Technology begets erotic impulses. Media is the extension of our senses.
I’m betting that, not long after Bell rang Watson, someone made an improper advance over a telephone. Photography served prurient ends almost immediately after its invention, as did film. Moveable type made cheap erotica possible. The problem with Bell’s technology was that at the time, no one was recording it for future posterity.
But now… computers and the internet, oh my!
The unleashed libidos of millions of semi-anonymous horndogs and damsels have washed across the electronic world for over two decades now, redefining gender and sexuality, turning words into sex toys.
On the internet, no one knows that you are not really a transsexual dwarf who is turned on by milkshakes and latex. Or, if you prefer, everyone knows and you have your own Yahoo group!
As a writer fascinated by sexuality and fantasy in all their forms, I am especially interested in the way sexuality has emerged as an element in online games that are not deliberately sexual, and fascinated by the ways that game players manifest their sexuality and by the taboos that communities may impose on themselves. This is the first in a series of mini-essays on the phenomenon and my experiences with it.
First, let me be clear that I am not talking about virtual realms like Red Light Center, where sex is the whole point, but about games like World of Warcraft or Age of Conan (see previous entries on this blog), that are, at least theoretically, concerned with other types of fantasy entirely.
Since many of the people who read this blog probably are not familiar with these games, or at least with the role playing elements of them, this first column will be a simple introduction to concepts, beginning with some definitions.
MMORPG – Massive, Multiplayer, Online Role Playing Game. A game played on a computer with an internet connection that involves simultaneous, interactive play with (potentially) thousands of other players all over the world.
Playstyle – The way any individual player approaches the game. Playstyles are infinite in variety, but tend to break down into broad categories, often overlap, and are not necessarily exclusive for any particular player. Many players exhibit different playstyles, depending on the game design and their preference of the moment. Some common playstyles include:
PvP, a playstyle that favors combat with other players, a competitive, sometimes predatory approach to gaming.
PvE, a playstyle that favors the player interacting with the environment provided by the game’s designers – killing monsters, solving puzzles, earning rewards.
RP, a playstyle that favors role play. RP comes in many varieties and there are different degrees of role play. “Serious” RPers try always to stay “in character” and to react to other players and the environment as though they are a method actor within a spontaneous play, weighing actions and responses as their character would, not as a player of a game.
ERP, erotic role play, a subset of RP wherein players enact erotic encounters with other players. Players who participate in this playstyle are (probably) a minority among RPers.
The division between RPers and non-RPers can be sharp and usually comes down to the accusation that RPers are forgetting the game is “just a game”. There is some truth to this allegation. When one invests time, care, and emotion into the portrayal of a character, it is much like an actor “getting into the role” and perspective can be lost, which brings us to two more important concepts.
IC, in-character. Behavior that is ideally only related to the environment offered by the shared world (game). In the most obvious sense, it means that your necromantic wizard shouldn’t be talking about his college team’s big win while chatting with the elf ranger at the tavern.
OOC, out of character. Those real-life (RL in gaming speak) things that affect player behavior. In the world of serious RP, letting OOC considerations actively influence IC behavior is a no-no. This distinction can become very important when ERP takes place.
Why would anyone want to play a role in an online game? Well, the obvious answer is that it can be a great deal of fun. It is! I’ve done it for years and have loved it, though there are likely psychological, emotional, and – I will admit here in the company of friends – artistic motivations as well. I’ve heard online RP described as “group therapy for adults with arrested development issues,” by someone who did not approve of it. I consider it more a new and vastly more amazing facet of global community theater – complete with backstage intrigues! Anyone with an interest in sociology and group dynamic psychology really needs to take an in depth peek at online RP. You could probably write a thesis on the subject!
Why would anyone want to play an erotic role in an online game? We’ll talk about that in the next part of this essay, and go from there into some of the really fascinating aspects of role played sexuality.
Stay tuned for the sizzle, folks! The hot stuff’s around the corner…