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“Adult” Themes

June 3, 2013

Dear Reader,

I watched Ms. Sarkeesian’s video on Damsels in Distress over the weekend.  I actually showed it to my mother while she was here, since I suspect most of my (hopefully) proper views on gender came from her.  I enjoyed the entire thing and felt it was well done and fair.

It did get me thinking about one of the tangential points she made regarding adult themes in games.  I’ve been considered a little odd for a long time because I’ve always disliked pointless lovemaking scenes in movies and books.  Even before I was an English major studying “literature” (or, as often as not, reading other things when I was supposed to be), I felt like a lot of the “adult themed” elements in stories were, in fact, juvenile.  The same has been true for video games for a long, long time.  I still remember Leisure Suit Larry games, for instance, which were very popular among my age group when they were first coming out.  I had no interest in them then, nor do I their descendants now.

I’ve no problem with intimacy in a story, mind you.  If it fits and meaningfully develops the plot in one way or another, then kudos for those involved.  I just don’t like the mindless inclusion of sex in place of actual character development.  The heavy focus on it in some games has – ironically – turned me off of those games; I remember completely losing interest in The Witcher after finding out that you not only can bed a vast majority of the female characters in the game, but that doing so rewards you with a collectible card, as if the achievement has no greater merit than opening a fresh pack of Upper Deckers and adding the cards to your collection.

Violence, too, especially extremely graphic violence, has somehow become considered an “adult” theme.  Again, I disagree; it’s another juvenile theme.  Here again the “dark and gritty” subgenre that Ms. Sarkeesian discusses seems to be designed to help sell games to adults who are tired of the typical blood splotches produced in “kids” games.  I’ve found, though, that often the “dark and gritty” games feel the least well-put-together, as if being “dark and gritty” was enough to sell the game without further development, and, thus, those games were the least themed overall, adult or otherwise.

It seems that anything that’s considered “not appropriate for children,” must, then, be “adult themed,” but I’d like to propose a different opinion.  Truly adult themed stories and games are not focused on sex and violence, but instead on themes that can best be appreciated and understood by adults, themes about selflessness, parenthood, money struggles, and so forth.  Sex and violence don’t fit there; teens are PLENTY able to appreciate and understand both.  The surprise here, is, then, that true adult themes, while they can only really be appreciated by adults, should be shared with children, as they will help them better understand what it means to be an adult.

Countless adolescent literature books do this; they present “adult themes” in ways that are appropriate for young adults.  Only a few games, I feel, do, though.  The Walking Dead I think is perhaps the best.  I’m looking forward to The Last of Us to see if it holds up its promise of the same.  Only time will tell, though.


Stubborn (and adult themed)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Beshara permalink
    June 3, 2013 1:50 pm

    I found this true a lot recently when I was picking up random books to try out new authors. A lot of the new fantasy stuff I found were mediocre story with blatant sex thrown in. I like fantasy/sci if themes, but not sure where all the smutty ones came from. I did enjoy Dragon Age origins and 2, but I’ve come to realize that I enjoyed them because of the characters they created, and the potential those characters represented. I turned off the extra gore option, and even though I went through the “sex scene” in each one, it was mainly to progress the love development than it was to see half naked pixel people.

    I’d love to see a good RPG come out that has a good storyline again. Something emotional, that pulls you in and makes you truly consider the morality of your choices and how those choices affect the world. The Bioware games I’ve played started out with this idea, but hasn’t been able to meet the full potential of it. You end up grinding “good” or “bad” to unlock skills rather than make each decision based on the situation.

  2. June 10, 2013 7:47 pm

    This was also one of the points I liked about her video. I think she worded it well there: That the sex and violence is employed to give the appearance of sophistication, when in fact, as you state, it’s quite juvenile. I can’t say I’ve ever understood how the game rating systems came up with this, especially since it’s created by the industry itself. It’s not helping to sell games at all. It seems to have the reverse effect: poorly labeled ratings discourage game purchases. It’s to the point that Adult themed games pretty much mean porn while everything else gets a pass. It needs a review I think.

    • June 11, 2013 1:13 pm

      It was actually your post that directed me to the video in the first place, so thank you for pointing it out. I remember the kerfluffle about her kickstarter and the nauseous abuse she received, so when I saw you reference her, I was quite interested in seeing it.

      I think rating systems in general have skewed towards absurd ends. The movie Bully, the target audience of which was young teenagers, was initially given an R rating because of a lot of profanity. Keep in mind the profanity was being spewed by young teenagers, as this was a documentary about the effects bullying has on others. The movie begged for reason on the part of the rating industry, but eventually had to edit itself down, which lessened in the impact. Foolishness.

      Thanks for the comment!


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