A softer touch

The media has certainly evolved in many ways since the 1970s. 1972 saw Cosmopolitan publish a centerfold of Burt Reynolds with conveniently placed arm. For reasons of decency, the penis was conveniently tucked away.

Then, in 1977 came John Travolta with his black briefs, bopping about in Saturday Night Fever. Add to this milieu the fact that Calvin Klein was starting to make underwear inspired by what he saw in gay clubs, and you have a virtual sex pot a-stewin’!

Except for the fact that this all served to make one thing clear: the soft penis was as mystical as a unicorn, though the latter not nearly so feared. Again, due to decency laws, we don’t see horribly much of any sex’s genitalia, but I’d posit that we’re more comfortable with seeing a vagina or a hard penis. In fact, most depictions of penises by themselves tend to be fetishized as such, made a symbol of power and potency.

This is where I will state that I have not yet played Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned. However, my interest became piqued by the reaction that the gaming community seemed to have toward a flaccid penis presented in their game.

Some questions:

If we see female nipples in a game, from whom do we normally hear outrage? Male gamers? Not typically (though that depends on the context and game, doesn’t it?).

Let us now consider a female vagina presented in a game. Would this make us uncomfortable, or receive an outcry from male gamers?

No, the reaction I’ve seen has been rather curious to observe, and shows how much games can evoke the exact same reactions we can have to other media.

While it is certainly not true of all media everywhere (there exist plenty of more independent films that are willing to show equality in their full-frontal nudity), there still exists some anxiety over the uncovered, non-erect penis. Soft, it does not appear to have much of a function.

A few other complaints I saw were concerning his pubic hair. Really? Pubes? While grimming and trimming are certainly not bad things, I also find it hard to believe that the majority of males spend that much time tending their bushes.

To quote Susan Bordo’s The Male Body (from whom I learned the tidbits in my first two paragraphs): “To be a body with a sex is fine for girls–in fact, it’s what we’re supposed to be. But men are not supposed to be guided by the rhythms of bodily cycles, susceptible to hormonal tides. They are not supposed to be slaves to sexual moods and needs, to physical and emotional dependency” (19). Emphases are mine.

Did Rockstar put much thought into this scene? Considering our own cultural biases and mores, I’d wager there was had to be some manner of consideration over whether or not to include this scene. If not, we’re speaking to game directors who are trying to step more in the direction of foreign and independent films, which are allowed to get away with such risqué material.

At the same time, I can only imagine the outrage that would occur if we were to see an older woman nude. Sad as it may be, a soft male penis is still more acceptable than possibly sagging breasts.

Regardless, I agree with Jorge from Experience Points when he states, “It shouldn’t matter if GTA IV‘s penis is necessary to the story or not, the fact that it exists may push open the door for more tasteful representations of sexuality and nudity.” We will still have to deal with the ESRB, but to have a non-erect penis (sadly) sends out a rather strong message from a series such as Grand Theft Auto, where the expectation might well be to have a forcefully pounding King Kong.

However, throwing them everywhere is not required either. In the gaming industry, sexualization is quite often merely shallow and vapid. Therefore, to be presented with a sexual object which does not try to draw on its possible meaning is a bold step forward.

Where do we go from here, though? Considering how prominent we are already making insipid sexualization of some female gaming figures, could we ever portray them nude and not have it necessarily be in a sexual context? Here are a few other things to consider concerning nudity:

  • Who is nude? Is it the avatar(s) you are controlling?
  • If it is an NPC, is there any interaction with their nude form?
  • Can you present a nude form and then deny interaction with it?
  • What are you saying when you make either choice?
  • If you allow acknowledgment, will this lead to sex?
  • Is the nudity only shown in the context of sexual activity?

And really, what is so threatening or gross about Rockstar’s choice? It’s a body represented through pixels on your screen. Can it really disgust you that much? Remind me not to invite you to my nude party.


About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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One Response to A softer touch

  1. Jorge Albor says:

    Great post. I think you see a similar reaction to elder protagonists in popular media. This likely stems from a cultural fear of death and dying, but the similarities are striking. Now to see an fully nude elderly individual…

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