The original inspiration for this post was a topic brought up on the OWBN Hour of Power, a podcast that is created by some of the more vocal members of One World By Night. OWBN is an international live action role playing (LARP) organization.
(At ~22:00 into the podcast)
Who here has at least seen or participated in one of the most awkward [despicable!] elements of LARPing in general – and that is the in-character sex scene?
In the weeks that followed, my friends and I discussed this topic of "in-character sex scenes" and the various related issues, specifically -
- How do LARPing and sex mix?
- Is it possible for eroticism to be a part of a “mature audiences only” gaming experience in a setting that denies most types of physical gratification?
- Why would gamers bend (or break, or deny) element of a fictional world in order to get it on with another person’s character?
- Relationship boundaries for one's "fantasy life"
You get to enjoy the end result of my mental ponderings :)
What is role-play?
Each of us assumes multiple roles on a daily basis. To use myself as an example -
During the day I will dress up in business casual attire, wear make-up, and keep my appearance moderately conservative. While I may joke around with my peers and leader, I maintain a level of distance and professionalism around them. When speaking to my clients, I strive to give the impression that I am experienced, knowledgeable, confident, and approachable. As an insurance wholesaler, I also take on a coaching role where I will pretend to first be a financial professional presenting a concept, and then the client for the advisor that I am training. (Yes, I role-play with my clients as part of my job!)
I act differently at home than I do at work. There is no longer a need to watch what I say or do in order to appear “professional”. Nor is there a need to emphasize my intellect (though I will still show off my geekdom). I speak casually and affectionately to my husband and friends. I flirt with my friends and closer acquaintances. (This is, of course, assuming that their significant other approves. ;) ) There are also differences in how I act towards my husband, my friends, and my family. In each situation, different aspects of my personality are emphasized.
Role-play is a step beyond adjusting what aspects of yourself you put forward in different environments. In role-play, you actually pretend to be someone else. Most of us have childhood memories where we played make-believe. For that brief period of time, we ceased being a child that worried about school and baths and chores and became cops, robbers, doctors, pirates, or princesses (give me my crown!).
Most of us are familiar with acting, where a person will draw out various aspects of themselves in order to take on another persona in a play or film. Role-playing is similar to this, except that we are not bound to a writer’s script or a director’s vision. There may be boundaries (or rules) on what we can or cannot do, but beyond that we are free to act as our persona and interact with others who share our game.
My first experiences with role-playing were with table-top gaming. For those who are not familiar with this style of play – visualize a group of people sitting around a table. One person takes on the role of game master (or dungeon master) and everyone else is portraying their respective characters. The game master describes the world that the characters are in. While there may be interactions between the various characters, their main focus is to interact with the world that the game master created. The players not only speak as their characters, but they verbally describe how their characters act.
(Bit of Jess Trivia: my first table-top character was a high elf priestess that fell in love with a drow rogue. The gamer geeks among my readers are probably twitching right now. )
Live Action Role-Playing
A live action role-playing (LARP) game is more like impromptu acting. Players will move around a space and act out their character’s actions (within reason). The player will walk around the room, interact with objects, speak, yell, cry, and otherwise visually portray what their character is doing. There is a greater emphasis on interactions with other characters. While one person (or a few people) still takes on the meta-role of adjudicating the setting and scene, they play a smaller role in what occurs during the gaming session.
While some may LARP purely for fun, others use it as a tool for self-exploration. I used it as a way to overcome different emotional hurdles that I faced. I created my current LARP character during a time where I was at low point with my self-esteem. I wasn’t comfortable with who I was or how I felt others perceived me. Also, I felt very alone and there was little that my friends or loves could do to bring me out of my funk. My new LARP character mirrored how I saw myself – someone that felt forced to be pretend that she was something that she wasn’t as a means of protection and to hide her insecurities. In order to grow, she needed to come out to herself and others about her differences. She also needed make peace with her past and to figure out what was right and wrong for herself rather than live by the expectations of others.
I created the character on September 14, 2008. During those 2 ½ years, my character has gone through all sorts of adventures and stages of growth. How does one overcome fear and “come out” to others? How about situations where another accidentally (or purposefully) outs you? What do you do when you realize you’re in a toxic relationship with someone? How do you learn to appreciate yourself? Love your body? Accept the pleasure in life as well as pain? These were questions that I explored through the eyes of my character, and slowly started to figure out for myself.
I personally went through a lot of changes during the same timeframe. I started blogging in early 2009 and built this site in March of that year. My original goal was to track my weight loss goal (I still associated thin with beautiful at that time, and have since overcome that body issue). During that same phase of my life, I came as poly to my larger circle of friends and acquaintances. I mentored new leaders and started organizing/activist projects that others simply dreamed about. On the personal front, I made new friends and acquaintances. While my own struggles weren’t as daunting as my character’s, I used her struggles as a type of ‘mental training’ to be better able to handle my own. Now that my life is calmer (less drama / more fun), I’ve “demoted” my character/LARPing to being more recreational than self-induced therapy.
We, as role-players, step out of our mundane persona to explore different aspects of our personality through the characters that we create and portray. Some of us will throw ourselves so completely into the process that we become our character for the session. Hint - You can tell if someone fits in the latter category by seeing if they are mentally exhausted (or experiencing an adrenaline high) once the session is over.
(Another bit of Jess trivia – if you want to learn more about my LARP character go here. If you want to learn about the international LARP organization that I participate in, One World By Night, go here. If you’re not familiar with the World of Darkness genre, this wiki site can help you with the basics.)
LARP + Sexuality = LARPsexuality (and re-defining sex)
Before trying to explain the term (that I just created), let’s take a step back and talk about sex. Human sexuality is a very complex animal, and its scope goes beyond stimulating a few areas of the body.
All forms of sex have two elements in common: stimulation and sharing.
Stimulation means different things to different people. Most of us are familiar with physical touch as a form of stimulation, but it is not a requirement for sex. Some can be stimulated through activities that can engage the heart and mind. A deep, intimate conversation can be just as sensual as an erotic massage. If you look outside of the box of “conventional” sexuality there are forms of physical stimulation that may not normally be seen as sexual (like tickling), some of which may actually seem painful to an outside viewer (like S&M). You can also engage in sexual acts with others using text or visuals rather than touch (cybering and sexting). Also, pushing someone to emotional highs and lows can be another form of sexual stimulation, even if no touch is involved.
Likewise, the sharing that occurs between sexual partners can take many forms. Some think of the physical touch and sensations that are shared during physical sex. Emotional intimacy is another form; one that can occur either with or without an orgasm. This can come (no pun intended) from deep conversations or other emotionally moving experiences. Those that follow less Western/materialistic schools of thought understand the existence and dynamics of life energy, and how it can move and be exchanged through people like electricity through circuits.
Integrating sexuality into gaming goes above and beyond using role-playing games as a tool to channel the sex-deprived fantasies of geeks. If we define sex as stimulation and sharing, then it is possible that such games (which include LARPing) can be used as a means of creating that type of experience. Just don’t be too loud – you’ll alarm someone ;)
When parts don’t work
(Those that aren’t interested in Vampire: the Masquerade genre may want to skim through this and go to the next section)
I’ve touched upon the nature of role-playing and how it could be used as a channel for both storytelling as well as a recreational way to enjoy the company of another ;). The question that comes up (and ultimately the issue behind this blog post) is how do you bring up sexuality in a fantasy setting that makes “traditional” sex physically impossible under normal circumstances?
Yes, I’m talking about the World of Darkness, Vampire: the Masquerade (WoD, V:tM) genre. This is not your Anne Rice, Bram Stoker, or even your True Blood style of vampire genre. This game deals with vampires that are truly, physically dead and who watch their own sense of self become twisted as the darker “bestial” side of their vampiric nature takes more control over time. The game itself is supposed to be an exploration of personal horror because your character is faced with their world falling apart and with their own transition towards becoming “evil”. However, it’s difficult to manage the personal horror aspect of the game when dealing with a larger group of participants (transition from table-top to live-action to an international live-action group). This means that the personal horror aspect tends to get minimized. Ultimately, we’re left with a whole bunch of gamers (who have real-life sex-drives) that try to role-play with characters that are sexually impotent.
The gaming system does have a few (partially effective) ways around the “vampire sex” issue for those that are creative and desperate enough. My own personal views on this issue fall more in line with the writings of Sanguinus Curae (an old Vampire: The Masquerade resource site), where eroticism in that genre setting can take a broader approach than sex based on purely physical stimulation. While the article itself brings up voyeurism and vicarious enjoyment of sensuality through others, I believe that sexuality within the V:tM genre can be taken further to the exploration of other kinks and fetishes. Rather than discuss the topic further, I’ll simply leave it at that. ;)
“Should I tell my significant other(s) about my RP'd sex?” is a question to ask yourself, preferrably before anything happens. I’m not going to respond to this with an imperative; the answer is up to you and your relationship dynamic. However, if your relationship is built on open communication and honesty, having "the conversation" is probably a very good idea.
Regardless of if your partner(s) are gamers/role-players or not, you may need to explain the difference between "in game" desire and "out of game" desire. Some people don't understand that if fantasy characters are having sex, that doesn't necesarily mean that their respective players/actors want to have sex with each other.
Another issue to consider and discuss is that of boundaries. What type of acts are allowed to be role-played out (either in person or via. verbal/text), and what elements need to be glossed over (skip the sex RP and start with the “morning after” pillow talk)? In my household, I’m able to do elaborate chat “scenes” as long as I’m willing to do the same thing at least 3 times with my husband. Other gamer significant other’s that I know leave the boundary at “whatever you’re comfortable with me reading later”.
There’s also the personal time boundaries – how much time during the day (and when) are you allowed to participate? As with non-sexual gaming, it can be problematic if you are neglecting your other (real!) relationships because of how much time you spend on this hobby.
Finally you need to consider boundaries around emotional intimacy. How often have you seen actors romantically hook up after finishing a movie where their characters were in a relationship? I've personally lost count of "gamer hook-ups", where the players became romantically involved months or years after their characters did. There’s the real possibility of an emotional connection long after your characters have parted ways (or died). Even if your real life relationship with the other player stays at a deep friendship, how comfortable will your partner(s) be with you having that level of emotional intimacy with another person - even if nothing else were to happen in "real life"?
As an ending thought: It can be fun to have “make believe” sex… just try to be ethical about it ;)
P.S. – To the guy on the podcast that said that they’re never going back, you’re doing it wrong. :p
P.P.S. – To those that think that you have to roll dice or do rock-paper-scissors challenges as part of an in-character sex scene, you’re also doing it wrong.