Playing Dirty: Getting your game on while you get it on

Every other week, Bonnie Ruberg contributes Playing Dirty, a column on sex and gender in video games:

Valentine's Day is, if nothing else, sexy. Call it about love, call it about chocolate, call it about little pink cards you hand out to your friends. It's really about sex. S-E-X. So there's no better time than the quiet, post-coital lull that settles in after Valentine's Day to take a step back from our passions and reflect: Is sex a game?

The question may seem like a strange one at first. Our culture trains us to think of sex as something romantic and meaningful, as "making love." But that doesn't mean it can't be like a game and still retain its sappy dignity. Johan Huizinga, author of Homo Ludens and the granddaddy of all "That is so a game!" theory, slapped the same label on lots of "respectable" human activities, like poetry, philosophy, even war. In fact, he said pretty much anything could be considered a game, or at least play, as long as it complied to a few basic guidelines.

First, it has to be voluntary. Second, it should exist outside the ordinary, in its own separate space, and have a clear beginning and end. It should also have rules, order, and involve repetition. True, Huizinga himself said that, "if we stick to the formal and functional characteristics of play... it is evident that few of them are really illustrative of the sexual act." But if we take a second look at sex using Huizinga's guidelines, we might be surprised to see how well things match up.

Sex definitely exists outside the flow of ordinary life. Even if it's an everyday thing for you, it has its own separate space, both literally (the home, the bedroom, the bed itself) and in terms of frame of mind. It also has a clear beginning and an end; most of us don't "sort of have sex," and we certainly don't have to wonder, as we sip our morning coffee, "Is sex over?" As for repetition, it exists in sex on all scales, from something as minute as pelvic thrusting to something as big as sex on the whole, which we take part in again and again.

Of course, the "voluntary" clause rules out all non-consensual sex. The really tricky guideline though is the one about rules and order. Our rules for sex are cultural. Like where, if I may be so blunt, is it okay to stick it? What body parts should I touch? It's all about who does what to whom in what way and when. But, come on, does sex really create order? That's where taboos come in, rules about what's forbidden. They keep people in lign with society's standards. Every time we participate in "normal sex," we're doing our little part too.

And so, as the day of hearts and candy and getting it on draws to a definitive close, the only question that remains is: Didn't any luck gamer with a culinary sweetie get baked a Valentine's Day game cake? Maybe Peach in the throes of lust, or Cloud in his birthday suit? Don't be shy; you can tell. After all, love may come and go, but a game cake is forever.


Bonnie Ruberg is a writer, researcher, and all around fangirl with a big crush on games. Find more of her work at Gamasutra, The Onion A. V. Club, or her blog, Heroine Sheik. She can be reached at .

This article was originally published on Joystiq.