Sam Barlow considers the need for coordinating intimacy
The role of the intimacy coordinator arose out of a need to keep people safe and address the abuses of power that have run wild in the entertainment industry. But also, their job is to help to create moments of intimacy that are hot/tender/real, as a story demands. Our intimacy coordinator for Immortality is called Jean, and she is marvellous. Like a stunt supervisor, Jean is there to keep everyone safe, but she also wants to create some stunts (sex) that will take the audience’s breath away. Along with her bag of modesty garments, Jean brings a genuine passion for humanity and our capacity for intimacy. Talking with her – especially in the climate of further industry exposés of abuse and toxicity – made me think. Under such clouds, it would be easy to shy away from this kind of subject matter. But perhaps a better course of action is to embrace it. Shouldn’t a healthier depiction of sex in games make everything healthier?
Sex in games is so often pitched as a quest reward or objective. Most videogame characters start out with no sex partner and the player must go out and win/romance/ seduce one. Where are all the videogame characters for whom sex is a regular part of their life with their partner(s)? Where is the everyday sex? In Nic Roeg’s movie Don’t Look Now, the sex scene shows a grieving couple finding a connection, intercut alongside domestic minutiae as the lovers dress afterwards for dinner. It’s tender and real. The idea that sex in games is often something to be pursued and won is problematic. You pick a partner out of the catalogue, whittle down their stats, then put your feet up and watch the cutscene. Why aren’t there more games with moments like the brief dress-up scene in Cronenberg’s A History of Violence – added to the script to show the strength of the main couple’s marriage? We expend such effort celebrating the sensual joys of eating – Pikmin’s gorgeous fruit! Breath Of The Wild’s
pies and curries! Final Fantasy XV’s
photorealistic food porn! – but have narrowed our range when it comes to the other primal pleasure.
We’re living through a time where tech giants are monopolising so much and their deeply ingrained puritanism is hurting marginalised communities and making art less human, helping to build a world where our heroes are sexless MCU athletes. Apple Arcade has conflated premium gaming with kid-friendly gaming, accidentally eradicating the idea of a grown-up mobile game overnight. Steam struggles to keep out trash and trolls while also wanting to be a less moderated space. It feels necessary for games to push back, just as every other medium has done in its moment.
Not to say that sex in games is easy. There’s the rendering. We only just figured out how to make wheels look good, and it still costs a bajillion dollars to make a character’s eyes look alive. Having a character remove a shirt is an extra bajillion on top of that. Harder yet is the mechanics of it. If sex is to be a genuine part of our storytelling, it should be part of the chosen interactivity of our game. If a game is driven by challenge, expression and exploration, we should map those to the almost infinite possibilities of human sexuality. Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time memorably used a tedious maze to stand in for foreplay. Next time, skip the maze? Night School Studio’s Oxenfree showed us how to make interactive dialogue flow and be spontaneous in the moment, fluidly allowing for characters to act and react, be passive or active, retaining the rhythm of speech. Imagine a Night School sex scene! Inkle has made a point of showing how a game should encourage and embrace failure – let’s see the game where characters can have anything-but-amazing sex and roll with it.
Cinema still struggles with the fixed gaze of its camera and the rigidity of its orientation – the choreography of a sex scene still so often locked into the heterosexual male POV. The entire erotic thriller genre was built on the assumption that everyone in the audience identified strongly as Michael Douglas. (Guilty as charged; your mileage may vary.) With games, we have so many tools to shake this up. In a Choice Of Games interactive story you’re encouraged to customise the gender and sexuality or your character and their lovers. We can bring a powerful lens to explore this huge dimension of human behaviour. In the digital world, we may not need Jean’s modesty garments, but we can do a lot with her excitement for how we go about loving each other.
The Sands Of Time memorably used a tedious maze to stand in for foreplay. Next time, skip the maze?