I was doing some research for a–fingers crossed–book chapter the other day and I came across the interesting story of the 1973 Atari arcade game, Gotcha. Though it’s a maze game, Gotcha is often considered one of the first titles to register on the sex-in-games radar, since its designers replaced the distinctly phallic joysticks usually found on arcade machines with two breast-like pink plastic blogs. The game, needless to say, proved less than successful, and the controllers later got altered. Still, as silly as boob controllers sound (and look), the idea does make you think about the bodily symbolism of the interfaces we use day to day.
Obviously, no one intentionally designed the first joysticks to look like penises; their shape has practical uses. But the way we think about what’s practical is itself decided by the bodies we live in. Consider, for example, our system of numbers, which is based on multiples of ten–the same number of fingers we have on our hands. Then think back to male genitalia, which men are used to grabbing hold of, whether for urinating, masturbating, etc. It makes sense that a male player base would feel comfortable controller his avatar with a phallic stick.
Of course, we rarely use joysticks anymore. Now we have buttons on hand-held controllers–which we could speculate resemble nipples, if they resemble anything at all. For the most part, like the playful creators of Gotcha, we’re still left wondering what the “female” equivalent of the joystick would be. Of course, leave it male designers to envision breasts–which heterosexual men are a lot more interested in manipulating than the women to whom they’re attached. Instead I’d argue the female equivalent of the phallic controller would be the clitoral one. Namely, I’m talking about the trackpad.
Maybe it’s because I work on a laptop without a mouse, and maybe it helps that I use a Mac with two-finger scrolling, and maybe the whole thing gets topped off by the fact that my computer sits in my lap all day–but there’s something very masturbatory in a specifically female way about controlling a game or even just a cursor using a trackpad. We extend a few fingers and roll them across a small, delicate surface, using precision of movement to achieve our goals. Even a mouse uses the same clitoral layout. With two fingers extended over a smooth, cupped surface, we apply pressure or move our wrists. In fact, the motion more closely mimics that of female masturbation than moving a joystick mimics that of male.
As we move farther and farther into an electronic age where our bodies take a back seat to intellect and online connections, it’s somehow comforting to know that the machines we use to get away from ourselves continue to mirror our own bodies. It’s also comforting to know that maybe–just maybe–two-finger scrolling might be making the male laptop owners of America ever so slightly more nimble when it comes to pleasuring us ladies. “Do you feel that, lover boy? Yes that’s it, there. Now double click.”