Oh gosh I am going to talk frankly about sex and videogames because I very much like both of those things and have found a weird parallel since I’m a pattern recognition machine, so here’s hoping everyone decides to be a fucking adult about it. That sound you can hear right now, from whereever you are in the world is me laughing at the impossibility of that statement. I know you’re not supposed to laugh at your own jokes but the laughing stops me from screaming so hey. Pick and choose, friend.
Also this gets rambly. But it’s a blog so fuck the police.
My friend sat impatiently on the edge of the futon waiting for me to finish enough things that I could feel comfortable taking a few minutes to actually PLAY a game instead of obsessing over making them and everything that surrounds continuing to do that in ways that keep me fed. Brandon’s a game developer too and has seen my work, so when he tells me we should play Heavy Rain because I’d probably like it or get something out of it despite it’s faults, I look up. I’ve heard of it and I know the basic jist, but just hadn’t had the time to actually sit down and play it. I send a few more emails and justify playing the game with him with the hopes that I can find something interesting in the good in the game to chew on and apply to the FMV game I’m making since it kind of sounds like a kindred spirit anyway.
The other thing about he and I is that we’re not just game developers, we’re total jackasses. We agree to play the game in the most reckless way possible together, hoping to impact the storyline in some funny way or the other. Heavy Rain quickly shows that it has the same immersion-breaking ridiculous tools that most things do when you can wander around and make your character apathetically examine a pencil while someone gets beaten by your detective partner a few feet away. We deliberately botch tense scenes with QTEs, hoping something interesting will happen. Usually nothing happens. We’re just forced to redo it.
We get into a chase scene and I just set the controller down. We laugh as our hero slides all over a grocery store, falling into boxes and, I shit you not, knocks over a fruit cart. I can’t tell if that’s deliberate. It’s all very impressive that they bothered to do all that, but my brain makes the connection between the disconnect I feel here and another I’ve brushed up against.
I have slept with both men and women, and I’ve kinda noticed that there’s a number of things that happen specifically with men and their particular anxieties with sex. Everyone has probably experienced anxiety about wanting to be “good in bed”, or at least not “bad” at it. But what even makes someone good at sex? Sex ed, if you even have it, tends to give you barebones info on how to not get STDs at BEST. But you know, even when you’re young, that it’s something you could be good or bad at, but when I was younger there were no reliable sources that really help, especially not for queer girls. So I tried to learn from porn since I deduced at the time from having almost exclusively male friends that that was the ideal, and I’ve always been a perfectionist and figured might as well try and ape what people who get paid to do this do, right? So in my highly unscientific study of porn clips I could scrounge together on our awful backwoods dial up modem connection, my takeaways at the time were largely “I have no idea how to be a girl and have sex with a girl this doesn’t really seem like it’s geared towards doing that with any level of competency or reasonable fingernails”, and “being good at sex with dudes means being hot (at the time I wrote this off as impossible) and letting them do whatever they want and liking it”. Past Zoe was kind of an idiot, but hey, she worked with what she had which wasn’t much.
As I rapidly discovered that was making me completely miserable and that porn had betrayed me despite never meaning to be a teaching tool in the first place, I also quickly caught on that men and boys are messaged very differently. I started talking to my online guy friends (so much easier to talk about this when there’s a couple timezones between awkward teenage you and whoever you’re talking to about this) about what they liked and how they felt about being “good” at it. We’re marketed to very differently, and not even always in complimentary ways in a pretty broken system like some kind of shitty yin yang. Sure, there are guys who didn’t care about being good at it, and there were and are guys who feel like the goal is to “get” stuff from girls and derive pleasure from what girls will allow them to do, increasing with taboo-ness. I’ve slept with guys like that when I was too young to know yet that making out is an audition as well as just awesome, and the sex was somewhere between awful and boring. Then there’s some guys who are just nervous and sweet and aren’t sure what to do but DO care and want you to have a good time and are basically in the same stage that I was in when I thought permissiveness equated to skill. They often just ape what they’ve seen or heard of and I feel like this often turns into one of two things: guy who fits my definition of “good at sex” or “car mechanic”. Car Mechanics feel like they’re born out of the anxiety to be good at sex, but not just for their partner, they want to be Good At Sex and pin it to their ego like a merit badge.
Let me explain the experience of sleeping with the “car mechanic”, because it’s something I find incredibly disheartening when I find it. He usually drops verbal hints about some kind of prowess before your clothes are even off. Sometimes they very conspicuously buy Magnums in front of you. Other times they might want to drop hints that they are just-so-good at oral. Sometimes it’s a total surprise. Regardless, once you get into things, it feels really disconnected. It feels like you might as well not be there. It feels like getting worked on like a car. They have “techniques” that they fully believe work on everyone. If you say you don’t feel like receiving oral, they insist, thinking that you must always obviously want it and there’s no possible way you wouldn’t just rather do other things. They tell you you don’t “have to” give them oral back, and they seem skeptical when you tell them you legitimately enjoy it (this most annoyingly manifests in fauxmenist men who tell you that you don’t have to “degrade yourself”, like wow holy shit, how bad at listening are you). They are determined to “make you” squirt even if that’s a thing you’ve never done and have almost no real interest in or are sure is possible. They get really upset if they have an orgasm and need a break before you have the requisite number of orgasms that they were looking for, and they don’t care if you’re really satisfied with what happened as is. They have a plan, for everything. They’re the kind of guy who will sometimes resent you for not getting off because it’s an ego thing. When they’re looking in your eyes, they’re making sure their hair looks good from that angle. *They’re* fucking *you*, under an abstracted pretense of thinking this is what everyone wants.
Basically, you put the controller down and let it play itself. The back and forth is dead, and you have to fight for engagement. You’re not playing together, you’re being performed at.
And it’s incredibly boring.
After over a decade of ~*doin it*~, I figured out my own definitions for what I consider good at sex, for any partner of any orientation. If it is a performance at all, it’s improv. It’s back and forth, it’s a living event and not the prerecorded laughtrack. It’s not just knowing everyone is different and likes to be touched in different ways (seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever had a partner that was exactly like another), it’s being excited about figuring those out. It’s about listening, not shouting over each other. It’s adaptation and flexibility. It’s an outstretched hand that twirls you around when you take it and lets you twirl it back as you turn back around.
It’s play. And I want the same from my games, both as a player and a designer. I want to co-author the experience on both sides. I want to dance and be danced with.
I’m tired of simply being fucked by videogames. I’d rather play with them.