July 5th, 2006

Something else that came up at the SiVG Conference that I’ve been meaning to mention:

Sitting next to us at our table the first morning was a pair of women who looked, let’s say, uncomfortable. During Brenda’s opening speech, when she remarked that one day sex in games could become an accepted part of society, both women turned to each other and shook their heads in semi disgust.

Eventually, once they’d chilled out a bit, we found out that they weren’t part of the sex in games world at all; they were from “the government.” More specifically, from the part of the health and safety department that deals with sexually transmitted diseases.

They had come to the conference to learn about using sex games to educate players about STD’s. But what really got them talking was the fact that nowhere in any of these sexy games (save Sociolotron) was there any mention of real-life safety.

Now, I can certainly understand how a gamer maker, who’s creating fantasy- and technology-based sex, would feel totally justified in excluding that element from his/her game. For most people, mentioning STD’s is something of a joy-kill.

But, in the overall, these women turned out quite friendly, and I think their point is an important one. Here on the internet, on websites like this, we talk about sex all the time. Sex, sex, sex. See, look at us go. But we never stop to remind those around us, and ourselves, that safety comes first.

Are there exceptions to this rule? Do we have the right to bring harm to ourselves? In my opinion, yes. But that can of worms is taking an afternoon at the beach. Another day, maybe.

In the meantime, this has been a message from your friendly, local sex blogger: be safe.

Tags: disease, STDs

18 Responses to “Oh Right, Real Life”

  1. FerrousBuller Says:

    I don’t expect Playboy: The Mansion to teach me about safe sex any more than I expect Counter-strike to teach me about firearm safety.

    Of course, just because we mostly use games to indulge in make-believe worlds without serious consequences doesn’t mean they couldn’t be used for higher purposes. But it’s like criticizing porn for being unrealistic: technically you’re correct, but you’re kinda missing the point for even mentioning it.

  2. Player1 Says:

    Cyber sex in all its forms is safe (in the venereal disease sense), talking, typing, blogging, podcasting and fantasising about sex is safe too. I agree with FerrousBuller in the expectations I have of various forums for sexual related content. That said, it’s not like their isn’t a place for safe sex messages in these types of content. A lot of sex stories have disclaimers warning that threesomes/group sex/beasteality/sex with Star Trek characters is not as safe/fun/available as the story which follows suggests. And the casual, matter of fact use of condoms, when done right, does a lot to educate on how to keep safe sex sexy. As far as games go, the only two examples I can think of are:
    1 In Leisure Suit Larry the need to purchase/find/acquire/trade for a condom was a game mechanic used to frustrate and delay the pay off
    2 in a space invaders clone using a penis to shoot sperm at tits and bibles, the condom was a temporary invulnerability powerup.

    Does anyone else have any other examples?

  3. BrainFromArous Says:

    This is silly. “Safety” is for when you’re doing things for real. One of the chief benefits of cyber-, phone- or other surrogate sexual interactions is to liberate you from material constraints.

    The last thing I want when playing CounterStroke or another FPF (First Person Fucker) game is a “put on condom” hotkey or having to run over little glowing AZT health-ups.

  4. Bonnie Says:

    But it's like criticizing porn for being unrealistic: technically you're correct, but you're kinda missing the point for even mentioning it.
    Sorry, maybe I miscommunicated my point. This is what the “government” ladies were saying. Me, I’m just saying that, at a site that talks about sex non-stop, it’s also our responsibility, every once in a while, to stop and remind ourselves that, when we’re talking about real-life sex, safety is an important issue. C’est tout.

    On a related topic: You all seem to be somewhat up in arms over the idea of safe-sex lessons in games, but what about game consequences. Classic example, of course: STD’s in Sociolotron. You say there’s no place for this sort of whatnot in games, but doesn’t it seem that, for some people, this enhances the “fantasy”?

  5. Carlos Says:

    Thanks for the info, I think the world still does need to inform more people about STD’s because many people actually do not know about them to my dismay.

  6. BrainFromArous Says:

    If someone’s erotic “fantasy” is enhanced by sickness and death, then we should skip straight ahead to death and kill them.

    Well, ok, that might be a bit harsh. Let’s just slap them repeatedly with small aquatic mammals until they come to their senses.

  7. Bonnie Says:

    Let's just slap them repeatedly with small aquatic mammals until they come to their senses.
    Oh, do be nice. Aquatic mammals are just harsh ;).

  8. FerrousBuller Says:

    “You say there's no place for this sort of whatnot in games, but doesn't it seem that, for some people, this enhances the "fantasy"?”

    Well, here you get into “fantasy vs realism” and “fun vs frustration” debates – which are more about game design decisions than they are about, say, socially conscious decisions.

    And I’m not saying games can’t be used to teach about safe sex, just that I don’t expect them to, any more than I expect FPSs to teach me proper combat tactics.

    And since when do we talk about real sex `round here anyway? Meat is boring – all hail the virtual! :-)

  9. Becca Says:

    You know, I write an article series on females in the gaming industry. I would love to maybe interview…wow, that sounds so official…or just talk to you about your prospective for one of my articles. Thanks for your time and I would love to hear back from you.

  10. Bonnie Says:

    Hey Becca, I’d love to chat. I’ll drop you an email in a sec.

    And I'm not saying games can't be used to teach about safe sex, just that I don't expect them to, any more than I expect FPSs to teach me proper combat tactics.
    Another point to consider: As long as we’re on the proper combat tactics in FPSs metaphor, there are definitely plenty of people out their who think that, when they play such games, they’re really learning how to do things. My little brother, for example, is turning 16 this week (eek!), so he can go get his driving permit (please God, no). But he also recently found my copy of Need for Speed. So now he’s convinced he doesn’t need to learn to drive a real car, since he can drive in the game. Stupid? Mais oui. But still, it’s out there.

  11. Peter Payne Says:

    Yes, this doesn’t come up that often in sex related games. In our very first game, Three Sisters’ Story, there’s a section where you have to help three girls with some problem each has, and to win the game, you have to go back to the school nurse to get a condom each time, or else at the end of the game one of them will come to you pregnant. It’s a great twist on the game, although it’s quite rare — I can’t remember any of our other games where condoms came into play.

  12. RumpledElf Says:

    It would get quite tedious if you *had* to get a condom every time. Games aren’t usually supposed to be like real life unless they are educational – don’t most people play games to avoid reality not to see more of it? We’re writing a game where sex has the usual side effects (pregnancy, disease) and you can take a magic contraceptive potion or pray to the gods to avoid the side effects! Very realistic, isn’t it ;)

  13. FerrousBuller Says:

    “So now he's convinced he doesn't need to learn to drive a real car, since he can drive in the game. Stupid? Mais oui. But still, it's out there.”

    See, this is normally where I would extol the virtues of nature’s self-correcting system known as “natural selection,” which gradually over time weeds out those unfit for survival.

    But since he is your little brother, I’ll refrain. :-)

    There are realistic driving sims out there; there are also games like Burnout (or Crash Test Dummy’s Worst Nightmares, as I like to call it); and everything in between. Likewise, not every FPS is a Quake blast-a-thon: e.g., the SWAT series has always emphasized protecting civilian lives and using lethal force only when necessary. It’s a question of intent and focus when it comes to game design.

    Likewise, sex games can choose to be purely pornagraphic, or they can choose to be educational, or they can choose to be funny, or just about anything else they want to be.

    Now, whether there’s a market for sex games outside the purely pornagraphic – that’s a different question. :-)

  14. Bonnie Says:

    In our very first game, Three Sisters' Story, there's a section where you have to help three girls with some problem each has, and to win the game, you have to go back to the school nurse to get a condom each time, or else at the end of the game one of them will come to you pregnant.
    Hmm, and how did your players react? Did they enjoy the challenge? Did they find it, as RumpledElf suggested, tedious? Did the added element enhance the sexual experience? Any feedback?

    See, this is normally where I would extol the virtues of nature's self-correcting system known as "natural selection," which gradually over time weeds out those unfit for survival. But since he is your little brother, I'll refrain.
    Screw my brother, I fear for my car! Poor little Golf, how I love you.

  15. Weefz Says:

    As I recall about the first Leisure Suit Larry game, didn’t it go something like “Hey everybody, this guy wants an extra-small, ribbed, tartan, peppermint-flavoured lubber [condom]! WHAT A PERVERT!”

    But you still got a horrible disease and died if you didn’t use it. Embarrassing to buy and delayed the pay-off, but it still got the safety point across.

  16. Kelly Rued Says:

    I agree with previous comments that sex games don’t have to convey safety info. I think it can be a nice/welcome addition in the right genre though (for example, a lot of people who hope to try something with some risks, like various BDSM practices, might be glad to get extra safety info about technique and how to go about things without harming your partner or yourself).

    And as some pointed out, not everyone is hip to sexual health info. I’d wager a majority of people don’t really have a strong working knowledge of how to have safer sex beyond simply wearing a condom (if your sex involves penises). For every other sex activity most don’t know the risks or how they can help to minimize them. Putting some health info into a sex game in an optional and non-intrusive way (like in the help section or as a right-click tool tip sort of message) might be a nice PSA thing to do.

    We published a sex ed game for teens too, (visit http://www.isergames.com for more info) but with the goal of getting parents to sit down *with* teens and engage in a nonconfrontational, nonjudgmental dialogue about teen sex/dating/puberty issues. It’s not a cool game meant to be played alone by teens (the target market is parents and educators). For teen-targeted games, some of the best are here: http://www.teenwire.com/interactive/do-archive-games.php. So there is definitely a place for sex ed in gaming. I would suggest that for the adult learner the educational message is packaged in a more adult entertainment product though so that the player has motivation to participate (few adults consider themselves *in need* of sex ed, even though most probably are). ;p

  17. Coherent Says:

    I wonder, do you think that online sex is a substitute for real sexual experience? Are the fear of diseases a barrier against sexual interaction? More to the point, in some far-off utopian future when STD’s are a fading memory, will the need fulfilled by virtual sex become less relevant to humanity?

    I guess the question I’m asking here is; why do people like sex online so much? The stock answer is that they aren’t getting enough in RL. Is the fear of STD’s a significant cause of that?

  18. Bonnie Says:

    It’s a big question. Personally, I’m more of the opinion that people like online sex because it provides emotional distance and safety more than physical distance and safety. But that might just be me :).

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