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Stray Thoughts

Sex in gaming, part 1

by Michael B. Erb
Jan 16,2003

 

Sex in gaming, part 1.

My college buddies used to say that "any sex is good sex." No matter how bad or ultimately unfulfilling, it was better to be getting some than none at all.

Unfortunately the same doesn't seem to hold true for role-playing. When used incorrectly, sex becomes either distracting or off-putting. A bad sex scene in a novel can ruin a book, even if it is completely separate from the main plot. The same holds true for any role-playing session.

A bad, or sometimes too graphic, description of sex is the equivalent of a glass of cold water in the crotch. Somewhere between "Okay, we do it," and an anatomical chart lies the key to sex in role playing. Moderation and consideration are two words that spring to mind.

Likewise, attempts to simulate sex through die rolls and charts falls flat. Though I know there are several games on the market that attempt to give gameplay rules for everything from sexual position to breast size to the chances of a character contracting an STD, absolutely none of them have ever found their way into a game of mine. The simple reason is that sex is not about graphs and charts and it is certainly not as random as rolling dice, though for some it may seem that way.

The fact is, if I want porn I will go and rent porn. If I want to read erotica, I will read erotica, and it will likely involve no elves, dwarves, superheroes or androids.

So, does sex have a place in a regular role-playing game?

Of course it does.

Sex is a part of the everyday. In one way or another, we encounter it daily through the media, through each other, in our hearts and minds. Sex is an important part of who we are and as part of our culture. It can be used for reproduction or just for pleasure, to gain intimacy or forge relationships. Sex can be used as a way to pass the time, like a hobby. It can be as simple as getting lucky on a Saturday night or as complex as starting a family. Likewise, the act of sex and the concepts, conundrums and moral questions behind it can be used to add flavor -- perhaps a little spice -- to any game.

The real question is whether sex should be an on-camera or off-camera element in a game.

If you have ever attempted to role-play a sex scene with a bunch of your friends -- assuming you don't already have a sexual relationship with said group -- it often ends up either being uncomfortable or rather humorous. Too much description, especially between two players or a player and a gamesmaster, can weird out everyone, either through its awkwardness or its dead-on nature.

The closest I ever got to role-playing out a sex scene came in the middle of a cyberpunk game. A rocker-boy named Tether managed to pick up a girl at a nightclub he believed was involved in the disappearance of a friend. The idea at the time was that he would take her someplace secluded while the team covertly followed in order to get information out of her.

Once they were in the girl's apartment, I asked the player Stephen what he wanted to do next. The exchange went something like this:

Stephen: "What is she doing?"
Me: "She smiles and begins unzipping her dress. She slides out of it, wearing only a sexy lace bra and matching panties."
Stephen: "I slowly begin to unbutton my shirt."
Me: "She gets on the bed and unhooks her bra."
Stephen: "I take off my shirt and my pants."
Me: "She is on the bed, naked."
Stephen: "So am I."
Me: "... We're not really going to describe this whole thing are we?"
Stephen: "Are we?"

In the end, we just agreed that he slept with the girl and that he was amazing.

Another example, given to me by a player, took place in a campaign her husband was running. Her character and her husband's best friend's character were married in-game. She asked her husband if she and her "new hubby" could play out the honeymoon. Not wanting to seem squeamish or embarrassed, the husband consented.

I wish I had a transcript of what followed. Apparently, from what I've gathered through fractured eyewitness accounts, the newlyweds proceeded to desecrate every morality, violate every taboo, and somehow involve a few magical artifacts and a church altar in the process. To this day her husband still bares a hatred, and a slight awe, of barbarian warriors.

In both examples, the idea of "more is less, less is more" could apply. Stephen and I had no real intention of playing out a sex scene, as it really didn't do anything to move the storyline along. But the fact that they had sex was still very important when you consider that Tether was engaged at the time and nonchalantly cheating on his fiance. That was the most shocking part of the abbreviated sexcapade.

The other example (in which, by the way, Stephen was the gamesmastering husband. Guy can't catch a break) was a situation played out for shock value. The players purposefully wanted an uncomfortable reaction, and when they didn't get one they upped the odds, throwing more and more kink into the mix until Stephen, tears streaming from his tiny little eyes, ran squealing from the room.

I just threw in that last part for fun. His eyes are a normal size.

People will go to great lengths for sex, and characters (or their players) are no exception. A young superhero named Protector, played by a guy named Ben, once became so infatuated with a girl that he brought her back to the Secret Underground Base the same night he met her. And let me point out that everyone called it the Secret Underground Base, so there was little chance he could have confused it with a popular tourist destination.

And the fact that the girl led him on a chase through the city, lured him up to a rooftop, then threw herself off to see if he could catch her in time, failed to raise any warning flags in the player's mind. But Ben did catch on rather quick when I mentioned several times that she was "gorgeous" and that she made out with Protector right before jumping. I never said "Come get some" was tattooed on her forehead, but I think everyone suspected as much.

The other characters and players were, understandably, less than happy with Protector's dalliance, even less so when it was revealed through an in-game cut scene that she was working for a rival group. Ah, the things we do for love.

Now, you may point out, there was no actual sex there. True, but in my experience that what people will do for sex pales in comparison to what they will do for the promise of sex. The smartest people never put out simply because they never have to. Its easy enough to string someone along with promises of untold pleasures, or of love or of intimacy, depending on what that person wants out of another and how fertile their imagination is.

Part of Protector's desire to mate may have stemmed from one of his roomates. Only one of the six-member team was female and she was dating the team leader, a guy named Simms.

Though we never devoted a lot of in-game time to the physical relationship between Angela (an NPC) and Simms (played by Gene), it seemed to bother the other players a lot. They often referred to Simms as "Captain Kirk," not out of respect for his spacefaring skills but because Kirk seemed to be the only one "knockin' boots" in the Star Trek universe. The players often talked about Simms relationships with other female NPCs (he seemed to have a bit of a fan club), were quick to point out that his was a double bed while the rest of the team slept on cots, and some player characters would occasionally make passes at Angela when "the Captain" wasn't looking.

A later female addition to the team had all the makings of a free-for-all among the players, but my real life marriage and subsequent move nipped that whole campaign in the bud.

Funny thing was, she was introduced as another love interest for Simms. Man, I am a bastard.

One last example and bit of advice: Just because the sex happens off-camera doesn't mean the consequences should.

Ben also played a character named Corridor, a young idealistic police officer in a corrupt city who found himself blessed and cursed with superhuman powers that stemmed from an evil, supernatural source. Corridor dated a woman through most of the first part of the campaign, but her on-screen time was limited, their relationship always on the back burner.

Imagine Corridor's surprise (and Ben's, for that matter) when the girlfriend announced she was pregnant. We had never played out a sex scene, never even mentioned the fact that they were having sex, but it was an understood. The two had been dating for several years, they often spent the night at one another's apartments, the nature of their relationship was unspokenly believed to be a sexually monogamous one.

Shortly thereafter she decided to leave the city, blaming it and Corridor's job on the decline of their relationship. Corridor chose to stay. An entire flood of storylines opened up, from the responsibilities of being a father to the knowledge he couldn't be with his son, from supporting his child to understanding that he could never patch things up with his former girlfriend.

The most dramatic twist, in my mind, was his later discovery that his father had once held similar powers and ultimately had been consumed by their source. Corridor now realized he had fulfilled a prophecy, that his son would now bear his legacy and his curse.

That is it for now, and I have barely scratched the surface. Part two will discuss charisma, attraction and sexuality. If anyone has suggestions or feels there are things that I missed/glossed over, I will try and include them as well.

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What do you think?

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