Sex in games. Games about sex. Sex toys for sex games. Arse Elektronika is a conference and celebration based on playful, naughty interactions and the people who make them possible. The gleefully perverse party – equal parts brainy bacchanal and thoughtful mind-jam, is put on by the collective minds of the art-tech-philosophy group Monochrom, and they’ve been doing this since 2007.
2012’s theme was 4Play, personified by a pair of cheeky, smiling pixel art cherries. It made for a perfect introduction on opening night, hosted at the Armory Club – just one address down from The Armory proper, where a tour of Kink.com’s porn palace was part of the festivities. Energetic Arse Elektronika MC Johannes Grenzfurthner held court, welcoming the attendees, introducing the major players, and eventually giving out the coveted Golden Keene awards.
The event was well-attended by a diverse crowd of self-described brainy perverts, subversive game designers, ingenious sex toy engineers, and gloriously attired cos-players. Since this event is all about playfulness and performance, it only seems right that so many attendees came dressed for the occasion, and I spied game critic Mattie Brice as a gender-swapped Cloud (of Final Fantasy 7 fame), a “Carlos” San Diego, and overall costume winner “Oregon Trail” – speaker Kitty Stryker done up in prairie finery, complete with cholera-death-themed blue eyes and lips and a stuffed fox to gnaw on. There were also a pair each of Leisure Suit Larries and Samuses, the latter in both “at work” (in a spacesuit) and “at leisure” (in a cocktail dress) varieties.
Above: two inanimate participants in Arse Elektronika
The whole point of our evening, aside from the grand introductions, was the presentation of the Prixxx Arse awards – three honorees received a golden Keene, named after a naughty limerick.
The first Golden Keen-er, Doctor X.Treme – a real life applied physicist - came up and demoed his super powered sex toy, the X1 Orgasmatron. He also handed out a Clitardis T-shirt to one very lucky attendee.
Next, Kristen Stubbs was called upon to demo her wares – a light up dildo that works by way of muscle control. There’s a game involved, or a game of sorts – Stubbs also presented The Hammer on Sunday, with the gleefully perverse take on the “test your strength” feats of old school carnivals, midways and Orlando theme parks. Only, let’s just say you use, well, different muscle groups with this one.
No one seemed to care much that the light-up dildo didn’t quite light up the whole way.
Finally, Anna Anthropy was awarded a lifetime achievement award – as the slide stated “just because” - mainly for being such a prolific, provocative, and loud voice in the queer/sex positive game space. She’s a celebrity in this circle, and rightly so. Her brilliant Dys4ia and fascinating first book – Rise of the Videogame Zinesters – which posits that everyone, young and old, queer, straight, disabled, etc. should be making games - has gotten a fair amount of mainstream games press attention, and her utterly uncompromising vision makes her a sex game folk hero.
She gave a speech instead of a demo, speaking out against the notion that game making technologies should be exclusive in any way, lest only a tiny population of middle-class-or-above cisgender straight white dudes will make them.
“Technology that only a small minority of people have access to is useless”, she asserted, noting what the poverty rate in the Bay Area amongst the queer community and runaways with precisely the kind of life experience that would make for interesting, expressive games.
“The only way that we’re going to see more, and more meaningful, games about sex is by giving EVERYONE the technology to make them,” she finished.
To say this went over well would be an understatement – Anthropy knows how to hold a crowd in the palm of her hand, and her scrappy, no-BS message spoke volumes to the assembled crowd, straight cisgender white guys, sex performers, nerdvert researchers and all.
There were also a pair each of Leisure Suit Larries and Samuses.
The whole affair was charmingly DIY – despite the swank location, the entire presentation was given on a small laptop. Occasionally, a demo unit would fail. Each Prixxx Arse awardee was given a delightfully ridiculous action figure, brandished from a shoebox – in honor of their work. There was a warmth and playfulness about the entire event, and no one seemed to care much if, say, the light-up dildo didn’t quite light up the whole way – the fact that someone had made one at all was enough to enchant the crowd.
Sex games, (and games about sex, and sexual devices with gameplay elements, and so on), certainly have a ways to go before they become “mainstream” in any real way, if they ever do at all. Perhaps that’s a large part of the appeal – attending Arse Elektronika – particularly the opening ceremony - felt like an introduction to gaming’s most truly subversive and “underground” space, a sort of heady, sex-positive mirror universe to the goings on of say, PAX. These folks are innovating the medium – one dirty little demo at a time.