Friday, November 02, 2001

Jill brought Mark Bernstein's question to my attention: what do I learn about sex from computer games?

Accidentally, one of the games I have analysed is a not-published game created by the Norwegian Health Department, and was designed to teach boys from 12-16 about sex. This is a particularly difficult group to reach, as they tend to be very reserved against channel where such information is normally available, have a strong distrust of authorities and be very shy.

The game I analysed was a fun idea, and it discussed sex and sexualised situations quite openly. Teaching through playing did however turn out to be extremely complicated, because a computer-game is a medium of digression, not of politically correct learning. To make sure the boys learned what they were supposed to, the game had to close off a lot of options. It also taught them quite a few not-intended things, because if the boys should choose the politically correct path they would have to be punished for options which in real life would have been perfectly valid.

What did work though was the data-base connected to the game. An exellent collection of candid information about sexuality, linked together with hyperlinks, it contained pictures, texts and tiny little independent game-like features (like "the kissing school").

So I guess, yes, I have learned about sexuality from computer games: is it cheating to use an example which isn't published?

As Jill suggested, I have also learned a thing or two through the MUDs. But most of that has been about what the human mind is able to fantasise about and be exited by. Through the role-play games I have learned of limitations, experiments, prejudices and openness and what distance, anonymity and the freedom to write can do about topics of communication. I have learned about force, consent and control, about long-distance relationships and the power of the written word over the body.

Was any of this about sex? I don't think I learned anything new from the games about SEX in the many years I have played computer-games. But then again: what can not be about sex? I have learned that it's possible to twist most objects the human mind can think up into a sexually charged object, that humans can be incredibly inventive in order to manage to imagine a fairy and a troll having sex (and getting pregnant! That is what I can't stretch my imagination around), that sex is still linked with power and gender even if it happens in the anonymous space of the net.

None of these things surprised me though. What surprised me, from all that I learned, was how important the games became to the players: how serious and how meaningful. It's just a game after all.

No. I have come to realise that there is no such thing as "just a game."

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