Sex and the Single Gamer
by Scott Roberts
"Well, we all have a face
Hey there, faithful readers. Your columnist who was looking quite forward to having the 12/31/01 column to close out the year was felled by a pretty severe case of pneumonia which had me flat on my back from Christmas through most of January. Fear not, however, as I'm back at the keyboard with a whole new set of insights and commentary for 2002. It's good to be back.
Another Benefit of Prose Games
Way back in my first few columns I went into great lengths extolling the virtues of the online multiplayer prose game compared to other comparable ones, but there's something I left out. In no other genre is there such a wide variety of possibilities for fantasy fulfillment of a sexual nature. Let's face it, tabletop roleplaying doesn't lend itself to the satisfaction of prurient interests unless your gamemaster or the other players fulfill your personal fantasy of hot elven babes or sword-wielding muscular demigods. Graphical MMORPGs have that distracting element of toon graphics and limited mobility to get around, and if you're having wild fantasy sex in your LARPs, please be sure to send an invite to the columnist the next time your troupe is planning on getting together. No, when it comes to flexibility, fantasy, and all-around fantasy fulfillment, there is simply no other gaming genre that lets you have copious amounts of mind-blowing sex with the object(s) of your fantasy quite like the prose game.
Certainly the visual elements of any good fantasy are missing, but for the sorts of people gamers are, that kind of thing is easily supplied by our fertile imaginations (pardon the pun). No, prose games allow us to unleash the all-too-often suppressed libido, hitch it to our often well-developed talent for creative writing, and become the kinds of lovers we dream of being, if only in a fantasy world. It's not often talked about much less written about but sex in online prose games has been there since day one and shows no signs of going away.
But Why Do They Call It TINYSex?
In point of fact there's even a term for it that's been around at least since I've been involved in such games: Tinysex. This doesn't refer to the measurements of the people involved, but rather to the medium on which it first sprung up. The software on which online prose games had their origins (not including the MUD genre) was known (for various reasons unknown to this author) as TinyMUSH, TinyMOO, TinyMUX... and other acronyms prefaced with the word "Tiny". Thus, at some point between the time the coding was done and the people started moving in and doing what people tend to do when behind closed doors, the concept of sex in this text-based fantasy playground acquired the somewhat colorful name of "TinySex", or "TS" for short as in, "Bob is TSing Jane".
Etymological considerations aside, why is sex so prevalent in these worlds, and why does it remain something that people don't talk about all that much? There's more than enough reasons for both. Gamers (and this is a generalization, and as such, your mileage may vary) tend to be socially inhibited in the real world. They're not exactly the societal ideal for sexual predators; they have, as a general rule, been ostracized to some degree for their tastes in entertainment since high school (there ain't many popular high school folks who listed "Dungeons and Dragons Club" on their extracurricular activities list, if you know what I mean). They tend to have an extremely active imagination and fantasy life, and it's only natural that this leads to a large number of "kinks" and a significant libido. Combine this with a feeling of social ostracism and the accompanying low self-esteem too many folks have and you've got a pretty impressive pressure-cooker of repressed desire looking for an outlet.
Enter the Dragon
Thank God or Dr. Bartle for online prose games, in that case. Here's an environment where gamers can anonymously and in the ideal personas and bodies of their fantasies meet other people in similar situations with no fear of the embarrassment of real-life rejection and unleash the passion for pleasure in ways that they just can't in real life. Even folks who don't fall into the generalization cited above can explore things they can't explore in real life on a prose game ever dream of sex in zero-gravity? Consider the possibilities inherent in being able to use magic to enhance sexual pleasure? Want to explore what it's like to be homosexual without someone else finding out? Like to see what it's like from the other side of the fence? In an online prose game, you control almost entirely what people perceive you as. Want to be a woman? A dominatrix? A slave? Well-endowed? Zero percent body fat? A slut? Always in control? Online prose games are for you, and they're not uncommonly populated with folks who are looking to indulge their own compatible fantasies with your own.
Permit me to diverge for a moment from extolling the virtues of sex in online prose games into a brief discussion of how it's done. Much like in real life, failing to grasp the mechanics of technique can be a surefire way to fail to get invited for a repeat performance. The first thing the prospective lover in an online prose game needs to know how to do is write. Simple Anglo-Saxon vulgar terms for sexual actions don't cut the mustard. A good prose lover is the master (or mistress) of analogy and subtlety; he or she knows or comes up with a hundred different ways to describe a kiss (without getting too flowery). What follows from the kiss also needs to be somewhat unique and interesting.
Then there's the matter of pacing. Too fast and short, or too long and flowery, and you'll lose your audience. Waiting breathlessly for thirty seconds to describe the next move in a romantic encounter is O.K.; waiting for five minutes while your two-words-per-minute typing speed partner backspaces and corrects every typo in that lingering caress is bad. Accuracy in spelling and grammar is a good thing in sexual RP as it is in any other kind of RP on a prose game, but it's not as important as speed, variety, and creativity.
There's also the matter of what sort of a world you're in. Marrach, and some other games, don't allow free-form posing, so you'll need to find a way to work around the parser, which just doesn't have the verb and adjective combinations that are used in this type of roleplaying. The industrious among you have already come up with ways of doing so, and I won't devote too much time to demonstrating how to do that here. I will say that there's long been a push to have free-form emotes opened up in private venues in Marrach, to allow people to pose whatever they want in their rooms and such sexually or otherwise so if you're interested in that, please feel free to post such on the Marrach boards or in email to CE, and it may well be implemented. In other games and venues, of course, such restrictions don't exist, but neither do the safeguards of consent that go hand in hand with Marrach, so there's a trade-off present.
Aside from the very real disruption intensely sexual online relationships can have on a real-life relationship a topic for another column, perhaps there's a few things you should keep in mind about the reality of this kind of fantasy sex.
The partner you're playing with is likely nothing at all like they portray themselves as being in reality. This extends from IC to OOC. I don't mean they won't look like that studly, muscular, 6' tall, no body fat dream lover in real life; everyone knows that's likely not the case. No, I mean they might not even be of the sex that you see them as. Earlier columns have touched on the subject of people wanting to play different gender roles in an online environment and there's no need to go into further detail here.
It goes much beyond that, however. Online prose gaming is, by its very nature, escapist entertainment. That means people come to these games to indulge in their fantasies and escape real life. In reality, the person you're dealing with may have a personality completely different from the one you are dealing with online; they may be shy and inhibited, they may be much more wonderful, they may be inherently psychotic. They could be married, or a teenager. They could be a cop or an FBI agent. The number of possibilities are endless, and as the medium is entirely textual, the ability to portray whatever image one wants to portray is limited only by the typist's skill at creatively playing the role they wish to put forth and as that skill is what is most valued by the game, they're likely to be good at it.
In other words, if your goal is to enjoy sexual play in a fantasy realm, you'll likely achieve it and enjoy it, if that's what you're after and you can find a compatible partner. If you're trying to find an ideal mate in reality, however, proceed with extreme caution, because the odds are strongly against you.
Once again I'll put out the call if you want to see any topic covered in a column, please feel free to make requests. Next column is up for grabs for the most interesting suggestion... or I'll just let my imagination run rampant, and who knows what you'll wind up with then?