Hentai titles will come to the West

Plus: could games cure impotence?

Game designer Brenda Brathwaite has said she believes it's "inevitable" Hentai games will become more popular outside Japan and more Western developers will start creating them.

Brathwaite was speaking during a roundtable session at the Game Developers Conference titled 'Hentai, hardcore and hotties: Sex in games'. You can't not go, really.

"We don't have an underground way to distribute games. Well, I guess we do; it's called the Internet. But it's not easy to find sex games," she said. (One roundtable attendee suggested sex games should have their own digital distribution network - called, of course, Steamy.)

"I think it's inevitable, on so many levels, [Hentai] games are coming here. Go into any bookstore and look at the anime section," Brathwaite continued. She said that at the moment, Western developers are "not holding a candle to anything done in Japan". However, she believes the future of the sex games industry is in Hentai and the market will grow.

Perhaps inevitably, the subject of the tit in Mass Effect came up more than once during the roundtable. Brathwaite's stance was clear: "Why is that not okay? Why is that not all right? As an industry it's an issue, because must we have these happy little cookie cutter Disney games? Nothing against Disney. Although ironically, many people working in the sex game industry come from Disney," she observed.

But as mild as the sex in Mass Effect was, Brathwaite said, it may well have helped to push the game up the charts. "A lot of people think sex sells. To an extent, sure it does. Sex sells if it's in something like Mass Effect. It makes people who would not otherwise care about Mass Effect go, 'There's a lesbian scene in it? And they're blue? I'll get it.'

"Or the sex mini-game in God of War - I mean come on, really. If that was in a movie and you saw a vase wobbling off a table, that's barely PG-13. It's kind of Happy Days-esque."

However, games like 7 Sins and Singles struggle to achieve high sales because major North American retailers such as Wal-Mart refuse to stock them. But there is a market for sex-focused games - one attendee who worked on the Leisure Suit Larry series said sales have topped seven figures, although 50 per cent of those units were sold outside the US.

Brathwaite then brought up the issue of hot female game characters - and the lack of male counterparts. "On that end sex will sell. Clearly with hotties in games, really attractive female avatars, absolutely. Really attractive male avatars? Anyone? No. Although the dude in God of War was pretty hot."

In fact, Brathwaite reckons, the options are limited generally for women as sex games are almost exclusively designed for men. "You have games where the guy walks out and he's naked, but generally the response I hear from women is, 'Whoa dude, wait. Put something on.' It's not that there's something wrong with a nude male, but it's like there are five steps that need to happen before we get to this point. Whereas guys are just like, 'Bring it.'

"So there's this huge difference, and I think the metaphorical mechanics need to precede the explicit stuff, the sense of the chase."

During the session several ideas about new ways to feature sex in games came up. How about a serious game which helps couples to overcome problems in the bedroom, for example?

"Just imagine you and your partner are having sexual issues," said Brathwaite. "Maybe you've been married for 10 years and you want to spice things up and have some fun... Wouldn't it be amazing if your sex therapist could say, 'You and your partner take this home and in the comfort of your own bedroom, do this.'"

Another suggestion was a game about practicing safe sex aimed at teenagers. One roundtable attendee said he was approached with a pitch for such a game at last year's GDC, so you never know.

This one's a little more off the wall. "Just suppose you had a swinger party and you didn't want to say, 'Listen, here's the deal. There's like 20 people in the room but I would rather rip my face off than sleep with that dude,'" suggested Brathwaite.

"What if you had a computer sex game that was controlling the entire thing, so you could say 'I'm willing to do this and this, but not with this'. A computer could actually do that and you could avoid whatever social issues."

Now that's what they call broadening the gaming demographic. Watch out, Nintendo.

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