Paint, Pixels and Porn: Why the Freakout over Sex in Anime, Manga and Video Games?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single person in possession of a good sex drive must be in want of some porn. However little known the feelings and urges of such a person may be on his/her/hir first entering the Internet, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding Google ads, YouTube providers and email spammers that his/her/zhe’s pants (and contents thereof) are considered the rightful property of some one or other of their “SEE HOT LESBIANS” requests.

In all seriousness, in the grand scale of deviance (where 1 is super-prude and 10 is Captain Jack Harkness), an interest, nay, a collecting of porn barely rates a 3. People are becoming more and more honest about their sexuality and their interest in sex, and as such are becoming more and more open about the existence of porn, the usefulness of porn, and even their own personal porn habits. Single people look at porn. Couples look at porn. Men, women, straight people, queer people, people of all different sizes and shapes look at porn.

… you know, as long as it’s not a game, or animated. THEN IT’S JUST SICK.

I Hope That Nipple Ain’t a Pixel

Two things recently got me thinking about the weird relationship we, as geeks, have with sexual content in games, anime and manga. The first was this article, which covered how an erotic game (touted as the game equivalent of erotic literature, a well-accepted if not respected genre) was banned from Steam Greenlight for “obscene content.” As opposed to, you know, all those Greenlight projects about slicing up demons or shooting zombies or blowing things up or making heads explode. The second was reading YouTube comments (yes, I know, but still a point to be made). One comment was to a God of War 3 walkthrough video that had a sex scene with Aphrodite sandwiched between gory, violent action sequences; paraphrased, the comment was, “Go to [TIME OF SCENE IN VIDEO] if you’re a lonely desperate nerd.” Another was to a video for an anime with an ecchi scene; it boiled down to, “What is wrong with the people who watch this? Can’t they watch porn like a normal dude?”

Er, wasn’t what they were doing?

The weird double standard that Western culture (or, at least, North American culture) seems to have about sex and violence is nothing new; plenty of accessible articles written by people FAR more intelligent than I am are available all over the Internet. But there seems to be something particularly odd going on with video games, anime and manga. Firstly, there’s the pearl-clutching and moral shrieking, which seems silly at the best of times but seems ridiculously out of place in these mediums, where other “deviant” behavior like diving off the Duomo and shanking five guards before breakfast is held up as the pinnacle of awesome. Seriously, why is brain splatter awesome but a romantic sexual encounter “obscene?”  But there also seems to be major shaming of those who might enjoy sexual material in their games and anime… that they have to be desperate, unattractive virgins, never to know the touch of woman or man. Because after all, what godfearing [INSERT NATIONALITY HERE] would EVER want to see attractive naked people in the medium they enjoy? Scoff, I say! Scoff!

The Prude is Coming From Inside The House!

The weirdest thing is, though, that it’s not just “them” that this is coming from – “them” being the amorphous juggernaut of mainstream society, government and media. Infuriating as it is, I’m not surprised when someone at Fox News who’s never played a game before somehow thinks that Mass Effect is a “rape simulator”, or someone freaks out when they realize that some of those comics at the library have pretty boys kissing and having sex. These are the same people who think that anything animated or pixelated is for kids, after all, so their moral qualms, while utterly misplaced, at least make some sort of rudimentary sense if you squint hard and drink a lot of whiskey beforehand. And even if it doesn’t make sense, you at least expect it.

No, what’s strange is that some of the loudest scorn is coming from geeks, whether in a position of power (like those who run Steam) or the random guy who leaves a snarky comment.  Only either the really niche or the really well-established game and anime publishers seem willing to even acknowledge sexuality in their material with respect; I’ve lost track of the number of visual novel developers or translators over here that start off the conversation with something along the lines of, “We make Japanese style visual novels/dating sims/otome games – not the sex ones, though!” And over the past few years, I’ve noticed a small but loud contingent of video game and anime fans who are the first to cry, “EW!” at the first sign of porniness in their mediums; moreover, they’re the first to mock those that do like the porn as deviant and desperate losers. Even Bioware, a company known for having romantic relationships with pretty tame or implied sex scenes, has a loud contingent of detractors yelling about that content is only for the loneliest or horniest of fanboys and fangirls, with the implication that all the “normal” people are just there to cut up some darkspawn or blow up ancient killer robot roaches.  Anime, too, has a lot of fans screaming, “WE’RE NOT LIKE THOSE WEIRDOS!” and pointing at hentai or yaoi fans while running as fast as possible.

The most headscratching part? Many of the people making the loudest noises are the ones that have no problem with normal, live-action porn. Heck, I’ve seen commenters outright admit to enjoying mainstream porn themselves even in the same breath as denigrating someone who likes hentai games: “Why don’t you watch porn like a normal guy? That’s what I do. Freak.”

The result is one heck of a confusing message. So is porn okay if it’s live action, but not if it’s painted or rendered in polygons? Is it somehow (wo)manly and right to watch a porn star do his/her thing, but it’s deviant if you actually control it as part of a game? And why is one geek awesome for mowing down hoardes of CoD terrorists but another is sick for wanting a nude scene with Tali?

These are tricky questions, and I suspect the answers would involve a lot of research and talks with smart professors. I have my own theories, though. Part of it may honestly be to do with the Uncanny Valley, the dissonance between real humans and the fake ones shown in games or anime, many of whom look wildly “unnatural” (big eyes and large faces in anime, exaggerated proportions in games, etc). As such, the dialogue of “normal porn good, game/anime porn bad” may be just confusion over how it can even be arousing in the first place. Part of it may also be to do with those darned “mainstream” people mentioned earlier; we know they’re watching us with distaste, so there may be a rush to disassociate oneself from “those weird people” so as to seem more legitimate.  And part of it, admittedly, may be that there’s a lot of… um… problematic porn manga/anime/games out there; I could probably do an entire article on the very weird and creepy elements of ecchi anime or hentai games, and I can well understand a genuine revulsion to some of the nastier elements of the genre.

But part of me wonders if it might go even deeper, down to the idea of fantasy and social expectations. In society, we’re not expected to be violent and shank people or blow up cars and run around with AK47s. In fact, it’s generally discouraged! So when we’re allowed to do these things in a game or see them in anime, we’re getting to be part of something we never could have in real life. In contrast, we ARE expected to have sex– the whole obsession with getting a boy/girlfriend and getting married sort of speaks to that – so having sex in a game or anime may make people wonder, “Wait, shouldn’t you be getting that from your SO? Oh, you poor sap, you don’t have an SO, do you? HA HA, VIRGIN!” It might go some way to explaining why, when geek culture is so devoted to the celebration of the fantastic and the fantasy life, this is, in many ways, our weird and dirty shame.

 

Or maybe it’s not. Lord if I know! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some anime to watch. Not porn, you understand. That would just be sick.

 

Why do you think “normal” porn is accepted but “geek” porn – particularly in video game or anime format – is seen as weird and sad?

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