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Stray Thoughts

Sex in gaming, part 2: Attraction in games

by Michael B. Erb
Feb 24,2003


Sex in gaming, part 2: Attraction in games

The first time I met my wife, I was instantly hooked. Something about her voice, her smile, maybe even the color of her hair or the way she looked at me. I knew at that moment she was someone I wanted to be next to.

The attraction was instant. For me.

For her, I was just another person wanting a piece of her time. She was running check-in at a college dormitory and the skinny, brown-haired what's-his-name who thought he was funny and lingered a little too long at the front desk was barely a blip on the radar.

The attraction, for her, was something I had to work on. It took more than a year and a series of unplanned events for her to realize I was someone she wouldn't mind being next to. And it is something that, even after three years of marriage, I still have to work at.

My point is that attraction rarely is as simple as a die roll, and it often takes more than that first impression.

Most games simulate attraction in the physical sense, with a character's charisma or beauty score. Some games even give player-characters skills to simulate the process of attraction, such as seduction or even a charisma skill.

Top Secret S/I, an old TSR creation and a hell of a fun game (if at times a little tedious in the number crunching) went a step further. Physical beauty was considered a bonus, and some had it better than others. You could also be butt-ugly and still get the girl by having sensuality, an uncanny attractiveness to the opposite sex (not a lot of homosexuals in games those days, but I will get back to that in a bit). Likewise, you could have a lecherous character, one who couldn't help but chase every piece of tail that came his or her way, or someone who was particularly vulnerable to the wiles of beautiful people.

But the fact remains, most game rules were meant to simulate that initial attraction, that moment of eye-to-eye, "I like THAT one over there," when two characters first meet. And, to be honest, they really only applied to hook-ups between men and women of the same race.

In any game world where you have multiple races there will be some variation in what makes one person attractive to another. You can tell me that dwarf-chick has a charisma of 19, but the whiskers are still gonna freak me out. Likewise, a semi-attractive elf might be the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. I may not even care about his or her looks because, hey, its an elf ... can't wait to brag to my friends about that.

To me that orc might as well have a negative charisma, but to another orc they may be a supermodel.

Not to mention the fact that physical beauty doesn't automatically mean someone is attractive. We've all met that beautiful person who, as soon as he or she opened their mouth, ceased to be beautiful. A good portion of those whom I went to high school with fall into that category.

Attraction is 90 percent personal preference.

Actually, that's not really accurate. According to most sociologists, attraction is 90 percent placement. Remember the saying, "If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with?" The fact is, the vast majority of us love the one we're closest to geographically.

Also, people often fall for types, a set characteristic that automatically draws their attraction. It could be a preference in height, weight, hair color, breast size or even tattoos. It could be a voice, a style of dress, or a borderline fetish, such as small feet or a long tongue.

Throw in the idea of pheromones, those scent-chemicals that send sexual messages between potential mates, and you have a calculus-level equation for the chances of two characters hooking up.

Time for another of my self-gratuitous game examples.

In a Palladium RIFTS campaign several years ago we had a group of primarily male PCs that were working with a wide array of both female and male NPCs. Now, Palladium games have your standard Physical Beauty attribute, which give a percentile chance to charm or impress (if your score is high enough), but there also is an attribute called Mental Affinity that tells how fast you are on your feet (mentally). It also tells the world what kind of a natural leader you are, with a percentile chance to trust or intimidate. So you can end up with a supermodel whom no one in their right mind would follow or be afraid of, or a butt ugly natural leader. Kinda like real life, but still oversimplified for gaming.

So one night, right before the game starts, we get this crazy idea to see who likes who in the campaign, kind of a RIFTS meets Melrose Place (I might be showing my age with that example). The closer the roll to the actual percentile (without going over) the more that person was attracted to them, so multiple "likes" could be ranked ("I like her, but I don't LIKE like her").

And those who lacked in physical beauty could also get the girls/guys through personality with a high MA attribute.

What happened actually ended up adding quite a bit the campaign overall. We found that, as it often is in real life, things were rather complicated. Almost everyone liked someone, but very few liked the person who liked them. Even those with the lowest PB or MA scores had someone who liked them, even if the feelings weren't mutual.

This small diversion ended up setting off several subplots, and several of the players later made the conscious decision to pursue the sure-thing, to have their character hook-up with the one who liked them, even if it wasn't their first choice (which does happen).

The point is attraction is a mysterious, crazy and fickle thing, and it should be that way in games too. There are always elements outside of beauty, outside of pheromones and biological needs that drive people to seek one another. If you want to use percentiles or saving throws or charts and graphs to simulate that first impression, by all means do so. Just remember that what makes a character unique and real also makes them hard to pin down.

A lot like relationships.

One last thought, this one on sexuality in games.

Through most of the my last campaign, which lasted through several gaming groups the better part of five years, there was a character by the name of Hellfire who seemed to be a constant fixture. Though he drifted through the hands of several players, he was a quiet hero, a stalwart soldier and a good friend and companion to all who knew him.

And he was gay.

Now, I am pretty sure that none of the players, including those who actually played him, knew that Hellfire was gay. At least, if they did, no one ever mentioned it. But Hellfire was definitely homosexual, in my mind if no where else.

The fact is I never made a big deal about his sexuality because no one ever bothered to point out that any of the other characters were straight. In the great cosmic scheme of things, it didn't seem to matter.

But it mattered enough to me that when I made the character I also made the conscious decision to have him be gay.

The other reason I didn't tell everyone he was gay was because I was a little bit afraid. Not afraid that the players would refuse to play him or ostracize him from the group. In fact the group that I gamed with was a pretty progressive bunch, and I doubt they would have considered such actions.

But there was the possibility that the way they interacted with him, they way he was portrayed, could have changed. The last thing I wanted was a bunch of jokes at the character's expense, or for them to somehow lessen his role in the party due to something as trivial as sexuality. Perhaps, in that respect, I wasn't giving the players enough credit, but I had seen them take a joke too far on countless other occasions, so I wasn't prepared to take that risk. And perhaps neither was Hellfire.

So why then have a gay character without telling anyone he was gay?

Because he was.

I think the point of me bringing up Hellfire is not to make a statement about homosexuality or even playing gay characters. My point instead is there should be more to a character, a good one anyway, than just his or her sexuality, but it should be a part of their character. It is an aspect of who they are.

My other point is to say that sex in gaming, as a whole, should be about expanding the game. Whatever makes the game more interesting, more fun or adds depth for the players and the games master should be included. If you are comfortable with certain themes but not others, feel free to pick and choose.

Just remember, gaming is unique in that it gives you the chance to step outside of yourself, to deal with things that you otherwise might not be able to. Ultimately it is your game, and regardless of what some people say, its intended to be fun. So have fun.

Comments and questions welcome.

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