Nude Descending A Star: The Naked Void

By Quintin Smith on October 1st, 2009 at 1:01 pm.


I’m scared. Here’s what I fear: I fear The Void is going to be the subject of unjust moral outrage because it features female nudity.

…maybe that’s making light of the problem. It’s not just female nudity that features in The Void. Talking to any female character results in the game cutting away to a vision of that woman suspended in a strange, shadowy limbo, naked except for particle effects and sometimes props. Gifting that woman with colour, as you must do to progress, causes a cutscene of them writhing in ecstasy that could probably suffice as a masturbatory aid. Doubly so if you’re a techy fellow like Alec and really enjoy particle effects.

At first I thought this was unbearably trashy, sexist and inane. You might too. Then I realised I was wrong. It’s possible you might not have the same revalation, especially if you’re the kind of easily outraged person I can see so clearly in my head writing furious blog posts and starting disgusted forum threads, so please, let me walk you through what went on in my head.

It took several hours of play, but eventually I realised the beauty and nakedness of the Sisters wasn’t harming my immersion in the game. There was no sense of ‘Here comes the fan service!!’, or that the sultry writhing I was watching was any kind of reward. Rather, it fitted with the Sisters’ role in the Void.

As I said before, the Sisters rarely move or back up what the say, and the Brothers’ savage protection of them adds to their objectification. It’s also not long before you find out the Sisters cannot turn down your gifts of colour no matter how scared they are of attracting the ire of their Brother. It’s not that they can’t resist the colour you offer- it’s that your Glyph does not give them any choice, making it a gift in name only. In reality, you’re infusing the girls with colour against their will to get what you need. You’re abusing them.

There’s more to this than soft porn, basically. I believe the nakedness of the Sisters in The Void is Ice-Pick’s way of emphasising their vulnerability and inescapable situation, and I believe the massively sexual closed-eyed curling and stretching they do with each gift of colour represents you taking advantage of them. I could also believe that Ice-Pick knew that adding some sex to their game would help it sell, and I’m not convinced they should be persecuted for that when they can pull it off without disturbing their original vision of the game in the slightest.

I guess you could still pressure The Void as a sexist piece of work on account of it depicting a world where women are kept locked down by men and rendered as pathetic and naked. My defense of the game against this would be to point out that the Brothers, the only men in the game, are the bad guys, and often come across as an exaggeration of the worst characteristics of males. They’re all enormous, stubborn, blind, hideous, controlling murderers who would probably do a better job of ruling all that they surveyed if they could agree on anything.

I’m more curious about my own reaction to seeing the nudity in the game for the first time. My instinctive response was “Oh, God”, because why else would a girl have no clothes on in a videogame but as a cheap way to keep the player interested? It took far, far too long for the other possibility to enter my mind- that this was a commercial game that was trying to use female nudity for artistic purposes.

Think I’m reaching? Maybe you think I’m reaching. I now present Exhibit A, a still taken from a video of Ice-Pick’s booth at Russian games development conference KRI back in 2007.

A woman! And she’s almost NAKED (naked!)!

Now, that guy in the foreground is Nikolay Dybowskiy, CEO of Ice-Pick Lodge. Pathologic fans out there will recognise him as the Haruspicus. What follows is me creating an argument based on his clothing and beard. I really hope this is going to work.

See, if Nikolay was wearing a t-shirt, didn’t have the facial hair he does, or generally didn’t look like the biggest Artist imaginable (which to say he looks exactly like you’d expect after reading my interview with him I’d be tempted to pass that naked woman off as nothing but a booth babe hired to dredge up interest in Ice-Pick’s booth. Doubtless she did mean Ice-Pick’s display got a few more visitors that day than it otherwise might have, but they still had her on display side by side with stuff like this painting:

It all implies these developers are comfortable with nakedness, and developed their game without the cynicism, fear of political correctness and Englishness that I know I have, and I’m sure lots of you reading this will too. Did I mention you can see the outline of genitals on your own (male) character’s ghostly avatar? You can.

Anyway, that’s my defense of The Void’s T&A. You’re welcome to disagree, but only once you’ve actually played the game and know what you’re up against.

Until then, here’s something for you to chew over: Before I decided that The Void’s use of nudity was tasteful, it caused a question to form in my head. Namely, in the case of games very consciously trying to be ‘art’, is it the job of the games critic to judge the ‘art’ inherent within them? Can a reviewer slate a game and give it a bad review for being ‘”Bad” “art”‘?

I mean, the games press is always cheetah-quick to praise games which attempt to give themselves some deeper meaning and transgress just being something you play, no matter what that meaning is or how the message is delivered. In reality, should we be taking marks off games when that message is clumsily conceived or delivered? As it stands now, we do not. If a game fails at its grander purpose the reviewer instead drops back down a level and scores the game on whether it’s fun to play.

That doesn’t quite sit right with me, and it shouldn’t with any developers like Ice-Pick Lodge who have genuine faith in the potential of this medium. At some point some of us critics are going to have to start criticising games when their artistic intention is banal, or insipid. What do you think, Nikolay?

Mm.

__________________

« | »

, , , .

123 Comments »

  1. NotGonnaLie says:

    I like boobies. I like interacting with said boobies. That is all.

  2. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    I don’t mind nudity. I might not mind sexual acts, either. But what does matter is how it is presented.

    Which doesn’t mean that it’s ‘bad’ or the like, but from Quintin’s description of having to abuse women (although it could have been men, for that matter) is simply not entertaining or palatable to me (with the note that I haven’t actually tried it out. I never intended to and this news doesn’t change that, although the above does make it even less likely for me to try it out).

    Of course that’s where you could have the whole ‘art’ schpiel which is fine, but art is different from entertainment. Art could provide entertainment just as a game could be a form of art, but the aim of art is wholly different than that of most games and forms of entertainment. Which also means a project could very well be a horrible game but succesful as a piece of art.

    And as others have said, yes, you have art critics, just like games have critics. In this case you could look at it in terms of games, art or both. It depends on the intentions of the creator and/or how it’s percieved by the critic (or, possibly, the general public).

  3. MrSnoobs says:

    I found it ironic that to the side of an insightful article about the advent of artistic nudity in the medium, to the right was (for me) an ad banner for an online dating service featuring a lady with her boobs half hanging out.

    I don’t think the game will be nearly as successful or well known to court controversy. That only arises when Mr Farksworth of A.N.Other news corporation sees their child playing it. Which they won’t.

  4. Dagda says:

    Violence, foul language and sex are far from inherent evils in my eyes, but I really wish more developers would include the option to tone it down in cases where it’s not a key part of game experience, since it means fans can share their games with a wider audience. Kudos to Double Fine for doing this with Brutal Legend, incidentially.

  5. Julian says:

    I haven’t played the game yet, although I’m getting increasingly more interested on account of the thoughtful and intriguing coverage here. But based on what’s described here, it sounds like it’s not exactly promoting the stereotypical gender roles it portrays. The game may make you participate in this, but that doesn’t mean it endorses it. My impression is that this is a very dark and uneasy world, designed to disturb the player. What the protagonist does is not necessarily right. Could you really be the one-dimensional conquering paladin purifying this world, given the nature of the game? We’re going to see more and more ambiguous protagonists, unreliable narrators, and morally suspect systems and stories in games. This means we need to consider them more carefully because we can no longer take them at face value, but I think this ultimately opens the door to more meaningful statements by developers.

    I think it IS fair to assess how well they accomplished the delivery of their artistic message, if they attempt to deliver one. Ham-handed plots and flat characters can and should be a ding against a game when they force you to sit through them or make a big deal out of them. Gears of War 2′s subplot about Dom and Maria is a great example of an appropriate time to dock a game points for failing to execute artistic ambitions. Now, I don’t think that we should necessarily be judging harshly the CONTENT of that message unless it’s dangerous or offensive, in which case you should rant about it on a blog and enter into debate with the designer. They have a right to say what they want, and it’s unreasonable to ding them for disagreeing with you, but it’s all well and good to ding them for saying it poorly.

  6. TheSombreroKid says:

    chilax, don’t be ashamed of yor birthday suit! i think it’s a bit of both art and sex which is fine in the context it’s presented, presenting a ww2 raped and murdered spy as a sex symbol is tasteless, this is not.

  7. Archonsod says:

    They could make a game about Nazi concentration camp porn for all I care, as long as it’s fun and entertaining to play.

  8. Bhazor says:

    Ugh.
    The human body is the most repulsive thing in the world.
    Thank god I don’t have one.

  9. Jon says:

    I’m constantly amazed at how people and the media get all bent out of shape over nudity! We don’t have trouble with violence – just sex. Not even sex – just nudity (which seems enough to imply sex to many).

    Have a main character blow peoples brains out? No problem. We’ll stick a mature label on it and, for the most part (except in Australia perhaps?) people are ok with it. The discussion turns to how realistic the blood spatters are… But, god help us if we see a *NIPPLE* Now THAT is newsworthy!

    Exactly how repressed is our culture? It’s a boob. Perhaps even a very sexily depicted one. Get over it.

    Just like video games will not turn you into a homicidal killer – seeing nudity in a game or movie will not drive you to get a sex change or turn you into a sex offender.

    With this kind of perceived power, why send the military to Iraq or Afghanistan? Just send a boatload of topless women! Theoretically it should be way more effective.

    • DK says:

      You shouldn’t speak for everyone – people in most of Europe are perfectly fine with nudity and don’t freak out over a nipple. Violence is a far bigger problem for a game in those countries – the more common sense stance I might add.

    • Bhazor says:

      Every song is art.
      Every book is art.
      Every film is art.
      Every game is art.
      Every creative work is art.

      But art doesn’t mean the same as good.

    • Bhazor says:

      Oh poo. That wasn’t meant for here. Sorry lads.

  10. Psychopomp says:

    As long as we don’t start giving out rave reviews to incomprehensible garbage, and docking stuff points for trying to tell a legitimate story, I’m fine.

    Seriously, the “art” world is ass backwards right now.

  11. Pijama says:

    Well…

    Say what you want, but if they cry havoc on this, I will just ask about Dragon Age’s sex scene(s?).

    Let the Russians do their aspirations. Dostoevsky wtfpwned almost every damn writer in Europe on his time.

    (And Nikolay really does look like he just left a St. Petersburg imperial art school or something)

  12. Aisi says:

    Any word on the US release? Digital/physical, date, etc?

  13. Berzee says:

    Oh, well if it’s next to __suits and paintings__ then…

    pshaw.

    Nudity as “artistic” doesn’t make it any less inadvisable. It is best suited to making marriage Even Extra Awesome and it fails to do that job nearly so well if you start throwing it around like so much aesthetic fingerpaint.

  14. ordteapot says:

    Looking at that first photo, there’s the (mostly) nude woman, yes, but I find myself staring deep into Nikolay’s soulful eyes. And thinking about that beard. With that jacket.

    Isn’t it about time for a second horribly-confused-homoeroticism tagged post?

  15. Cedge says:

    I fear The Void is going to be the subject of unjust moral outrage because it features female nudity.

    Eh, I’ll be surprised if more than a few thousand people even notice the game, much less raise any measure of moral outrage about some cybertits.

  16. fuggles says:

    So…the longest journey then?

    • fuggles says:

      Bah, that was supposed to be a reply about blatant male nudity in games. Now, watchmen…

  17. Railick says:

    People don't generally get all upset just because a game has nudity in it any how. If the game says it has nudity up front and has the proper rating then no one will get miffed. It is only when the game has a lower rating and says nothing about nudity then suddenly parents come home to find their kids watching nudity on a game they THOUGHT was only about random violence (Yah I know its stupid but its true)that they get upset. If it says it has nudity on the box it is no ones fault but the parents. If it has unlockable nudity that no one told anyone about and is easily unlockable then people start to get upset very quickly.

  18. Evan says:

    This is hysterical. I love that everyone just loves to line up an blow the “The United States is so puritanical” horn. It’s cathartic, huh? Then you can just run to the next forum and do it again.

    I’m not saying we don’t have a problem with nudity, but really? This again and again is a little annoying. The idolizing of objectification and rape fantasies as an expression of freedom from “cynicism, fear of political correctness and Englishness” shuts down debate about the artistic merits of a game as much as those fears themselves do.

    • Evan says:

      Sorry, as a US citizen, I’m used to hearing “The United States is so puritanical”. You’re welcome to insert whatever English speaking country you like in place of it.

    • Psychopomp says:

      I don’t know how it is up in the northern states, but down here in the south people can be pretty damn puritanical.

    • Luckylad says:

      Its all simply a matter of whos company you keep. Personally, I’m from one of the most puritanical states in the nation by stereotype but I’m staying at the capital cities which by chance happens to be one of the most liberal cities in the nation. Calling it one way or another for any area is ill advised and short sighted.

  19. Muzman says:

    It sounds tricky if, while playing, it takes a while to notice “sexiness” isn’t necessarily sexy. Like life I suppose. Games being adolescent things in all respects, subject mostly to reactions of short attention spans or knee jerk reactionism, it does seem headed for trouble.

    If nothing else I’m looking forward to it catching on and all of EA rocking turtlenecks and artisitic detatchement next E3.

  20. Joseph says:

    Everyone can think whatever they want of it. That’s the beauty of life. Are you worried it’ll be banned or something? Where’s the issue here? Are you just trying to put it out there that this may be art instead of shallow sexiness so that others might enjoy it as well? That’s nice of you. Good day, kind sirs.

    • Joseph says:

      It’s up to the person perceiving it to see what they want in it – it’s up to interpretation, and you believing the nudity was there to keep people interested and therefore feeling bad about it for those initial hours was just a veil over your eyes, you not taking it in for yourself and instead following the preconceived ideas of “sex in games” and “why this was done”.

      In my opinion you’d be better off using this article to explain to people that the female body is something beautiful and potentially adds insight to an experience, just like everything else in the world, and to understand that it’s all multifaceted and whatever you want it to be. It’s sad that people need this explained, because the world is so beautiful and it’d be great if everyone could see that and be happy.

    • Joseph says:

      Wait, now I get it.

      Is it just there purely to be sex and therefore attract customers, or is there some meaning to it.

      Don’t know why it took me that long to get. Enjoy my random craziness above.

    • Joseph says:

      WAIT WAIT WAIT UP A SECOND. I’VE CHANGED MY MIND AGAIN.

      Who cares why they put it in. It’s there for you to enjoy. Regardless of why – why is irrelivant. If you think “this is cheap sex” you are MISSING THE POINT. It’s an experience, not a word or an idea. Enjoy it. Don’t waste your time thinking about whether or not it is a good or bad depiction of “sex”. That’s silly. Nothing should be any certain way. Everything just is. There is only now.

      Who care’s why they put it in. It’s there for you to experience, if there’s not something inherently wrong with the human body, which there’s not, then there’s nothing wrong with putting it in games, wherever you want, for whatever reason.

      That’s my stance on it.

      Enjoy every little thing in life for what it is instead of limiting it and worrying about pointless shit.

  21. Terazeal says:

    It’s too bad they put something so revolting in this game, it looks really good otherwise. Or maybe it’ll be so good that the intense queasiness will be worth it, who knows.

    • Mr.President says:

      It’s actually not revolting at all. The whole thing worried me too before I tried playing the game, and it could turn out creepy as hell, but it really isn’t. Nudity is handled as tastefully as I could hope for. Still, felt kinda uncomfortable at first – not the kind of thing I’m used to seeing in games – but after a short while it was like the most natural thing in the world. It’s just a character design decision after all, not an attempt to exploit sexual urges (and anyone who perceives a video game character in any sort of sexual way has problems and needs to go out more anyway).

      It also needs to be said that the girls being abused is merely Quinns’ impression and is highly disputable.

    • Dominic White says:

      Yeah, I never got the feeling that anyone was being abused but the player character, and certainly not sexually. This whole article feels like it was written starting out in a guilty-feeling mindset and going from there.

      The Sisters are beautiful, soft-spoken, siren-like creatures who ask you to do their dirty work.. Which doesn’t sound that great, but it seems infinitely preferable to running errands for the Brothers, who are twisted, nightmarish creatures of flesh and steel, who’s very passing can unravel all your hard work.

      It’s manipulating the player in one of the most instinctive ways possible.

  22. Helm says:

    Actually I’d say that if you experience no sexual impulse when you see (even somewhat symbolized) forms of suggestive nakedness, you’re the one that *might* need to … well, not go out more, but ponder on your situation a bit. Same goes for when you see violence (of whatever degree of stylizations), if on no level absolutely you feel any ambiguous thrill and/or horror, perhaps it’s time to stop consuming so much because you’re getting desensitized.

    This doesn’t mean this game is bad or wrong or whatever, I always have trouble following the premise that art endorses an ethical viewpoint or promotes it. I think that point of view is tied very much with hyperconsumer behavior, people feeling that a game should be about entertaining them first and foremost, and as such should not make them uncomfortable or press any of their moral buttons. If it does, they won’t patronize it with their money. That’s how you expect a mustard to work, you buy it because mustard makes you happy.

    Perhaps product is here to make you happy, but art is here to rape you.

  23. Vandelay says:

    Agree with you there. This whole topic has gone off on a tangent away from what the original article was really all about. No one really cares if a game features nudity for a good purpose and Quinns was perfectly fine with the inclusion of the naked women when he realised the reason behind it. The problem was that he original thought that the game was depicting a character that would find weak women in a world that was controlled by men and effectively rape them, complete with writhing bodies. Initially, he thought that the game was potentially sexist and misogynistic. That would be a problem.

    Similarly, if a game starts having naked women (or men) all over the place merely for the sake of titillation and to objectify the naked character then we start getting into icky Michael Bay-esque territory, which is certainly one that I would rather not be a part of the games I play.

    Simply saying “You are puritanical if you have a problem with nudity in games” or “The human body is beautiful thing and shouldn’t be frowned upon as a problem” (equally true statements) is belittling the debate and missing the point.

    • Psychopomp says:

      “Similarly, if a game starts having naked women (or men) all over the place merely for the sake of titillation and to objectify the naked character then we start getting into icky Michael Bay-esque territory, which is certainly one that I would rather not be a part of the games I play.”

      I don’t know, God of War is pretty damn fun.

  24. Vandelay says:

    This was meant to be in replay to Evan, when he said “The idolizing of objectification and rape fantasies as an expression of freedom from “cynicism, fear of political correctness and Englishness” shuts down debate about the artistic merits of a game as much as those fears themselves do.”

    Think your comments system is a bit screwed up. I can’t access the forums either.

  25. Ian Hatch says:

    Yeah, this. I’d love for the games industry to be in a place where a game about abuse was acceptable, if disturbing, but we’re not. The vast majority of games which do feature women or sex are very derogatory, and perpetrate the sex as commodity model which perpetuates abuse and sexism in the first place.

    Maybe it would be acceptable if the game were making a statement *about* women in video games, but in light of the fact it took so long for you to decide it was about abuse in the first place, I’m not convinced.

  26. Ian Hatch says:

    Sorry, post was intended in reply to “Hmm-Hmm”, above.

  27. Ian Hatch says:

    Also, having read the rest of the comment thread: I mean acceptable to me. I have no desire to see the game banned or modified, I just won’t be buying it, and will be entering a frank moral discussion with anyone who tells me we need more games like it.

    Also, if the game really is intended to creep out the user with his forcing of “colour” on the game’s NPCs, then more power to them. If it’s as subtle as you say, I have a doubt, and I’d be more inclined to think that the developers thought it would be awesome to have a sex metaphor.

    For your reading pleasure: http://www.gamecritics.com/alex-raymond/women-arent-vending-machines-how-video-games-perpetuate-the-commodity-model-of-sex

    • Dominic White says:

      If you read this thread, the people who have actually played the game seem to be generally disagreeing with Quinns about the whole abuse/force angle. It sounds like he’s pretty heavily overthinking it all There’s definitely thematic reasons for the nudity. ALL the characters, male or female are naked (including the players avatar, who maybe be blue and ghostly, but you can still see your man-bits in your character screen), it’s just that the Brothers are so twisted that you barely notice it on them.

      It sounds like he’s gone into this article feeling very guilty about enjoying something featuring naked ladies and coming up with a much darker interpretation of events than most would come away with.

    • Quinns says:

      “All of the characters, male or female,” are not naked. Perhaps something I should have made clearer in the article is when I say the game cuts to the women being naked during conversations, they’re wearing clothes beforehand.

  28. del says:

    Quirk, that’s exactly what I was getting at. In the same way as having a woman dressed in a skin-tight black dress can be just as sexy, if not moreso, than having them appear entirely naked, does the atmosphere of Void feel enhanced by their nakedness in a way that could not have been achieved, with the same or more impact, using other methods? It’s probably something I’d have to play the game for to see how they’ve worked with it but a lot of the time I see developers using nudity as titillation first and impact second.

    I think that you’re right to say that the naked form can be used to great effect, much further than just porn. I just wondered if this was the effect achieved in the game and whether the same effect could have been achieved without its use.

  29. Nalano says:

    I say this in all compassion and grace, but you people really need to get laid.

  30. Mr.President says:

    Perhaps the main reason why I was okay with all the T&A is that I had played and enjoyed Pathologic. Ice-Pick are about as far from machoist objectifying types and creepy hentai game developers as you can get, so I trusted their intentions and let myself enjoy the game.

    Hmm, this is probably not that different from the point Quintin made in his article.

  31. Tore says:

    This is the best piece of games writing I have ever read, without a doubt. That man in the photographs looks stunning, too.

  32. name says:

    I like this post, it is hilarious.

  33. Thomas says:

    When I first saw the screenshots for The Void, it reminded me instantly of Surrealist painters such as Dali. He has produced some of the finest paintings of the 20th century and many of them featured nudes.

    Everyone seems to be wrangling over whether the female nudity in The Void is entirely necessary. Sadly, I have yet to play it (although post willing, my copy will arrive tomorrow \o/ ) but from the descriptions of the characters – the brutal, cold, emotionless Brothers, it does seem quite valid in this case.

    Nudes were often used in Surrealist paintings (oh for heaven’s sake, check wikipedia for more info) as a *counterpoint* to something else – sometimes violence or corruption, or as a mockery of civilised values. Again, what information I’ve found out about the personality of the Sisters suggests that they are not exactly mindless airheads such as you’d find in a lads mag but cruel manipulators, sirens and similar.

    To summarise, the nudity I think deserves its place here – the beautiful and erotic forums of the Sisters contrasts the nightmarish appearences of the Brothers and serves to lull the player into a false sense of security. Of course, sometimes beauty is only skin deep…..

  34. Jon says:

    I think what bother’s me the most about pseudo-political / pseudo-intellectual conversations that take place in venues like this, would be the complete ignorance of the obvious. That being, (albeit an overused cliche) sex-sells. Now, before anyone jumps to the conclusion that I’m asserting that the IN-GAME sex is what’s selling here, I’m not.
    Instead what I’m alluding to is that exactly the same moral choices, as if within a mirror of our daily lives, is what takes place within the heart and mind of the protagonist of this game. Were this a driving game, you could be damn certain that he would be coming to a complete stop undeterred by the traffic backing up behind him to allow one of these beautiful ladies to cross the road. Now, alternatively take another UNattractive female crossing the same road at the same time, all the sudden his risk versus reward mechanism kicks in and dictates to him “dont bother”.

    Unfortunately this is human nature, this is EXACTLY what would happen in the real world, a man, myself ABSOLUTELY included, would gladly do these girls dirty work with the reward (because of the visual she portends) already firmly in place in his mind, being well worth the risk.

    These girls (in the game) are selling precisely what they know the protagonist is buying, and if ANYTHING, this game is completely an experiment in human nature and introspection, and if the NUDITY bothers someone, I would suspect it would arise from 1 of 2 places: Either they see something within themselves that they dont like (because of the truth of it and how THEY would react), or perhaps from some ultra-feminist group whose sole purpose in life is to do nothing more than demoralize a healthy sexual appetite (typically because they themselves find that they are the ‘not so attractive types trying to cross the road’ and no one is taking the risk side for the reward)