Prostitutes are often depicted in video games as minor, non-player characters. These representations are usually negative, associating prostitutes with social ills and perpetuating stereotypes of sex workers as deviant, subservient to male desire, and victims of violence and drugs. Player interactions with sex workers can sometimes lead to a “health boost” or some other form of reward within the game. Prostitutes are therefore represented as objects to be exploited for the player’s personal gain. Often, prostitutes are simply present in virtual worlds to contribute to a seedy atmosphere, meant to convey that a particular environment is crime-ridden. Few video games offer insight into the perspective of sex workers
Prostitutes are repeatedly depicted as victims of violence and drugs. Some games depict them as victims of horrendous murders (Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper, Ho-Tel), others portray them as drug addicts (Liberal Crime Squad). Sometimes, players are given the option of intervening or allowing for the prostitute to be killed (as in the case of Red Dead Redemption, Heavy Rain). In other games, most famously in Grand Theft Auto, the player is actually given the option of beating up a prostitute for gain within the game.
When prostitutes are characters in the story, as in the case of Gun Showdown or Heavy Rain, the narrative situates them as looking for ways to escape the world of prostitution. Sex work is not depicted as a choice but the product of difficult life circumstances. In both of these games, the prostitutes are attacked and players decide whether to intervene or not. In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, there is a somewhat positive representation of a prostitute in the character of Mei Suen. She runs a brothel, takes care of her employees, and is clever and strong enough not to succumb to the wills of the criminals that eventually take over her business. However, she can be knocked out or killed by the player.
Ho-Tel, “A Game of Ho’s & Whores”, puts the player in the position of a pimp who must build a sex industry empire. This game explicitly depicts sex workers as objects to be controlled and exploited. Although to have a successful business the player must keep their employees happy, this can done through buying sex workers cocain or allowing them to “suck on your dick”. All other options the player has, such as buying employees “whore clothes” or paying for their plastic surgery, have to do with making sex workers more attractive and therefore more profitable.
Because prostitutes are non-player characters, they are awarded no agency within game play. Prostitutes are never portrayed as empowered subjects but as victims to their profession. Furthermore, interactions between a sex worker and a player are not portrayed as negotiated business transactions. Prostitutes simply succumb to the sexual “desires” of the player at the click of a console.
RESOURCE: Giant Bomb