Some More Ways Video Games are Like Porn (And Sex)

Yesterday, we ran a pullquote from independent game designer Eric Zimmerman in which he discussed some of the similarities video games have with porn.

"Mainstream AAA videogames operate on principles akin to porn," Zimmerman tweeted. They are "highly repetitive activities premised on visceral pleasure and spectacle."

He went on to offer some elaboration, at least, as much elaboration as twitter allows. After seeing the discussion yesterday's post raised, Zimmerman posted a follow-up to his own blog in which he explains what he was saying with a much greater degree of nuance.

My main point is that pornography and videogames are wonderfully similar – in quite non-intuitive ways. Structurally, they are both highly repetitive media – the banality of predictable, repeated events in hardcore porn mirrored by the essentially repetitive core mechanic of any video game. Furthermore, they are also both media premised on getting a physical reaction from their audiences – bodily sexual excitation for porn, and real-time response in the case of videogames. Narrative in both cases is a wink and a nudge – a thin scrim that helps lead from one moment of interaction to the next.

Zimmerman mentions that the "spectacle" mentioned in his tweet is actually the least-interesting part of the comparison. "I'm much more interested in the strategies by which media effects bodies in space," he writes, "and of course this extends beyond "mainstream AAA videogames" to include any videogame and in fact, any game. So I didn't mean to unreasonably single out AAA games – they're just the most obvious target for the porn comparison. Such are the limitations of tweeting."

Sex is a vital part of human life, and important subject matter for most cultural forms – from poetry and opera to rock-n-roll and underground comix. The discussions of sex and videogames typically focuses on surface of games – what spectators might see on the screen over the shoulder of a player, and how they are sexist or otherwise objectionable. I heartily agree that the politics of representation are totally fucked up in mainstream videogames (as they are in most mainstream media, from sitcoms to print magazine covers). But for me games are not an intrinsically visual form of culture.

"If we look past the surface of games," Zimmerman asks, "is it possible to find new directions for game design that might harness the ancient and noble power of sex?"

Games and Pornography [Eric Zimmerman]