March 2, 2013 by pitak22
When released in 2010 by Sony, Heavy Rain was lauded for its pacing and “effective controls,” and was the tenth best-selling game in the US. But even such a highly acclaimed game has its flaws, and in Heavy Rain’s case, those flaws are most apparent in its sex scenes. The sex scene I will focus on in particular happens between Ethan Mars, an emotionally scarred father trying to save his son from the Origami Killer, and Madison Paige, a photojournalist who ends up investigating the Origami Killer case and befriending Ethan. I’ve always wondered the point of having a sex scene in a video game, especially an interactive one. Are they supposed to induce arousal within the player? Validate an adult narrative by pushing the envelope? Establish an emotional connection between two characters? Regardless of its intention, the outcome this particular scene is an awkward amalgamation of the uncanny effect and perhaps a sequence of action that should not be interactive.
The clip above demonstrates just how the uncanny effect can be. In fact, it’s so unsettling that I literally get squeamish, waving my hands around my head in an attempt to erase the images on my screen. Before I continue this analysis, let me get this out of the way: I am not a prude. I am no stranger to sex scenes in film and television, and I acknowledge the artistry and narrative significance of (some) them. But the Heavy Rain sex scene is just, for lack of a better word, weird. One of the main issues are the faces. Though emotionally nuanced (e.g the tears streaking down Ethan’s tensed face as he cries over killing a man), once Ethan and Madison make physical contact, the fact that I’m watching two computer-generated graphics about to get it on becomes painfully apparent. When they touch, whether it’s Ethan’s hand “pressing” against Madison’s bare back or lip to lip contact, they aren’t really touching. The skin does not indent under pressure. When Ethan runs his hands through Madison’s hair, her hair does not move. And during their kissing, it’s almost as if Ethan and Madison are trying to eat each other’s faces but in actuality the faces are holograms and it’s a horrible trick but they are going to keep going because maybe, just maybe, they’ll become a real boy and girl.
Continuing on the topic of kissing, aside from the lack of convincing physical contact, both of their jaws have the tendency to tick, especially Madison’s. A prime example is at the 2.37 mark in the clip. Her mouth opens and almost closes several times in succession, but the because the actions do not have nuanced distinctions, the fact that the game designer used a repeated algorithm for the movement is obvious.
Details such as the lack of rendering convincing physical contact and stiff, robotic movements bring the player out of the diegesis. These details are only exacerbated by realistic vocals. Heavy breathing, lips smacking, and the rustle of clothes permeate the atmosphere and overpower the background music. Because the visuals and sound effects do not match in quality, I feel like a voyeur watching two androids having sex. They seem human but something is a little off. The uncanny effect would be bearable in any other situation, because for what they are, the graphics are quite good. However, sex is probably the most un-machine-like, organic type of interaction. A convincing sex scene requires a certain fluidity. I don’t mean flawless choreography,but the visuals need to be fully believable..
A visual I do appreciate are Madison’s and Ethan’s hands. In comparison to other games’ graphics, their hands are some of the most convincing I’ve seen. The stiffness is present but it’s not as obvious as rest of Ethan and Madison’s bodies. Of course, I can’t fully appreciate the hands with symbols signaling which buttons to press on the controller blinking next to Ethan’s crotch or Madison’s bra strap.
The interactivity of the sex scene is the most bothersome aspect of the sequence. Because the game is viewed from a third person perspective, the player acts as a controller of a completely separate body. It feels wrong to be controlling a person during a such an intimate encounter, even if they are digital. That type of control is the ultimate power that no person should have.