As conversations about rape become more and more mainstream, one thing has become clear — our society has failed to teach people what consent actually means.
Indeed, celebrities like Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi, not to mention various college campuses, have recently been rocked by sexual assault and misconduct allegations. During the resulting conversations, many perpetrators and others revealed their flawed understanding of what it means to freely give the green light to a sexual encounter. It betrays an ignorance that's prompted many to call for a renewed focus on teaching people about why consent matters.
In an unconventional twist, one new online game could very well be part of the solution. Developer and university instructor Robert Yang just released Hurt Me Plenty, which uses virtual simulation and BDSM culture to give players a hands-on approach to responsibly navigating sexual boundaries.
Yang told Mic that few video games demonstrate intimacy in action, largely because it's difficult to express those types of actions and emotions through joysticks and 3-D characters. Hurt Me Plenty encourages players to role-play and follow a general framework for engaging in BDSM with a virtual partner — discussing what will happen, playing it out and then checking in afterward. Players demonstrate the spanking on the game's main character by using their mouse, trackpad or a Leap Motion device to physically move their hand across the screen.
Although Hurt Me Plenty takes place in a virtual context, the game's process is more about engaging in sexual acts with respect for a partner's expressed intentions. According to Yang, that's the way a player really "wins" — not through conventional gaming skills and competition, but by creating a situation that's mutually enjoyable.
"So many video games cast sex as an objective or reward. I wanted to make a game that thinks of sexual acts as a process, as something you practice instead of something you get," Yang said. "It is not a 'hard simulation' running on a computer, it is more like a 'soft simulation' that the player runs in [his or her] brain. Psychologically, what does it take to inflict pain on someone? And responsibly?"
This is one example of what that looks like:
Advocates of safe BDSM interactions, and porn in general, note that if undertaken correctly, partners agree on what's to be done and a "safe word" or another gesture that signals when it's time to stop. It's a process that many in BDSM communities have devised given the exchange of and submission to receiving pain in an erotic way (a more formalized approach than most would associate with sex, although two-way communication is key in any interaction). The game roughly navigates that discussion process, where the 3-D partner may propose something different from the player desires or decide they no longer wish to engage.
"Consent is an important condition for establishing intimacy," Yang said, noting that some play testers even got disgruntled when the random algorithm insists on a specific set of terms. "So focusing on consent can help us make better, more diverse games that cover these other gamuts of human experience as fun as face-shooting can be."
However, Hurt Me Plenty was also designed to demonstrate what happens when players don't respect boundaries. The format allows players to continue spanking the 3-D partner past the use of a safe word. In turn, an otherwise positive sexual encounter becomes potential abuse. And to be clear, violating another person's expressed boundaries is never OK. The game's current features demonstrate some of the immediate consequences so that players can understand what happens.
Yang acknowledges on Hurt Me Plenty's website that the simulation has its flaws. Aside from sexual intimacy being explored in new ways through other online games, as Kotaku mentions, Hurt Me Plenty allows provides an avenue outside of mainstream discourse for people to think about the meaning of consent.