Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sex and Violence. Re: Sexcraft by John Wick

Warning: The following post includes a mature discussion of Sex. Do not read further if discussing Sex in a civilized manner is likely to make you feel awkward or offended.

I've made no secret of the fact that I am a fan of John Wick's game design. Sure, I have some issues with some of his view points, but he also usually addresses that. He makes games for him and his group, I make games for me and my group, and as similar as they may be in some aspects, they're also very different in others. C'est la vie, and all that stuff. However, in reading one of his newer games  - namely Sexcraft: A Little Game With A Lot of Sex - he brings up one of the interesting aspects of our culture, and not just our gaming culture. I want to talk about that today.

What Is Sexcraft?
Before we can begin, I need to explain what Sexcraft is. Sexcraft is a meta game (or meta-possible game) that John Wick sells for $5. The idea behind it is simple: there is magic and energy in the act of sex, and some people can harness that energy. The people who can harness it are Witches and Warlocks who are skilled in sex craft, and they thrive off of that energy and use it to power very powerful magic.

Honestly, in gloss, it sounds a lot like La Blue Girl with sex ninjas, but trust me, the book is a lot more tasteful (in form and design) if you are willing to approach it with a mature mind.

Sex Versus Violence
Near the end of the book, there is a small note. It reads along the lines of this (paraphrased): If after reading this you find yourself giggling, feeling awkward, or saying to yourself that this game is inappropriate, consider this. I look at my wall and see a life time of collecting RPGs, which is literally hundreds of thousands of pages devoted to violence and murder. Now you know how I feel. (this is by John Wick, and I'm using it here to comment on it. It's on Page 6 of Sexcraft for his exact words)

The issue here is simple. Why are we ok with violence but not with sex? Is sex too intimate? Violence can be very intimate. Still, there is something about it. We're perfectly cool with having our children watch cartoon kids make their beloved pets fight it out in vicious combat, but show them someone kissing and suddenly you're trying to corrupt them. I've got Ben Kenobi cutting some guys arm off in a Catina on my rated PG Star Wars DVD, but the second I see some breasts the rating jumps up to PG-13, and even higher if more than breasts are to be revealed. Hell, I can go and buy a slaughter movie with no problems, but I have to find a special store and put my movie in a special bag if it features sex. You get the idea.

For whatever reason, we are trained as a culture (socialized if you'll forgive my inner Sociologist speaking up) to view sex as something we shouldn't be comfortable with, but ultra violence (or just violence) is a-ok. This is what John Wick seems to be trying to attack with this game. This view that talking about sex is bad, describing sex, but it's perfectly cool to play through ripping that orc apart limb from limb and beating him with his severed arms.

Violence Can Be Glossed Over
One of the quick things I thought of when thinking about this post was that violence can be glossed over. You can hide the grisly consequences, you can scale it up or down. You can summarize it very easily, in essence. You don't have to have "I take my sword in both hands, step forward, and cut down strongly" as your attack description. Nor do you have to have "Grognard lets out a mighty roar before chopping fiercely with his bone axe, splitting the rival chieftain in two and spraying gore and gibbly bits across the room in such a way that it coats his muscular body and glints against the pale light." You can just tell the GM, "I attack him" and it's done.

The same can be done with sex though. Think about wrestling, both pro-wrestling (i.e. the WWE) and Greco-Roman Wrestling. A lot of those positions are potentially sexual in nature.  Not to mention, there has to be ways of making sex less graphic, otherwise we wouldn't be able to see sex acts in anything but NC-17 or X rated movies, and they're very clearly in several R and even a couple PG-13 movies. You don't have to describe a sexual act in game lewdly, you can go just as easily as "I try to take charge." Hell, out of context I doubt you'd even know that was about sex.

The Mechanics
The fun part about this system, or at least what I'd expect to be the fun part, is that they work just as well for "Dance Energy" or "Fight Energy". Hell, I discarded a combat system similar to what this has at one point, as I wanted something different. But the mechanic used here for the "Sex Craft" would seriously not be out of place in a quick and dirty Boxing RPG, or a competitive Dancing RPG, or even in a Pokemon battle RPG.

Comfort Levels
Now, I've already pointed out that we as a society are socialized to be a bit more awkward with sex. For that reason alone, I can't recommend everyone get or try this. However, some of you - and you know you are - may be interested in seeing what this has to offer, even if it is only a different point of view on things. Flat out, some people just aren't comfortable discussing sex no matter what. Some people aren't comfortable discussing violence, those people are just generally not found at a gaming table.

As a game designer, I think Sexcraft is a good example of how mature games can be. It isn't a crass book, it isn't even a lewd book. John Wick's trade mark fluff at the beginning is safe enough that it could be discussed in front of kids without really any risk of them figuring out what was going on. For that reason alone I'd like this game. A sign that games can be mature, and deal with matters other than just violence. Even if violence will likely always be the old stand by. Even for Mr. Wick's games.

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