Blog - Updated on May 13, 2022

In every town in Zelda 2, there are women in red dresses – they come out of their houses when Link passes by and invite the hero over to help him. “Please let me help you. Come inside,” the enchantresses say, and when the hero leaves the house, his life is restored.

Players on various forums have been discussing who these red-dressed sorceresses are and how they restore Link’s health. The Zelda Dungeon website says that they are healers, but some players consider them to be sex workers. Not only because the magicians wear red dresses, but also because the player is not shown the decoration of their houses – although when Link enters any other house, he sees it from the inside: windows, furniture, walls, everything that is.

Obvious sex workers appeared in games later: the first thing everyone remembers is GTA. But there are many more prostitutes in games. Giant Bomb, a video game review and news site with a library of 80,000 games, returns 92 games for “prostitute”.

In 2017, video game theorist and UC Irvine Associate Professor of Film Science Bonnie Ruberg wrote her dissertation, Representing Sex Workers in Video Games: Feminism, Fantasies of Exclusivity, and the Value of Erotic Labor, which was published in the journal Feminist Media Studies.

Ruberg was interested in how AAA games show sex workers, how other characters treat them, and how the player can or should interact with them.

In addition to Ruberg, Kaeleigh Evans and Emma Tarver, students at the Canadian universities of Simon Fraser and British Columbia, studied sex workers in games – their work was published in First Person Scholar.

Kotaku, Vice, TheGamer, TheJournal.ie, PopMatters, The Oldest Game, New Statesman – gaming and non-gaming publications have also written articles in defense of virtual sex workers.

And that’s why.

Sex workers in games devalue their labor

According to studies and feature articles, sex workers in games devalue their work because they offer their services either at a discount or for free.

Such moths are found in Binary Domain, Godfather 2, Fallout: New Vegas, and Sleeping Dogs.

And in GTA 5, the player can have sex with a stripper for free if she likes it during her private dance: for this, the dancer needs to be touched and stroked.

According to Bonnie Ruberg, the problem is not even that games devalue the work of sex workers, but that players take it for granted and can demand a discount from real sex workers.

In the US, prostitution is legal only in the state of Nevada, but not on the street, but in brothels (!) And only in ten out of sixteen districts. At the same time, out of ten counties, brothels remained in seven: in Lyon, Esmeralda, Churchill, Lander, Mineral, Storey and Nye County.

It seems strange that a person who has come to a brothel should seriously ask a prostitute for a discount.

In Europe, priestesses of love can work on the street in Germany and the Netherlands.

Outside of Europe, moths work on the streets in New Zealand and in the state of New South Wales in Australia.

At the same time, there are brothels in Germany, the Netherlands and Australia, but, for example, in France they are prohibited, so the local getters work only on the streets or at home.

Irina Solovieva from Snob interviewed a Russian prostitute who works in France – the heroine says that some girls are molested, but they are saved by the law on fines for clients.

Irina Vovchek from Irk.ru talked to a prostitute who lives and works in Irkutsk. The heroine says that there are discounts for regular customers, and non-permanent ones ask for cheaper prices, apparently because of the crisis. “We are not a rip-off, we understand everything, we also have a crisis. Everyone has a crisis, ”says the heroine.

So that clients do not deceive sex workers, many young ladies take an advance payment. And offices that bring clients together with their employees also ask for an advance payment – this is a normal and correct practice.

A familiar prostitute (yes, damn, a familiar prostitute) told me that some escort agencies also work on a prepaid basis, while others ask you to pay for services online, and only then share their interest and the money of the workers.

Someone is probably asking for discounts from sex workers because they may have seen it in games – and while we don’t know how many people there are, Bonnie Ruberg’s fears can be explained.

Sex workers in games are expendable

In GTA 5, moths restore health, and in Sleeping Dogs they increase authority, which gives different bonuses depending on their level. At first, the hero learns to restore health in battle, then he takes less damage and deals more, and the last level of authority gives the hero a 40% discount on cars, clothes and food.

Feminist Frequency founder Anita Sarkeesian compared prostitutes in GTA and Sleeping Dogs to soda machines: sugary drinks also restore health in GTA and increase damage in Sleeping Dogs.

Real sex workers do not give bonuses and do not increase damage, but they get a coronavirus vaccination in the Funpalast Austrian brothel.

According to the manager of the brothel Peter Lascaris (Peter Lascaris), the vaccination room was opened because 63% of citizens in the country were vaccinated, and 70-75% of citizens who were vaccinated had good herd immunity from coronavirus.

There are many visiting men in Austria who do not even know that they can also be vaccinated – and the locals do not go to the doctor, but go to Funpalast: it is easier for both of them to get vaccinated in a brothel.

Vaccinations are given not only to men, but also to women and teenagers – they do not need to go to the brothel, because it is separated by a fitness room.

Everyone who gets vaccinated at Funpalast is given certificates for 40 euros – women and teenagers can spend it on fitness, and men on brothel workers.

Vaccination is not soda.

Sex workers in games are not free and only needed for violence

Kylie Evans and Emma Tarver, who have studied sex workers in Bioshock, Fable 3, Red Dead Redemption, Saint’s Row 3, Heavy Rain, GTA 5, Witcher 3 and Wolf Among Us, write that games always show love priestesses as an underclass.

Virtual sex workers live and work either in the poorest neighborhoods or in brothels and cannot be found in other locations or doing other things – they are hostages to their work.

The sex workers in Fable 3 are waiting for the hero in the Old Quarter of New Bowerstone, in the robber camp or in the brothel that the hero can build from the old orphanage. (The orphanage can also be repaired to have more children for the hero to adopt, but the brothel will bring in more than a million coins to the treasury – this is the most profitable enterprise in the game.)

In BioShock, sex workers lived in Siren’s Alley, which was not only brothels and bars, but also an underground plasmid laboratory. Siren Alley was built by Rapture designers Daniel and Simon Wales, the area was one of the most prestigious in the city: shopping centers, expensive houses, restaurants. Everything changed when Rapture began to seep into the water. Citizens left their homes, gangsters converted shops into casinos and bars, Daniel Wales opened the Pink Pearl brothel and became a pimp, and his brother Simon went crazy and began to invite mutants into the Rapture Family cult. At the same time, the Alley of the Sirens began to be called the Alley of the Sirens – before it was just an expensive, rich area.

Bonnie Ruberg thinks the developers are disrespectful of sex workers as NPCs. “… There are a lot of NPCs in games that work and provide various services, the player pays them and moves on – for example, the same merchants …” – writes Ruberg.

At the same time, Bonnie notes that sex workers are not the only problematic NPCs, because games generally disrespect NPCs.

Kylie Evans and Emma Tarver write that killing sex workers in games is just as optional as killing other NPCs. You can, but not necessarily – like other NPCs.

In GTA 5, you can have sex with a prostitute to restore your character’s health, and then kill the prostitute and return the money you paid for sex.

In Fallout: New Vegas, you can also return money for sex, but for this you don’t need to kill a prostitute: money can be stolen in stealth mode.

In Fable 3, you need to kill a prostitute to completely complete the game: according to the Whorezone quest, the prostitute Deirdre asks the hero to kill the prostitute Lucy, because she steals clients from her.

In 2006, the Sex Workers Outreach Project, which advocates for the rights of sex workers, filed a lawsuit against Rockstar and urged parents not to buy GTA: San Andreas for children because prostitutes are killed in it. The New York Times diluted the news article with comments from the Gamepolitics.com forum. Users wrote that it is possible to kill other NPCs in the game, for example, builders – but the builders’ unions do not complain about the game. That money falls not only from prostitutes, but also from other characters – and most of all money falls out of drug dealers, but they also do not complain about the game. That if a player kills a prostitute and there is a policeman nearby, then the player will be caught in the same way as if he had killed another character and there was a policeman nearby.

You don’t have to kill sex workers in games just like you don’t have to kill prostitutes in real life. But they are being killed.

In 2018, the BBC published the story of the Novosibirsk maniac Yevgeny Chuplinsky, who killed 19 prostitutes and was searched for 20 years.

In 2020, Lenta wrote about the crimes of the Viennese strangler Jack Unterweger (Johann Unterweger) – he killed a prostitute, he was sentenced to 15 years, in Unterweger prison he became interested in literature and became a famous writer, his plays were staged in theaters and translated into other languages, then he went on freedom, became a journalist and … continued to kill.

There are a lot of creepy stories, but that’s not the point – unlike other NPCs who do not sell things to the player or teach him magic and other sciences, sex workers in games are at least busy with something. With all due respect to sex workers and NPCs (!), it seems better to do something than to be a walking decoration.

Bonnie Ruberg believes that developers need to connect with real sex workers and activists so that sex workers in games are not stereotyped. Kylie Evans and Emma Tarver think that sex workers in games should be not only women, but also men (so far there are such in Fable 3 and Fallout: New Vegas). It seems to me that games show sex workers in a way that is more convenient and easier for players to see.

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