There was a lot of winking and nudging when the MMO Final Fantasy XIV introduced three new poses for dozing a year ago. And behind the closed doors of virtual houses and apartments, much more went on after that.
If you’re a connoisseur of online role-playing games, you know that icky feeling when you stumble upon a crowd of scantily-dressed, silent avatars standing a little too close to each other somewhere public. In /whispers and /tells, probably, they’re having cybersex. Online erotic role-playing, often abbreviated to ERP, has existed as long as online games have, and well before that in chatrooms. Avatar bodies gave voice to the less vocal parts of it, but simply standing together and talking isn’t totally evocative for more visually-minded gamers. With increasingly vivid emotes for avatars to express themselves, cybersex in turn has become increasingly vivid.
A FFXIV player by the handle of Asami Hanasaki met me on a bench in the virtual city of Ul’Dah to tell me how she gets it on in the game. If I walked over to the nearby Quicksand Tavern, she said, I’d see a few scantily-clad cat girls leaning against a banister. (When I swung by, I did find this, and words like “daddy” hung above their heads). At the tavern, players type nasty things to each other in private messages. Hanasaki said that what goes on at the Quicksand is just half of the FFXIV ERP experience. To bring an extra something to the encounter, players will take each other home to their in-game residences to act things out.
“/Doze is probably the most common,” Hanasaki told me when I asked which emotes are used for sex more often. It’s an emote for sleeping that, curiously, is mostly limited to private quarters on private furniture. To use it, an avatar types /doze into their chat box while they are near a piece of furniture, like a bed, on which the character will then lie down. There was no /doze emote available until FFXIV’s relaunch in 2013, but shortly after, when publisher Square Enix introduced private housing and furniture like beds, developers tweaked /doze so players could sleep on the furniture. Until last July, /doze looked like a character literally dozing off, sighing a little and groggily leaning over until they woke themselves up. Now, it’s a little more horizontal.
For sex, a player “usually has someone sitting on top of the other, whether it be on the other character’s face, or near their naughty area,” Hanasaki said. “Sometimes they’ll use the stretch emote to push their ass against the other person.” When /doze was released, Square Enix didn’t exactly play dumb about what its fans would do with the new emote. In 2013, a Square Enix community manager said that its use was limited to more private settings to “prevent the taking of not especially appropriate screenshots.” And yet, with /doze, players can change their poses from laying on their side to their stomach to on their back, maybe with a knee or two up.
“People were ERPing long before /doze existed,” Das, another player who ERPs in FFXIV told me. Das says that /doze wasn’t a watershed moment for him and that most of the emotes he uses are relatively conservative (“If you’re gonna be there for 3 hours, you’re not going to want to keep typing in the same 2-second long emote”). “Before /doze, people would just /sit on the edge of beds instead,” he said. That way, another avatar could simply stand above them to evoke oral sex. With similarly old emotes like /pray, which has a character get down in their knees, FFXIV players have simulated oral sex for years. The same goes for /hug, although, since it’s already a motion toward intimacy, it tends to come off pretty innocent.
Things are only getting crazier as time goes on. Another ERPer who goes by Bryte Darklyt told me that /doze didn’t actually affect her in-game sex as much as the /playdead emote, which was introduced earlier this year. The /pushup emote, which was added into FFXIV just one month ago, has also been a big game-changer in the ERP scene, something I confirmed after stumbling upon a couple mid-cunnilingus on the public steps of Ul’Dah this morning:
Emotes in online role-playing games are like symbols in a still unstudied language. They change meaning depending on context and whichever other emotes proximate avatars are using. Sex in MMOs is what’s advanced the language of emotes beyond what developers may have intended, but a lot of it goes on in private—that’s what makes it intimate.
After our interview, I thanked Hanasaki for her time. “No problem!” she effused. “And that Miqo’te that just ran passed us was an ERPer,” she added. “ERP” was in their search info. Also, Hanasaki said,“They were in their underwear.”