Edit: I've just been informed that BloodRayne isn't the only video game girl taking it off for PlayBoy--CNN Money Magazine has a more comprehensive list. So I'll be editing a few things on the fly here--my information was based solely on the BoingBoing and BloodRayne2.com postings.
It's been three or four days since the announcement, and I'm still not quite sure what I'm supposed to think regarding BloodRayne's upcoming appearance in the October issue of PlayBoy, a first in the history of video games. I'm certainly going to try to make a point, or at least explore what I think about the whole thing.
This rant may be a bit reachy, and I'm not even sure where it'll go--so I'll start by establishing a few simple statements that form the foundation of my argument, if it is indeed an argument.
Statement the first: Sex sells.
- This one's easy enough. Sex is called the second oldest female profession, et cetera, et cetera. Nothing groundshaking, but let's keep going.
Statement the second: Vampires, at their root, represent repressed eroticism.
- This one also has a body of literatury theory devoted to it--just read Bram Stoker and Anne Ri... okay, just read Bram Stoker and you'll not only get the point, but have read a good book to boot.
Statement the third: PlayBoy is, at least to the American eye, a symbol of unabashed sex selling (amd selling well) in a Puritanical mainstream, not just in seedy hardcore stores.
- This one's a bit stickier, but hey, Hugh has been working for longer than I've been alive to get that status for his brainchild. And I've seen many an interview with women who've appeared topless in PlayBoy who don't think there's anything strange or wrong about posing topless for the magazine's pages. You may disagree with me here, but work with me... there's only one foundation left to lay before trying to link these all together.
Statement the fourth: Video games, once deemed the realm of the very young, are growing up with their audience.
- Again, not very hard to prove... Brian Fargo said in an interview with GamesDomain that "the average RPG player is about 30", while The Sims has also edged the age of the "average gamer" far above the 20 mark.
So what's my point? Well, games like Tomb Raider and Dead or Alive have always sold on the sex appeal of their digital femmes--gameplay is a secondary concern at best, especially in the case of Tomb Raider. But the mainstream game industry has always shied just short of the dreaded AO rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board. Sure, everyone knows that the games in question are selling based on sex, but God forbid that there be actual SEX in these games beyond a standard fade to black. M has always been the limit--games that merit an AO rating either ignore the ESRB and sell to straight to specialty stores, or are made by Peach Princess. I'm sure there are gaps in my knowledge of who else submits their erotic/pornographic games to the ESRB, but I don't go to said specialty stores, so I wouldn't know.
But there was a definite line, and crossing that line was tantamount to market death--the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue (slogan: Not Quite PlayBoy, but Good Enough!) crowd's parents would immediately clamp down when that M morphed into an AO. And now here comes BloodRayne, and it's not just her fangs that are bared. People in the industry know that the generation of adolescent gamers, who once desperately wanted to believe in the infamous Tomb Raider nude code hoax, is long past the drooling pubescent period. They're old enough that they won't go screaming into the hills at the first sight of flesh--at least, that's the hope. And in the deal, PlayBoy and
Majesco the companies involved get to claim that they've broken exciting new ground, then lean back with smug smiles as marketing bobbleheads start talking about whether THEIR game should be the next to try out this whole "bare your digital boobies for publicity" thing.
Meanwhile, I'm sitting here babbling on and wondering "Is this a sign of things to come, or is it a minor event that doesn't bear too much further thought?"
Honestly? I don't know. I wish I did, because from where I stand, there are way too many things that can happen, and I can't account for all of them. But if this PlayBoy spread creates enough buzz for BloodRayne 2 and the other games that the game industry has to sit up and take notice, where will that leave the game industry? If it's proven that you can financially safely ignore the under-18 crowd and gain more from the AO rating than you lose, conventional wisdom will be turned on its head. We can safely assume that Nintendo will continue doing what it always has, but would BloodRayne's chest pave the way for a trickle of games unafraid of the AO? Would that trickle turn into a flood? Probably not, given the way American game retailers work--they get enough crap for selling M games to kids under 18, why risk letting people see AO? But what if game stores, like video rental places, started partitioning off a section and dedicated it to the adult audience? (I'm assuming that American game stores, unlike Japanese game stores, don't have the luxury of simply saying "The 2nd and 3rd floors are for the TV games, the adult games go on the 4th floor, and the anime is the 5th floor". Japan builds up... America builds out, so I can't imagine Gamestops across the nation adding a second floor and selling AO games there)
Oh, who'm I kidding, it's not going to happen like that. The game industry may move quickly, given its youth and its spurts of growth, but it's not going to endanger itself with a mass reinvention at this point. There's too much money involved in publishing and developing the current wave of games to risk endangering that cash flow for the sake of a much smaller market, and retailers get enough grief from child safety and protection groups without having to protect some beaded curtains leading to a fabled "back room".
But then again, the porn industry's numbers remain in the billions despite attempts to quash it, too...
Welp, we'll see, I guess. But that won't keep me from thinking about what could go wrong--or right--with the whole thing.