We have all heard people say that sex and graphic violence sells, especially when talking about movies and video games. It’s an easy thing to believe, and in the short-term it’s a little true. Who doesn’t love a good action-packed blockbuster with explosions, guns, and girls in swimsuits? I know, a lot of people don’t love them, but for a large portion entertainment consumers, this sort of escape is exciting. These are things we don’t normally experience in our day-to-day lives so we experience them through entertainment. Games like Grant Theft Auto V, Middle Earth: Shadows of Mordor and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare made the top ten biggest sellers of 2014. People do like action, including graphic violence, and they like attractive, sexy people in their games and movies, but is that all that drives gamers as a lot of non-gamers and gamer critics like to claim?
Even looking at 2014’s top sellers, this is mostly disproved. Of the top ten games of last year there were just as many graphically violent games (4) as non-violent (4), and two in between. Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire and Super Smash Bros., while both fighting games of a sort, are so cartoony that they can hardly be put in a category with games like GTA V or COD: AW. Of course, if you want to get technical they are violent so could tip things that way but that’s very debatable. In the category of sexy, or games with sexualized content in the top sellers, we really only have one with GTA V, so I’d say there is clear evidence that gamers don’t just want games with nudity, scantily clad people, or sexual content. Hint: Gamers want fun over anything else, and so far fun is NOT a code word for violence from what we can tell.
What we should do, however, to really test this trope is to look at all-time numbers. Over the course of video game history, have gamers preferred games with sex and violence over others?
The quickest source to find a list of best selling games is (unfortunately) over at Wikipedia. In the top ten sellers of all time, we have one, just one game that has sex and violence. As a matter of fact Tetris, for mobile devices (not even the original Tetris) is our top seller at 100 million copies, over twice as many as GTA V. GTA comes in 4th, and is the only game in the top ten that I would consider violent. The list across all platforms includes 43 games that have sold over 15 million copies. Of those 43 only 14 of them are games depicting violence such as war, crime, murder, or just generally swinging swords at monsters. Only four of them, that I can see, have depictions of people in sexual situations, or depictions of sexualized people. The majority of the violent games on the list are games that depict war rather than what’s more commonly considered criminal violence.
Of course there are a few other games on the list, if you have a loose definition of graphic violence, that might be considered violent. Super Mario games where you smash cartoon turtles and mushrooms or Pokémon games where you get mythical creatures to fight each other in fantastic duels are both a form of violence, but again, I can’t imagine anyone would put them in the same category with COD or GTA. Even if we did, though, it would not push the trend toward the purchase of violent games over non-violent ones. So what we seem to be dealing with here is another trope, used by critics of gamers, and the gaming industry, to try and make some connection between gamers and violent tendencies, or game makers catering to a crowd of degenerates that only consume sex and violence. I suppose someone could go further, look at all games that have ever been released, and compare numbers to see but that’s for someone with far more time than I have. As far as I’m concerned we can chalk this one to be a myth, a trope, without anything to really back it up.