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Commentary > Game Over
Video game gals take it off for Playboy
Silicon will meet silicone in October issue of men's magazine
August 25, 2004: 7:09 PM EDT
Game Over is a weekly column by Chris Morris

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) She's a statuesque redhead with green eyes who stands 5'7". Her measurements are 36-22-36 and she's posing topless for the October issue of Playboy magazine.

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Oh, just one thing... she's a video game character.

Her name's Bloodrayne and she'll make her naked debut alongside a feature in the upcoming issue of the men's magazine.

Joining her in the CGI photospread (which will accompany an article about the changing face of gaming) will be a handful of gaming characters. While not all the characters will appear in the pixilated buff, you can expect a lot of come hither looks from some butt-kicking women, including familiar faces from Midway's (MWY: Research, Estimates) "Mortal Kombat" and Namco's "Tekken" series as well as Vivendi's (V: Research, Estimates) upcoming "Red Ninja" and "Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude" and Sammy Studios' forthcoming "Darkwatch: Curse of the West". (See the accompanying pop-up gallery for some of the characters that were submitted to the magazine.)

"Majesco (MJSH.OB: Research, Estimates) thought it was all in good fun. The game's coming out that month and it's perfect timing," said Laura Heeb, a spokesperson for the "Bloodrayne" publisher. "BloodRayne is a very viable franchise now. It has definitely made the step up to a full-fledged video game franchise. The Playboy thing is nothing more than just another cool thing we can do with this franchise."

Playboy declined to comment on the pictorial feature, since the October issue won't hit stands for a couple of weeks.

Welcome to the weirdest stop yet on the gaming industry's 2004 Naked Olympics.

A quick recap, for those of you just tuning in: The games kicked off with Eidos' (EIDSY: Research, Estimates) May release of "Singles: Flirt Up Your Life". The game was a "Sims"-like clone that featured full frontal nudity and encouraged you to get your two characters to have sex. It earned a rare "Adults Only" rating from the Entertainment Software Ratings Board. Because most retailers will not sell an AO game, Eidos offered it via download only. (A toned down "M" rated version is due on store shelves later this year.)

Due up later this year is the slightly less raunchy "Playboy: The Mansion" and the aforementioned "Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude," which sticks closer to "Animal House" or "American Pie"-style hijinks.

It seemed, for a while, that these would be the only players but the layout in Playboy magazine ups the skin level substantially.

Game Over
Video Games

Meanwhile, waiting in the wings is another game that's bound to raise a few eyebrows: "The Guy Game". Basically, what you're looking at here is the bastardized love child of "Girls Gone Wild," college drinking games and The Tonight Show's "Jaywalking" segments. Real (not digitally animated) nubile coeds on spring break are brought onto stage and asked various trivia questions. If they answered wrong, they flash their breasts at the crowd. If you play the game right, you can see that flashing uncensored.

It's not a game that's likely to make friends amongst parents groups or conservative religious organizations. But developer TopHeavy Studios (really!) and publisher Take Two Interactive don't seem too concerned.

The growing presence of video game nudity and sexuality both in and out of games is something of a double-edged sword for the industry. On the one hand, female characters appearing topless could reinforce the outdated stereotype of gamers as shut-in losers who lack any sort of social skills.

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On the other, it underlines how much older the audience for these games has gotten in recent years. According to the Entertainment Software Association, today's average game player is 29 years old. And the average game buyer is 36.

Be that as it may, the industry has been trying to attract more women gamers and including characters that have been positive (albeit overly buxom) role models in a Playboy layout could potentially turn away that customer base.

That's part of the reason some publishers opted against their characters appearing nude.

"We spent a lot of time thinking about it," said Namco spokesperson Kristin Calcagno. "We wanted to move forward with the coverage opportunity, but we wanted to ensure that the characters would be seen as they are in the game. We ensured they were in poses and attire that were sexy, but were appropriate to their character. ... By no means do we hope anyone finds it offensive."

So why take the chance? Basically, Playboy's demographic is very much in line with the sweet spot of the gaming industry. Eighty-five percent are male. The average age is 33. And half of its readers make $75,000 or more per year.

That's a lot of men with cash to burn. And that's a lot of potential cash those publishers could be pocketing.  Top of page

Morris, who (if his mother happens to read this) only buys Playboy for the articles, is Director of Content Development for CNN/Money. Click here to send him an email.

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