Including Sex, Avoiding The 'Porn Game Ghetto' -- 'The Witcher' Development Strategy

The WitcherIt's no secret that American culture is a little touchy when it comes to nudity of the female variety. Funcom was taken aback during "Nipple Gate," and it hasn't been that long since gamers were taking Fox News to task about "Mass Effect."

Games usually avoid sex. It's largely an American taboo, however, so it doesn't necessarily follow that developers don't want to explore it. We asked Michal Kicinski, CEO of CD Projekt, the European studio behind PC's "The Witcher," to discuss his experiences designing a game with sexual elements and bringing it to the US.

"The Witcher" isn't a very sexual game -- it's about chopping up monsters -- but it does allow player to have sex far more often than the singular encounter in BioWare's tale.

"In Europe we are quite used to see many forms of sexual expression in fine art, books, films and even on television," said Kicinski in an e-mail interview with Multiplayer. "The games are not seen much differently then. In order to see sexual references or various forms of sexual acts (although softer ones) we never had to cross over into pay-per-view TV or head off to the seedy part of town."

"If we stay within the limits of good taste, without being explicit, we had always known that whatever we showed in The Witcher would be acceptable for our target, mature audience without banning us to some kind of 'porn' games ghetto."

Game developers preparing a game that includes sexual content for release in America face difficult options. On one hand, they could produce the sexually explicit content and hope it sails through the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, but that's risky and potentially expensive. On the other hand, they could practice self-censorship and accept the nature of American culture. CD Projekt tried a little of both with "The Witcher" and produced a unique version for the US that removed full-frontal nudity.

The US isn't the only place that requires censoring, however. The version of "The Witcher" released in Germany, for example, featured toned down violence. The demands in each territory are different, as well. "The European version was less censored and in Russia, for example," said Kicinski. "Journalists were demanding even more nudity!"

Gamers probably wouldn't argue with that kind of logic, but read on to find out why Kicinski believes more censorship may be in store for "The Witcher."

Rumors suggest "The Witcher" is coming to consoles. Kicinski wouldn't confirm that, but warned a console version brings additional challenges he was ready to take on. "'The Witcher' is a mature title and we definitely don’t want to change its feeling, so there’s no chance that console players will get a fluffy Barbie-like world. We may change a few things if we decide to hit consoles but the overall feeling of this game must remain the same as in the PC version."

CD Projekt isn't the only studio that has found themselves scaling back sexual content for the US. Quantic Dream famously removed an interactive sex scene and visible nudity from "Indigo Prophecy" at the request of their publisher, Atari. "Indigo Prophecy," however, was released just a few scant months after the Hot Coffee "Grand Theft Auto" incident made waves, and an uncut version was later released exclusively in download form.

Indigo Prophecy

The ESRB's "Adults Only" rating is a kiss of death. Console manufacturers won't approve such games and retailers like Wal-Mart refuse to carry them. "It’s definitely unfortunate that games that retailers generally refuse to stock AO-rated titles, though it probably doesn’t help that, aside from a couple of exceptions, all of the AO games released to date have essentially been porn simulations," he admits.

"We just want to let mature gamers - the audience we created the game for - play the game they want to play. At 18 years of age, you can walk into a store in the US and buy movies, magazines, etc. that have much more objectionable content than what you can see in The Witcher."

Though Wal-Mart won't stock AO-rated games, they do sell "unrated" versions of movies to customers, which typically include violence or nudity cut from the theatrical release.

In order to purchase an M-rated title, consumers must show an ID. Kicinski approves of the industry's commitment to practicing self-regulation. "I hope that the American model will eventually come to resemble the European one. For now, I think the ongoing dialogue concerning censorship in the US is not going in the best direction. The main argument against nudity in games is that it has a damaging influence on young people, who make up the majority of the audience for these kinds of products."

If "The Witcher" comes to Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, CD Projekt could very likely become an active part of that dialogue.

[Photo Credit: 'paso' from Ataricommunity.com]

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