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Jun 14, 2011

Comments

1.

Would not an online social games aimed at informing children and teenagers about sex risk being a mecca for older pedophiles? I'm sorry to be negative but I think one of the first design considerations would be some way of walling off your network, perhaps making it limited to one particular school or real world youth organisation.

2.

@Stabs Excellent point. But also part of the education would be about helping them improve their creep meters, which are already surprisingly well developed in today's kids.

3.

> Like the fact that we're obsessed over sexting and other digital phenomena related to sex, yet we have done little to improve sex education in this country

‘we’ / ‘this country’ – you mean Americans and America?

In the UK we are having a moment of moral panic over kids and sex. With the recent release of ‘Letting Children Be Children: the Report of an Independent Review of the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood’ aka “The Bailey Review”: https://www.education.gov.uk/b0074315/bailey-review/

See also the Childhood Wellbeing Research Centre’s 'Summary of regulatory frameworks in four selected countries, for the Bailey Review of commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood' and 'The commercialisation and premature sexualisation of childhood': https://www.cwrc.ac.uk/news/941.html

I’m thinking about posting more on this, but first this …

Sex’n games n’Rock and Roll
===
As to what games are out there, new year 2006 I wrote: “Welcome to oh oh ooooh6” : https://terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/2006/01/welcome_to_oooh.html as it seemed to be the year of the sex multiplayer game. I had my reservations about the market back then, I still do – though unlike many (though probably not on TN) this is for practical reasons rather than moral qualms about sex games.

I’ve just looked at the list of 2006 games and the current status seems to be as follows:
• Heavenly Bodies – seems gone.
• Naughty America: The Game – now just pr0n
• Rapture Online – apparently they are still working on it
• Red Light Center – still going
• Spend the Night - gone
• 3Feelonline - gone
• Sociolotron – still going.
There have also ben some new entrants into the market such as Digamour
https://www.digamour.com/

And of course we have not even touched the wonderful world of Japanese game genres such as: bishōjo, otome, eroge/ hentai games etc


(OK there was no rock and roll)

Social Outcomes
===
That’s sex games generally though, looking specifically at education / social outcomes….

In the UK Channel 4 (partly publicly funded TV channel) moved much of its education budget online, the games element of this has been lead by the brillian Alice Taylor, and one of their creations is Privates: https://www.e4.com/game/privates.html

To quote from the site:
“Loads of you have enjoyed playing with our bits, so we had a bit of a fiddle and have erected a new level. Now you can play as Celestia, as you rescue Jack and his Marines from their balls up and get to fight a brand new STI. You're going to have to shoot a load, before someone shoots their load...”

So a game about STD’s rather than sex as such, but you get the point. Smokescreen on Social Networking is also worth checking out: https://www.smokescreengame.com/

The UK Government has been doing a few things around games (full disclosure: myself and the Virtual Policy Network were commissioned to support some of this work). One of the outcomes of of a ‘hack day’ was The Bump Game: https://trippenbach.com/2010/03/22/the-bump-game/ by Philip Trippenbach which is a game for ‘pregnant couples’ but again, you get the point.

Main lesson of Bump I think is that games work for some things in some circumstances – they don’t have to be computer games.


Panic!!
===
The main problem I guess is the moral panic around sex. Informing kids about safe sex seems statically linked to reducing pregnancy and disease but in the eyes of the press and many groups is linked to promoting sex (which is a bad thing).

Here’s the upside – kids have got smart phones. Wana educate – make free smart phone games about sex. Anyone know Apple’s rules about loading stuff on the App store – would they cave to pressure? Droid anyone?

Surely this is something that begging for a tie up with research institutions – we must know what kids don’t know about sex and what they need to know.

To get something going in the US we probably need:
- a hack day or similar
- an audience: IGDA Sex in video games sig is a good start
- sponsors – to get the action going (as they say in Poker)

tVPN’s willing to help out with this – let’s go!

4.

I love Alice Taylor! See what you miss when you don't live in England? Thanks Ren, London Sex and Video Games Bureau Chief. Excellent summary. Until next time.

5.

[reposting - TypePad seems to have eaten my comment earlier]

Excellent call to action, Lisa!

I'd look at Japanese dating games as a genre and possible model: it should be *really* easy to embed good information and smart behavior into a dating-game mechanic.

I've got to chide you for your dismissal of Second Life, though: it is *highly* educational, particularly for middle-aged folk, as to what's available and personally interesting sexually.

As anthropologists, we can't afford an ivory-tower disdain of cultures that don't reflect positively on our own status. We need to look at what regular folk are doing and why (and yes, I'd argue strongly that the people in SL sexual subcultures are indeed regular folk).

It'd seem that understanding what adults are actually drawn to doing sexually online would provide important insights for designing sex-ed games.

You've raised an important, and I think, do-able challenge.

[ETA: fantastic suggestions and resources from Ren!]

6.

Thanks, John... a little voice in my head als chided me for my ferocious opinions based on fairly limited experiences (in Second Life). Perhaps I'll go check it out now... it's been quite a while...

7.

Educational sex games to teach... what? which kind of sexual lesson? As a child, I was taught:

1. You must be a virgin until you are married. You should be monogamous. Sexual experimentation is a bad idea. Anything other than vanilla, hetero sex is wrong. Don't talk about sex; it's private.

and

2. Sex is the most important thing there is and you should be having all of it, all the time, with everyone.

Achieving both those things at the same time was kinda impossible. But between home, church, school and the Madison Avenue / Hollywood Axis, I got two diametrically opposed messages about sex. So... sex education games could either:

1. Reward you for resisting temptation and making it to your marriage bed with as few sexual scars as possible. Like golf, low score wins.

2. Reward you for trying as many things, with as many partners as possible. Like basketball. Not in terms of the score; I mean, literally, like basketball ;-)

In RL, the value of sex is often linked to the relationship aspects of the act; you know, that "love" thing. Or at least "heavy liking." I don't know of any games the simulate friendship, much less love. Without that, what is it that we want to teach people (kids or adults) about sex? That some people like it in ways you might? But that you could possibly, after deciding that you're a Furrie, spend your entire life not being able to hook up with a matching kink? That some people really don't like sex at all? That some do, but just not with you? That there's a thousand ways to do it right and ten thousand to do it wrong?

I love games, and I think they can teach us all kinds of things. But unless you count virtual/cyber sex as a kind of sex (which I do), I'm not sure what games can teach us about RL sex. Same as with RL martial arts. Best WoW fighter in the world don't mean a 9-year old with kungfu chops can't kick your RL ass.

I'd love some others' thoughts, though.

8.

Actually, there are quite a few porn games out there. They are, however, pretty lame for the most part (e.g., "click different parts of my body in rapid succession to make me cum").

There are, however, a lot of problems:

1. Most games are about things you wouldn't want to do in real life (e.g., storm beaches on D-Day, have an orc try to kill you). They provide a vicarious experience that you can't/wouldn't want to have in r/l. Sex, by contrast, you'd rather have in r/l. So why play a stupid game about sex instead of, you know, trying to pick up chicks/dudes/whathaveyou?

2. There's an uncanny valley problem. The 2D sex games I've seen are dumb (imaging little Habitat-like avatars with animated sex acts), and the games with 3D avatars are just unconvincing by comparison to, say, filmed porn.

In short, most sex games are notably unerotic. About the only exception I can think of are Japanese dating sims, which use brief scenes (often just drawings) of sex acts as rewards for completing game tasks (e.g., persuading one of the characters to be your b-or-g/f).

9.

Planned Parenthood does great things, but it kills more people than it saves. Alright, alright...settle down. Just hear me out. I know most of you don't think life starts at conception. OK. Life may not start at conception, but conception certainly does. I speak from personal experience: The Onion is too close to the truth.

I want to see a game that helps people reflect on sex more seriously in terms of creation. The game should show how sex is ultimately about new life, that other features of sex are epiphenomenal add-ons that are fun but aren't the essence of the thing, how the act of creation can be ruined in so many ways if the parents don't commit themselves beforehand to self-awareness, growth, maturity, commitment, and responsibility.

OK, I said stuff professors and technorati are not supposed to say, so kill me now.

10.

@Ed -- though the express purpose of sex is procreation, I would argue that the personal, psychological, social, cultural and economic issues surrounding sex aren't "add-ons," except in the sense that they are effects, whereas making babies is the cause. I've had all the children I'm ever going to have (that I know of...), but sex will be affecting me every day, in one way or another, until I die.

Should the procreative aspect be taken more seriously? Especially by people who don't actively want kids? Obviously, and I'm 100% behind any efforts at better sex ed and easier access to reliable contraception. I think a game to that effect would be a neat idea. But, other than getting the ball rolling (ahem) sex has as little to do with being a good parent as worms have to do with a great fish dinner.

11.

I think encouraging people to think about the [possible] spiritual aspects is a great part of any game we might choose to create. Ted, it's cool... but it's also cool for me to acknowledge that I was born with 400 or so eggs that all had the potential for life. Yet I hsve borne one child and will probably bear no more. I have used a lot of birth control and therfore avoided many a conception. But those possibilities, as you intimiate, are interesting... in games we can explore them in the ways we can't in real life. I think maybe we should... if only as thought experiments...

12.

No, I don't think that Stabs's point was excellent, contra Lisa. The fear of stranger/online pedophiles is way, way, way out of proportion to either their numbers or their proportional contribution to pedophiliac abuse.

This is directly comparable to the similarly disproportionate fear and paranoia with regard to stranger rape.

In both cases, the vast majority of assaults are perpetrated by people known to, or close to, the victim. Most rapes are acquaintance rapes and most sexual abuse of children is committed by family and friends of family. In both cases, the real danger zones are not dark parking lots and online chat rooms, but workplaces and homes and other "safe" places.

That our culture is so strongly resistant to recognizing this, and correspondingly plays up far lesser risks and greater fears, have everything to do, I think, with a deep psychological avoidance of admitting and confronting what sexual violence really is and who it is who really commits it. It's not profoundly alien, monstrous "others"——it's people we know and sometimes, sadly, love.

Which, in its own way, is much more frightening than the truth.

Thus, we project our fears onto persons and places where we believe we are more able to protect ourselves and those we love. Make sure parking lots are well-lighted and online chat rooms are monitored and, yay!, we've significantly reduced sexual assault! Except...not really.

So, no, pedophiles online are not really a problem, in context. For every pedophile who trolls online for children, there are ten who troll among friends and family...and get away with it.

Meanwhile, sadly and ironically, partly because of this irrationality, we rely upon friends and family to educate children about sex, which they for the most part do not (excepting, of course, the pedophiles, who are happy to take up this responsibility). We seem to be relatively okay with kids learning about sex from online porn, but very not okay with kids learning about sex from online sites intended to educate them about sex.

13.

"The game should show how sex is ultimately about new life, that other features of sex are epiphenomenal add-ons that are fun but aren't the essence of the thing, how the act of creation can be ruined in so many ways if the parents don't commit themselves beforehand to self-awareness, growth, maturity, commitment, and responsibility."

Oh, please. *rolls eyes* I am trying to imagine a comment by someone on virtual worlds that exhibits this same sort of deeply conservative mindset, telling us what VWs "really" are, filled with platitudes about human nature, good behavior, and so heavily overloaded with normative assertions. It would be pretty much the polar opposite of anything you've written on VWs.

14.

terra deada...

"Edward Castronova said...
Planned Parenthood does great things, but it kills more people than it saves. Alright, alright...settle down. Just hear me out. I know most of you don't think life starts at conception. OK. Life may not start at conception, but conception certainly does. I speak from personal experience: The Onion is too close to the truth.

I want to see a game that helps people reflect on sex more seriously in terms of creation. The game should show how sex is ultimately about new life, that other features of sex are epiphenomenal add-ons that are fun but aren't the essence of the thing, how the act of creation can be ruined in so many ways if the parents don't commit themselves beforehand to self-awareness, growth, maturity, commitment, and responsibility.

OK, I said stuff professors and technorati are not supposed to say, so kill me now."

No. sorry like the US ARMY (Americas Army-speaking of gamez)... we arent culturally or legally considered KILLERS.

And Neither are those who work at planned parenthood.

as to online gamez and virtuality and sex, the 45 year old "gamer average aged male" Anthony Weiner, offers you novans a poster boy... what? you guys at terra nova dont want a congressman who roomed with your journalistic icon of jon stewart? for shame.

Weiners all you should want in PLAYer and Gamez culture made "official and Gov. 2.0"...

monkeyboy virtual tech sex with one he loved... and look, he could make no babies from his iphone that might have to be killed by planned parenthood, er. funded by the likes of Weiner and his dems;) oh wait, thats a no no?! hmm...

virtual worlds cybersex offers strange bedfellows....

but gamez teach uz but cant hurt uz..

sometimes a cigar should be just a cigar.

15.

c3, was that comment supposed to be in English? Or, you know, coherent in any language?

16.

Coherent? English, Wordpressed.. oh IDK... try playing the game.Try to use your brain, not the blog.

17.

So, it's "no", then.

18.

I am counting sheep all night!

19.

kmellis said "It would be pretty much the polar opposite of anything you've written on VWs."

Tolkien. Think about the Inklings and what they were up to. Read "On Fairy Stories." It may not be as weird as you think. I've tried to write a book about it but I can't find the right voice. I need to grow up more. Gimme 20 years.

This piece is also kind of interesting in this context.

20.

Just, think about stuff like this.It's gotta be troubling. There's a system at work - not a conspiracy - but a system, a culture, that results in millions of decisions, with this terrible outcome. I don't know about others, but the questions I keep plaguing myself with are like, What are the roots of that culture? How does it interact with fantasy? Is there a connection between what's happening in reality and the drive to live in fantasy? What kind of example does my own life set, including the way I game - conforming to the culture or opposing it? Hard questions but they seem really important to me.

21.

Just, think about stuff like this. It's gotta be troubling. There's a system at work - not a conspiracy - but a system, a culture, that results in millions of decisions, with this terrible outcome. I don't know about others, but the questions I keep plaguing myself with are like, What are the roots of that culture? How does it interact with fantasy? Is there a connection between what's happening in reality and the drive to live in fantasy? What kind of example does my own life set, including the way I game - conforming to the culture or opposing it? Hard questions but they seem really important to me.

22.

I'm with Andy Havens above, wondering what sex-games-that-teach would teach? I suppose basic anatomy and physiology would be helpful, but absent the relational side of things that would be doing as great a disservice as the "don't talk about it" method. To me the relational part -- where, when, how, and with whom does sex fit into your life, in a way that is constructive rather than destructive -- is infinitely more important than anything having to do with the mechanics.

FWIW, I have two game designs about sex, one more complete than the other. My goal was to create a game that a 13yo and a 25yo could enjoy equally, and without blushing, though the latter might have a much clearer idea of what the game was really about. Hopefully someday I'll be able to complete one of these.

Also, I want to applaud Ted's courage. You can say anything you want in our diverse, inclusive literate and liberal society -- unless it's even vaguely conservative. Then the veneer of 'inclusiveness' often fractures rapidly. I don't entirely agree with his views on sex or Planned Parenthood, but I think it's too bad that he should feel he has to apologize for his views, or that he or I or others feel reticent about offering such views (I too am in the monogamy-before-and-after-marriage camp, for example).

Perhaps what we need are not games about sex, but games about respecting others' views, even when you disagree.

23.

I'm not sure where anyone's getting the idea that we live in a society where conservative speech is denigrated any more than left-wing speech. Just compare NYT and WSJ on any given Sunday. The academy is not society, and there are plenty of people from all sides of political spectrum to be found within it. But I guess that's neither here nor there.

What about a RTS of alternative arrangements of romantic and married relationships? Polygymy, and its hippy cousin, polyamory, are forms of romantic partnering where people do not form simple dyads. In the case of polyamory, the result can be a very complex web of love, sex, trust, and jealousy. It's not exactly a sex game, but sex is a pretty important motivator. And it can give anyone an opportunity to learn why people enter and exit those kinds of relationships, rather than monogamous ones.

24.

There's a quote from Scott McCloud from Understanding Comics I like to reference: "As long as the broader community assumes that comics, by their nature, are without social value and, by their nature, are suitable only for kids -- then charges of obscenity will always hit their mark." Obviously, this applies to games as well. This is one problem with doing sex games, because many people will leap to the assumption that the games are aimed at kids and trying to turn them into sex maniacs.

Even if we get beyond our juvenile tittering at discussions of breasts, penises, vaginas, anuses, and other fun stuff then we have to deal with moral and political agendas that creep into any discussion of sex in the U.S., as touched upon here already in several spots. So, it's just safer and easier to not deal with it; and that's why we don't have games that teach sex.

25.

To be clear, while I am quite certainly progressive on cultural issues and particularly so with regard to sex, my criticism wasn't so much at Edward's views specifically, but that in their conservatism they exemplify, well, conservative thinking that Edward would be, at the very least, skeptical of with regard to virtual worlds.

In many ways, of course, this is completely normal. People are normally conservative on some matters and non-conservative on others.

But I think there is more of a comparison to our cultural conventions about sex and relationships and our cultural conventions about all the matters intrinsic to the various controversies related to virtual worlds. People have deeply-set, strongly intuitive, and very traditional ideas about what is "real" and what is not real, about what it means to "play", about what kinds of relationships can be formed absent actual physical interaction, about money and property and work. In each of these cases, much of Edward's research and commentary challenges these deeply-set, strongly intuitive, and very traditional ideas. He's skeptical, and rightly so. Indeed, he's right and the conservatives are wrong. They're blinkered, they're seeing virtual worlds through a very distorting lens of convention and an inability to think clearly about the unfamiliar.

But that sort of blinkered thinking is exactly what I read in his comments on sex.

It may well be that my views on sex are not "correct" in the sense that Edward's views on virtual worlds are correct. But that's somewhat beside the point. The point is—just as in the case of virtual worlds—that we not demand that gaming conform to our preexisting view of what games are, how people "really" interact, and what it all means...but to take a step back and ask what sex could mean in gaming and not what it should mean.

26.

I been browsing through different sites each day and yours is an interesting one. We may differ in beliefs and interest but I surely could relate in your way of writing. I’m looking forward to read and as well as share some knowledgeable information with you soon.

27.

Late comment, but I thought I'd note that there's a yearly conference in San Francisco called Sex::Tech that you might want to check out. Last year there was a panel on using games to promote sexual health. There are probably relevant tweets in my twitterstream @clarissethorn if you really want to go back that far ... the last one was in April ....

28.

Also there was a Twitter hashtag for it! #sextech

29.

Gotta hand it to you. You got my attention. Nice POst!

30.

I certainly have a strong reaction to articles like this, having spent the better part of my twenties totally immersed in research and design of an erotic MMO (RaptureOnline is not still under development, lack of funding and experience killed that but I still update the design when I come across new ideas, just for fun).

Another reason I react strongly is that we did make a sex ed game a few years ago and it was a total disaster. We felt totally stuck between a rock and a hard place (making it too tawdry or too dull, erring on the side of boring-as-celibacy because we couldn't get past who the customer would be: parents, teachers, etc.). If you do a sex ed game for youth, you need it to be published free, totally free to play. If you try bringing commerce into it, you'll end up with something far too watered down to be interesting to the youth market. I still think someone can do this well, but I was way out of my depths as a sex-positive person who can talk sensibly to my teen daughters about ANYTHING sexual. Most adults simply are not on the same wavelength and once you pick out anything other adults will object to, you really have some boring crap left (anatomy, STDs, nothing remotely honest about the eroticism and fun of budding sexual exploration).

So... to this article I say "why on earth would you try to EDUCATE someone with a sex game???" because no other game genre carries this burden. Doom didn't have to teach you about firearms safety. GTA games never had to explain why it's dangerous and not very fun to get involved with organized crime. Starcraft didn't have to tackle all of the heavy issues of violent conflict with alien races (or even handle how we would change our world view if we knew of intelligent life elsewhere). Seriously, it's only the sex game that immediately evokes these kinds of reactions about using sex games for "the greater good" instead of just using them to have fun.

Well, here's the brutal truth: people (adults and kids) are already enjoying online sex play/games (especially in Second Life, which is an amazing, positive, and totally not seedy example of the current bleeding edge in sex in virtual worlds... the only negatives are how little SL has done to responsibly manage taboo adult content/their total lack of reasonable player privacy and content filtering tools). They're enjoying sex play for what it is, not for what it could be with pie-in-the-sky educational aspirations. Sex is fun. Fun is good enough for the greater good, imo.

The biggest, most effective, and only requisite sex organ for a good sexual experience is the human brain, and I think using our brains for online fantasy sex play, is justification enough for more, better adult erotic games/play in virtual worlds. If sex games could be fun AND teach more about sex-positivity, diversity, avoiding negative sexual consequences, and treating ourselves and each other better as human beings... awesome, I'm all for it, but it's a lot harder than you might think (one because nobody wants to fund anyone who is serious about it) and a lot of the fun is lost when you try to incorporate all the negative or unsexy aspects. Just as you don't want to deal with the hysterical surviving family of every guy you gun down in the latest shooter, you probably don't want to think about AIDS or the staggering costs of disposable baby diapers when you're boning a virtual play mate.

Great game designers will make great educational sex games; I've no doubt. What I doubt is that any great game designers will make a fun, hot, apologetically erotic game with no educational pretense. I think we all get enough reality with our real-life sex lives... let's celebrate fantasy sex properly in games before we start demanding sex games deliver moral, spiritual, activist, or educational messages to boot. Basically now we have poke-the-virtual-blow-up-doll games, wonky player-created role play and dress up in SL, and a smattering of over the top fetish games that do a crap job of simulating the 1-10 specific things they are trying to simulate. It's like a cave painting with sticks on the wall. That's why it's silly to ask that sex games, at this point in their infancy, also try to teach people anything. It could be done, but it would be leap-frogging a lot of cultural normalization that we would need to happen before such a message could even be effective in the medium of game/virtual world/entertainment software.

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