Non-Sexual Nudity

What makes character design sexualised?

I've been thinking about this question a lot recently. I've encountered a few game characters lately who show a lot of skin, but don't imply (to me) that sex was objective of their design. I find this quite encouraging, but of course not everyone sees these particular examples in the same way.

It's possible that being a straight female makes it easier for me to see female nudity (or semi-nudity) as something other than sexual, but I suspect that's being unfair. It's also quite possible I'm just horribly naïve, but even if my examples turn out to be poor the idea remains interesting.

Some people do continue to complain about nudity in painting and sculpture, but there's mainstream acceptance of the artistic merits. I don't see any reason games shouldn't also be capable of meaningful exploration of the human form.

I worry sometimes about how censorship alters the perception of our bodies. Where once a naked child might have represented innocence, now it probably implies something much darker. Innocence is corrupted not just by paedophilia itself, but also by the perception and consciousness of it.

Nudity does not automatically equal sex, though. I like to approach it with a more open mind.

In The Void the Sisters are naked except for glowing chains, which are gradually removed as you feed them with colour. Their bodies writhe, dance, or spin. Depending on your viewpoint it's either cheap titillation or tasteful art.

The Void Screenshot

A nude woman floating in midair, entwined with chains of bright lights.

I haven't played far enough yet to know what's going on in The Void. I don't know what my later interpretations will be. But the important point is that I didn't automatically link this nudity to sex. It's an artistic game overall, and that's how I approached it.

My initial impressions are definitely about beauty and vulnerability rather than eroticism. Naturally linking a nude female to vulnerability may be problematic for other reasons, but it was my honest reaction.

Our male character is also shown naked, though he's also rather, erm, emasculated, which probably adds to the impression of his vulnerability. Sisters are also lacking when it comes to genitals, but that doesn't carry quite the same connotations. It acts as an equaliser, at least in my early stage of the game. As my character becomes more powerful I expect to see him quite differently, but maybe if the game remains tense enough he might retain that vulnerability.

Recently I've had some good-natured arguments about Jack from Mass Effect 2. In her default outfit she's naked above the waist, with only a thin harness for modesty. Now, Jack is arguably a sexual character. At least, she has a casual approach to sex and is a romance option for male Shepard. That's not the first impression I get from her appearance though.

I know I'm not the best judge of female attractiveness, but to me the look is more tough than sexy. She'll wear whatever the fuck she wants, and I find it doubtful she's doing it to pander to a sexual gaze. The tattoos also make her seem more clothed than she actually is.

Jack

Jack. She has a shaved head and heavily tattooed skin. She is almost bare above the waist

My Shepard is also not to be messed with, so watching her and Jack facing off is pretty interesting. My partner has a more paragon approach, and finds Jack's attitude intimidating and appearance confronting. Our reactions were very different, and I think he'd say I was being too generous in suggesting that Jack's appearance was not sexually motivated. I think of her in pretty much the same way I would a man with their shirt off. In the hot day socially acceptable sense, not the male model sense.

Where the Sisters in The Void are naked and vulnerable, Jack bares her skin as a sign of strength. There's a huge diversity of symbols and ideas we potentially cut ourselves off from through censorship, or by simplifying nudity in our minds to always be about sex.

Not to say that there's necessarily a problem when it is about sex. There's nothing wrong with exploring natural elements of human experience.