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Plugged In: Project Natal

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The Next Big Thing in gaming: Project Natal, Microsoft's revolutionary platform that uses the player's entire body as the controller. No more “gamer's thumb,” no more Wiimotes flying through TV screens–just your body and your game console in perfect interactive harmony. Is it any wonder that those of us interested in sex and tech wonder what impact this will have on the future of interactive porn?

  The Possibilities Are Endless Or Are They?

On the surface, it would appear that any sexual usage would be limited indeed. Without so much as a vibrating controller, there's no possibility of Natal offering up physical stimulation. Unlike systems like the Wii, whose controls are connected via Bluetooth and therefore harbor the capacity for different types of controllers in the future, Natal is powered by a motion-sensing camera. There is no possibility for sending a signal to the “controller” of the gamer's body as there is in two-way Bluetooth communications – nor, indeed, for even adding any sort of additional controller to concentrate physical jollies. Using Natal as a sort of semi-interactive porn feature seems at first to be a step backward, not forward.

But wait! As always, ambitious pervs may prevail. One of Natal's most astonishing features involves object recognition. For example, if a user steps into the range of Natal's camera holding a tennis racket, Natal will recognize the racket. While this is promising for some truly great tennis play, a little adult development could lead to all kinds of sexual interactivity. Let us explore, then, an unlikely but enticing way in which Natal could capture a whole new user base of technosaturated pervs.

Picture it: a man with an artificial vagina toy. Natal recognizes the sex toy, and any number of digitally created vixens appear onscreen for him to choose from. Once he's settled on a damsel, she appears on the screen in the position that conforms to the toy's orientation. Go at it doggy-style and see it on the screen! Slow down, speed up, stop – and what you do is what you see. It would bring a whole new meaning to “POV porn.”

(Quick reality-check, since the possibility of the tech geek's brain fogging over after that paragraph is pretty high: Natal will not actually do this for you out of the box, or with any modification currently known. Please do not approach your gaming console wearing nothing but your socks, wave your Fleshlight at it, and wonder why it doesn't like you enough to let you bone a digital lovely. We aren't living in a Charles Stross novel. Yet.)

  It's All About The Ratings

Of course, if interactivity progresses to this level, ratings will become a big deal. The Entertainment Software Rating Board, established in 1994 to provide ratings as consumer guides, has found itself mired in permanent controversy over how sex and violence are rated. While the ESRB has an adults-only classification (“AO”), most game companies will edit AO games down to achieve the more market-friendly Mature (“M”) rating. (This is, oddly, the same thing that happens in the film industry, only game makers are operating in a much stricter ratings world: filmmakers avoid the commercial-kiss-of-death NC-17 rating, while game makers avoid the 18+ rating in favor of the market-friendly 17+, which is the same as NC-17 in principle but carries much less market stigma in the gaming world. Don't ask me; I don't comprehend the discrepancy either.)

Only 25 games have ever been given the AO rating. With the exception of three violent titles and one gambling-for-real game, all of the AO games were rated such for sexual content. While plenty of erotic material manages to squeak by in the M category, it appears to usually do so when sexuality isn't the overall focus, or when the material is generally softcore. While one might argue that the above interactive scenario might count as “softcore” since you wouldn't actually see sex, just a digital character ostensibly responding to your advances, the ESRB is also famously quick to “rate up” in response to controversy. It isn't hard to imagine that an interactive masturbation game, no matter what the details, would be unquestionably controversial to the folks best known for yelling the loudest about inappropriate content.

In the end, it may be that the very monopolization and monetization which affords designers the capacity to invent and implement something like Natal may also close the doors on sexual uses. Board members overseeing a large company with a generally family-friendly reputation to uphold are unlikely to greenlight something so conservative-baiting. However, an open-source platform where explicit, interactive sexual content would be just another developer's pet project uploaded for everybody would hardly have the incredible financial resources necessary to invent something like controller-free gaming. Flash-based porn games on your PC exist because just about anyone can work up a Flash game and throw it on a server; one look at the despondent, frustrated application developers trying to get something a little racy through the Apple Store's gates will tell you just how difficult it is to interface sexuality with ratings standards.

So maybe picking up a copy of My Own Private Natal is just a pipe dream for now. But as technology advances and sexuality becomes less taboo, perhaps the trickle-down of technical advancement and the trickle-up of sexual acceptance will meet. Instead of having technically spectacular locked-down gaming consoles and long-distance relationships restricted to nothing more interactive than video chat, we'll find ourselves capable of meaningful (or not-so-meaningful) virtual sexual interactions through technology free of the chokehold of lowest-common-denominator morals. Steven Spielberg famously said of Natal: “This is a pivotal moment that will carry with it a wave of change, the ripples of which will reach far beyond video games.” We can all hope that it is so, with every fiber of our cramped X-button thumbs and novelty-seeking naughty bits.


Absolutely wonderful article,

The Problem is, with the rating system, if a game gets a "AO" (Adult only rating) it is the kiss of death. Therefore not many developers will make the game because the producers are afraid of stores like Wal-Mart.


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