It has long been understood that if a technology exists, someone at some point will repurpose it in order to use it for sexual purposes. People invented the internet, and now an estimated 4 percent of the whole web is pornography – that’s a lot of porn, even if this figure is down from an earlier estimate of 13 percent. Virtual reality has been on the scene in some form since the 1960s, but recently there’s been an enormous buzz around virtual reality porn and the opportunities – and issues – surrounding this technology. Smartphones are now near-ubiquitous in the Western world, and we can now use them to control our partner’s vibrators from anywhere we want.
The first MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) is believed to have hit the web in 1996. Since then, the genre – where huge numbers of players log in to the same virtual world – has exploded in popularity. World of Warcraft took the genre to the next level, with a reported 100 million user accounts in 2014. But what does this have to do with sex? Well, like the internet and virtual reality and smartphone technology before it, the MMORPG model has for a long time been co-opted for sexual purposes.
My partner laughed his head off when I told him what my latest assignment was about. He’s been an avid video gamer since the early 1990s and regaled me with stories of Neverwinter Nights adult-only servers and user mods. “Of course, you couldn’t actually make your characters have sex,” he qualified, “but you could make them do movements that could be loosely interpreted as sex acts. And a lot of people used it for BDSM and domination games.”
Second Life, too, has long been acknowledged as a place where people go to have anonymous cyber-sex through their avatars. And sexual modifications were extensive in this game, from the ability to make avatars pole dance or wear skimpy clothes to virtual BDSM clubs and red light districts. “Red Light Center” (hereafter, RLC) first flashed across my radar when I was researching my recent article on sex tech for couples in long-distance relationships.
First established in 2006, the platform has an estimated 1.5 million users. I could not, unfortunately, find a break down of the genders – though I suspect, as with so many other adult platforms, it heavily skews male. Obviously, being endlessly curious about the possibilities for using tech to improve my sex life, I just had to try it.
The virtual world in RLC is based around Amsterdam’s Red Light district. Having been there only once and very fleetingly, I cannot comment as to the resemblance. Once you’ve downloaded “Curio,” the system that hosts RLC, you pick a username and an avatar. The options are, it must be said, limited.
Of the four female avatars, all are thin and three out of four are white (one is black.) Outfit choices are jeans and t-shirt, pink clubbing dress, sexy schoolgirl, or a skimpy red top/skirt combo. All four male avatars are white and could be described as “conventionally attractive”.
Once you’re in-game you can somewhat alter the hairstyle and body composition of your character, but even then it’s within pretty narrow parameters. Entering the virtual world, you pop up in a courtyard with a dance floor, a pool, a bar and a DJ.
Everyone lands in the same spot when they log in, and if you don’t move quickly you end up with other people arriving on top of you, which confuses the rudimentary graphics immensely. I played a lot of The Sims c.2002 – 2006 and, I have to say, the graphics of RLC are less impressive than even the earliest versions of that game. It’s also clunky and non-intuitive to use, and the movements on screen are jerky and often freeze or even crash entirely.
Immediately, a man calling himself “Phantom Lord” pops up in the chat box.
I type back, asking how this thing works. He tells me to take my time to explore and ask any questions. I decide to explore and wander around to see what people in this strange little universe get up to. On the dance floor, my avatar grooves gently to the music. I try inviting other users to dirty dance, or to make my character try out a little pole dancing, but I keep getting the “you cannot do this here!” error message pop up. My character even gets in the pool fully clothed! Is this the super sexy sex game I’ve been hearing about?
“God I so want to scoop you up, lay you down on that bed and ravish you,” one of the many anonymous male users tells me, after inviting me to slow dance.
“Do it then!” I tell him, purely out of curiosity rather than any actual desire to get down and dirty with a random internet stranger.
“I can’t unless you do the VIP thing,” he replies.
Oh. And therein, it seems, lies the problem. I think the crux of this game is that it could be fantastic if you’re willing to spend money on it. On the free version you can dance, kiss, and of course talk dirty to other users in the chat box. But… that’s about it. In order to get naked, act out any kind of explicit sexual acts or access many parts of the virtual world, you have to be a VIP member.
VIP membership costs $20 per month, which isn’t exorbitant in itself but is certainly financially inaccessible to a lot of people – it’s also included in subscriptions to HoloGirlsVR. It might be worth it if you’re a member of the particular niche who really loves both MMO games and internet sex with strangers, or are more excited by the version 2 beta that works in VR, and has VR-specific features (like a movie theater).
It’s even possible it would work really well for, say, a long distance couple who want a virtual place to meet online and get up to sexy things without fear of being kicked out for violating community rules. But for most of us, I’d suggest a good sex toy and a subscription to Crash Pad Series or another ethical porn service would be a better use of that money.
I tried to go into this little experiment with an open mind, but I came away with the distinct impression that – like many badly-executed teledildonics – adult MMO games are currently much better in theory than they are in practice.