When talking about "hands on" gaming, there are multiple avenues of respectable journalism to pursue, as my colleagues in this issue will ably demonstrate. There is, however, really only one road down which my own mind was willing to travel, and not because both road and mind are seedy, dimly-lit corridors bypassing all that is right and good with the world (which is nevertheless true).
Rather, it's because the mechanisms and theories of force feedback and tactile-responsive videogame play - the vibrating motors, ergonomic designs and tactile response actuators - originated, or were perfected, for use in sex play. After over a century of advances in the science of masturbatory technology, modern vibrating massagers are now quite small and require very little power and practically zero maintenance to operate, making them perfect for insertion into a phallus ... or a game controller. Or perhaps, as some enterprising minds have discovered, a game-controlled phallus.
First called "teledildonics" in the 1980s by Ted Nelson (the same man who coined the term Hypertext), the field of electronically-enhanced cybersex has more or less exploded in recent years. Encouraged by websites like Slashdong, outspoken columnists like Regina Lynn, online communities like Second Life and a number of singles-oriented web-based dating services (many of which offer "have sex toy" as a profile checkbox), more and more people are trying (or perhaps admitting to trying) teledildos. To cover every available device would require more space than we have here. So I've narrowed it down to the most stimulating of the bunch, and invited a few of my colleagues to help me get a grip on the subject.
We'll start with the first teledildo, because, as with martinis, movie trilogies and love, it's the one we usually remember.
All in the Suit That you Wear
Imagine a device combining three of the world's favorite things: the internet, pornography and self-pleasuring. Imagine that it's wearable and connected to your computer. Imagine that you can use it with an online partner and that your partner can control the device from afar. Imagine watching a pornographic video clip (try hard, some of you), and feeling the general effect of the acts depicted onscreen in the appropriate erogenous zones of your own body. Now imagine, doing all of the above - with the same device - all while having both hands free for ... whatever. Sounds (if you'll pardon the pun) quite stimulating, doesn't it?
David James thought so. In the late '90s, Mr. James, the founder of America's most successful pornographic entertainment company, Vivid Entertainment, invested at least $180,000 in R&D for what his company called The Cyber Sex Suit. The suit was a wetsuit-like garment, enhanced with 30 or so tiny sensors, wired to a device that could be plugged into a DVD player or an internet-enabled computer and could be manipulated remotely to deliver tiny electric shocks to the more tingly bits of the wearer's body; in other words, it was an internet-enabled sex simulator.
Kyle Machulis, founder of the website Slashdong and creator of the SeXBox teledildonic videogame peripheral, tells the story like this: "Rich guy decided he wanted a Lawnmower Man flavored sex rig." According to Kyle, it "sounded kinda spiffy."
Indeed. So where is it? According to Mr. James, the suit combined with phone sex services was to be "very big money in the future." In reality, the device never made it to market, and outside of a few test subjects, and perhaps Mr. James himself, no one has seen it since.
Ultimately, in spite of the backing of the most powerful pornographer on the planet, The Cyber Sex Suit failed to pass the most basic safety regulations. The Federal Trade Commission feared that the electrical current running through the suit could lead to trouble for people with pacemakers, or people who got sweaty or secreted other fluids while using it to have sex. In other words, just about everyone was at risk from the suit.