Published on October 20th, 2014 | by Nich Maragos0
Notes From Indiecade: how do you Do It?
Half of the GIA went to Indiecade 2014 in Culver City earlier this month and played some amazing, intriguing, and delightful games. The Notes From Indiecade series is a look at a few of our favorites of the show, along with some commentary from their developers.
Sex in games is often a matter of conquest. When you do well–not at sex, but at some unrelated thing, like being a badass space marine or telling a girl what you assume she wants to hear–the sex scene is your reward. Usually sex is the final stage of your relationship with that person as opposed to being a thing that can sometimes happen; afterward, neither of you ever discusses it, or each other, again. All of which is why how do you Do It? (proper capitalization sic) was such a breath of fresh air when I saw it at Indiecade.
“Unfortunately, these trends mostly treat sex like an afterthought–merely a cinematic of a subplot, or a “press X to sex” quick-time event that passes in an instant,” says designer Nina Freeman. “My approach proved to be different from those approaches, largely because I was thoughtful about its role in the game, and how I chose to represent it mechanically. In other words, sex is not an afterthought in how do you Do It?. Sex, as it manifests itself in the mind of the character in how do you Do It? is core to the experience of the game. Sex, and my lack of education about it as a child, is the reason the game exists, and is the reality that the mechanics of doll mashing are attempting to explore.
“Sex, whether the physical act of sex, or sex as a part of culture, or any other manifestation of it, is interesting when it’s examined closely. There are other developers putting sex first and foremost in their games, and more importantly, taking it seriously. These are the games that treat sex in an interesting and thoughtful way (taking it seriously can employ humor as well, by the way). I’m thinking of games like Cara Ellison’s Sacrilege, or Lea Schönfelder’s Ute.
“how do you Do It? is based in my real life experience of growing up in a household where sex wasn’t talked about. I never even heard my family say the word “sex.” It just wasn’t something they wanted to talk to me about. However, I was watching movies and television shows that were full of sex–things like Titanic, or literally anything on MTV. Obviously, I was a curious child and I wanted to know how everything worked, including sex. So, I always paid close attention to sex scenes wherever I could find them, whether that was online or on TV. I didn’t quite understand what I saw though, so I would try to make sense of it by hiding under my bed and mashing my dolls together. I would set them up in the various poses I saw in the sex depicted in the media I was consuming. The act of hiding under my bed and teaching myself about sex by make-believe play is essentially what how do you Do It? is about.”
My own favorite thing about how do you Do It? is how much of the playing field is devoted to artist Jonathan Kittaka’s renderings of the curious young girl’s expressions and thoughts. There’s little to “do” in the game but turn the dolls and bang them together, but watching the girl’s face as she begins to understand (or doesn’t) and fumbles through half-formed ideas of what she knows of the sexual act is a joy in itself. The more furiously you mash the dolls together, the redder her cheeks grow, and the more often her eyes will glance back at the door, anxious to avoid being caught out.
On the last point, Freeman explains that, “The game can end in one of two states–mom either catches you, or she does not catch you playing make-believe sex with your dolls. It’s pretty simple, actually. If the dolls are touching at the end of the game, she comes in and sees you playing. If they are being held apart, you hide the dolls behind your back where she can’t see them. We put that in mostly because the idea of getting caught by your sex averse mother is pretty interesting. I imagined that if my mother had ever caught me playing in this way (which she never did!), she would have reacted in the same way, and probably would have followed up with a stern lecture–‘no kissing until you’re 30!’ I imagine she’d have said something like that.”
In some ways, the young girl attitude toward sex mirrors our industry’s: an intense curiosity and desire tinged with fear. We know it’s a big deal, but what if we’re caught experimenting–not by our mothers, but by the ESRB, or Fox News? Thus is sex in games aimed at the retail market doomed to be relegated to furtive glances and embarrassed cutaways, with little ability to address the subject head on, making independent projects like Freeman’s all the more valuable.