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Sex in games sells

AUSTIN, TEX.--After a morning of panels at the Women's Game Conference here, it had appeared that the concept of expanding opportunities for women in the video game industry appealed to a scant few men.

But one panelist figured out how to change that.

"This is the Women's Game Conference," began Brenda Brathwaite, a game designer who heads up the International Game Developers Association's Sex special interest group. "Well, if you want to get a lot more men to show up, have a panel on sex in games. Because I see a lot more men in here than in some of the earlier sessions."

That quip set the tone for Brathwaite's Sex in Games panel Wednesday which, in truth, and thanks to the dozens of men in the room who complemented the close to 200 women, was probably the best-attended event of the Women's Game Conference.

Brathwaite, who is writing a book about adult video games, proceeded to lead a lively hour-long primer on sexually oriented games.

Beginning with a discussion of early text-only games like "Leather Goddesses of Phobos" and continuing to present-day explicit titles like "Virtually Jenna," Brathwaite managed to toe what could have been a controversial, highly charged issue by keeping people laughing.

Speaking, for instance, about an extremely explicit image from "Virtually Jenna" that had more than a few people in the room wide-eyed and covering their mouths, Braithwaite joked, "I can't believe I'm getting away with showing this at a game conference."

Yet, the point of her talk was well-taken: Adult video games, when properly rated, can be both entertaining and profitable. And to a room full of current and would-be game developers, this was instructive stuff.

But in the wake of the scandal surrounding downloadable sexually explicit material for the game "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas," Brathwaite cautioned the room that though adult games can have a significant market, it might be worth waiting a little while before trying to release a new one.

"I would hate to be a sex content developer going to the ESRB (to get a game rated) after Hot Coffee," she said. "That would suck."