As I was reading the comments on the allegations of rape in Second Life, I started thinking about sex in games in general. Recently on the Game Accessibility listserv, Richard Van Tol from AudioGames.net (amongst other affiliations) brought up this news story about an accessible porn website for those with visual and hearing impairments (pornography that includes closed captioning and audio descriptions).
But there's always a darker side, isn't there? Richard also pointed out another recent news item about a blind South African man who is facing prosecution for "listening" to child pornography. If convicted, he would be the first person in the world to be charged for accessing child pornography on the Internet without being able to access it visually.
Both Richard and his colleague Sander Huiberts have given a lot of thought on the issue of audio games, particularly audio games designed for the blind (see also Drive and Demor, which they developed or helped develop -- I encourage you to check out those games, by the way). But getting back to the main point of Richard's original post was censorship in games -- specifically, what do terms like "blood and gore, intense violence, and nudity" (a la the ESRB Ratings) mean when we are talking about a game without any visuals -- only audio.
"...there's no clear cut dividing line when it comes to stuff like this. Due to the way that games are rated (a panel of three individuals, each with some training in ratings and experience with children), the individuals try to reach consensus on a rating based what they're reviewing and the context in which it appears. So, it's not strictly limited to visuals. Lyrics in songs have affected ratings. A game in which a woman moaned in the dark (i.e. a black screen) would still be sexual content."
It seems that, yes, audio cues are also included in the rating system so an audio game with explicit sexual themes that went commercial would probably have a hard time getting away with anything less than an "M" (Mature) rating, if it didn't automatically get the "AO" (Adults Only) rating. And I don't think it takes very much sexual content to cross over to AO -- as Rockstar Games found out when their GTA "mod" was unveiled a while back.
The majority of game companies fight hard to avoid the AO rating so that they don't find their games banned from the Walmarts of the world. The industry cries "censorship!" each time a game is about to cross that line. At the same time, I've (unfortunately) been asked this very annoying question over and over about game accessibility: But isn't it GOOD that most games are not accessible so that we can protect those with disabilities from the sex and violence in games?
Sigh. So while my group fights an industry that hears "game accessibility" as a form of censorship or control over or "dumbing down" (not my words) a game, there's a whole other group of people who agree for completely different reasons that companies should not make their games accessible. How can an industry that (in US terms at least) stands behind freedom of speech while at same time stands firmly inaccessible? What good is freedom of speech without an audience? What good is freedom of speech without giving ALL people the freedom of CHOOSING whether or not they wish to participate in your message?
These are tricky times, my friends.