Sexuality is a broad spectrum. Some people like having sex with men, some people like having sex with women; some people, like this bloke who inexplicably shares my name, like having sex with cars (just to confirm, he and I are NOT the same Edward Smith – I’m much more of a hovercraft kind of guy).
But trying to figure out precisely who – or what – it is you like having sex with can be a long road fraught with peril. I can only imagine the emotional shitcoaster some people have to ride, going through high school and realizing they like boys instead of girls. Conversely, there are people who are married for 25 years only to discover that, you know what, they really like having people wee on them. If their spouse ain’t into it, and conventional wisdom says they only might be, that can leave people unfulfilled, alienated and frustrated. Sex can be hard to figure out.
So thank your lucky anal beads that we have computer games, in my experience at least, one of the safest, cleanest ways to dick around with your sexuality that there is. I’m 22 now and still not totally sure what I’m into. I like women, yes, but I also quite fancy men (quick note to any family members I haven’t mentioned that to – er, yeah, hi.) Looking deeper, though without going into specifics, I also have some, you know, preferences, preferences that might otherwise be hard to deal with, even with a trusting partner. But as much as these things are a part of me, I’d never even known they were there if it weren’t for games.
It started with GTA III, not an openly sexy game, but a fun little toy nonetheless. There was a cheat you could use to rotate your character’s appearance, making him look like any one of the other in-game NPCs. Firemen, cops, old ladies – you could be anyone. But what really caught my imagination were the women. Tap the cheat in enough times and eventually you’d land on a lady, suddenly sprouting boobs, long hair and a dapper black trench coat. A merely aesthetic difference, sure, but for a young kid like me, with a burgeoning interest in cross-dressing (er, yeah, hi, family) very important. Because imagine being that person otherwise. Growing up around other lads at school, there’s absolutely no way you could talk to someone about those feelings. It’d be like saying you preferred Digimon to Pokemon; you’d get your head kicked in.
But not in GTA III. I knew, somewhere, I wanted to experiment with dressing up in women’s clothes but had absolutely zero outlet. That game let me muck about with that emerging aspect of my sexuality. I could bung the cheat in, strap my heels on, so to speak, and masquerade as a lady to my heart’s content. It wasn’t real but it was; I wasn’t actually cross-dressing, although, I was a bit. Some people look at porn, others go to nightclubs – I played GTA III.
And that was it for a while. I grew past the cross-dressing thing (well, that’s the line I’m sticking to anyway, otherwise Christmas dinner will be fucking awkward) and started browsing around for other little quirks. I wound up in Second Life, which sounds like a sci-fi facility that wipes people’s minds for them, but is actually an enormous online social hive packed to the wire frame with perverts. Some were bad perverts – some were the kinds of perverts that would end up on the news – but others were just common-or-garden normal perverts, perverts who were into leather and corsets and chains and that. Those are the perverts I fell in with.
With enough money you can build anything in Second Life and a lot of people build bondage dungeons. I ended up in one of those, again, like with the cross-dressing, drawn toward it by a vine of my sexuality that I wasn’t quite sure of yet. I was only 14. The character I’d made was a pretty unassuming looking guy; there was only so much I could get past my dad’s credit card bill, so paying for the swish clothes that everyone else had wasn’t an option. Nevertheless, I caught the attention of a Second Life dominatrix and we got chatting. No real names, no “what’s your ASL?”; none of that Habbo Hotel shit. Just two people swapping ideas on exactly what kind of sex got them off.
And it was like GTA III. Though at the time I could to my mum and ask, “I like this girl at school, what should I do?” I could hardly say, “mum, which do you think is better, a posture collar or a dog lead?” So, having that vibrant fetish world there in Second Life gave me an outlet again. I guess it wasn’t a game in the Grand Theft Auto sense, but it was still a virtual place where I could arse around with my sexual impulses without being judged. It was safe; it was contained. While the rest of the boys were busy deciding between Jordan’s or Jodie Marsh’s tits, I was way too shy and messed up. I was never into the lad’s mags; without computer games I would have felt very alone.
And I never would have found some things out. Although I’m hastened to describe exactly what from GTA and Second Life stuck, for fear of embarrassment in front of my friends, I’m comfortable admitting that some of the fucked up weirdness I did in those games became a big part of me. I’m impressed and relieved that games can bring that out in people. They’re these wonderful, open, non-judgemental things. You want to give your male character a skirt and heels in Saints Row 3? Go ahead. Fancy creating some lesbian Sims? Please, do. We’re used to games letting us indulge our teenage power fantasies, like playing soldier and racing cars, but if you tinker with them some, you can also play out more nuanced daydreams and having that safe outlet can help you find yourself.
Which is why something like Mass Effect is really healthy. Sure, it’s not quite the fully formed representation of gay relationships that games are dying for, but even in a small way, it gives homosexual and bisexual players a way to express themselves. Having that strong, intelligent, central Shepard character there to anchor the whole game is a perfect way of telling young people that you can be not-straight and still be normal. Shepard’s sexuality doesn’t change him, or her – he can still screw guys or she can still screw women, but when that’s finished, he/she goes back to being the normal, admirable hero character you’re used to in games. Shepard’s sexuality is, as far as Mass Effect is concerned, unremarkable, just like it ought to be in real life.
And imagine how reassuring that is for young people struggling with their orientation. On the playground, on the ‘net – even from their family, sometimes – they hear that being gay or bi changes you somehow, that it makes you some kind of “other.” But Mass Effect is all “fuck that.” Mass Effect lets people sleep with who they like and then carry on being the same, normal game hero as in Call of Duty or Skyrim or whatever. It’s wonderful.
So … yeah. As I said early, computer games let you live out your fantasies. In most cases, that means blowing up goons with an M79; in others, it means dressing up as a woman, getting yourself handcuffed and sleeping with another man. Games can help you find your sexuality. Experiment.