Even the smaller and odder projects have fallen prey to this sweaty, immature view of sex. Take Indigo Prophecy (aka Fahrenheit), a game that sets out with the best of intentions to detail an ordinary person doing ordinary actions thrown into an increasingly stupid plot. In this early non-idiotic portion of the game you are called to questionably woo your ex and then thoroughly sex her. And you get to do that. With on screen prompts for each thrust. To a soft rock backing and moans. I replayed that bit more than any other segment of the game. It took its quicktime event sex so seriously, thinking itself so adult it ironically appeared all the more immature, like a teenager who brags about losing his virginity and then spends forty minutes describing a vagina in enough detail to upset a gynocologist, just to prove that he'd been there.
Sex can come from love, hate, greed, lust, revenge or any amalgam of contradictory emotions but it can't come from passing three speech checks and having a charisma modifier of +5.
So what differentiates Catherine and makes it the exception? I would say it comes down to emotion. In the other examples we have sex or sexual imagery thrown in as a kind of bonus. Shepard could screw nobody and the Collectors would be equally dead, Martin Sheen equally illusive. In countless games the romance is included as an act of ticking a storytelling box or trying to up the stakes, and if sex is involved it's for "Snake vision"-esque titillation (hee hee, titillation) or out of the tired feeling that that's the usual hero's reward. In Catherine we have sex as a byproduct of human emotion and mistakes. When Vincent has sex with Catherine we can see he's fleeing from commitment and we can care about that. When we see Commander Shepard have sex with Miranda we can see it's ... uh ... because we chose the right dialog options and this is our reward. Sex can come from love, hate, greed, lust, revenge or any amalgam of contradictory emotions but it can't come from passing three speech checks and having a charisma modifier of +5 because a context free sex scene in a game, like a superfluous fuck in a summer blockbuster or airport paperback thriller, simply serves to show how lazy your storytelling is.
We all graduate from our fumbling gropes and baffled entrancement with the opposite sex. We grow into more complex relationships, usually at the end of high school. Our medium needs to show that same maturation. We've had those curious tingles and found renewed interest in rumble packs, we've ogled and joked and drawn genitals on the bathroom walls, but now it's time to stop giggling about tits. It's time to graduate.
Martin McLauchlan is an aspiring freelance game writer living and working in a field in Scotland. He writes about games in an attempt to assuage the creeping existential dread that is his existence. So far, no dice. You can read more from him at http://godhatestags.blogspot.com/.