Saturday, December 19, 2015

Sex games, part 1: sex as bodies

This post is part of a series about "sex games", based on a talk I gave at GaymerX3.
(CONTENT WARNING: these posts have sexual images and content.)

One definition of sex that I'm going to use here is "a negotiation between bodies." The shape and form of that negotiation will obviously vary, but so can the shape and form of the bodies themselves. Which bodies do we sexualize, and which do we de-sexualize? And if we are sexualizing a body, is it with the body's consent and knowledge?

To a certain extent, every game in this entire blog post series is about bodies. Just because I put a game in this category doesn't mean it doesn't belong in other categories. I selected these games based on the story I could tell around them, and in this post the story is about how these different games think about bodies. Because bodies are made of carbon and water, but they're also made of ideas.

Let's start with the amazing game that inspired the name of my talk ("That One Time I Repeatedly Gave Birth to Fully Grown Wolves, and Other Gay Sex Games That We Deserve") ...

SABBAT, by Eva Problems, cactusbee, stationlost

Sabbat is a game where you turn into an awesome monster by imbuing different body parts with demonic animals -- so you can imbue your head with the power of demonic goats and grow some horns, or you can imbue your vagina with demonic wolves so that your vagina constantly gives birth to fully grown wolves.

Character creator systems in games are often kind of boring, and fussy about certain details that don't really matter in the end. How big is your chin? how high are your cheekbones? Do you have eyebrow type 2 or eyebrow type 9? None of these decisions matter to the game system. No one in Fallout 4 will say, "gosh, you have great cheekbones", or even"hey we inherited racial politics from the 1950s and wow your skin is dark!"

So it's refreshing when a character creator system asks something interesting, like do you want this amazing rack of demonic wolf boobs? And then there are actually times in the game when you can use your wolf boobs to scare away men, or when you want this really cute witch to finger your wolf vagina but she understandably does not want to put her hands in a snarling vagina full of fully grown wolves. (While you're a monster, you're also not a monster, so you respect her right to not feel safe in doing that with you.)

It's a kind of body-horror monster-sex game, which I think appeals to a lot of queer people. We grow up with society telling us we're monsters -- well, what if we actually were monsters? And then our monstrous queerness was a source of awesome powers?

HOW DO YOU DO IT, by Nina Freeman, Emmett Butler, Joni Kittaka, Decky Coss

The idea of sex as "bestial" is pretty old -- the beginning of Shakespeare's play Othello begins with some sex jokes about a "beast with two backs." When bodies touch, they become a new body.

How Do You Do It is a game about a young girl who smashes two dolls together in various positions because she finds sex to be utterly baffling. I think we can all relate to this because, to an extent, maybe sex never stops being baffling? We often think of sex as this very serious and adult thing, but this game is also a reminder that sex is a weird and funny and unknowable thing as well.

But here's what I think a lot of people don't get: Yeah, sure, this girl is very young and doesn't know what sex is, so that's why she's just trying all these random poses and arrangements. But does that really mean she's naive?

If touching someone's foot gives you sexual pleasure, then that means you're doing sex. We all have different turn-ons and ways of doing sex. In this sense, this girl is actually a master of sex, because she's actually imagining and inventing all these new types of sex and arrangements between bodies!

So I feel like the game kind of comes full circle. This girl probably has a more open mind about sex than her parents, because she has a freer relationship with bodies and she's open to how bodies can touch.

LUXURIA SUPERBIA, by Tale of Tales

What are the ways in which people touch? When do you forcefully jab at someone, or tenderly caress their shoulder?

Luxuria Superbia is a game that basically transforms your tablet into a rainbow vagina vortex. To progress through a level, you have to gently rub all these crevices and folds, and be really tender with this complex beautiful thing. As you "rub it out", you gradually arouse your device until it eventually climaxes. Did you rush it, or did you take your time? Your device won't hesitate to tell you what it thinks.

There are certainly other touch-based games about intimacy, like the excellent Fingle and Bounden, but in those games the device is more a mediator between two human players sharing a space. There are also text games, like Reset and .error404, that think about what it means to have sex with a computer.

I like how Luxuria Superbia does not rely on an overtly humanistic or technological metaphor for a technological body -- instead, these are basically interactive Georgia O'Keefe paintings, and there's multiple different stages for you to try. In a way, your iPad gets to try on all these different vaginas, and maybe you two will have a favorite vagina? It's a very fluid kind of technological body that's constantly changing and surprising.

TRIAD, by Anna Anthropy, Leon Arnott, Liz Ryerson

Bodies can combine to form new bodies. How do these bodies operate as a system?

Triad is a puzzle game about three women who had a bunch of awesome sex but now they need to go to sleep, and you have to fit them all on the bed. Each woman has a different body shape and different sleeping preference, and it's your job to accommodate them all somehow.

This game imagines the bed as a grid, and usually a grid isn't very sensual, but here the physicality is really beautiful. As you move the pieces around the women occasionally fidget and animate in-place within their bounding box. Also, if you're not careful with moving the pieces, they can actually collide and bump each other -- so this is an unusually tender kind of puzzle game, that celebrates how all these different bodies harmonize as a whole system.

Like Luxuria Superbia with its different stages, I feel like this game speaks to the fluidity of bodies, as you constantly rearrange these different parts to figure out what works. You definitely won't get it right on the first try, but these women still won't give up and they'll try again the next night. It also speaks to a similar problem in How Do You Do It -- it's always going to be hard to figure out how to fit bodies together, but it's also important that you're trying at all.

BIENTOT L'ETE, by Tale of Tales

Triad organized the "space of a relationship" as a grid. What else can we do with a grid?

Bientôt l'été also takes place on a grid, yet also ignores it. Here, you basically play chess with a random stranger over the internet -- except it's not really chess, because all the moves are random and do not conform to the typical rules of chess.

Is a chessboard still a chessboard if you're not using it as a chessboard? If you're moving these chess pieces around, but you're not playing chess, then what does each chess move mean? You're two half-naked cryogenically-frozen super models getting drunk and playing chess, so it's kind of a sexy conceptual chess that isn't about winning in the sense of a traditional chess. If you both agree that chess is something else, then is that still chess? What does it mean to move a pawn here, or a bishop there?

More generally, it's about the ways in which we organize intimacy between two people -- like chess, it's kind of regimented and structured, but this meaning is also something secret and psychic and unknowable. (And personally: this treatment of chess as intimacy was pretty profound to me, and informed my own chess-as-intimacy section in my game Intimate, Infinite.)

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NEXT TIME: part 2, sex games about sexy poking.

« Go back to the main "Sex Games" post.