NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - It's tempting to say it all started with the hookers, but it really didn't...
Yeah, the virtual army of street-walkers in "Grand Theft Auto 3" turned a lot of heads, but sex has been an integral part of gaming for a lot longer. ("Tomb Raider" is a great game, but do you really think it would have had quite the same impact without Lara Croft and her skin-tight outfits?)
And if you think it's prevalent now, just wait. This holiday season will offer some of the raciest footage yet on a PC or console game. And some unsuspecting parents might find themselves caught off guard.
The buxom, bikini-clad blonde on the cover of "Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball" might clue in some buyers that they're getting a little more than a traditional sports game. But odds are, they don't know just how precise the ... um, physics is on this particular title.
|Tiny bikinis don't offer much support in "DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball"
How to write this and still retain some dignity? There's going to be a whole lot of ah ... jiggling ... going on this holiday season.
If digital flesh isn't your thing, there's always "BMX XXX," which offers the real thing.
Acclaim's latest extreme biking game (which formerly had BMX star Dave Mirra's name attached to it) lets players rack up cash on the circuit, then spend it at the local strip club. Don't expect "Duke Nukem"-style pixilated strippers, though. "BMX XXX" rewards players with live-action footage of topless dancers.
Teen horn-dogs can double their pleasure by opting to create a female character, with full control over breast size and the option to have that character ride topless. And if you thought the jiggle-factor in DOA Volleyball was high, well...
"Consumers seem to be getting a little bored of a guy on a bike on a ramp," said Ben Fischbach, brand manager for Acclaim (AKLM: Research, Estimates). "This product is a true comedic entertainment property. We really look at this game as 'American Pie' meets 'Airplane' meets Howard Stern."
That's not just because of the naked ladies. Developers hired professional comedy writers to assist with the game's script. Previews have repeatedly called "BMX XXX" a truly funny and entertaining game – with or without the nudity.
|One of the female riders "BMX XXX." We kept her shirt on for this picture.
Here's the problem, though. There are at least seven BMX-themed games on the market right now – all very popular with younger gamers. And while "BMX XXX" will receive a "M" rating (for gamers 17 and up), it's a safe bet that a lot of parents are going to see "BMX," associate it with the biking game junior's been enjoying and pick it up as a Christmas gift.
The Parents Television Council (which also keeps an eye on the gaming industry), in fact, has issued a warning to parents about the game on the PTC Web site.
"This may look like an ordinary biking game but it is the first sports game to carry an M rating and feature strippers, public urination, and yes... dog humping," reads the notice. "The producers of the game brag that it is chalked [SIC] full of violence, nudity, and swearing. This is a big one to watch out for. Hopefully the XXX will give it away."
"Will there be controversy?" asked Acclaim spokesman Alan Lewis. "There probably will be. But hopefully it will spark the debate about the maturation of the industry."
The argument goes something like this: The gaming industry is getting older. And today's gamers want more than cute, fuzzy characters. That means sharper scripts, funnier jokes – and, yes, grittier violence and sex.
Lara leads you to previous columns. Give her a click.
I couldn't agree more about the scripts and jokes. And hey, I love pretty women as much as the next guy, but I don't see how they add anything to gameplay - and as the industry gears up for the latest fight about violence in gaming, it's not going to do itself any favors by trying to distract parents groups with sex.
Of course, you don't need nudity or gyrations to introduce a hint of sex to a game. An even more shapely Lara Croft is on the way. The latest "Grand Theft Auto" game hits streets in October (though developer Rockstar Games won't say whether the hookers will return). And the already released "Outlaw Golf" has buxom duffers catfighting between putts.
There's no arguing that sex sells. And with the typical gamer a young adult male, you can't really blame the industry for catering to their target audience. But developers sure seem to be on the wrong track here.
Message board chatter about such games has been generally dismissive – and often mocking. Thanks to the Internet, anyone (of any age) who wants to see a naked woman doesn't have to look too far. As a result, they're not looking to their games for that. Instead, they're buying titles in hopes of discovering something that's easy to learn, but not too easy to win; something that tells a good story, but offers immersive, addictive gameplay.
It's the fun factor that sells, not the flesh factor.
Morris is Director of Content Development for CNN/Money. Click here to send him an email.