How do you define sex?
No. It’s a serious question. See, I think that before you and I can talk about sex (especially in something as serious and complicated as a game) we need to be on the same page about what sex is.
So. Here’s the thing. I understood the “physics” of sex at a very early age (for a lot of reasons, including that my parents were what is kindly described as “hippies” and what I spent most of my teenage years calling “totally freakish”). Tab A, slot B. I had all that. I have the chat logs from my early days on AOL to prove it, or at least I used to.
What I didn’t have, however, was a language to describe all the complicated, sticky, explosive, life-changing things I was feeling.
So. Here I am, at sixteen, with a long term boyfriend and no way to explain that I don’t feel anything for him when we’re putting our squishy bits together. And more importantly, that I do feel something every time I sit next to the pretty girl in my algebra class who is definitely not paying attention to the lessons because she’s too busy putting her hair up in that messy bun and…
I had no vocabulary for the serious, shattering feelings I got when holding a friend’s hand, or kissing someone behind the bleachers…and I had no way to explain how that was different from the complete lack of emotional spark I felt while sleeping with my boyfriend. We had the mechanics of sex, sure, but not the meat of it.
What does that have to do with games?
Well, there are a lot of story games now (RPGs, whatever, I’m being liberal here) that explore human relationships, and for various reasons they involve sex. Between PCs, between PCs and NPCs, etc. Sometimes this is incentivised. Sometimes this is deincentivised. Sometimes it doesn’t make a darn lick of difference except for the changes it wreaks in your PCs thoughts and feelings.
But if your definition of sex and my definition of sex don’t agree? Then maybe the getting squishy bits together part isn’t so important.
A good example of this is in the forthcoming game Monsterhearts. One of the primary “moves” (or actions within the game) involves turning someone on. If you do it successfully, maybe the person will “give themselves to you.” But for a sixteen year old, that isn’t as simple as “making squishy bits meet.” For a sixteen year old, maybe that’s makeouts over the bra but under the shirt, which is totally the farthest she’s ever gone with someone. Maybe that’s staying up until 3am on the phone, hiding it from his parents because if they knew he was telling another boy all his inner secrets they’d send him off to Bible Boarding School forever. Maybe it’s getting squishy bits together, or maybe it’s only doing oral because that way you’re still a virgin.
Another example is in White Wolf’s World of Darkness. Sex, for Vampires, has nothing to do with genitals. It’s about the sharing of blood and the intimacy that creates. Vampires are sensationally rewarded (I.E. “they have good feelings”) for sharing blood with each other, and the act of drinking blood from humans is also a “sexualized” experience. Ghouls feel intense desire for the vampires that feed them, a dangerous obsession (a lot like your last crazy ex), willing to kill or die for them. But they don’t, usually, do the whole romance movie, naked bodies, candlelight thing.
And I bet if you think about your own life, you can think of people you are intensely attracted to, who you’ve never tab a/slot b-ed. Maybe people you’ve made out with, maybe people you’ve had long e-mail affairs with. Maybe someone you’ve chat-sexed even, but you’ve never been in the same room as them.
Sex is incredibly complicated, and while the dictionary definition may be genital intercourse…sticking to that robs both you and me of what could be a much richer gaming experience, by allowing us to know how our characters think and feel, and what they define as intimate relationship contact, which is what “sex” is mostly a shorthand for in these games anyway.