No Sex, Please, We’re Gamers: The Future of VR Porn

“Why do so many people pretend that, left alone in a room with a VR headset, they’d set the headset aside and play Solitaire?”

Read the original article on Kotaku

About halfway through the 1993 sci-fi opus that is Demolition Man, Sandra Bullock brings Sylvester Stallone back to her futuristic apartment for sex. Bullock disappears into the back room, while Stallone sits patiently on the couch. Bullock reappears presently with two headsets. Stallone, looking confused as only Stallone can, meekly allows one of the silver space helmets to fitted onto his head, before bravely enduring maybe 30 epileptic seconds of the nauseating softcore cyber-petting that constitutes sex in the Dystopian society of 2032. Then he tears the headset off with a grunt and pouts that she won’t do “the wild mamba” or the “hunkachunka” with him. I really recommend stopping to watch that scene.

Even at the tender age of ten years old, I felt deeply that the scientists of Stallone’s sexless nightmare future might be onto something. And in 2014, here we have it – 18 years ahead of schedule. There are sites, forums and subreddits dedicated to circulating lusty tech demos and proofs of concept that you could be downloading right now. Whole communities dedicated to helping amateur developers hone their virtual hunkachunking skills. The future is now.

Speaking as a proud ambassador for a society that consumes a metric megatonnage of porn, this is clearly an excellent thing for everyone. So why then, if you squeeze your eyes between the lines of so many articles, tweets and forum posts reporting on the burgeoning world of Oculus porn, do you find so much sniffy condescension and derision? Why are so many commenters pretending that, left alone for an hour in a room with a VR headset, a computer and internet connection, they’d set the headset aside and play Solitaire (and not even in a sexy, euphemistic way)? VR porn is here, but when you cut through the snark, what does it look like and where is it going?

Something weirdly wonderful about browsing the forums for VR porn enthusiasts is how varied the offerings are. The technology is too niche at the moment for subreddits like /r/OculusNSFW (NSFW, as it says on the tin) or the proudly straightforward VRTitties.com (ditto) to be heaving with users. Rather, they’re more like a microcosm of human sexuality in virtual reality.

So, while there’s plenty out there for your straight male demographic (video game heroines caught in the buff, quasi-legal ports of big budget Japanese sex games), other sexualities and kinks get their own fledgling representation. No-one is going to complain that ‘You shouldn’t have dropped the soap – A very gay demo’ didn’t deliver on its title. Or if regular person-on-person action is too fuddy-duddy for your tastes, imagine your excitement at finding a demo posted under the heading ‘I made a demo where a horse dick fucks your face’.

True, many of these demos aren’t what you’d call polished. But they’re surely a predictor that VR porn, when it arrives properly, is going to be as wild and varied as, well, porn. It’s easy to poke fun at a booby-squeezing simulator that comes with its own squeezable booby peripheral (NSFW), but the wider, more optimistic interpretation of these projects is that VR will offer something for everyone.

But hidden in the rough, there’s already the odd diamond. A demo I quite liked is called Just One Dance (NSFW download). It’s not a game as such – there’s no objective, and you can’t do much more than look around at your situation. As the ‘player’, you lie on your back while Bioshock Infinite’s Elizabeth bounces up and down on top of you to a backing loop from Caro Emerald’s ‘Just One Dance’ (SFW, and a lovely song, too).

It stands out from the other free demos I try (in a way somehow different to the horse dick simulator) because, beneath its outward naughtiness, I liked the care that had gone into its production. When you look about, the room the carpet of which you’re dirtying looks like Bioshock. There’s dynamic lighting. And Ms. Emerald’s sultry jazzing not only fits the scene, but echoes like it would in Rapture’s underwater corridors. And let’s not beat around the bush (wahey!): all the bits that bounce and wobble look good, too. It’s not a game, per se, but you can look at it and appreciate it in the same way. More than any demos I downloaded in the course of my fastidious research, I can look at Just One Dance and see what VR porn’s commercial future might look like.

Just One Dance isn’t its creator’s first project. ‘Z’, as I’ll be calling them for the sake of anonymity, is the founder of the website Zone-Archive (NSFW), a paysite that earns its crust offering animated 2D Flash videos of cartoon characters getting libidinous with each other.

“I’ve never really been interested in 3D at all, to be honest,” says Z. “I’ve been all about 2D animation from the get go. That said, I think that virtual reality that actually works is a huge deal. It’s something we have been promised since the early 90s and we’re finally approaching something close to that initial vision. And of course, with that comes the prospect of virtual sex and pornography, a concept that has apparently been appealing even back when VR looked like Virtua Fighter 1. One of the earliest movies with a VR theme, Lawnmower Man, had a VR sex scene; it was obvious [even then that] people were extremely interested in this concept.

“However, 2D animation will not work in VR unless you’re happy with your porn looking like a scene from Paparappa the Rapper. [I knew that] if I wanted to get involved with VR porn, I would have to do something in 3D. So, I ordered [an Oculus] dev kit, got a copy of Unity and spent about two weeks experimenting with the program to see what I could achieve.”

Just One Dance is an adaptation of an earlier, 2D Flash animation also starring Elizabeth. The original uses carefully edited snippets of her dialogue from the game to make her say dirty things while you play around on the floor of a Fink Industries warehouse. Everything about it is carefully crafted love letter to Infinite (or whatever the smutty equivalent of a love letter is. A dirty picture message?). Z’s fans like it, and they like the 3D version, too. But feedback for the latter also gives an idea of the direction in which people would like VR porn to go, as well as the unique technical and immersion challenges presented by combining sex with virtual reality.

“I’ve gotten several dozen e-mails, largely praising the demo and asking for more VR content in the future,” Z says. “People have mostly asked for the same things they always have with my 2D work: more scenes and different positions. But unique to VR, they have asked for the character to engage with you more, for their eyes to follow you closely and react more naturally. They have also requested that the player be in the seated position, so that the experience feels more immersive. There were [also] several requests to have the option to swap the camera to the female’s perspective.

“Aside from a lot of technical issues, I felt that the most awkward thing about the transition was the camera becoming and being controlled by your own head,” Z says. “The fact that the player model is lying down feels quite disjointed if you’re sitting in a chair… I [also] tried to make Elizabeth’s eyes periodically shift focus as initially they were just fixed on you the whole time, which was actually very creepy. The last thing you want when trying to watch porn is to be freaked out.”

As mainstream game developers have found in the arms race for realistic graphics, there’s more to a believable experience than photorealistic characters. While Just One Dance appropriates Bioshock Infinite’s slightly cartoon-y style, Lucid Dreams, a tech demo by developer VEIVIEV (NSFW), shoots for the most realistic representations of naked people possible. Again, the demo isn’t something you’d identify yet as a game; rather, it lets you fly around a showroom of nude models in a free-camera mode. Like Peter Dinklage’s hovering Ghost robot in Destiny, only more voyeuristic.

“Even film studios like Industrial Light and Magic, Weta [Workshop] or Digital Domain struggle to create [believable] digital people, and they have access to pools of talented people, very large budgets and off-line rendering [for film, as opposed to real-time rendering used in games],” says ones of its creators, who we’ll call V, when I ask him about the challenges of making VR porn believable.

“Rendering soft-body dynamics, tissue, fat, colour changes in skin, skin folding, physics, hair, cloth, speech, emotion and many other factors contribute to our being comfortable enough experience people without feeling uncomfortable – let alone aroused. It’s a clichéd term in the computer graphics industry, but the ‘uncanny valley’ is a good representation of this issue.”

Technical constraints are only one of three major hurdles that VR porn will have to jump as it becomes mainstream. The second is the lack of publisher clout. While developers like Bioware make laudable efforts to represent sex, sexuality and gender in their triple-A titles, the actual business of in-and-outing another character is almost totally absent in Western games. And when the opportunity is presented to momentarily leave off from saving the universe, building a criminal empire or exacting vengeance on the Greek pantheon, the efforts, respectively, make either for lots of stern-faced debating on conservative television programmes (Mass Effect’s PG-13 blue bum scene, GTAVs “performing seals”) or weirdly comic interludes (God of War III’s button-matching Aphrodite sex scene – Guitar Hero but with somehow less sex appeal).

“Pornography in general seems to be regarded as much more of a taboo in the West, so actual porn game development seems far less likely to get off the ground,” says Z. “Sexual content is never overly explicit in mainstream games and that doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon. Right now, having a big games company behind you will only restrict the kinds of adult material you are able to make, so indie porn games and tech demos are probably the best solution.”

Shame, or more accurately the fear of being shamed, is the third hurdle. As anyone with even a passing interest in games and the internet will have seen in the past few months, there exists a sizeable, extremely vocal subsection of the gaming community with some less-than-progressive views on women, games, sex and intermingling thereof. The real possibility of online witch hunting aside, developing porn for a living also doesn’t yet enjoy the kind of cheeky nudge-wink acceptance that writing sexy fiction does in the wake of 50 Shades of Grey. As Z notes, “People don’t want to put talent and effort into something that they feel ashamed of or that will never be regarded as anything more than ‘just porn’.”

“I want the company and the brand to be the focus, not me or the team,” V concurs. “I don’t want to become the centre of attention… I’m almost certain that there will be a backlash once adult VR goes mainstream… with the focus on [our studio] producing filth and trying to warp people’s minds, exploiting women, etc…. We’ve had a great deal of positive feedback from fans and gamers, male and female, but it’s yet to hit the mainstream, which I think will be very different.

“Prepare for ‘VRGate’,” he concludes, grimly.

All of which could be heard as a death knell for VR pornography before it’s even really started. In all likelihood, however, it means that the VR porn games that Western consumers will be playing will get their starts outside of the Western games industry. One obvious source that’s already dipping its toes, feet and shins into VR are the developers of Japan’s sex and relationship simulators. Illusion Soft, perhaps best known to Western audiences for the controversy over a particular Japan-only game that somehow found its way onto Amazon’s Marketplace back in 2009 (SFW), has just released PlayGirls (NSFW), which uses full body scans of Japanese porn stars to create a kind of dress-up-game-meets-personal-porn studio, all built to make use of the Rift. Other Japanese sex sims are retrofitting Oculus support into their products, too, complete with wireless lady-part peripherals (SFW). The downside, for Western gamers, is that these games aren’t supported in the English-speaking world and so can only be enjoyed by the hardened criminals lurking on Torrent sites. The good, law-abiding porn consumers of the West have, therefore, more limited options.

Hearteningly, though, there might be a solution. SugardDVD is an American company that streams porn to basically anything in your home barring the fridge and the kettle. PC streaming aside, you can also pipe its catalogue of adult movies to your current and last-gen consoles, your iPad and your Roku set-top box. But SugarDVD’s quest for global porn domination (pornimation?) doesn’t stop there: its plan is to produce its own line of specialist VR content for the Rift targeting Western audiences. However, unlike established videogame publishers and developers, it can do so without having to deal with the stigma of trading in sex. And according to the company’s Rebecca Bolen (who is, simultaneously, SugarDVD’s PR rep and the self-described “nerd around the office” who first proposed the idea of branching out into virtual reality), what will drive the uptake of VR porn are tailored, videogame-like encounters.

“It’s actually been very interesting to see that our users are more focused on being able to customise their own experiences instead of just sitting back and enjoying the show,” she says. “Our subscribers aren’t asking for particular content, per se, but more [questions] like, ‘what kind of customisation options will be available? Can we change the looks of our virtual partner? What about positions? Environment?

“We have actually gotten a couple of requests and suggestions for erotic games, similar to Japanese hentai visual novels, but with ‘real’ women. Basically, story-driven adult VR. Ideally, we’d like users to be able to have a wide range of customisable experiences: everything from two-to-five minute sessions where you only have to customise your partner’s positions and looks, to longer, epic tales where you can choose different endings with different partners, à la Mass Effect.”

The fledgling VR porn game industry, like its older, more prudish mainstream sibling, gets even more interesting with a bit of science fiction future gazing. SugarDVD, for example, has on its to-do list the possibility of full-body scans of real-world porn stars, letting its customers pick partners from an online catalogue with whom to play director.

“Who knows,” says Bolen, “maybe the future will be the next Kim Kardashian selling her ‘virtual booty’ instead of pouring champagne on her real one.”

V and co. go further still. Something that stands out on the VEIVIEV website is the language the company uses to describe its products. Nowhere on the site, barring the comments section, will you find the words ‘sex’ or ‘porn’. Rather, the team refers to its planned works somewhat prosaically as “artificial liaisons”. According to V, that’s not prudishness; it’s the company’s way of signalling that what it’s producing isn’t just smut, but virtual experiences that are deep, positive and inclusive of people for whom VR porn might be used as more than just entertainment. Socially responsible porn, if you like.

“’Liaisons’ is us gearing [up] for the future,” V explains. “We are trying to make something more tasteful, more Playboy than Brazzers. Something that will cater to all genders and [races]… I’ve had a great deal of feedback from female gamers as well as male, requesting a variety of content. [These experiences] might allow people to experience things in VR in spite of religious or social constraints that have been placed upon them in real life… [Or] for people who might have never experienced sexual contact at all.

“It will allow people to be free, to explore. [Another] example could be a person with severe autism or [just] a complete lack of social skills. Or perhaps someone who has a severe disability or is housebound, never interacting with the outside world or other people. Maybe even allow them freedom in the real-world to be comfortable with their desires and explore them further.”

“In the adult space, it’d be very interesting to for people to experience things they otherwise wouldn’t be able to in real life, due to improbability, health risks or disability,” says Bolen, chiming on the same theme. “People would be able to customise what their one night stand would be, and create adult worlds and experiences for others to have, similar to Minecraft mods.”

Demolition Man got a lot of things wrong about the future. Even in 2014, our tablets are thin, svelte little things rather than great big chunks of chrome, and despite his efforts as Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger has not (yet) become President. But for all its retro-future weirdness, Stallone’s ill-fated VR tussle with Bullock looks happily prescient. The future of VR porn, whatever the more clickbait-y headlines and cynical commenters might say, isn’t just ogling Lara Croft in the altogether behind a locked bedroom door (though that will surely be part of it). Rather, VR porn now is where videogames were not all that long ago, and the presumption that all it can offer is puerile distraction does a disservice to the talented, creative, forward-facing people working for our entertainment. The future of that thing we all like is coming. Let’s get on the horse. And indeed off with the horse, if that’s your thing.

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