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Playing Dirty: Going head to head in bed

Bonnie Ruberg

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

Like every good story, a good game needs a conflict. Sometimes the conflict is obvious (aliens are attacking Earth, you're trapped in a haunted mansion, someone is trying to kick your ass). Other times, it's less obvious (blocks are falling from the sky, the timer is running out, if you don't collect enough cherries you'll never get that bigger house). Whatever the conflict is though, the goal of the game is always the same: to resolve it. Maybe you kill the aliens, or kick his ass, or fit the blocks into perfect rows. The important thing is you win by overcoming conflict.

My question is this: What kind of conflict is there in a sex game?

First, let's talk about sex itself. What kind of conflicts does sex normally present us with? Well, there's the conflict of the chase, of finding a suitable partner and convincing him/her to jump into bed. For some people, that's definitely a challenge to overcome. Then there might be a moral conflict. Should you sleep with this particular someone, or shouldn't you? There's also the simple conflict of desire. You want something, and you have to do X, Y, and Z to get it.

Still, all those things have to do with the moments (or days, or weeks) before sex, not the sex act itself. We could definitely apply them to dating sims, or even online social "games" like Second Life. But what about sex sims and other sex-based games, which cut out the pre-moments entirely? Take Virtually Jenna, for example, a sex sim franchised with porn-star Jenna Jameson. There's no need to convince Jenna–or any of her sexy friends–that they should take off their clothes. Players jump straight into the action, where they've given total control.

Talking about control brings up another potential candidate for conflict: orgasm. Maybe the obstacle to overcome in sex is making someone (or yourself) come. There are certainly a number of games that take that approach, like Heather Kelley's Lapis, or a whole range of "poke the doll" flash games. Orgasm equals success.

But what if we look at sex itself as a conflict to be "won"? We could almost call it a symbolic kind of fighting. Maybe not in real life, but in our games, at least. What if we had sex games the same way we have fighting games, where participants with special skills would go head to head and battle it out... sexually. Would it work? Who knows. In that case, how would we even determine a winner? One interesting model to turn to might be a game like Lovechess: Ancient Egypt. Lovechess is just like normal chess, except that the "pieces" have sex to take each other off the board. Does being the penetrator mean you win? Or maybe the person who orgasms?

The idea of sexual conflict definitely goes against our normal understanding of sex. We associate sex with peace, with "making love not war." But maybe a little more conflict is just what our sex games need: to give them structure, purpose, and the sexiness of achieving a goal.

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

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