Welcome to Videogamers Pseudonymous, a many more than twelve steps program because an end cap of twelve in a level treadmill is barely an appetizer.
Hi, I’m Max and I’m a videogamer.
WorldMaker is my “gamer tag” on a number of services, and also the name of my Videogame Developer Impostor Syndrome. (I’ve been working on this for a few years now. I am not defined by my lack of successes.)
Today’s level here at Videogamers Pseudonymous is about sex, so pardon me while I reveal more about my sexuality than I feel comfortable publicly discussing (and hence the attempt at humor in this Videogamers Pseudonymous framing narrative). I won’t blame anyone for checking out here.
My sexuality is its own ball of overlapping impostor syndromes, most of which are not relevant to the discussion at hand. (I’m also only much more recent in trying to deal with or come to terms with my sexuality. I wish I’d given a lot of it much more thought decades ago.) The relevant broad term, is that in the real world 1 my sexuality is easiest defined with the term asexual. This is not a term that I find entirely useful because it says more about what my sexuality is not than what it maybe is. It too, is a label of an impostor syndrome, and in a sex-obsessed society and culture I am but an impostor by the differences even in the way my mind and its endorphin rewards are wired.
A more constructive place to start is that I suppose that I could describe my sexuality as “Bioware Protagonist”. I want to be surrounded by friends that are family 2. I want to listen to their past adventures. I want to go off on new adventures together. I want to flirt in safe spaces and get pretty icons to flash when those options are available and maybe when those options land, and definitely when the flirting happens in the other direction because I can’t always seem to naturally read it. Sometimes, I want the option to push things to heavy petting, kissing, holding hands, maybe “second base”… and that’s about as far as I naturally feel interest to go in real life. But mostly I just want the small moments that Bioware’s writers and animators put so much love into: sitting on a couch together discussing nothing of much importance, sharing a meal, watching a movie, drinking in a bar…
In videogames, from indie visual novels to giant AAA blockbusters such as Bioware’s latest Mass Effect: Andromeda, these sorts of small social moments and at most the heavy petting, the T&A, and the intimate cuddling of second base are sex, and I finally realize that to me, too, that’s what qualifies, that’s what I want 3. The issue of course, is that these things, too, are used as narrative shibboleths (stand-ins, symbols) for the act of sex itself.
The obvious criticism which many others have covered well over the years is the criticism that ludic simplicity of these relationships and these moments (as opposed to the narrative complexity of building friendships over time and exploring friend’s feelings and interests and wants and desires), cheapens the notion of sex itself, simplifying things to an absurd “make the right choices, get ‘sex’ out”. There’s the obvious ties to that sense of “nice guy” entitlement that the maximum a guy needs to get sex is say and do the right things to a girl for long enough and sex should be the reward for such behavior. 4
Allow me to push on from that to a less obvious criticism that I’ve been feeling very personally about for the last few months as I try to figure out my own path in a number of complex confusions and realizations.
There is a problem here in that using simpler, more mainstream palatable, social activities, and “second base” as shibboleths for sex in videogames (and movies and television, for that matter), also serves to make these things more expensive. By conflating these things too with sex, we rob them of their own individual nature. We start to see pursuing social intimacy 5 as one and the same, kit and bundle, with sex itself. We start to require and associate, culturally, nearly the same costs and risk assessments and commitment needs to private, social intimate relationships as we do to sexual relationships. 6
I suppose I’ve always known the difference here, as theory, but I feel like I’ve only recently started to comprehend the consequences. So many people focus themselves on that long cut to black that most actually represents sex in a videogame. Everything else is the journey to that, the ludic grind to that few minutes of black screen in a videogame, and the drawn out prerequisites and homework to get there.
So far as I’ve discovered, most of the ways we have to discuss these things, if we discuss them at all, are indirect at best, and themselves so deeply couched in being a “mere” part of the journey: second base is a pit stop in a baseball game. 7 Sex is “going all the way”. Sit-com characters and bad comedians of all stripes complain about dates or spouses or significant others that want to spend too much time, in their eyes, making the journey and not enough at the “destination”, as if one is onerous and the other only the real part. 8
If those spots along the “journey” to sex were so easy, we’d have better names for them wouldn’t we? It seems to me strange how much of our evolution as a social species implies we need some of these things somewhat commonly, but our culture doesn’t deign to give them stronger individual identities and names, merely lumping them together into a big box labelled sex and stuffed into the mental equivalent of an attic until “the one” arrives to unbox it for us.
Is it any wonder we so many parts of our society get so worked up about kissing and cuddling as if they were sex when we can’t separate them in videogames, or TV, or movies? When we don’t seem to have good culturally approved ways for asking for them other than the complicated worlds of sex and dating?
I realize there’s also something to be said about taking a sex positive view of things and a very liberal definition of what constitutes sex, including all of the little intimate things. I agree that this can be a road to destagmatization, to controlling the narrative, and taking back some semblance of privacy of intimate acts. I don’t know where the balance is, or if it can balance. I still don’t have a lot of good answers yet. I’m still trying to find my vocabulary, my fit, my peace, my moments of intimacy, in this culture of ours.
My impostor syndrome, in trying to navigate various sorts of long distance relationships continues to ask, “In a monogamy-obsessed culture, how can a person that doesn’t necessarily ‘go all the way’ ever compete to be ‘the one’? In that pop culture Sleepless in Seattle way? ‘The one’ that meets every need of a partner; that becomes a partner’s whole world? ‘The one’ that seeks to shrink the physical distance?” This alone is a terrible impostor syndrome to face 9 and I know there are answers that don’t involve sex. At least in a Bioware RPG like Mass Effect I know that I can savor every tiny bit of relationship as I can with the clan of compatriots that I find there, whether or not I “go all the way” through with any of them… and even if I do choose to go “all the way” with one of them, the M-Rating and I only really get to somewhere near “second base”, which is where I feel most comfortable anyway.
Imaginary worlds are a different matter and mostly outside the scope of this particular article, I think. Possibly a source of follow up topics. ↩
I don’t think I’m very good at explaining what those moments mean to me in real life, and vocally appreciating what opportunities I get, because I become busy just trying to enjoy them while they briefly last… That’s something I hope to work on in a long list of things I feel a need to find a better vocabulary for. While such events are rarely described as “orgasmic”, that discounts the endorphin rush of good social interaction. Maybe I’m just more sensitive to it for many reasons, including my minority sexuality, but I find it troubling we don’t have good words for it, that we don’t culturally make a bigger deal of it, that we discount its importance in our lives (as members of a socially evolved species that needs it even as a part of our survival). ↩
Aside: why is this so much a thing? It’s not like the ludic simplicity of flying a plane or starship in an arcade dogfighter has given so many guys an impression that flying a plane or starship in real life would be nearly as straightforward. ↩
I have issues with the use of the word “platonic” here, which is a different rant, but feel free to connect that here if it helps provide additional context. ↩
Of course, this makes sense for safety reasons and assuming the worst, too, but rape culture is hopefully also outside the discussion at hand. ↩
From which perspective I am perhaps an overly confused Cricket player trying to figure out American baseball. ↩
I’ve never quite understood those ‘jokes’, even before I started processing my sexuality. Now it’s even tougher not to see them as more cries for help. ↩
I realize too that fear that you might never be Tom Hanks in a romantic comedy and can only pretend to try, is not an uncommon fear. ↩