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Fuck Me Video games on the Horizon

WWW- As a woman working in an industry known for being guy-centric, video game designer Brenda Brathwaite wishes that more Xbox or PlayStation titles would incorporate romance as part of the story. It would bring in more new gamers, she argues — namely females, who make up a small but growing segment of the gamer population.

But, as far as romance in video games goes, “we haven’t reached the level of ‘Brokeback Mountain’ or ‘The Graduate,’ to say the least,” she said. She’s not even sure yet how that sort of interactive storytelling would work.

“How do you tell a love story in a game?” she wonders.Story continues below ? advertisement

There’s still a long way to go, but the video game industry is looking beyond the shoot-em-up, blow-em-up formula to pique a gamer’s interest. For evidence, consider a sampling of the video game trade shows taking place around the country this year — the Christian Game Developers Conference; the Games for Health conference; or the Serious Games Summit, which showcases games for educational or training purposes.

Brathwaite isn’t breaking ground on romance titles — but she has put together a first-of-its kind video game summit, which will be held in San Francisco next week.

The subject matter: sex.

Squeamish topicIt’s still a squeamish topic for many, including parents as well as the retailers that strategically stock video games. The problem is that video games are still seen as a pastime for kids, even though the Entertainment Software Association puts the average age of gamers at 33, a number that goes up every year.

• More technology coverage”Some people say sex shouldn’t be in games,” Brathwaite said. “If you said that about any other form of art — books, movies — people would be irate.”

Parry Aftab, executive director of WiredSafety.org, an organization dedicated to protecting kids in the online age, said her group doesn’t object to adult content in games. Instead, she said, parents need to pay closer attention to the games’ ratings.

“The only information a parent needs is already there if they’re just willing to look,” Aftab said. “What we’re finding, though, is many parents just don’t care.”

Next week’s conference — which is expected to attract more than 150 people from more than 20 companies — admittedly won’t be a blockbuster event. But it offers a hint that some people are discovering the potential of adult-oriented video games. Speakers will range from programmers to pornographers and its panels include titles such as “Morals & Ethics & Sex & Games.”

Braithwaite suspects that there’s interest in the topic but also understands that the industry is tiptoeing toward the taboo. “Even the smallest inkling of a sexual situation in a game is a problem,” she said.

The Entertainment Rating Software Board, for example, created a headache for local game developer Bethesda Softworks last month when it changed the rating for its popular Oblivion game from “Teen” to “Mature” partly because of a third-party modification that allowed players to create topless game characters.

When secret sexual content was discovered in a Grand Theft Auto game, its rating was changed from “Mature” to “Adult” — and it was subsequently taken off retail shelves in the United States until the objectionable content was removed.

Still, an increasing number of companies are pushing the boundaries. Game makers, who cannot sell “Adult” games in big retail stores, will sometimes make a “Mature” version for retail stores and sell a downloadable “Adult” version on the Internet.

With the prevalence of high-speed Internet connections, some adult-oriented businesses are able to sell their products without making an appeal to an uneasy executive at Best Buy or Wal-Mart.

Online adult-video company Naughty America is set to launch a sex-themed game this summer — one that aims to replicate the world of dating and will contain explicit content. One of the game’s designers is scheduled to appear at the conference on a panel about multi-player games.

One show speaker, Brian Shuster, chief executive of Utherverse Inc., made his fortune with a network of adult-oriented sites in the 1990s.

Now, his company is trying to be an early mover with a virtual world, based on Amsterdam’s red light district, that allows players to do whatever they hanker for.

“There is a bit of a gold rush or a dot-com syndrome going on right now,” in the area of games with adult content, said Regina Lynn, a Wired.com sex columnist who will speak at the show. “For these games to be vibrant and thriving and profitable, they will have to reach beyond the gamer audience.”

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