how not to make a game about female masturbation

happyplaytime is / will be a gamification of “female masturbation,” in the tradition of jane mcgonigal’s idea that no one will want to go for a jog unless they get points for it. (the effect that this actually has, of course, is to disenfranchise us of our own ability to decide the value of the activities we enjoy in our own lives.) the intention of the game is to remove the shame associated with being a girl / woman and masturbating by “rebrand[ing] the entire concept of female masturbation through education and light-hearted games” and by teaching “female anatomy.” the game has a happy anime-vulva mascot, and players are taught masturbation techniques by touching her in various ways.

there’s a lot of shame in our culture associated with being a woman who masturbates, yeah. a lot of women & girls don’t feel as comfortable with their bodies as i’d want them to. but i don’t think gamifying masturbation is the solution. our society already gamifies sex, and it already creates ridiculous expectations for us and our bodies. a scary part of this is the idea that men’s sexuality is normative, and if women aren’t masturbating as much as men, something’s wrong with them.

look through the infographics on the game’s page. look at how masturbation is being framed. “46.6% of women masturbate less than once a month every year. gals, you can do better!” the way to overcome shame is definitely not to shame women for what they don’t do with their bodies. there’s this unfortunate idea of “sex positivity” i encounter all the time that essentially just shames people for not having enough sex and pressures them into doing it more. making masturbation into a universal competition is going to achieve only that: people are going to get pressured into using their bodies in the ways that are arbitrarily defined as normative.

and don’t get me started on the cissexism of reducing “female masturbation” to learning how to stimulate a vulva. let me put this in caps so it’ll be clear: NOT ALL WOMEN HAVE VULVAS / VAGINAS. (as a corollary, not all people with vaginas are women.) i’m a trans woman, i have a cock and i need a hitachi vibrator to get off most of the time. it’s not something i can do (or desire to do) very often.  i spent a long time feeling guilty about the fact that i can’t / don’t really want to get off during sex with my partners most of the time. “sex positivity” shouldn’t mean making people feel guilty for not having sex. who defines what “sex” means anyway?

people’s bodies are all different and have different needs. any attempt to define what the one way to masturbate is is inherently reductivist. sex is NOT a “one size fits all” thing, as my friend lillian eloquently put it. in a sex-phobic patriarchal society, we’re taught to feel a lot of shame and confusion about our bodies. the solution is not to put the blame for that on women.

15 thoughts on “how not to make a game about female masturbation”

  1. So aren’t you just contributing to the idea that women should be subject to the overwhelming social pressure to avoid self-pleasure or pleasure in general?

    Cuz that’s the problem here, not that women are agents in whether or not they want pleasure and this approach is removing that agency, but that society is busily telling them they they don’t want it and this game is providing a transgressive perspective.

  2. lol, no, the problem is not overwhelmingly opposite and Jezebel is the last place you should look for a feminist viewpoint.

    Society, in fact, gives contradictory ideas about women’s sexuality all the time (that we are at once not to find sex enjoyable and yet we’re not supposed to deny it of men unless of course it would come at the expense of our virtue in which case it is our fault if they take it from us unless we are pure and virginal in all ways, etc etc) and we’re supposed to adhere to all of them at all times. So while a greater openness about and understanding of female sexual pleasure and how to achieve it for ourselves (especially without the need for/interference of a man) would be a good thing, the tone of this project treats it as a problem that women themselves aren’t trying hard enough to solve

    The example Anna points out from the infographic, “we can do better, girls”, suggests that it’s the fault of women themselves that they are psychologically and physically uneducated about their own bodies and how to wring an orgasm out of them. That they SHOULD be masturbating furiously and successfully, despite everything else telling them they shouldn’t even think about what’s down there until the right man asks for it. Which I’m sure is not the intent so much as it just it being typical game motivational language, but it’s not the best way to present female sexual enjoyment to people who are already shamed in every other direction they can be about the subject as it is.

    So while most cultural influence would tell women to be ashamed of wanting sexual pleasure, this game (and the aspect of sex positivity it stems from) represent the other extreme, that shames women for not being sexually knowledgeable and adventurous ENOUGH. These problems are quite often a spectrum, not an either/or thing. What Anna is suggesting is that you can (and should) present female sexual education in a way that does not judge for knowing too much or not enough, because the basis for that knowledge depends on how much a person has seen through and overcome society’s bullshit, and that is highly variable.

    And too, I would be very /: [ of it being simplified to “Game Over: You failed to orgasm” since the process to getting off is not the same for everyone and it’s almost always a lot more complicated than poke here, here, and here and ta-da!

  3. Wow. I came in to this article expecting to find ways in which I’m actively making people feel worse and how I can stop that. Quite contrarilly I’ve realized I’ve been making myself feel worse. I’ve been ashamed for quite some time because I can’t come as often as I’m “supposed to”. I just have weirdest sense of relief going through my body right now. Thanks for always being the one who has the strength to talk about the things we’re afraid of addressing!

  4. Society has some very bizarre ideas about women’s sexuality- I’ve noticed. There’s always the regressive idea that women a) dont ever (or worse) shouldn’t enjoy sex, which floods popular media.
    This is easy to see- just switch on a TV to a sitcom, and you’ll see numerous jokes about ‘she has a headache’ or women using sex as a bargaining chip since ‘they don’t really want it’ and it’s for the benifit of the man.

    The alternative viewpoint is easily gleaned from the cover of any cosmo mag- WHY ARENT YOU HAVING SEX? HERE’S SOME TIPS ON SEX HOW TO HAVE THE BEST SEX EVER SEX SO GOOD IT’LL MAKE YOUR MAN’S NIPPLES FALL OFF.
    These are also problematic, as they’re framed in such a way that the sex is still about pleasing a man, except with the added pressure that you enjoy it by doing it this specific way or something is terribly wrong with you.

    I feel the best way to go is to try and strip away the stigma and shame surrounding female sexuality (doing it too much, not enough, etc) and give women the tools to see beyond that and explore that sexuality themselves, no pressure.

    I have the feeling that’s where this project was aimed but uses problematic language and concepts (as pointed out, there’s no one-size fits all solution).

  5. That… wow, yeah. That’s a demented way to present the game. But then, it’s a pretty demented idea.

    I can kinda understand why someone might think “Hey, let’s talk more openly about masturbation” might be a good idea.

    But… “Hey, let’s make a game to encourage people with vaginas to masturbate” is so far over the sanity horizon that it makes you wonder whether the people who came up with it really are creepy perverts of the media-portrayed stereotype kind.

    I’m almost scared to ask but; well – you’re the indie game maker. Assume that is your goal (to increase, or at least to increase openness about, masturbation) – how COULD you go about it, confined to the medium of games? Is there ANY non-creepy way to do it?
    Simon-says vibrators maybe? (Nope, that’s even WORSE, isn’t it?)

  6. They’ve got a disclaimer at the bottom of their mission statement:

    Disclaimer: The research used in this game is based on cisgender females and does not include transgender females. For resources about transgender female masturbation, a good place to start looking is here: Fucking Trans Women Zine.

    On the one hand, it’s awesome to see that zine get some recognition, but on the other hand I really wish that that the sum total of sex ed for transwomen wasn’t a zine. There’s a tremendous need for it. I had no idea that I could possibly get someone pregnant. I’ve heard warnings about banking sperm before I become infertile, but nobody ever mentioned the possibility that I wouldn’t become infertile.

    I really wish this stuff was taught in sex ed. They teach cis people about us, but they don’t teach us about our own bodies. It would also be really cool if cis people didn’t have reason to be asking ME about this stuff, especially when I’m intoxicated at a party.

  7. I figured as much.

    Also, thank you for talking about the shame associated with not getting off during sex. I have that, and it’s nice to know I’m not alone.

  8. Really interesting topic. I am a trans woman too and I always found quite difficult to make my partner understand that I can have a good time even if I don’t get off. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I prefer bdsm than vanilla sex.

    Btw, thanks for your blog and games.

  9. > NOT ALL WOMEN HAVE VULVAS / VAGINAS

    Many have lost them somewhere around the house or under a car seat. The shame they feel can never be adequately measured or respected in this society.

  10. “the effect that this actually has, of course, is to disenfranchise us of our own ability to decide the value of the activities we enjoy in our own lives”

    I don’t agree with this. The problem, as I see it, is that humans are pretty bad at doing the things they actually want to do. I want to exercise more and eat less and read more and socialize more and watch less TV and walk more and use the car less. But when I’m actually making these decisions, I’m often not making the one I want to, because I’m lazy or tired or hungry, or something else overrides what I intended to do.

    Gamification can help people actually make the choices they want to make. It’s the opposite of disenfranchisement, if people actually control how gamification affects them.

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