Poison from Final Fight is probably one of the most controversial characters in games. The reason for that is not her actions, but her gender. See, we still have to this day people who aren't sure if she is a woman or a transsexual. All that comes from confusions caused by problems localizing Final Fight in the US and several conflicting stories about her sexuality. According to the most common legend, she was supposed to be a girl, but the Japanese where afraid that Western public would have issues beating up a women and make Poison and her color swap Roxy were changed to be transsexuals.
According to a video posted on Joystiq, Poison was supposed to be transsexual from start. But why it is that important? There is no event in Final Fight that make her sexuality being important. In the end, it is more about gamers afraid that all the sex fantasies they have with her was in fact they having fantasies with a transsexuals.
Does it matter? No, because this fact have no effect in gameplay. And yes, because it opens an interesting precedent. Games rarely delve into sexual themes. Japanese games will have the classic gay character that serves as comic relieve many times. Western games rarely will touch the subject (with exception maybe of The Ballad of Gay Tony, a DLC for GTAIV that I am yet to play). And that is both a good and a bad thing.
Games have its way to go with sexual themes. Most games who have sexual content (and I am not talking about scantily clad big boobed women as sexual theme) usually have no idea about what to do with it. Dragon Age and Mass Effect, two games famous for their sexual content, have sex as a secondary matter and just a side quest. They aren't about sex. And the sex scenes are usually awkward to see, as too teenagers doing it for the first time. Heavy Rain probably deserve the great prize for most hilariously bad sex scene ever.
The classic Leisure Suit Larry games were all about sex (and probably the only sex game many gamers admit to have played), but in a parody way. Not something deep. Most games who has sex scenes have it for the sake of it. There is no exploration of the sexual themes. It is another 'selling point' or attempt to be seem as 'mature'. Only a few games explore sexuality as an important part of its story.
The one I have played and that did it well was Persona 4. It has two characters in trouble with their sexuality. Kanji Tatsumi is a troublemaker with that rebel attitude. But he does it because he want to hide the fact that he love activities seemly feminine, like knitting. If he is homosexual or not is left pretty open to the player decide, but he have trouble to be accepted by who he is instead of what society expect him to be.
Naoto Shirogane is another character who wants acceptance. She is a girl who wants to be a detective, but fear she couldn't be because the world of detectives are, in her eyes, a male world. So she acts masculine in order to be judged by her talents as a detective, not because she lack something between her legs.
|Naoto is the one with the hat and Kanji the guy with the skull t-shirt.|
Books and movies have used sex and sexual themes as central arguments for a long time ago. It is a trick subject, hardly to get it in a sensible way and avoiding exploitation. Games have just started dealing with storytelling recently. And a risky subject like sex and sexuality is something that must be handled with care. And this industry is not famous for sensitivity while dealing with complex and controversial themes.
One day we might see a game with sexual themes as the main element. I mean a 'serious' game, not a parody like Leisure Suit Larry or straight porn games like many eroge. A game where the reasons of the characters and their interactions revolve around sex, not necessarily games with sex in them.
But maybe part of the problem is games 'audience'. Gamers are still seem as 'immature'. But gamers are getting old too. And as age come by, many of us start wanting something deeper. Maybe one day we will have games with gay protagonists trying to save their boyfriends or others were you discover that your princess were not born that way and must deal with it.
Hopefully, game as a media for storytelling will keep growing and evolving, as the players keep doing it too. And them sex in games will stop being a taboo and start being a subject worth discussing about.