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Sex Invaders at Arse Electronika 2012:4Play

Posted by Adam

I debuted Vanzendorfer, Vanzendorfer & William’s Sex Invaders: Eroticised Digital Tug o’ War Controller at Arse Elektronica 2012. Sponsored by the creative collective MonoChrom(organisers Johannes Grenzfurthner, Heather Kelley), the theme for this year’s conference was 4Play- sex and games. The terms play and games were broadly construed. Sex activist and self described “ho” Maggie Mayhem presented “How to get game in a Disaster zone”. These related the travails and some of the science behind sexual attraction(“Game”) amongst volunteers working in disaster zones. Her partner Ned Mayhem discussed using Tetris as a filtering test for casual sex partners”the top 6 scores get to f@ck me” and then provided graphs of the responses. Gopinaath Kannabiran’s autoethnography of 30 days of masturbation (playing with himself) provided a fearless and in depth phenomenological analysis, derived from Edmund Husserl, and thus exposed normative assumptions for sex toys. Kitty Stryker discussed her use of DIY sex cards as ice-breakers for sex parties. There were other performances, such as Dani Ploeger’s “Electrode” which featured music concrete controlled by a buttplug.


Jaako Stenros “Amorous Bodies in Play: Sexuality in Nordic Live Action Role-Playing Games”

Jaako Stenros was the keynote speaker and provided an interesting discussion of sex and romance in Nordic LARPing. His description of strategies that nordic LARPers use had certain resonances with debates as to the ethical ramifications of play spaces and the infamous ‘magic circle’. one example was how players used Ars Armandi, the touching of arms and shoulders to indicate sex or amorous play. He noted that this method, designed to distance players from having to engage in normative sexual behavior often became erotic in its own right. Perhaps one of his insights was that fun was not necessarily the goal of LARPing in nordic traditions. Other goals were desirable, such as losing poignantly. Perhaps most important for thinking about games in general was their capability for an ‘Aesthetics of Action” and first person audience, where the LARP exists primarily for the players. The elements of emergent play were important for as Stenros notes “No LARP survives contact with the players”. The circumambulations involved in creating genders and sexes that do not commonly exist, and the negotiations of portraying actions such as rape were also discussed.

Heather Kelley presented Paolo Pedercini from Molle Industries. His talk dealt with the limited affordances of games for dealing with sexual themes. He contrasted games with video pornography, pointing out that just as certain camera angles are privileged in porn, so the limitations of digital games lead to certain mechanics. Games such as God of War portray sex as a simple rhythm game. Instead he looks to games like Spore and the tablet game Fingle for inspiration for games dealing with sex and sexual play.

Mattie Brice discussed the tendency for game criticism to avoid queer issues thus reinforcing an adolescent, male, hetero hegemony. In that respect her talk strongly echoed some of the themes in Pedercini’s talk. She points out the romance tends to follow a preset script, be exhibited mostly through dialogue, be a very secondary subplot. She also pointed out that this is as true of indie developers as AAA studios. She discussed DA:O, ME3 as examples of games that attempted to transcend sexual scripts, but cautioned that reifying white male privilege for other groups was not the answer to a liberatory approach to game play, sexuality in games or in games criticism.

Playing Sex Invaders. Photo: Gopinaath Kannabirran

And finally I’ll segue into my game controller. We replaced the family-friendly tug o’ war controller with a nipple-clamped version that was used to control a version of Space Invaders. It was a little scary as I had never actually tested the full game. It worked like a charm and I and a volunteer from the audience now hold the world high score for nipple clamp space invaders(281pts). Some questions and comments were “Did you find it arousing”(Jaako)- “No”,  I replied. Another comment was consider utilising the stretch sensor to gain data from “tumescence”. Another kind comment during the presentation, while attaching the nipple clamps was “Best. Conference. Evah”.
For more about our controller and some theoretical rationale visit

Interactive Intentions