Often times, when discussing Japanese eroge (a portmanteau of “erotic game[s]”) with someone who hasn’t played one, I find myself having to apologize for the pornographic content most eroge are known for. “Yes,” the argument goes, “it does have explicit sex scenes, but that isn’t the point of the game. It has an epic, well-written story with engaging characters and…” blah blah blah.
But wait a second. Why is pornographic content a detriment in the first place? In an age when just about every male is assumed to be an avid consumer and multitudes of women unabashedly admit to enjoying all sorts of smut, that I’m having to defend sex in a game seems bizarre. “Yes,” shouldn’t it go, “this game has an epic, well-written story with engaging characters, thoughtful insights into the human condition AND FUCKING!” That should be a plus!
“But I don’t play the game for the sex.”
Well why not? Sex is fucking awesome. Sure, playing just for the sex would be missing the point entirely— some of the more literary-minded visual novels will go 20 plus hours before the reader encounters anything resembling “erotic”; woefully inefficient fapping material. But there is nothing inherently debauched about enjoying the sex scenes, and yet more often than not we feel compelled to discuss them like chaste monks who have transcended deriving pleasure from plebeian carnality.
What an odd wall we seem to have erected (heh) between pornography and respectability. Even those with extremely liberal sensibilities seem uncomfortable blurring the lines between porn and art, as if the two should be mutually exclusive. If porn, then not art. When examined, such exclusion is typically predicated on some supposed essential aesthetic or moral value difference between the two that is spurious at best. And yet creators and imagineers the world over seem to have it internally ingrained that in order for their work to be respectable, it must not titillate.
How unfortunate. If there is one universal feeling shared among every human being who has ever lived, it is lust. Why should any artistic endeavor have to forego igniting those passions in its audience in order to be taken seriously? When the topic of human sexuality is broached—and don’t misunderstand me, its broached often in just about everything— it must be handled ‘tastefully’, which usually means with the tongs of objectivity. Some tongs are shorter than others, but the prevailing wisdom still remains, you can’t arouse too much, just slightly, the audience shouldn’t be masturbating to this.
But why is it necessary? For an audience mature enough to handle the sensual sheet frollicking and rhythmic belly rubbing most movies use to simulate sex, why would they not be mature enough to handle the characters— ya know— actually having sex? Why shouldn’t an emotional, passionate moment between characters we’ve grown to care about not be dick-hardeningly, vagina-gushingly hot as hell for us as well? Sex is so completely natural and awkwardly beautiful it doesn’t make much sense to always shy away from depicting it. We pointlessly omit a huge aspect of being human for no other reason than a sense of shame about our bodies we should have long ago outgrown.
And with it we also omit our ability to portray sex— explicit, unreserved sex— in a manner pornography never could. One of the greatest aspects about eroge (the good stuff) are their characters, people we spend hours, sometimes days, riding an emotional roller coaster with— sharing each triumphant high and agonizing low— so that when they have sex, it is not an empty mechanical motion carried out by two strangers, their sex means something to us. And it isn’t presented in vague platitudes, it doesn’t skirt the issue or pretend to be ‘tasteful’; it is carnal lust revealed in all its resplendent glory, and it is presented as a natural, healthy development in a fruitful relationship. It shows that that kind of explicit sex, the type meant to sexually arouse, can be emotionally fulfilling too.
Yet the few gamers here in the West that know what I’m talking about are loathe to admit it. There is a peculiar stigma attached to these games: that they are for the pathetically lonely and desperately undersexed. What an insidious archetype, one far too many of us are afraid of falling into. That’s the reason we hum and haw and draw with our toes when we talk about games and porn, we couldn’t bare to have others typecast us as that lonely creepy pervert. So we try to surgically remove the sex from the game in our explanations, “It’s so great for this and this and this, and there is some fornication but you should just ignore that— no, I certainly wasn’t aroused what’swrongwithyou?”
Unfortunately, the eroge industry is disinclined to help matters on the stigma front. There are many games in the genre (waaay too many) that are so thoroughly drenched in misogyny and objectification of women that the truly marvelous gems in the lot are often irreparably tarnished by association, which makes it that much more difficult to actually admit having played an eroge, much less having enjoyed one; especially for self-proclaimed feminists like myself.
But while there are numerous faults and genuine misgivings one can find with eroge, pornographic depictions of sex is not among them. It is high time we extricate the diffusion of art and pornography from the avant garde and deliver it to the masses. Although I find little redeeming value in 50 Shades, it has been useful in demonstrating that most of the mainstream is willing to embrace their smut openly and without shame. Video games, particularly, are in a unique position to take advantage of this; very few mediums can blend erotic literature and visual stimuli as effortlessly as visual novels. But in any medium, artists and creators who are actually skilled in their craft can unshackle respectability from the ascetic prison we’ve put it in and finally treat sexual arousal as something humanly sublime rather than ignominious. Perhaps then we can finally begin having a healthy and frank (and long overdue) national conversation about our sexuality.