October 19th, 2006

As of today, fingers crossed, I am a columnist for Joystiq.  Long in the making, my bi-weekly column, “Playing Dirty,” will focus–surprise suprise–on sex and gender in video games.  This week’s piece is all about “playing with ourselves,” and how the stigma of gaming is linked to the stigma of masturbation.  Do you play with yourself?  Wait, don’t answer that.

Tags: Blog

28 Responses to “I Write for Joystiq”

  1. Cybersexy Says:

    Good post. I do have to agree. But I think it is more about people’s lack of understanding about gaming. Perhaps a little bit of “future shock”?

    Take solitaire. If someone were to spend a lot of their spare time playing solitaire with actual cards, no one would think twice about it. But do it on a computer…uh oh, that could be trouble.

    I guess I’m lucky because my family was more accepting of computers when I was young. Even my mother, who had all the computer skills of a rock, at least played solitaire on a pc. My dad was big into computers, and dragged me along too. I’m glad he did too. ;)

  2. Patrick Says:

    I’m glad you finally got comfortable with going bi… weekly.

  3. Adam Says:

    Congrats on the job.

    Anyone who says they don’t is just lying, or maybe their lower half was blown off in an accident the district attourney can’t prove was related to me.

  4. John Says:

    I just happened to see it, today. What a breath of fresh air. I’m very excited about your writing– I have been lamenting the absence of a female voice in this industry… and you write about sex in a balanced and informed way.

  5. otakucode Says:

    Nice post, it’s the kind of thing people should think about more. The kid could be doing drugs, drinking, or doing any number of activities that actually have a substantial negative impact on his life. Instead, he is playing games, which has no sustantive negative impact.

    Your point that reading is not looked upon in the same way, however, is a bit fallatious (sp?). Reading was viewed as a stigma associated with the weak for centuries. It made children unable to work the farms and destroyed their lives by filling their heads with odd notions. It was just as reviled as videogames are for a very long time in history. Television was the same, and still is to a lesser degree.

    All of the arguments against videogames, no matter what spin is put on them, are age-old and worn through. They’re wrong, but as the centuries tick by, we as society give in more and more to the nonsensical ramblings of uneducated parents and armchair psychologists who claim some sort of damage might come from entertainment. Books aren’t rated. Movies are. Videogames are rated even more harshly than movies, and the possibility that we will turn over rating games to a governmental body with guns to back their moral stance is quite close. Gamers sit back and consent to rating because they hope that will get the harping ninnies off of our backs, but we’re just giving in to them. Games shouldn’t be rated for the *exact* same reasons that books should not be rated.

    We’ve had books forever. We’ve been through these arguments before as a society. We really should use the wisdom offered by history and laugh these people out of the room when they suggest that a videogame can be so dangerous as to actually be harmful to anyone at any age. Content labelling is as far as it should go. Put on the box what is included, and let the parent decide. If a parent realizes that their child is a human being and has a human body and decides that the image of a human body won’t destroy their life, nudity might not put the game into the 17+ age range for them.

    And masturbation really shouldn’t be a social stigma. I think that’s really associated with an older generation and it’s mostly falling away. There is a great deal of societal change in that arena, and masturbation is mostly viewed as what it is – one of the healthiest things you can possibly do in your life. It’s fun, and not only is it entirely harmless, it is healthy and helpful. It reduces the risk of prostate cancer, reduces stress, all those good things. From puberty onwards, human beings are sexual beings and neglecting that part of a persons life is dangerous and unhealthy.

  6. Premaximum Says:

    Really enjoyed your first Joystiq blog, just wanted to let you know that. I’ll likely be checking your own personal blog every day…definitely liked what I saw.

    Keep up the good work, just wanted you to know that you’ve got another fan/reader in the fold.

  7. Craig Alexander Says:

    I walked into a bookselling newsagent once, and bought a book called “Is it just me, or is everything shit?” It wasn’t on the highest shelf, or in any way censored, it was just sitting there.

    I doubt I’d see a game with a similar name at my local Gamestation.

    I find it strange and damaging that sex (not just solo masturbation) is censored more than violence in our culture. The closest primate we have is not the chimpanzee, but the bonobo. Bonobos don’t fight – they have sex to blow off steam instead. They are also run by a matriarchal society, opposite to ours. Makes for good food for thought.

  8. MD² Says:

    Nice piece, I was thinking/talking/writing about that just the other day (maybe I do need a blog). You may enjoy reading Foucault’s Les anormaux (a compilation of the notes from his 1974-75 class) He’s long to come to his reults, and never quite get where he wants or could, but his portrayal of the evolution from Monster to recalcitrant child via the figure of the onanist (masturbator’s got that Terminator vibe which makes me giggle… can’t you just picture the trailer ?) is pretty interesting.

    Strange thing is: I’ve known several game addicts. Money game addicts. People going to casinos and losing big. Their problem had never been deemed important enough (I mean, they were just losing their life) that they were offered therapy (there are some, it’sjust you don’t see that advertised and heralded).
    It’s as if the main problem video-games are being reproached with is their unproductivity: you can be a game addict, you can throw your life away, but you’re not allowed to despise money like that.

    All in all, yes, spot-on parallel you made.

  9. MD² Says:

    And masturbation really shouldn't be a social stigma.

    While I’m at it: anyone against masturbation should be trapped alone in a room with a combat dog that have been deprived of sex while on constant titillation for a month.
    I’ve seen what it can do. Isn’t pretty.
    If that person survive and can still formulate a proper argument against masturbation, I’ll be willing to listen to it.

  10. Bonnie Says:

    Thanks to all who enjoyed the column! I hope you’ll check back again for more :).

    But I think it is more about people's lack of understanding about gaming.
    That’s definitely true too. There’s this fine line between what games actually are and they way that they’re perceived, especially since both go into our understandings as gamers.

    Reading was viewed as a stigma associated with the weak for centuries.
    Maybe this goes back to Cybersexy’s point about fear of the new. Still, it seems video games present something particularly “threatening” in interactivity.

    I think that's really associated with an older generation and it's mostly falling away.
    True, you probably won’t be attacked with sticks, or called a sinner, but it’s definitely not cool yet for, say, a high school kid to up and announce to his classmates, “Hey, I masturbate!”

    The closest primate we have is not the chimpanzee, but the bonobo.
    Don’t I know it. Take it from the bonobos: sex solves everything.

    You may enjoy reading Foucault's Les anormaux.
    Why must you tease me with your reading suggestions? Why!? I’m in the midst of a senior thesis on language and perversion, and the books just won’t stop coming. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but I think I might drown.

  11. Scott Jon Siegel Says:

    Wow. Pretty great feedback on your piece, Bonnie.

    To bounce off of Cybersexy’s point, there is kind of a weird disconnect between solo-play in digital games, and solo-play in analog games. In this day and age, though, I think it’s much harder to come by someone playing with themselves non-digitally (having largely to do with the casual game phenomenon, I feel). When was the last time you saw someone playing Solitaire when it wasn’t on a computer?

    I suppose this has a lot to do with feedback. In the US version of the Office, Pam says she likes playing Freecell on the computer because the cards go “fft fft fft fft fft.”

    To bring this back to sexiness, masturbation is an enjoyable experience because we elicit our own feedback (it feels good to us). In video games we elicit feedback in the system, which in turn elicits feedback in us. But what about non-digital card games? Where’s the feedback? -sj

  12. Cybersexy Says:

    “Still, it seems video games present something particularly "threatening" in interactivity.”

    THAT is the very reason I see video games as a superior form of entertainment to such things as tv, or even reading books. (NOTE: I am NOT referring to reading books for educational reasons. I’m talking strictly for entertainment.)

    TV and book-reading are strictly passive activities. You sit there and “absorb” what someone else has created. At least with video games, you are actively involved. And with online games, you are actively involved with other people.

    Don’t get me wrong. I watch tv and read books too, although I don’t do either of them nearly as much as I did when I was younger.

    Frankly, I see video games as a new art form, encompassing video, storytelling, and (in some cases) plenty of artistic beauty. The fact we get to interact with these virtual places is something wonderful which no painter, writer, or film director ever imagined.

  13. FerrousBuller Says:

    Of course, sometimes it’s gaming’s own fault that people take a dim view of it…

  14. BrainFromArous Says:

    True, you probably won't be attacked with sticks, or called a sinner, but it's definitely not cool yet for, say, a high school kid to up and announce to his classmates, "Hey, I masturbate!"

    Well, it would be like proclaiming that one breathes, or urinates, or that my cells are dividing EVEN AS WE SPEAK! The “uncoolness” of such a statement has nothing to do with sexual prudery.

  15. Scott Jon Siegel Says:

    @ BrainFromArous:
    I’m taking a surveillance class here at Bard, and for one assignment a student placed a small camera inside the men’s bathroom of our dining hall, pointing at the urinals.

    The camera’s presence was made just about as obvious as possible. It was conspicuously duct-taped to the wall, with wires running into the occupied bathroom stall. On top of that, a laptop next to the urinals was running footage of other people urinating, taken with the same camera in the same bathroom. Still, people did their business right in front of it, and people were still outraged when they learned that the footage was screened privately in front of a class of 15 people (about half of whom are girls, it’s worth mentioning).

    The interesting (and related) part of this is why people were outraged. As a class we discussed the project and its ethical dilemma. A number of us decided that the creator had two options. He could either blur people’s faces (in each case we’d not know who it was, but we’d still see his penis), or he could blur their penisses [penii?] (in each case we’d know who it was, but not see his penis).

    It seems that of the two options, people would rather have their wangs hang out on footage than let people know they use urinals. Most people, if they had to choose one or the other, would rather blur their identity instead of their genitals. It’s almost like it’s embarassing to be identified as a urinal-user (I wouldn’t know since I only use stalls). -sj

  16. otakucode Says:

    Scott Jon Siegel: The conclusion reached (that people don’t want to admit to being urinal users) is not necessary, and I don’t believe even probable. It’s definitely not necessary, because other conclusions would fit the data just as well. For instance, the men could not want people to know that they whistle when they urinate. That conclusion makes as much sense as simply not wanting people to know you use a urinal. Much more likely, I believe, is that they simply did not want people to know what their penis looked like and perhaps even, subconsciously, that they had a penis at all. In American culture, nudity has become more and more taboo as the years have gone by. Children in school used to swim nude. In junior high and high schools, kids showered together after gym class. The same after sports activities. In the present day, this does not happen. People are brought up told that their bodies are private and, perhaps, dirty. They do not experience any form of what I call ‘incidental nudity’, or nudity without any sexual pretext. This leads to both an extreme curiosity of what other people have in the gential department as well as a very defensive guard of other people finding out what their own genitals look like.

    Bonnie: Your point about the interactivity of videogames is quite a common one, and there certainly may be a kernel of truth to it, but I don’t believe that it is as significant as most people assume. When you play a game, you may be able to choose from many actions, but every single action and every single result from that action has been defined by a developer at some point. When you ‘interact’ with a game and make a character perform an action, in reality you are simply pressing a button or moving a joystick, you are not actually firing a gun or swerving in a car. The simulation is there to be sure, but there are no laws grounding the game in reality. It almost always differs exceptionally. People do not get post traumatic stress disorder from playing Call of Duty and the like. This isn’t a small point and deserve a lot more attention in the psychological study area than it is being given.

    Of course, I’m picky. I won’t be satisfied until we have gamers playing games while being PET scanned (or maybe using that new MRI tech that shows bloodflow in the brain) before, during, and after and showing the affect on their various emotional centers.

  17. BrainFromArous Says:


    What it REALLY shows is that none of them had the sense to block the camera or shut down the whole contraption.

    They’d be well within their legal rights to do so. There is a very high privacy expectation in a bathroom – public or private – and some class project certainly does not qualify as a reason to violate that privacy.

    Howzabout this radical notion: Most people are in fact comfortable with nudity and their own bodies and simply don’t want to expose themselves except in the time and place of their choosing with another consenting adult?

    Although I readily agree that lingering cultural Puritanism plagues modern America, having personal modesty and a sense of public decorum does not equal repression, body-fear or what have you.

  18. Cybersexy Says:

    So because it isn’t real, it has lesser value? You forget that perception IS reality to the individual. I have seen plenty of people, myself included, get just as upset at games as they would at a real life event.

    “People do not get post traumatic stress disorder from playing Call of Duty and the like.”

    Perhaps, but most people don’t play games that severely bother them. Plenty of people end up in real life wars which they cannot psychologically handle.

    When the amount of emotional distress you get from a game exceeds the amount of fun, you walk away from it. You can’t do that as a real life soldier.

  19. Carl Says:

    A story about sex and video games? Sounds like a link for Bonnie:


  20. MD² Says:

    People really are exaggerating the importance of the relationship between video-games and interaction.
    There, I said it.

    You forget that perception IS reality to the individual.

    To which I could answer we’re data gathering/analysing/replicating machines capable of infinitely self-refering, we know when we’re having perceptions of perceptions (of perceptions, ad nauseam…).
    But I’m not part of that debate.

    Actually, let’s throw a diversion anyway: where do you think actions in video games generally take place if you try reading the thing via Goethe’s three worlds theory ?
    What does it tell you about the perceptions we’re having of it ?

    (Do I sound gratting enough yet ? ^_^)

    Thanks for the link Carl. :)

  21. Bonnie Says:

    A story about sex and video games? Sounds like a link for Bonnie.
    Wow, that’s definitely a new one. Where do we even start with that?

  22. Cybersexy Says:

    What was your point?

  23. MD² Says:

    No real point here. Just a couple of lines going at cross purpose. Maybe I can get away by drawing more readable segments between them…

    Let’s have a look at Tachikawa tantrism, and its outlawing by Japanese authorities.
    If you look closely, the crime of the Tachikawa, even if it was the one invoked and perceived by most, wasn’t their sexual practices themselves, but rather that those were the result of a complete decoding and revealing of the sexual nature lurking behind mantric buddhist practices. People refused to see that the tools of the would-be sage for attaining wisdom were nothing more than highly refined sexual symbols.
    On the other hand though, the Tachikawa themselves never really came back to a position that would make sex itself the wisdom they sought. They had toppled the system other itself and made sex the symbol of wisdom (nice triangulation here).

    With that in mind:
    People do not get post traumatic stress disorder from playing Call of Duty and the like.

    Simply put: of course. That’s not war they’re (wanting to be) experiencing, but an acknowledged depiction of war. The stress, if stress comes, will not come from the same sources. A video game is a real life event, just one of a different nature.

    I remember seeing some irate Street Fighter III tournament player smashing an arcade for losing because of a stick in sub-par conditon, just to go play his second match mere seconds after, his hands still dripping blood…

  24. Twitch Says:

    I believe the biggest reason that video games carry such a social stigma (just as reading, telvision, and yes even masturbation in a way) is also the most overlooked. I’m impressed that Bonnie did touch upon it, however briefly, in her article when she stated:

    . . .maybe that’s what makes both masturbation and video gaming so unacceptable. In laughing at the masturbator (or gamer), society is trying to deal with the power of the individual who stands on his own; who doesn’t need other people; who plays happily with himself.

    What I’ve found that people in general find most dispicable in a person isn’t evil deeds or personal injury because those are easily forgiven and quickly fogotten. Instead, I submit that the reason is simply that gamers such as this tend to rely on their own judgement instead of the opinions of others. A person that finds success in their own way instead of spending their lives trying to impress others with their knowledge, wealth, or power (in whatever form it may take). People don’t like it when someone doesn’t feel compelled to ask, expect, or even bother to hope for the personal approval of others. I’ve spent my entire adult life observing this in action. To me, it seems to be the saddest and most pervasive part of the human condition that the majority of people have no opinion whatsoever save that which others tell them their opinion should be (or worse yet, what they think others think).

  25. Cybersexy Says:

    BA-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-AHHH! ;)

    It all comes down to the sheep mentality most people have. If you aren’t one of the sheep, then something must be wrong with you.

    The sad part of it is that some of the greatest people I have known were true “individuals”, in every sense of the word.

  26. Twitch Says:

    Spoken like a sheep truly proud of being a sheep. I feel compelled to ask though, why is it a sad thing that the greatest among us are the individuals? In my experience, those are the only people that I want to be around for any extended period of time.

  27. Cybersexy Says:

    I hope you didn’t think I was calling YOU a sheep? I was trying to make a joke. Sorry. I think I’ve been watching too much John Kerry. ;)

    Seriously though, my point was that the true “individuals” tend to be looked down upon by the very people who should be seeking their advice. THAT is the sad part. If you have to flock to someone, at least find someone who has a clear idea of what they want in life.

  28. Twitch Says:

    Very well said Cybersexy. For the record I did know that you were making a joke, I just have an innate tendency to play it through to the end.

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