November 29th, 2005

This just in at The Escapist: an article on everyone’s favorite water-cooler discussion topic (sex and gaming, duh), titled “Video Games, Pornography, and the Question of Interactivity,” by a very humble yours truly. What is sex? What is porn? For that matter, what is game? Check out a piece that is just as ready as the next guy to admit it’s barely scratched the surface. But heck, at least it’s trying…

Tags: Blog

23 Responses to ““Video Games, Pornography, and the Question of Interactivity””

  1. Brummbar Says:

    First! (as they say…)

    For me “porn’s” primary function is to serve as an audio/visual aid for sexual activity – either solo or with a partner. “Erotica” is a far more general category.

    For something to be “porn” there must be actual, explicit sex. Not the suggestion or simulation of it; the real thing. Pinup calendars, Playboy Magazine and even something like SuicideGirls are not porn because pictures of naked people standing around is not sex.

    That said, the spectacle of two game characters actually making the Beast with Two Backs would probably provoke me more to amusement than arousal.

  2. Bonnie Says:

    I hear you, Brummbar. Your definition is a common one. It takes a more literal approach to the idea. Which certainly isn’t a bad thing, just different :-). And you bring up an interesting point about the humor of in-game sex, one I didn’t really get a chance to talk about, but I sure would like to in the future!

  3. Patrick Dugan Says:

    At Phrontisterion in June Chris Crawford, Micheal Mateas, Andrew Stern, and a host of lesser names (of which mine was one) were discussing conversation as a metaphor or ideal for interactivity. Crawford’s aim was to stress the benifits of turn-based interaction, but I jumped in to claim that sex was really the better metaphor, as sex implies a mix between turn-based and real-time. In that capacity I found your article very interesting, my judgement is that in order for there to be meaningul or artistically expressive sex in games, there needs to be much more sophisticated modes of interaction, ones that just as easily could allow the player to have an in-game conversation. Good sex, after all, is a conversation that is respectively equal. Pulling that off on the computer will require much better AI, but thats another topic.

  4. Bonnie Says:

    Patrick, I wonder if it will require stronger AI, or just a rethinking of the utilization of the AI we already have…?

  5. James Schend Says:

    *ahem* Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time had a pretty well-done sex scene that certainly didn’t strike me as funny at all. Just FYI.

  6. Scott Jon Siegel Says:

    Are you referring to the “hot springs” sequence? I personally thought that that was a complete joke. Farah’s breasts looked like buoys in the water. It reminded me of the hot tub scene in the first Austin Powers movie. The fact that she was all-of-a-sudden trying to seduce the Prince struck me as very odd and out-of-place in the rest of the story.

  7. Bonnie Says:

    James, I don’t think the point is that all in-game sex scenes are funny, or that all gamers react to sex scenes in the same way. There will always be exceptions. The fact of the matter though is that a large percentage of in-game sex scenes are in some way comical – or, at least, that’s how a large percentage of gamers react to them.

  8. Citizen Chimp Says:

    What is porn? As David Wong once said, porn is anything you lose interest in after jerking off. Everything else is mere erotica: porn you can’t jerk off to.

  9. Bonnie Says:

    Hey, Citizen. Crude but somehow true :-). Althought I’m a bit confused here: porn you can't jerk off to.…?

  10. Patrick Dugan Says:

    I like how you think Bonnie, more convincing simulated relationships, sexual or otherwise, could be pulled off with simple AI techniques utilized in novel and integrated schemes. Erasmatron does this to an extend, the AI is relatively simple but its organized in a sort of associative web that gives every Actor a concept of everyone else and what everyone else might think of eveyone else, which is a lot less complex than it sounds, basically its a lot of floating point values that can be used in specific inclination equations.

    Phoebe Sengers wrote an interesting essay in that capacity for First Person; she discussed schitzophrenia and how most game AI, like finite state machines, behaves like a schitzophrenic, roughly shifting from behavior to behavior, not truly having ownership of their actions. She argued instead for associative methods in AI, so that agents would have concepts of each other and define themselves in terms of their relation to the group. Sex seems to be a dominant currency in how most people define themselves.

    The reason the CG sex scene in Prince of Persia didn’t really work for the larger purpose of sex [i]in games[/i] is that it wasn’t really interactive, it was a tack on. Imagine if all your real-life sexual experiences were lucid dreams you had no active control over, like movies you remember seeing without much participation, thats basically what the sex lives of game characters has been like.

  11. Bonnie Says:

    Patrick, I totally agree with you on the interactivity vs. tack-on issue. On the one hand, it would be refreshing to see more interactive sex in games, but I think it also treads on a lot more toes (as I tried to point out at the end of the article) – which, I think, is the reason it comes up a lot less often.

  12. Natalie Says:

    I enjoyed your article. The only thing that kind of irked me (which I understand has more to do with the magazine, and I’m totally nitpicking here) are the pictures they used for it–you’ve written an article that is opening a discussion about something unconventional, yet we have to read the text around lacy thongs and padded black bras markers of the conventional–there was no male “sexy” equivalent.

  13. Bonnie Says:

    Natalie, I totally hear you. Normally, The Escapist does a lovely job with picking appropriate images. These certainly seemed to me to fall short. In their defense though, they put out an issue a week; I can’t even imagine the layout and design time that goes into that. Even if it’s not always perfect, you have to salute them :-).

  14. Brummbar Says:

    I still maintain that an actual interactive sex scene (talk about HotKeys) would probably make me laugh so hard that I would crack my ribs.

    I mean, would there be MouseLook? Could you save the game halfway through or have to wait for a checkpoint? How would alt-fire work? What about Bullet Time slo-mo?

  15. Natalie Says:

    You’re totally right, Bonnie. I really do love The Escapist. I had to get it off my chest–was curious to know if I was being kooky or if anyone else had noticed.

  16. Bonnie Says:

    Hey, Brummbar. You know, it’s strange: Those are funny questions definitely, but they’re also totally legitimate questions. We represent so many other aspects of life with detail and precision of gameplay, why not interactive sex?

  17. Brummbar Says:

    “Funny because it’s true,” as they say.

    That said, I wonder how many aspects of life are really represented in gaming – apart from operating vehicles, running around and shooting people, that is.

    Seriously, I would like to see some attention given to the actual mechanics of sex-in-games. Not because I’m a pervert – although I am – but because I think some of those basic questions should be answered before we move onto some manner of Kinseyesque analysis. First let’s see how (and if) it actually WORKS before we consider what it MEANS.

  18. Bonnie Says:

    Brummbar, again, I totally hear you. So few people are willing to talk about that openly – the mechanics and pure development process behind interactive sex. There was recently a Game Design Challenge up at the Montreal Games sumit based on sex that sort of addressed that question, but a lot of the entries were more subtle than what I think either of us are talking about.

    As for what’s controlled in games at the moment: shooting (general weaponry), operating vehicles, bodily fighting… Gosh, I meant to make a whole list here, but in one way or another that seems to cover everything. Except, of course, in what we consider “weird” games or mini-games. I’m thinking Feel the Magic

  19. MD² Says:

    Finally could read your article.

    Eroticism is the use of arousal as a mean to something else, pornography is the use of arousal as its own end (or at least perceived as it’s own end).
    I like this simple definition, even if it’s not totally accurate.

    I think you focused too much on the interactive side of things and not enough on the inherent schyzophrenic nature of videogames as narrative tools: If I actualy play the woman pleasuring herself, I am the woman as much as I’m the player (male or female) giving orders (If Mario falls into a trap “I” die). That’s what I found most interesting in video games: they’re probably the next big tool of recoding/surcoding (to speak like Deleuze), as they actualy lay bare the way narrative is coding us (the way the “he” of society imposes itself on the “I” of the reader).
    But then I’ve been too deep into that stuff for too long. Made nice reading, and helped set the debate in motion, which is quite enough of a feat.

  20. MD² Says:

    Also, while I think about it, a reason why sex as a video game might not work (provoke laughter as a depreciative protection reaction): it doesn’t yet fit in a model in which it would improve productivity (the same way our society have to morally shun suicide or drugs, because accepting them can only be detrimental to general productivity, as we do not possess a frame like, say pre-modern Japan, where suicide could be justified as a specialised productive tool of worth).

  21. Bonnie Says:

    A couple quick things, MD^2: in the flash game mentioned in the article, you don’t play as a woman pleasuring herself, you play as someone else acting upon her – to the point where you can even drug her (if you build up enough money/points).

    Also, interesting point about non-productive sex not “working” – but I think it probably goes beyond on. Live-action pornography, for example, doesn’t involve procreation, though it might inspire real-life actions that bring it about. The same goes for in-game (interactive or non-interactive) sex.

  22. MD² Says:

    Sorry about the article misreading (I’ve been on less than three hour’s sleep a day for a week now, and it’s starting to show ;) )

    Note that I specificaly used the word productivity because I did not had procreation in mind. While live-action pornography is perceived as being the use of arousal as it's own end, it’s value is more of a control tool of sexual tension, and, being a fiction, thus a narrative, a programming tool (but I guess this is a non-acknowledged gain…).

    I guess I’ll stop there for now and go have my three hours worth of sleep, I’m having even more touble than usual to make any sense.

  23. Bonnie Says:

    No worries, MD^2, you make plenty of sense! But sleep is still good :-).

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