so bear with me.

While playing Artificial Academy I was immediately surprised by how good it actually was. In addition to a ton of customization options to make about any kind of anime boy or girl you can think of (or have seen, shippers) complete with over two dozen fully-voiced personality types (mostly female) and in-depth preferences to govern behavior, there’s a pretty impressive social simulation going on while you work your way to virtual sex god (or goddess) status.

It’s not approaching The Sims or anything in terms of complexity, but the students all go about forming relationships independent of your currently controlled character and you’re given a lot of possibilities to go about building your dream relationship(s). It’s pretty damn fun even before you get around to the boning, but once you get there the number of options is impressive.

Predictably, the game does not cater to everyone. While gay male characters are allowed to exist, they don’t get the full interactive sex minigames that male/female and female/female pairings do (although there is a mod, of course). Also, there are one-way options for the gentlemen’s pleasure, but I’m afraid the ladies get shafted (oh yeah, I just went there) in that department.  Damn it, Japan.

artificial academy sex While researching this article I found that Artificial Academy has an infamous sibling. Turns out ero-game developer Illusion also created Rapelay; the game where you get laid by rape. I’m sure at least some of you can forgive me for choosing not to touch that unspeakably horrifying concept with a ten foot pole. I mean differing cultural standards are one thing, but DEAR GOD, JAPAN, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU!? Ahem. Well, at least in AA it’s consensual or nothing as it ever should be.

So that concludes my dipping of toes into Japan’s approach to video game erotica and I’ve got to say there doesn’t seem to be too much to explore. Obviously, I didn’t delve very deeply and I didn’t bother with some relatively high profile games like Sexy Beach (another Illusion jam; is there a monopoly in this genre or what?) because I haven’t had time and it looks stupid to boot, but in the few games I did play I feel like I got the gist of what’s available to the English-speaking market.

What I found while looking into the Japanese sex game industry pretty much confirmed what I had already seen as a fan of their popular culture. While the majority was stereotypically male-based, there are options available for others, including otome games (where you play as a female character romancing males) and others specializing in yaoi (male-male) content, which is a significant scene among the ladies over there.

computer pervert

Tell me all of your pixels are for me, baby.Yeaahhh…

The only real headscratcher was that the games I found seem to be almost entirely anime-based. I had thought that Japanese men preferring 2D girls to real ones was a comedic stereotype, but either it’s not or the anime style is such a tradition in Japan’s gaming scene that nobody was willing to veer off-course for the sake of a more realistic interactive sex experience. Or if they are, the result perhaps hasn’t been localized.

Studies and polls indicate that Japanese lifestyles are moving further and further away from interpersonal sex and romance towards more stress-free fantasy alternatives. Whether this is because women are becoming more independent and their male counterparts are having a

hard time dealing with the loss of control or that the faster pace of modern life there no longer lends itself to involved interpersonal relationships I can’t tell from over here, but it’s an interesting phenomenon to say the least.

Considering the relative prevalence of sex-based games in Japan and their willingness to cater to atypical markets, I’d have to say that in some ways they seem to better off than Americans are. The main problem seems to be quality control. The bad ones are embarrassing, the good ones still need a lot of work, and Rapelay was a thing so the situation over there is the furthest thing from ideal.

Next week, I’m turning my attention to my home turf to break down what kind of interactive sex is made for the good old USA to compare and contrast with our Eastern gaming brethren. Until then: stay sexy!

About Nick Verboon

I am a guy on the internet who writes stuff sometimes. The stuff I write is here. Try and keep up. I used to write reviews Amazon and other sites under the moniker trashcanman before semi-retiring from my unpaid career for a while. But now I'm back in action writing columns for Unreality and Gamemoir. I'm using this blog as a place to collect my recent output for your convenience. Enjoy!

There are 4 comments

  1. Savannah Winter

    I figure sex is like golf or baseball. Fun to play (for some people), horrible to watch. Sex scenes are always the absolute most boring things to me, because they’re often used as a lazy substitute for good romantic writing. Now, not every relationship is romantic, and so I guess sex scenes could be used to characterize aromantic (but some form of sexual) relationships as well as casual sexual relationships, but I’d still find the sex boring because it’s just so booooooriiiiiiiiiing.

    This holds true for most media forms, by the way, and isn’t just a games thing for me. A cutaway for me isn’t a matter of “propriety” or prudishness or whatever. Just a matter of “you spent time and effort on this when we could have had something else?” Pacific Rim had zero sex scenes (though there was subtext and that was cute as hell) and all that time that could have been wasted on sex was spent having giant robots punch douchey monsters in the face. Underworld 2 had so much sex and nudity and all I wanted was to watch vampires and werewolves beat the crap out of each other and explore the neo-gothic setting with the consequences of an ancient war on the human population.

    Yes, the US has a sex problem, and the root cause needs to be addressed, but I don’t really think it should have much effect on video games. What Bioware does is fine, whatever (though no more transphobic crap), but I don’t feel like going much further in implementation is beneficial.

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    1. Nick Verboon

      BioWare has transphobic crap? Explain, please. Art imitates life and sex is pretty literally the most important thing in people’s lives (if in no other sense than it’s the reason we exist) so I find it interesting that it’s sort of off limits for video games specifically when it’s all over film, literature, and television. Due to the interactive aspect I’d think that video games at least have the potential to be less boring than watching two actors role around onscreen or reading phrases like “throbbing member”. It’s not necessary, of course, but then again neither is violence and we eat that shit up.

      But no, I really wasn’t jonesing for a sex scene in Pacific Rim either. I’m not saying cram sex in everywhere because that would be just terrible, but I think there are better and more interesting ways of portraying it than what we’re getting. Heavy Rain was sort of on the right track, I think, but not quite there.

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      1. Savannah Winter

        Dragon Age 2 Mark of the Assassin DLC, character Serendipity. Google if you want the deets, I’m not exactly keen on rehashing it.

        It’s just my opinion that sex is generally boring to portray. I love portrayals of romance, because there’s a lot that can be done with that.

        Of course, there can with sex, characterization and all, but in order to get that, we’d take it into erotic fiction territory and that’s something I don’t imagine would fly. Also wouldn’t be really thematic unless it was a purely romance/sex based game. I don’t necessarily mind these (though there is something, several somethings in fact, to be said about objectification and misogyny and so forth, so while okay in theory, practice may or may not (leading towards may) be problematic.

        Also, interactive sex in a game just sounds silly to me. Either it’s entering in commands (press A to spoon) or it’s Soul Calibur (press up, down, up, up, forward, back, a, x, b, x, back back back to do the thing). Or you could have a Mass Effect style “set the tone” kind of thing Shep does with her speeches, but all of these seem… eh to me.

        It should be noted I have almost no libido at all (apologies if that’s TMI), so I could be arguing from a position of bias.

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      2. Nick Verboon

        Well, you could argue that this entire article idea is TMI so no worries there. Heavy Rain had that thing they did where they let you choose different actions to do that was kind of interesting, like a branching storyline except with sex, but it needed to be expanded upon more. There were some games I played that I’ll get into some next week where you could use the mouse to…you know…do stuff that would be cool if integrated as a minigame and wasn’t the whole game in and of itself. I’ve found that I need characters and context for sex in games to work. Just putting two digital models in a room isn’t interesting to me.

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