There’s something very saucy about playing sexy board games. It feels like redefining innocent childhood memories, like reading Harry Potter slash fiction where Ron and Malfoy get busy on the roof of the Hogwarts Express, or finding out that The Hunchback of Notre Dame was about Frollo having a raging anger-boner for Esmeralda.
NSFW Warning: This post contains explicit cartoon imagery.
This is how I felt when booting up Pretzel After Dark, a browser game by Tim “milkymilkface” Snowdon that’s a naughty take on Twister. Instead of directing limbs to colored circles, Pretzel After Dark replaces the Twister board with your partner’s body, making it less “left hand blue” and more “left hand boob.”
There are two modes: underwear on, and underwear off. Perhaps the implication is that the players will match the state of the in-game models, or maybe it’s just an aesthetics thing. Pretzel cycles through randomly-chosen pairings of body parts, sexy ones mixed in with regular ones, so you’ll get instructions like “mouth to bum” and “right hand to crotch.” It’s up to the players whether these instructions are set on a timer—for a hands-free approach—or whether they want to manually trigger the next one by pressing the spacebar.
There’s even an option to turn off certain body parts, so if you’re playing at a party, maybe you want to turn off the “crotch” option. Or maybe you don’t, I don’t know what kind of parties you go to. Or perhaps you’re not super into the idea of feet being pressed up against your most delicate parts.
At first, the idea of mushing your various areas together is exciting, titillating, even, but it’s not long before the mundanity settles in. I’m not talking about the mundanity of trying to sex up your partner after decades together, or the mundanity of defaulting to the missionary position after it turns out that every other position is kind of awkward, actually. It’s the mundanity that you also get from sex dice, if you’ve ever tried those. It turns out that a large part of sexual enjoyment seems to come from the spontaneity of it all. It’s not so much that Pretzel After Dark is a turn-off—it’s more that it never turns you on in the first place.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t have a purpose, though. Pretzel After Dark was originally designed as part of XXXHIBITION, a curation of sexy games shown off in Melbourne, and given that the exhibition was held in the Australian video game-themed bar, Bar SK — definitely a regular bar and not a sex club — it’s safe to assume that Pretzel After Dark was intended as more of a party game than a tango for two.
I don’t think I have enough willing friends to test this out at a party, but I imagine that, with the right group of people, it could be quite fun, in the same way Twister is fun even if you end up with your nose pressed up against someone’s nipples.
Pretzel After Dark is also about normalizing queer sexual interactions: the two on-screen avatars are never shown in full, but both possess penises. It is a little disappointing to not be able to input the genders of the players at first, because there’s definitely a disconnect when “crotch to crotch” comes up and features a configuration of bits that you don’t have, or the fact that boobs and nipples aren’t involved at all, but otherwise it’s refreshing and good to see a sexual depiction of a couple that doesn’t default to cis heterosexuality.
At the end of the day, I’m not sure if Pretzel is truly designed to be sexy, because there’s a world of difference between, for example, licking your way into mutual bliss, and just mashing your mouth against your partner’s crotch. I guess the instructions are open to interpretation, but when you’re trying to juggle “elbow to back” and “head to right foot,” sexiness often takes a back seat.
But intimacy isn’t all about jumping straight to humping. A game like Pretzel After Dark can help tear down the boundaries of awkwardness and unfamiliarity with each other’s bodies. And isn’t that what sex is all about? Probably?