Here’s the text of my very short #lostlevels talk — much of my time was taken up by a discussion in which I asked the audience to share erotic experiences they’d had in games.
Videogames have a problem: they aren’t very erotic.
As my friend Porpentine puts it, “there is a vast chasm between human bodies and the repetitive soulless porn of AAA games.”
Consider a game like Mass Effect, in which sex is a goal, the reward for a series of obviously correct dialogue choices — as my friend Kim Moss puts it, “kindness is a currency“.
Sex in Mass Effect is a cutscene in which the player puts down the controller and watches two bodies awkwardly interface with one another.
It is precisely the moment at which the player is no longer touching the game.
Sex is a movie, sex is a show, sex is a two-minute, pre-recorded, predictable sequence of events.
It may involve two parties of the same gender, but it is never queer.
When sex isn’t a cutscene, the prize, it’s totally mechanistic, linear.
It’s about increasing a gauge, building up a number.
Orgasm = level-up.
Leonore Tiefer, a psychologist who’s written extensively about sexuality: “I always say to people, orgasm is very American. Because it’s a score. It’s short. You know when you’ve had it. You can put the notch on your belt.”
Insofar as games incorporate sex mechanically, that’s how they’ve done it.
Sex in games is about control in the most unsexy way possible, the fantasy of bodies that bend to our perfect wills and always perform just like we expect them to.
So how can we incorporate sex and eroticism into games in ways that are mechanical — that don’t resort to exposition or cinematics — yet non-mechanistic — playful, exploratory, and expansive?
I think we need to realize that this won’t necessarily look like one organ penetrating another, or even two organs rubbing against each other.
We’re seeing more small independent games that provide the player with a space to explore and interact with, without much in the way of a goal or endgame. So maybe eroticism in games won’t be best explored in literal terms, as an act involving one or more human bodies, but will be suffused throughout a space, conveyed through an abstract experience created by a game’s rules.
Independent games are exploring more and more facets of human experiences — I hope to see more which treat sex thoughtfully and that present a diversity of erotic expression.