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Virtual Sex: How Online Games Changed Our Culture

Games like Second Life let you to live your fantasy as a pimp, prostitute or pirate, knight, dominatrix, or any other self-created design you see fit.

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It is a balmy Los Angeles day, and two bikini-clad women are picketing just off a major strip, shouting at any cars or people that pass. Their signs read "TOO NAUGHTY FOR E3." The models are from Naughty America, a multimedia porn conglomerate, and they are protesting their exclusion from the Electronic Entertainment Expo happening in the Los Angeles Convention Center behind them. The E3 organizers decided to ban so-called "booth babes," women provocatively dressed, often as video game characters, populating the various company booths. It was definitely a change of heart -- the predominantly male conference allowed Rockstar Games to bring bra-and-panty strippers a few years before. Contrary to the timing, Naughty America was not saying their promotional women were why it was kicked out of E3, but because of its video game, titled Naughty America: The Game. The online title would allow players to hook up with others around the world.

"Sex in an online game? It's about time," the press kit said. "Naughty America: The Game is the first of its kind: A massive multiplayer online world that allows players to do what they've always wanted to: be naughty." After establishing a cartoon-like online persona and doing mundane things like apartment furnishing, you can go hang out in the virtual city's downtown, uptown or beach. A widely shown screenshot has a buff guy and a cute young woman dancing at the local discothèque. A less circulated picture has a chiseled blond with a mullet taking a svelte, busty redhead from behind on his mauve bedsheets. His arms are at her hips, kind of like he's steering a boat with his wrists. In the corner is a meter that reads "sexy" to "freak." It is in curvy seventies cursive. "We were very disappointed to learn of E3's stance toward Naughty America: The Game," the company said later. "It's the next step in social networking and online matchmaking. It's certainly not intended for everyone, but then again neither are a number of the titles featured at the show." The press called the "exclusion" a stunt (it was learned after the announcement that the company just turned in its booth paperwork too late), but the change to a more conservative conference was real. The E3 organizers was responding to events from the previous year.

Rockstar Games announced its next game, Bully, in 2005, setting up a preview for retailers and the press at E3. Dozens of protesters picketed in front of Take-Two headquarters in Manhattan. "This game should be banned," Liz Carnell from Bullying Online (a British website supporting bullied students) said before the event. The protesters carried signs that said "Prosecute Rockstar Games; they are felons" and "Put the cuffs on Rockstar, not youth." "I'm extremely worried that kids will play it and then act out what they've seen in the classroom … " Carnell said.

After the protest, Rockstar Games quietly announced that Bully, originally slated for fall 2005, would be pushed back to April 2006. It arrived on the PlayStation 2 in October 2006. In what could be described as Grand Theft Auto Jr., Bully is an open-ended adventure at the gothic, repressive Bullworth Academy prep school. As Jimmy Hopkins, a short, freckled-faced teenager, you must navigate the various school cliques, such as the jocks, the nerds, and the preppies, and make allies to survive the school year. Grand Theft Auto's guns and baseball bats are replaced with itching powder and bag o' marbles. Knuckle sandwiches are complimented by headlocks and Indian burns. The point is to humiliate foes, which, in high school, is a fate worst than death. You can also make friends. A small set of options pops up when Jimmy passes someone on campus. You can give the person a friendly nod ("Hey, how's it going?!"), a put down ("Who are you lookin' at?!") or, if you are behind him or her, a very realistic-looking wedgie. Each character will respond accordingly. A positive response gives you the option to do a courting gesture, like giving a stolen box of chocolates or a bunch of flowers uprooted from the girls' dorm front lawn. A few more flirts add a final option symbolized by two big lips. The courted will usually say something coy ("So, I'm doing this science project, and, um, we're trying to figure out if kissing helps you live longer, so, um … ") and Jimmy, who seems to like being the aggressor, will grab and toss the person back, and give a long, dramatic kiss. Jimmy can do this with a girl or with a boy. The homosexual kisses did not get much media attention, especially compared to Rockstar's Hot Coffee the summer before. The early controversy over the violence, which Bully had very little, trumped any talks about intimacy, which Bully had in spades.

 
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