Today’s Message is Brought to You by the Letters “T” and “A”

A little while ago, I read an editorial over on IGN entitled “Why Do Booth Babes Exist?” It was a very insightful article, putting to words what I’d previously only perceived as a vague unease. I’ve never cared much for booth babes…okay, that’s a lie. But rather, my attraction to them is tempered by the impression that these are the free version of strippers – that gawking at women who’ve been retained to stand around in sexy outfits is one step down from paying women to take their clothes off. And of course, strippers themselves are just one step down from out-and-out prostitution.

The article ultimately makes a very calm, well-reasoned, and scathing rebuke of the whole idea of booth babes. Specifically, it points out the embarrassing truth: that while it’s normal for men to follow even the hint of sex, chasing that hint when it can’t possibly lead to sex, and we know it but still go after it anyway, is pathetic.

There’s more to the article than just that, of course, but that point is where the article’s main idea intersects most strongly with that of tabletop gaming. Much like the booth babes found at (fandom) conventions, tabletop role-playing games are infamous for adding sexual elements that seem to serve no purpose except to titillate for the sake of titillating.

Now, that’s a charge that’s mostly true, but not entirely. Fantasy artwork, usually associated with tabletop RPGs, is usually the worst offender in this regard. However, whereas a booth babe to promote a Mario game is utterly without context (unless she’s dressed, say, as Princess Peach), sexy artwork can simply be relevant. A picture of a succubus, for example, is erotic because a succubus is an erotic monster, and the illustration is simply reflective of that.

The above is a flimsy rationale, but still a valid one. Unfortunately, most fantasy artwork that aims for the groin doesn’t even try to cling to this level of reasoning. Instead, they often present sex in a manner that’s often wildly incongruous with even the minimal context set up by the picture itself. Does it make sense for the barbarian woman to be wearing nothing but a chainmail bikini when she’s fighting off the orc horde? Nope, but that’s how she’s dressed.

"Scorpion Girl here, reminding all you GMs to use giant scorpions in your adventures. Giant scorpions: when you need a monster that's all about the tail."

This is even more true when it comes to trying to integrate sex into the actual game-play itself. The problem is that, since tabletop games lack even a visual element (aforementioned illustrations notwithstanding) to act as enticement, there’s nothing left but to verbalize the sexual lure that’s being dangled in front of a PC. Doing so, however, is active rather than passive, and invariably makes explicit the sexual innuendo that’s implicit in almost any other medium.

Suddenly, it’s painfully obvious to everyone around you that you’re at least somewhat aroused, and willing to pursue the object of that arousal even though it’s an unreachable fantasy…which makes you look, as stated above, pathetic. If there’s no hope of actual sex, why are you focusing on it so much? It’s that, more than anything else, that brings about such derision for any aspect of eroticism in RPGs, and for the people who enjoy eroticism in RPGs.

In summary, as someone else once said, “fantasy violence is cool because nobody actually gets hurt. Fantasy sex is stupid because nobody actually gets laid.”

2 Responses to “Today’s Message is Brought to You by the Letters “T” and “A””

  1. Michael Glenn Says:

    It was a good article until the last three paragraphs. At that point, the author completely overstated the case and fell away from the reasonable points being made. I might agree with the author that focusing too much on sex in a game is a bit pathetic and out of line– but on the other hand, ignoring sex and sexuality entirely is completely leaving out a large part of the human experience.

    And the closing remark to this article is revoltingly ignorant, and displays a callous lack of appreciation for life that is far too common in all of society….

    Fantasy violence is only “cool” in all its myriad forms to those of you out there who have NEVER had to deal with real violence, AND who have NEVER seriously thought about the effects of violence on people… those are the people who love violence in fantasy for violence’s sake. And the whole remark displays a common and dangerous American prejudice– blood, gore, killing, destroying, ruining people’s lives– that’s okay to include in your fantasies… but how dare you insert anything to do with love, sex & romance?

    One can turn it entirely around– if you never want to actually be a mass-murderer, a mugger, or a thug… if you never actually want to go to war and wade through blood, get wounded and hurt, slaughter lives and destroy nations, and probably die at someone else’s hands at the end of it all, WHY are you focusing on it so much in every game you play?

    (the author of this comment is an American military veteran who has served overseas in Iraq, among other other places)

    • alzrius Says:

      Michael, first of all, thanks for taking the time to comment!

      Secondly, I disagree with most of your assessments. For one thing, you seem to be agreeing with me when you say that ignoring sex and sexuality in a game is leaving out a large part of the human experience – that’s what this entire blog post is about!

      In regards to violence however, while you’re certainly entitled to your opinion, I not only disagree, but think that you’re displaying an intolerance that’s far more callous than any fantasy violence is.

      Simply put, people have the ability to distinguish between what’s real and what’s fantasy. Someone who thinks that fantasy violence has anything to do with real life violence is simply not taking that into account. Violent video games and violent movies and TV shows have nothing to do with either creating or encouraging violence, and even if they do then this influence is minimal and easily counteracted by one’s conscience (and/or, in the case of children, the counsel of one’s parents or guardians).

      Indeed, I’m of the opinion that fantasy violence is – in addition to being fun – cathartic. It’s an easy, consequence-free outlet for stress and perfectly normal urges that we know better than to act on. You’re right in noting that there’s a hypocrisy in saying that fantasy violence is okay while fantasy sex is bad, but that just means that we need to be more accepting of fantasy sex alongside fantasy violence, since neither are harmful in any real way, shape, or form.

      At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’re a soldier, a doctor, a bus driver, or a ditch-digger; what matters is that you’re a person with a strong core of morality and a stable mental state that let you know that real violence is wrong, and that fake violence has nothing to do with real violence whatsoever.

      That’s why games about killing things and taking their stuff are so much fun.

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