Contemporary games will make millions of dynamic calculations a second, with advanced artificial intelligence that can strategize an enemy’s movements, adding an extra layer of real-world simulation to a player who might be firing a virtual gun built to a real factory spec in a virtual town rendered from real satellite imagery. The considerations for these games are extraordinary, but when they try to work in a romance plotline, it's all dumbed-down to a few properly chosen dialog options, leading to a cutscene of you and the computer hooking up.
Hurt Me Plenty is a game designed to challenge such simplistic views to interactive sex. It places the player in the dominant role of a BDSM relationship, allowing you to spank a burly, hairy chested computer AI until he says a safe word.
"The logic of training players to expect sex, based on a series of so-called strategic actions, is super gross and perpetuates damaging ways of thinking about relationships," creator Robert Yang writes on his blog. "Instead, sex must be more than a node, it should be simulated as a complex system in itself. Sex must not be some sort of reward or foregone conclusion. What if we represented sex in games as an on-going process? What if we actually did sex?"
It’s an intriguing idea—enough to convince me to download the game and try it out, even as a straight guy who’s not into BDSM.
The game begins with a handshake. My peach-skinned, muscle-bound submissive offers his hand out. I’m instructed to shake by moving the mouse. As we do, the word "gentle" appears on the screen. Screw that. If we’re doing this, we’re going all in. I stop the handshake and we begin again. Then we agreed it’d be heavy spanking, in his underwear, and the safeword was "red."
The next scene placed him onto a bed, where the spanking itself went from strange to silly pretty quickly. The slightest flick of the mouse smacked his butt like I’d swung a paddle with two arms. Repeated flicks cause him to convulse as if he’s being shocked by a taser while moaning in word bubbles. (From a completely physical perspective of the mouse movements themselves, it was a whole lot easier to cause pain than find consensus.) As his butt began to glow like Rudolph’s nose through a pair of tighty whities, the effect became so distancing and slapsticky that, when he finally said his safeword "red," I didn’t take it seriously enough to pause for more than a moment. But a few more flicks of the trackpad, and he’d collapsed, unconscious.
Here, the game surprised me. I thought I’d reach a credits screen and the game would be over. Maybe I’d be asked to play again. Instead, this beefcake sat with his back to me. I was instructed to use the mouse to rub his back and comfort him. I felt a legitimate pang of guilt as he pointed out that he’d said the safeword 13 times. I knew it’d been a few, but 13 felt monstrous.
Moments later, a countdown timer came onto the screen. I learned that I’d been locked out of the game for 21 days—what Yang refers to as a cool-off period in our relationship, in which the computer AI itself exerted its rights to no longer deal with me.
Yang’s game is not without its flaws—even he admits as much. Most notably, the physical act of hurting someone never feels like you’re hurting them. But that’s something better graphics and physics could fix. What Yang did nail, even in this simplistic, three-scene game, is the implication that sex can emotionally hurt someone, even when you think you're just having fun.