Let's Talk About Sex, Baby  

Posted by Dristanel in

I realize I am posting this in effort to have a serious discussion, and yet the first thing you see in relation to this article is a picture of a shirtless male tauren. Two things: 1.) What am I really supposed to screenshot for this topic? Srsly. 2.) Who doesn't want to look at a stunning specimen of manbeef, really? Naeobi doesn't know what she's missing.

Alright. I planned to respond to Windsoar's proposed topic today, but that will have to wait a bit. I feel it's time to finally make what may end up being a controversial post. It may also go unread forever and ever, thus proving the inverse theory correct. I'm not going to say I openly shy away from controversial topics, but it's not why I blog. If I have something to say, I'll say it, but constructively. Sorry for anyone expecting a flamewar, but this is going to be no different.

I'd like to take some time to comment on the latest WoW.com post, specifically the All the World's a Stage article entitled "Intimate relationships between characters". First of all, huge props to Michael Gray for tackling this subject in a mature and respectful way. I expect he will get trolled well and thoroughly for venturing into one of those 'Oh, we don't talk about that...' things, but since he's been brave about it, so will I.

But I do have some thoughts, some which conflict with Mr. Gray's, though most in agreement.

However, it inevitablly seems that most roleplay characters pair up. It's part of many storylines. The growth of romance is a fun story, and often allows roleplayers to put many of their characters' most deeply held secrets on display. Of course, as with many healthy relationships, the romance can eventually grow into sex.

You may recall from a previous post, I agree with the fact that roleplaying a romantic entanglement often leads to new levels of character growth and storyline exploration. It also gives you a default partner for anything you're cooking up. I don't necessarily agree that most roleplay characters pair up - sometimes it just makes no sense, or the players really aren't interested in that aspect of character growth, and that's perfectly acceptable. In my experience, some of the best stories involve romance. Some of the best stories also have nothing to do with the subject. It depends on the writer and the story they wish to tell.

Roleplaying sexual relationships has lead to a lot of less-than-savory stereotypes about roleplayers. The Goldshire "cyber inn" jokes and Cybermoon tropes seem like the staple of every roleplay realm's official forums. And there's certainly been examples of erotic roleplay being taken beyond normal bounds.
No kidding. I take for granted the fact that we know Goldshire will be filled with cybering like I take for granted the fact that the more I whine about catching terrorfish, the more likely I am to catch one on the next cast. Windsoar pointed out just that: It's well-spread in the Roleplaying community and on roleplaying servers, but those new to the art may have no idea what they're walking into. Without touching on the source of the conflict for this past week, I agree that it can be terribly disorienting. And does it give the rest of us a bad name? You bet your bacon it does. But to me, there's a difference between 'erotic roleplay' and cybering.

So what to do if you're roleplaying a romantic relationship? Well if it's a normal, healthy, adult relationship, there's going to be sex involved at some point. This isn't fluffy bunny land, folks. We don't just REALLY REALLY love each other and then the stork brings us babies. And among humans (and humanoids...?), sex is used as a source of pleasure, comfort, validation, and any number of other things.

Michael Gray's first suggestion is probably the most widely-accepted route: Just agree that it happened.

The two of you can simply decide that the night happened, and leave it that. Pick up your roleplay immediately after the night has taken place, and start roleplaying through the emotions and interactions each character would have after the fact.

This is a tactful, respectful way of doing things and is probably the most appropriate method, especially if you barely know the person roleplaying alongside you. He's right: No matter how you slice it, sex is largely carried out in rather predictable ways. Insert tab A into slot B, continue. But what happens after is generally very tell-tale of a character and the relationship they are in. Does he wait until she falls asleep before getting dressed and leaving without a word or a note? Does she pretend to be asleep, praying he'll stay this once, then fall to pieces once the door closes? Intimacy is a big deal. Or... it's not. Depending on how your character reacts and how they feel about the other person, the bit of time after sex is extremely revealing.

Mr. Gray's next suggestion, if you need some details, is to:
Keep the descriptions very high level.

Keep in mind what you're trying to get out of the roleplay. If you're after a thrill, then sure, the detailed, visceral descriptions are probably what you're after. But if you're trying to explore deeper, more intricate emotions, then stick to the pivotal actions that will set up that roleplay.

I think it depends on how you define 'detailed, visceral descriptions'. If it's the caliber and quality of what you'd find in most fan fiction, then sure. Do us all a favor and keep your measurements and slang to yourself. There's porn, and then there's erotica. Most erotica can pass with a strong R rating. I'm not talking about sixty different ways to describe a body part, here. I'm referring to Mr. Gray's catch-all high level descriptions. We're all adults. We know how sex works; what generally occurs. But how someone approaches the act can be as telling as what happens after. The author is bold to touch on the subject of impotency - one can also conjure scenarios in which a first-timer has trouble keeping their enthusiasm in check, leaving a partner unsatisfied. Or that it's obvious she's thinking of another man the entire time. These are emotions, and of a 'higher level' than the physical act itself. Motivations for every action, from being a little too rough, to worshipful and reverent.

The next suggestion I completely agree with:
Stay in communication with the player.

This should be a given, really. No matter how shittily you might treat a one-night-stand in real life, your roleplay partner deserves to know what's what. Ideally, this conversation should occur both before and after. I've noted that I have correspondence I tend to send entitled 'Lines and where to cross them'. I'm very open and easy-going about this, but yes, there are some things I just won't tackle. I generally tend to defer to my partner and adjust to their comfort level, as it's typically lower than my own. But I will say this: I usually have a decent idea before this discussion ever occurs. I don't tend to delve too far into in-character entanglements with folks I don't know quite well. For me, there's just way too much room for confusion and misunderstanding otherwise.

But, then, you need to not make any assumptions about what happens in the future. (Boy, how many dates have gone poorly because of people making this error in real life?) Just because you've engaged in intimate roleplay once doesn't mean that it's going to happen again. Heck, if you're not after the visceral details, you may just decide that there's no point in further roleplaying the intimacy. Just kind of agree that the characters are active, inactive, or intermittent; then, move on with your roleplay.

Couple things with this. First, let's be realistic. People have sex for different reasons. An intimate relationship may start off as just a way to sate mutual loneliness, but one or both parties may develop some attachment down the line. This is character growth and evolution and a large part of why I am so vocal about this. These things absolutely can change a character, for better or worse, and if you're comfortable with it, they're worth the effort.

For a time I was working as writing lead on a NWN2 mod, and I made it my personal mission to handle the romantic subplots because the majority seen in commercial games are complete and utter crap. One thing we sat down and hashed out was the line between realism and player enjoyment. Does unrequited love happen? Absolutely. Does someone really want to play through that in a video game? Well, I would, but I'm a masochist. I'm going to assume the general population has no interest in their game life sucking that hard, though it is certainly an interesting option for NPC relationships.

The point is, character intimacy should revolve around where you want the relationship and the story to go. If you're looking to harden your character and give him a swift kick in the teeth, sure, have him fall for someone who's just in it for the physical gratification. But always, always discuss it. Don't assume your partner just wants it to be all roses and puppydogs, either. Quite frankly, the white picket fence and 2.5 kids is terribly boring, and I would personally never want a story to end up so perfectly, but some folks do, and that's okay! It's their character, they can play it the way they want. Similarly, I can joke with someone about being a complete and total bitch to my characters and wanting to disrupt their happiness at healthy intervals to keep things interesting and facilitate character growth.

There's a reason most books and movies end at a pivotal relationship scene. First kiss. Intimacy. Marriage. Kids. Very few stories deal with the fact that relationships are fucking hard work. Marriages can get stale. Domestic disputes over money and family can tear a rift in a happy couple. People in committed relationships can turn to others for comfort, rather than working out the pre-existing issues. And sometimes, as anti-climactic as it is, people just fall out of love. You can use these things to grow a character. He knows she's cheating, so what does he do when she tries to placate him with sex? She's been up all day and night with the kids, but he's feeling neglected. Does it lead to a bigger fight, or are they able to set aside some alone time?

Whatever happens, you need to be in agreement. Even if that agreement is 'Let's just see where it goes'. As for playing out every sex scene, I agree that it's wholly unnecessary. But at certain points, it should probably be revisited. Maybe she was nearly killed in the Citadel, and what starts as an argument leads to passion which leads to the exposure of fears about losing one another. Perhaps there's finally more to it than the physical stuff, and the characters are going to have to face the actual emotions that come along with a relationship. Even if you're using the 'Okay, so here's what happened...' method, it helps to have something off of which to work.

The author's last point is another common sense thing to me. So common sense, I'm just going to paraphrase it: Don't fucking brag about who your character is banging. I've joked about it, sure, and I have some characters that won't hesitate to be boorish and loud about the subject, but if I thought for a minute it would bother the person I was roleplaying with, I'd forego the jokes and behave myself. In-character relationships can often get out, especially if you're in a guildhall or someplace around people who are bored and/or like to gossip. It happens in real life, too. But nobody needs to know how it was handled on the bolts and screws level. That's between you and your partner, and no one else.

So to conclude this rambly wall of text, I want to thank Michael Gray for taking on this subject with decency and discretion. Hats off to you; hopefully with more open topics like this, we can do something about the reputation perpetuated amongst and about roleplayers as a whole.

This entry was posted on Monday, March 22, 2010 at Monday, March 22, 2010 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Dristanel -

Great post. It's a solid take, for sure, on how to handle adult characters having adult relationships - and it addresses some of the things I didn't get into in my post on the subject. I enjoyed reading it.

Let this be your official welcome into the "Communication harping RP blogger" team XD (It's something I see a lot on RP blogs, so it gave me a little laugh to see it here too!)

March 22, 2010 at 9:58 AM

@Anna Do I get a badge? <.<

It's funny to me, because it really should be common sense. Roleplay doesn't happen in a void - you don't RP at someone, you RP with them. But I've seen so much drama due to misunderstandings that it just drives me up a wall when people don't discuss this stuff.

March 22, 2010 at 10:02 AM

Excellent post! You've really handled the subject well. Whilst intimate relationships aren't something I'd really consider for my own characters (I assume at least, I haven't as of yet RPed, though I know when I'm writing the story and characters just seem to develop themselves), it's definitely something that's worth knowing about, properly. /cheer!

March 22, 2010 at 10:12 AM

This is a great take on the subject. One of the difficulties of intimate RP is that you don't know the emotional or intellectual stability and maturity of the player behind the other character.

Where the confident, mature roleplayer will take things in their stride, a more socially inept person is going to struggle. Even if 'you' handle things according to the excellent points in this post, there is still a huge likelihood of having to deal with an rp partner who is not able to deal with things the same way.

March 22, 2010 at 10:54 AM

@Jaedia Thank you! I never thought I would either, it just sorta... happened. But it's perfectly fine to never touch the subject. Plenty of good stories to be had regardless.

@mentalshaman Definitely agree with you there. And some folks will inevitably consent without knowing what they are getting into. Part of why I don't tend to tread on that ground with folks I do not know well aside from the fact.

March 22, 2010 at 10:57 AM

An excellent post about a very sensitive area. I've added a link to it in my introduction to RP - hope you don't mind.

March 25, 2010 at 7:26 PM

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