Rock, Paper, Shotgun noted on Monday that the Adults Only-rated, PC-only version of Manhunt 2 had disappeared from the only online marketplace willing to carry the game, Direct2Drive. Direct2Drive has recently been purchased by Gamefly, and the company’s policy has changed to no longer carry AO titles. RPS notes that Direct2Drive was the last digital distribution market that allowed for AO games, and the article ends with the (probably facetious) question, “Will no one ever dare make mainstream games truly for adults?”
I can’t say I’ve ever heard anyone ask us to think of the perverts before, so let’s treat this more seriously than was probably intended. The first thing I noted is that Amazon does still carry a selection of AO-rated games. These are primarily translated, Japanese erotic visual novels (eroge), though there are a couple of variants. The uncut and uncensored version of Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude is available, as is Bonetown, a “naughty role playing game with the free roaming atmosphere of GTA.” So all is not hopeless for the AO market; it’s just really slim pickings if your not into anime boobs.
Of course, the question wasn’t about sexually charged games, it was about “mainstream games” that are “truly for adults.” What were Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire, or Heavy Rain, if not mainstream games designed for adults? Each deals with themes that require a certain level of maturity simply to enjoy, much less to get the most of. It’s the equivalent of looking at the dearth of NC-17 movies at theaters and crying, “Why are all movies made for children?”
Add to that, the list of games that have received an AO rating doesn’t exactly fill one with confidence about the need for an AO marketplace. I’ve read some positive things about some of the eroge out there, that the stories are deep and engaging, with complex plots and truly fulfilling endings, regardless of their sexual content. They’re a niche market, though, not mainstream. Of the mainstream games, only one, the uncut version of Indigo Prophecy, could be considered mature rather than just gratuitous.
The trouble with sex in games, really with sex in any medium, is that it’s so rarely necessary to the story. Graphic depictions of sex are often there just to titillate, and they add very little to the actual story. I can only think of a couple of movies where the sex scenes were integral to understanding the plot or characters, and couldn’t have been handled with just a fade-to-black. Most novels I’ve read already do this; if it doesn’t advance anything, don’t waste words on it.
I think that’s tied to the maturity of the medium, though, and games still have a ways to go to catch up to film and literature in storytelling ability. I think there’s plenty of opportunity, and I’m looking forward to the day we see games utilize all aspects of mature storytelling. Until then, though, it’s no great loss that a mediocre torture porn game is widely unavailable.