Despite a still limited scope of sexual and gender expression being represented in mainstream games, adult developers are (surprise, surprise) finally ahead of the game, so to speak. Expertly rendered RPGs revolving around sex are slowly but surely joining text-based storylines of the recent past–be they often crowd-funded and occasionally open-sourced.
Sex based online RPGs have been around since the late 70’s, but up until recently, have had a somewhat stunted growth rate. Player imaginations seem to never run dry of fantasies, and text has been a sufficient enough means of interacting and progressing relationships and plot over the decades. Yet for all the variety we humans are capable of generating, gaming is taking a long time to reflect the sexual diversity we so clearly crave. Character interaction, graphics, and audio are being actively perfected in all other areas of gaming, yet exploration in the adult world has, for the most part, remained limited to one-handed typing.
Fortunately, there are many new active pioneers of the mature and adult game frontier, including a diverse crew of developers and artists with a fetish for diversity.
Co-creators of Future Love Space Machine (an open universe adult RPG in the making) Jen (a.k.a. Giselle) and ViV, are a bisexual duo who want all their interests reflected in the content they create, plus everyone else’s. “About four years ago I came out as trans (female), and that experience has brought with it a much greater awareness of gender and sexuality issues, for each of us…You can see why it’s important for us to cover as wide a spectrum as possible with this game. We’ve still got a long way to go with representing many different types of sexuality, but we’re working towards that everyday,” Giselle wrote over email.
They may have a long way to go as far as depicting all types of sexuality is concerned, but what they’ve got so far is still more than most, and by a huge margin. Their sexy sci-fi universe currently contains aliens, humans, and other kinds of humanoids ranging from straight, to trans, lesbian, gay, and even asexual! And with art that visually captivates as much as its open-universe exploration mentally stimulates, FLSM, as referred to by its followers, is on the forefront of inclusivity in adult gaming at the moment.
Trials in Tainted Space a.k.a. TITS is an adult game straddling the worlds of old and new sex based RPGs. It is text heavy but the characters you encounter are illustrated by what appears to be a large roster of contributing artists. It is incredibly popular; its creator Fenoxo FenFen has over 3,000 patrons on Patreon and is currently receiving $19,011 monthly to expand the universe with new titillating scenes and gender-bending species to encounter. Playing as a male character sets you up for mainly heterosexual encounters early on in the game, and it takes a while for variety to set in.* However, initial character creation does partially make up for this, with the option of playing as a hermaphrodite like creature, a furry, an ordinary cis-gendered human, or a customizable combination of those plus other identities. Like FLSM, FenFen is a sucker for sci-fi, and that plays into the inspiration behind much of the creative character building in TITS. “If you can get a robotic replacement for a hand that you can feel with, why can’t you get a second robo-wang that’s more sensitive than the genitals we’re provided with at birth? In my opinion it seems an obvious extension.” It’s worth noting that players can morph and add on to their character’s body parts throughout game play.
Perhaps the primary driving force behind the sudden advance in adult game development is a more vocal consumer demand. Even in mainstream gaming, RPG PC games are on the rise in popularity, with a 7.9% increase in sales from 2013 to 2014, making it the third best-selling game genre.
Character variety too, seems to be rising in importance to mainstream game consumers. “In Halo 3, you have the option to change the voice of your character [to that of a female] when they die. Fast forward to 2015, Halo 5; We’ve got multiple female characters involved in the main story that aren’t Cortana, helmets off and all. They’re soldiers just like John-117. I find that amazing,” says Haley Exe, the young female behind Fallout’s new Vault Girl interface mod in the works that went viral on Imgur earlier this month. Haley “like[s] girls,” so switching Vault Boy out for Vault Girl made sense to her–but she didn’t expect so many others to share her enthusiasm of adding a female option to the game’s interface. “When I scrolled down to the bottom of the Imgur post, I saw something like 200+ comments and maybe 100 thousand views at the time. It really shocked me. I was amazed by the 2,000 some up-votes on Reddit, but 229,378 views [on Imgur]? I never expected anything so big.”
Sexual preferences aside, being able to play a widely available game as a woman instead of the formerly standard male protagonist can be a valuable experience even for non-female players. “I’ve always played as girls long before I realized I was genderqueer and even to people I am not out to,” says Mark Basedow, the indie developer responsible for forthcoming The Raven And The Light.
Kat Boone, a transgender teenager starting school for game design in the fall, is also thirsty for a gaming experience more representative of her own identity. “There are not a lot of real options. You can choose a character, but you don’t get much customization. You can’t express how you feel about your character’s gender. Other than in LGBT games, [those options] are just not there.”
While some may fear the prospect of gaming environments offering more (and for some people, more truthful) self-personalization options than reality, others argue that the freedom virtual settings provide can encourage healthy personal development–particularly as it pertains to sexual and gender identity.
“Before I came out as trans, I spent a lot of time online and in games ‘playing’ as female characters. One of the most important games that really helped me get comfortable with who I really am is Second Life. It’s a virtual world which users have tremendous control over. I was able to be -me- in there, before I was ever -me- in real life,” says Jen of FLSM.
Trans gamers had a distant but memorable rift with the gaming community when Diablo III banned the prefixes “tran” and “trans.” According to Arstechnica, Blizzard pinned the ban on outdated ESRB ratings. Players responded with confusion to the mixed regulations regarding LGBTQ identifiers in the game, arguing that if a “gaymer” clan could exist, why couldn’t a trans group also be created? Even after apologizing to its community, problems regarding gendered language continued arising in other Blizzard games.
Multi-player games can be at times a welcoming environment for people of less accepted identities, but they can conversely be equally hostile. Many adult developers are aware of the challenges that accompany an all inclusive environment, one in which players may encounter sexual and gender identities they may not be used to or mentally prepared for encountering. “Sometimes, people are surprised or puzzled at their reaction to things they would not have thought they’d find sexy. On sites like Reddit you see this expressed a lot with the phrase ‘confused boner,’ and things like that,” explains Jen of FLSM. “Having sexy non-human characters in the game helps to underscore the fact that it’s perfectly fine to be turned on by things we otherwise wouldn’t have expected to be. This will hopefully lead to more open-mindedness and acceptance that we like what we like, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Accommodating an array of gamer identities is a task adult game developers are tackling head on, and are in doing so, paving a tread worthy path for any mainstream and indie companies willing to follow.
* 7/29/15 Edited to clarify initial heterosexual encounters are experienced by male characters.