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The Games/Sex Analogy

I’ve just been trying to convince someone that the videogame is the most hyper-sexual form of art and entertainment on the planet.

No, bear with me.

The conversation started a little something: Gamers as asexual is a common myth propogated by popular mainstream culture. The archetypal gamer is a spotty teen, unquestionably a virgin, sitting in his room, wearing glasses, picking his nose, playing – I dunno – Dragon Age. Right? That’s the popular image of a gamer – though it might be changing, slowly but surely. It’s a distinctly asexual image – or, if it is sexual, it’s in a really depreciating manner. You know, as in, there’s also a box of tissues on the desk ’cause Morrigan’s the best he’ll ever get.

So the conversation came about because… actually, no, let’s not go into why it came about. Point is, I found myself responding to the suggestion that conversation between gamer friends would largely be non-sexual when compared to the conversation between, say, two lads ont’ town. And all I could find myself thinking is, well, why should that be the case? Because the parallels between playing games and having sex are huge.

What’s sex about? No, none of that “consumating a relationship between two people who love one another” crap. That’s not sex. The sex is an aspect of that relationship, a means by which those people can physically express their emotions for one another, but it isn’t sex. Sex in a relationship is nothing like sex outside of a relationship. The situation’s changed, and the feelings are different; the actual act of sex itself is the only constant within that, and the emotions change the way you approach that act. The actual sex part of sex operates on a totally different level. Sex is about all sorts of things. It’s about power and domination, about excitement, adrenaline rushing through your veins. It’s about self-affirmance and control over a situation; or, conversely, giving up control over that situation. Whatever floats your boat. It’s about immersing yourself in something so physical, so instinctive and so raw, so visceral and so… just physical. That’s the right word.

So here’s something. I’ve just realised that, when thinking about this analogy initially, I was thinking almost exclusively about the Xbox 360. It applies to the PS3 too, and probably to the Wii to an extent (I mean, firstly the control mechanism, and secondly that name). It doesn’t, I suspect, work quite so well for PC gaming, and here’s why: force feedback.

Who was it who wrote that famous piece about masturbating with a gamepad while her boyfriend played Rez? I can’t remember. Anyway, that’s obviously an example of force feedback utilised in an overtly sexual way, but force feedback itself affirms that same absolute physicality of play. One of the most remarkable improvements Mass Effect 2 made over its predecessor was its masterful use of force feedback, in the most brutal, intense way possible, at bang on the right moments. It’s stimulating, even, in its own special way. It totally scratches that same psychological itch – or, at least, something closely approaching it.

But more generally, I still think the sex/games analogy is true. We’ve done what sex is about. What are games about? Well, they’re about control. They’re about mastering a situation. They’re about power and domination, about desire, about excitement. They’re intensely intimate experiences at times; they can also be fun social experiences. In a very real way, the act of playing a game – of controlling a character, of roleplaying, of living out fantasies, of succumbing to desires, of hiding behind something, of changing somebody’s fucking life… they’re all things we use sex for as well.

The thrill of an action game is born out of that sheer physicality that it provides. The cerebral nature of a good adventure is the more thoughtful side of the sexual experience. Games that go for a heartstring tug – The Longest Journey, Dear Esther, whatever – are that proper emotional bond developing, so that’s going beyond sex, in a way. Something like The Path? Probably fucking the weird arty girl no one else looks at, and everyone laughs at you for fancying. Fascinating, in its own unique imperfections.

Of course, sex in games is bloody terrible. Embarassing. We just can’t animate well enough yet, I suspect. But I do think it’s weird that gaming is labelled as so unsexy when we can draw so many parallels between the two acts. Compare to literature – which is totally considered the most erotic of media forms, I’d imagine – and that just seems like emotional waffle when compared to that physicality and that instinctive action that games provide. Maybe people assume games are compensatory for actual sex. I don’t know. That’s another blog post. As is “Shooters = cocaine, GTA = ecstasy, Russian games = acid”, probably. I can totally make that work. Just watch me.

7 responses »

    • I’d waver in the direction of saying the fact that Bissell found GTA synergised so well with the coke is a great reason for why GTA is ecstasy.

      Not that I’ve ever taken either. Obviously. Man. First my Escapist article, now this.

  1. I found this very interesting because I play Smash Bros competitively, which means I go to tournaments where there are anywhere between 10 and 500 people – basically gaming in one of its most social forms possible. One of the things I’ve noticed while going to tounaments, particularly because I find it unpleasant, is the pervasive, hyper-sexualized language of the community. We’re talking about events that are easily over 95% male and probably a majority of them virgins.

    The most flagrant example is the widespread metaphoric use of the word “rape,” which roughly means to beat your opponent very badly. People not only say “raped” by itself as something agentive, but they also say “get/got raped” for the person on the receiving end. Smash Bros. is not only literally a game about getting control and then maintaining it, but it’s about controlling another person/player.

    There are other examples, sometimes even more crude. People have been commentating on recorded matches, and there are some where the commentators will say things like “facial” or “anal, no spit,” presumably to imply something about humiliation and/or brutality. The people who say it probably aren’t thinking about it as much as me.

    There’s also the masculine idolatry of the character Captain Falcon, who wears a tight body suit that allows players to see his nipples and muscles, and who is one of the only characters with a moveset that only utilizes his physical body (and in very masculine ways, such as backfists, stomps and tackles).

    It always struck me as illogical and distasteful because Smash is not sex, and most of the people who play it probably haven’t had sex so they wouldn’t have a basis for comparison. Some of the things you’re saying make it make a little more sense though. Playing a video game competitively is arguably the best exemplar of your theory, because it is extremely visceral and physical, and the players tend to be wholly absorbed when they are in the middle of the act. The epitomy of “rape” in Smash Bros is the death combo, which often requires difficult, precise and consistent physical execution to pull off.

    It was a bit of a coincidence that I happened to find this article around the time that I was writing up some of this stuff.

    • Yeah, I have a lot of the same objections to the smash scene and language. There’s a shitload of homophobic language there as well, although the smashers themselves are a pretty tolerant bunch, in my experience. It doesn’t really sound that ridiculous to use “rape” in that way until you try to explain it to someone.

  2. solipsistnation

    It was on Game Girl Advance:

    That thing was basically a sex toy disguised as a game accessory…

    I totally agree that main subtextual themes in loads of games are control and desire. Consider Thief, where you’re creating darkness (areas you control) in order to get what you want (phat lewtz). And games where you can get a sniper rifle– that extends your area of control potentially FAR beyond the area your targets can control. (I used to be able to headshot opponents from across the map on Tribes. My zone of control was HUGE. Also I got into the habit of saying “Hello my future girlfriend!” right before sniping people. There’s probably something unpleasant lurking in my subconscious, besides the internet meme reference.)

    Also, I like weird arty girls, and I liked The Path… Lately I guess this means I’m into Russian chicks. They’re demanding and it’s easy to misstep and set the relationship back a bit, but they’re rewarding if you persist.

  3. Pingback: New Game – Tensão, sensualidade e tijolos na parede | Natural Born Gamer

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