Sexuality Game: Alien Sex and the Quintessential Vulva

Alien Sex
and the
Quintessential
Vulva

Writer: Sara Cornish
Editor: Allison Geller
Artwork Courtesy of Tina Gong

Meet two designers who are using games to explore sexuality

Games aren’t just simulations or imitations of real life. They can actually influence the way we behave, the way we treat one another—and the way we treat ourselves. A cultural shift is happening in digital gaming, as the community of independent creators diversifies and demand for smaller games on quirky or political topics grows. AWT talked to game designers Naomi Clark and Tina Gong about what this shift means for women and how two games they’ve created buck the norm (and might even make you squirm).

Naomi: I’ve been making games for about 16 years professionally, and I teach game design and write about games. Most of the time I’ve been working on other people’s games. But more recently, I’ve been making my own games about things I find more interesting—such as gender and sex— that I don’t usually get to work on if someone else is paying me. It’s a cool time for doing this, because the ability and interest in making games is exploding.

Compared to ten years ago, you don’t feel so isolated. There are more women, and more creators coming from outside of the traditional gaming community to make games. The tools for making games have become more accessible, like Twine [an open source, text-based storytelling tool]. You don’t have to be a programmer. I think it’s also that the industry has expanded to include a lot of smaller games in the marketplace, largely due to mobile games getting popular. People can make games in smaller teams and with less money.

There are more people in their 20s and 30s who grew up playing video games, and a lot more women. Many women fell out of gaming at some point, but have been able to rediscover it recently because there are more interesting kinds of games being made. Ten or 15 years ago, the types and topics of play were way more limited. They were oriented toward traditional, stereotypical games. There’s been a movement of people—even those considered typical game developers, the white guys and the Asian guys—who want to do something more interesting with games. This internal revolution has made it possible for more and more people to get involved.

Tina: I played a lot of games growing up, killing monsters, role-playing games, Final Fantasy, that kind of thing. What I loved about these games was always the story, the ability they gave you to immerse yourself in another world. There’s an element of magic: as you achieve goals and learn things in a game, there’s an accompanying feeling that you can act them out in reality. It’s sort of a mirror world to me, and a concept I wanted to hijack.

The idea for HappyPlayTime came to me when touchscreens were first getting popular when I was in college. When I saw this phone that used constant touch, I immediately felt it was an intimate medium. Touching is one of the most intimate senses we have as human beings, and can transmit so much. When I was getting into my first relationship, I didn’t have a strong sense of self; my identity felt a little scattered. I didn’t know if the things I was exploring were really what I wanted. But masturbation is a great way of exploring—teaching yourself to love your own body.

In HappyPlayTime, there’s this character that represents the archetype of all vulvas, and is therefore also a symbol of your own. You play with her. She’s kind of needy and wants to be happy. She wants to play with you. There’s an emotional pull to try and make her happy. Ultimately, by playing the game with this character, you could also learn to play with yourself. If you love her enough, you can learn to love yourself. She had to be weird and kooky enough to relate to and play with. I was projecting myself onto this character, and then I put her in a phone and she became universal.

Naomi: There’s something so great about HappyPlayTime that a lot of great games and play experiences have. You’re coming into contact with something outside yourself and you have to really think about how you’re meeting and interacting with it. But it’s a journey that connects you back to yourself. This is true of many, many games: go outside yourself and interact. But then you ask, what’s going on with this other creature? And that’s what gives you the experience of encountering an Other.

This reminds me so much of the game I’ve been working on most recently. Consentacle is a cooperative card game played by a curious human and a tentacled alien. The two players have to figure out how to have sex, but they can’t talk to each other. So the players have to learn ways to build trust and please one another. You don’t have actual sex (there is a lot of eyebrow waggling). It’s about nonverbal communication, such as making eye contact or a provocative face. You’re trying to create Satisfaction [by getting points], and in doing so learn how to please someone different than you—in this case, a tentacled alien.

I wanted to make a game about consensual sex, instead of the disgusting tentacle porn you see in some Japanese anime of the 90s. I’m Japanese-American and when I discovered tentacle porn, I was horrified. Last year someone actually tried to make a game out of tentacle rape and it got kicked off of Kickstarter. I said, why not make a game about tentacle sex that is actually consensual, about negotiating with non-normal bodies? What’s it like to interact with and learn about a body that is very different from your own?


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