The dirtiest thing I've ever done on a table happened last Friday. I played a game about helping a human and tentacled alien get each other off.
Tentacle porn. It's quite possibly the perviest, most indefensible phenomena in all of geek culture. It's also the inspiration for a great new card game that debuted in New York City's Lower East Side this weekend, as part of New York University's annual No Quarter exhibition.
In game designer Naomi Clark's Consentacle—which features art from James Harvey—two people play the roles of a human spaceperson named Kit and Dup, an extraterrestrial with stretched-out appendages just aching to go around and into places. To be clear, everything happening in Consentacle occurs because the characters want it to. But, depending on the players taking on their roles, either the alien or human can get much more satisfaction out of their coupling. (Warning: Some of the images and content in this story might be considered NSFW.)
The game starts with each player drawing five cards that have specific actions on them, along with five interlocking red or blue plastic pieces called Trust Tokens. The cards' instructions can make players draw more Trust Tokens, put them into the Intimacy Pool and/or combine then to create Satisfaction Tokens. You need specific cards to take satisfaction tokens out of the intimacy pool and the goal of the game is get as much satisfaction as possible.
When I played Consentacle with Clark, we talked about our hands and what the actions would let us do to each other. The current form of the game consists of two decks that are pretty much complementary and Clark wants an eventual retail version to have more cards that would encourage competitive play and deck-building. Certain cards will pair up into combos with more powerful results, too, like the ones pictured below.
The game Clark and I played was a friendly one, where we tried to relieve each other of cards, keep things moving and let the satisfaction go to whomever had the luck of the draw. But, Consentacle can be played in a more selfish way, too. It's possible to "withdraw consent", too. This doesn't turn the game into a forced-sex encounter, though. It cancels a turn and lets the withdrawing player pull back a card at the cost of a trust token. Players can also go through their rounds silently, offering up looks, actions and gestures that suggest the cards they're holding and the things they'd like to happen. This could mean doing a saucy wink, sliding a tongue out for a lick or miming penetration.
"People were much less weirded out by the sexual content and the hentai reference than I thought they would be!" Clark told me today in an e-mail. "From what I saw, this had a bit to do with the lively social atmosphere and a bit with the fact that players could negotiate how they were going to play; some people who said they were a little uncomfortable playing this kind of game with friends told me that they played with talking, which made it a little more lighthearted. Another player wrote that she ended up playing a silent game with a guy she didn't know, but that they came to an unspoken agreement that they'd keep the sexual innuendo and overtly suggestive talk out of the game. It worked better than I hoped it would in terms of people finding their own way to play."
There's an echo with the kinds of board games sold at sex shops, which tend to be instructional in nature. Clark says that she wants Consentacle to be more of an exploration of physical interaction, rather than an incitement to it. "I put a layer of fiction on top of the interactions so that it wouldn't be as awkward to play," she told me last week. "But it's been interesting to watch how some couples can play without talking and still create lots of satisfaction with each other."
"I had a bunch of people tell me (some after multiple games, some from just playing silently once) that the silent version felt more like the "real game," which has also been my instinct from designing and playtesting," Clark elaborated.
"It's easier and safer to negotiate sexual practices (whether represented in cards or with your actual body) if you talk, obviously—but when we play games, we are often looking for more danger, surprise, and challenge. Which is great! We can explore stuff in the safety of games that I wouldn't recommend doing during actual sex, obviously! The silent games had a variety of communication styles — most people were "communicating" (so to speak) just by looking each other in the eye, but there were several games where people were touching each other, or making dirty or suggestive gestures, etc. That's all mentioned in the rules. It's pretty much up to players to negotiate how to play."
So why use a tentacle rape motif for a game that's about consensual, mutual pleasure? Clark says that she's got a few, complicated reasons. "The first one goes back to high school, when my sister and I first discovered hentai tentacle-rape porn at the video store where she worked, much to our horror," she starts. "We were like "oh, great... I hope there aren't more movies like this"—but there were, and it quickly become a trope or even a stereotype about Japanese pop culture. We're both half-Japanese, and I lost track of the number of times people mentioned hentai to me by the late 90s and early 2000s."
"My family's also from Seattle so I would get 'oh, do you drink lots of coffee? Do you know Kurt Cobain?' jokes when I went to college—but when talking about being Japanese, the most common thing people would joke about was tentacle hentai. Many years later, that kind of fraught, uncomfortable relationship with tentacle hentai made me want to take it back for very different purposes; I'm actually very down with the idea of unusual or alien body parts as a metaphor for queer sexuality or strange relationships that we have to our bodies, and I've found that resonates with a lot of queer & trans people I know— but the reputation attached to tentacle rape and hentai porn is extremely foul." "
"So there was an impetus for me to reclaim tentacles for the good, loving tentacle monsters out there. To my surprise, after I named the game and started Googling it I found that the term 'consentacles' was already being used as slang term with a similar meaning, by artists and fans that are drawn to tentacles but very much didn't like the rape connotations — there's a lot of cutesy, cartoony stuff out there involving tentacled beasties and aliens already."
At the end of each game of Consentacle, players can refer to a chart that breaks down the mutual and individual scores according certain categories. My game with Clark ended with a combined score of 12 satisfaction. I wound up with 8 purple pleasure tokens to her four. You can see what Consentacle thinks about my session on the instruction booklet chart below.