As an industry, video games are obsessed with sex. Whether it’s the jiggle physics in Japanese fighting games or banging hookers in Grand Theft Auto (whom you can subsequently kill, but that’s another matter), simulated sex is as ubiquitous in gaming as it is everywhere else.
And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that! Let me clarify: I am by no means a fan of the rampant sexual objectification of women (and even worse, children) that our culture subscribes to. But sex is not the enemy, and in fact there have been some promising developments in the games industry of late. In just the past few years, I’ve noticed an influx of capable female characters. Two decades ago, when I first started playing video games, female protagonists were hard to come by, and those that did exist either hid their gender under a suit of power armor (Samus Aran) or amounted to little more than a pair of comically oversized tits in a turquoise tanktop (Lara Croft).
Even Lara Croft got a redesign last year (although I’ve argued elsewhere that it’s just as problematic). But how sex itself is represented in videogames has come along way. Perhaps not far enough, but at least there are signs of progress. For instance, take the trope of “sex as minigame.” You know what I’m talking about, when the (usually male) protagonist encounters a (usually female) character and is presented with a series of QTE commands: “press X to thrust, rotate thumbstick to diddle that skittle.”
Obviously an oversimplified view of sexuality (if only I could get off by mashing a series of buttons!), but it at least laid the groundwork for a more nuanced and intimate approach. What I’m referring to here are cheeky little games like Luxuria Superbia, touchscreen titles that, with a wink and a nod, encourage exploration, communication, and, above all, patience.
What’s unique about video games, as a medium, is their interactivity. Unlike most other art forms (books, music, movies, etc.), in which the audience is just a passive recipient, video games allow (and indeed require) audience members to participate in the act of creation itself. An unplayed game is an unfinished game. What I’m saying is it takes two to tango. And, incidentally, so does sex (more on masturbation later). So it’s no wonder that the most interactive medium we’ve created to date would touch upon what is, historically and presently, one of the most interactive human behaviors ever.
Sex is a completely normal and healthy aspect of being human. What’s arguably unhealthy and abnormal is our relationship with it.
Case in point: Rack Stare.
We live in a society where a game whose objective is ogling the breasts of unsuspecting women without being caught, a game that actively encourages sexual harassment, is okay, but HappyPlayTime, an app designed to lessen the stigma associated with female masturbation while simultaneously teaching women how to get off, is deemed “excessively objectionable” and “pornographic.”
The sexual repression of the Victorian era, and more recently of the mid-20th century, has given way to what we’re told is an age of sexual liberation. But I’m not sure I buy that. Sex is more visible than ever: pop stars twerk and swing nakedly from wrecking balls, half-clothed supermodels pout at us from the pages of magazines and billboards, and raunchy scenes from our favorite HBO shows are basically just porn with high production values. In our increasingly visual consumer culture, sex is a commodity that we’re constantly inundated with.
But passive viewership doesn’t equate to individual experience. In other words, just because we’ve gotten more comfortable watching fictional people have fake sex doesn’t mean that we’re any more sexually liberated ourselves. Despite how much we look at sex, one need only examine the state of (abstinence-only) sex education in America to see how repressed we truly are. We’re still weirdly uptight about what’s acceptable and what’s not, especially when it “comes” to female sexuality.
HappyPlayTime is a game that hopes to “eliminate stigma, encourage exploration and make you giggle.” Featuring a cute lil’ cartoon vulva, it’s also a game about female masturbation. “I admit, it’s pretty far out there. You’re using your touch screen to play with a vulva character to make her orgasm,” says creator Tina Gong. But, importantly, this is not a pornographic game. If anything, it’s educational.
Rated 17+ (although, I’m gonna go out on a limb here and assume that most of you started masturbating well before that age), HappyPlayTime was originally designed for touchscreen devices. What better way to demonstrate, and teach, how best to touch the clitoris?
HappyPlayTime was originally rejected by the App Store, but Ms. Gong appealed. It was again rejected, on the grounds that it violated 2 of Apple’s rules against “apps that present excessively objectionable content” and “apps containing pornographic material.” It makes you wonder what kind of porn the executives at Apple are into, and (more distressingly) why they find the female body and education about it “excessively objectionable.”
“As a large company, I’m sure that they’re trying to stay away from controversy,” Ms. Gong explains. “I get it,” she continues, “But it still makes me sad.” Me too, Tina. But it also makes me angry.