‘One Night Stand’ Highlights the Awkwardness of Sex, Rather Than the Act Itself
Lucy Blundell’s depiction of a post-hookup hangover expertly captures the anxiety of real-world "what just happened" morning afters.
Video games are notoriously terrible at sex. Depictions are usually either awkward polygonal dry humping, or titillating glimpses of physics-defying melons. There's rarely any subtlety to it, and though we've seen games from the likes of BioWare, Christine Love and Anna Anthropy take a good crack at all the stuff that happens around the no-pants dance, there's still a severe lack of games that treat sex as something more than just a cutscene or mini-game, and even fewer that spend time investigating the consequences of the act itself.
Enter Frankfurt-based solo dev Lucy Blundell's One Night Stand, just recently added to Steam—a game in which you never actually have sex, but the strong implication is that you just did. You wake up, naked, in a stranger's bed. You look around: there's an empty condom wrapper, your clothes, your phone (which nearly dead) and various detritus from your mystery hookup's life.
What follows is a series of awkward interactions, mostly from the bed, where you try to piece together the hours you can't remember. The stranger's name turns out to be Robin; you got together last night; and you bailed on a friend in the process. Snippets and shards of memories come together to form a fractured whole, but the feeling of uneasiness never quite goes away. It's a short game, but one with several different endings, depending on how you handle yourself.
But here's what One Night Stand, Blundell's first game under her Kinmoku handle, does differently from other games featuring either adults-only playtime or multiple-choice pathways (or both): it neither treats sex with absolute reverence, nor does it treat it like something you have to sneak a peek at under the covers because it's so filthy. In One Night Stand, it's just a thing that happens, and neither party seems horrified by that—although Robin does admit that this isn't the sort of thing she normally does.
There is that layer of uneasiness throughout the game, which is another interesting thing about One Night Stand. Because you can't remember what happened, the plot becomes focused on this one, seemingly small thing: consent. Were you drugged? Did you go willingly? Most games that portray sex focus on the act, on the sexiness, on the romance; but One Night Stand wants to open up a discussion about the very important, but not always sexy, issue of consenting, and that's incredible.
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Having this portrayal of sex that's a bit mucky, and a little bit weird, is the kind of thing we need to encourage different views and experiences. There are some fascinating games that explore different kinds of sex, like Christine Love's Ladykiller in a Bind, which is a pulp fiction-like visual erotic novel about bondage and cross-dressing; or Nina Freeman's Cibele, which is about a long-distance online relationship gone wrong. And having more of those kinds of portrayals can only aid in moving us towards a world that is better understanding and accepting of sex.
Not everyone wants the clean, sweat-free bounce of The Witcher 3's Geralt in his gross pants as he boinks his way through the brothels of Novigrad. And though BioWare's latest offerings, like Dragon Age: Inquisition, allow for slightly more of a sexuality spectrum, they're still quite rigid in terms of gender.
I'm not saying we should do away with these games, quite the opposite. I'd like to see more variety, more games that make us feel uncomfortable about sex, more games that make us ask questions of ourselves. Humanity is a complex thing, and we want to see ourselves reflected in worlds both real and virtual.