It should come as no surprise that Seth has become the favorite of our Overlords. “Timely” they called him, spittle flinging from their lips as they shackled my hands to the keyboard. “It Produces the Words For Us,” another croned, “Else It Loses Litter Privileges!” “Litter Privileges, Litter Privileges!” the rest cried in unison while filing out of the room, the last pausing to cast a dark glare into my corner before slamming the cell door shut. I quite like litter privileges. So here I am, foraging my subconscious for scraps of topics to write on, despite being in the recovery stages of a three-part sickness that began with “Feels like Shit” and continued to “Feels Completely Like Shit” before finishing strong in “Drain The Body Like a Vampire in Heat!”
Which is why I want to talk about Monsterhearts.
As studious members of our site will know, Seth and I are keeping our Roleplaying muscles in shape by playing Monsterhearts, a game about sexy monsters being sexy and angsty and other such things- though our game has actually gotten through three sessions without anyone so much as taking their pants off. I’m not quite sure why this is the case and, as the group’s MC (basically Dungeon Master, but less kinky overtones) my real control over what the players do and don’t do is pretty slim. The best I can control is the creation of the setting, to light the candles and set the stage before dashing off to the wings to voyeuristically stare at them, occasionally offering up a few suggestive words and thoughts. “Indeed, you have been emotionally hurt and are in a fragile place right now,” I say to Seth’s late 90s Nihilistic Ghoul, “but did you catch that guy’s abs?!”
Yet nobody has taken the bait. This is mentally frustrating to me as a gamer on a certain level. With everyone’s character sheet in front of me, my eyes can’t help but gaze and pause over the little section marked “Sex Powers.” It’s a power. A sex power. A power you use when you have sex. It’s right there, and that tiny sensation that has driven nearly every character I’ve ever roleplayed has grown into a growling behemoth. I was talking with one of my regular GMs (also a Dungeon Master. Really, just assume if it’s two letters and used as a noun it’s someone who leads a roleplaying session) about what we like about roleplaying. For me, it was the sense of possibility. My favorite roleplaying games are the ones that let me do things, let me touch and break and think around the problems set before me. Did my dwarven paladin forget his axe outside the Goblin mead hall? No problem, let me grab this flagon and use it as a thrown weapon! This isn’t to say I always need to break the rules- a part of this itch is to use every power I take, every item I pick up. If I saw something called “sex power” on my character sheet, the first thing I’m doing is looking for the earliest (acceptable) opportunity to bring it into play.
But then there’s also the point of player comfort levels, and this is something that I empathize with. If my description doesn’t make it abundantly apparent, I MC the game with a “bit” of tongue in cheek. I cackle with glee as Gregor unleashes raccoons upon the shopping mall. I offer terrible imitations of valley girls when playing as one of Gizella’s clique of triplets. Sunshine’s first real “game encounter” was a pair of teens getting randy in the woods, not with gravitas or depth, but with the seriousness of a Groucho-Marx eyewaggle. Because I’m not sure I can take sex seriously in the context of a roleplaying game. And when things start to get serious- when the scene looks like it might actually get a smidgen of sentiment or eroticism, I do begin to feel a bit off. As I said during our second session (which was livetweeted as a quote), “I feel like I’m directing a porno and I don’t want to be.”
It isn’t that sex itself makes me uncomfortable, and I don’t think the act itself makes the players feel odd either. It’s the navigation of sex, the reenactment of sex, with other people, some of whom you don’t really know that well. Really, roleplaying sex is a lot like sex in real life- they both require healthy volumes of trust and consent. There needs to be trust between the players themselves as well as the players and the MC that the table is a safe space, one which they can comfortably slip into another role to engage the naughty naughties without it coming back onto their own personal reputation or some such. They need to trust everyone else to respect them and stop when their comfort levels have been overtaken (or, better yet, to stave off before that level has been reached), which in turn requires a lot of communication; communication which is somewhat limited because we are doing this all online and thus without any of the nonverbal cues that usually make this kinda’ stuff easier.
The fact that Monsterhearts has me engaged in pondering this -why I’m okay being bluntly randy or sexual in other non-serious circumstances (my undergraduate lunch table, for example) but still slightly emotionally discomforted during a roleplaying session with people I know quite well- is one of the reasons I love this game. Just as I set the stage and populate the world in such a way as to encourage the players to bounce emotionally off of each other, the game itself is constructed in such a way as to encourage players to confront and ponder things that may be uncomfortable for them. As a much better write-up of the game by Lillian Cohen-Moore put it:
Indeed, nearly every rule related to sex and sexuality in Monsterhearts is a game manifestation of real-life sexual dynamics, good and bad, healthy and unhealthy. Instead of the rote, heterosexist portrayals of sex and sexuality you might find in other games, Monsterhearts gleefully encourages people of all identities to explore sexuality in every permutation, often with great self-examination and as uncomfortably as possible.
Avery Alder Mcdaldno, the developer behind Monsterhearts, even went so far as to publish a companion manual entitled “Safe Hearts” to help with the process of establishing boundaries and ensuring everyone’s emotional safety during the game. With support like that, I’d highly encourage anyone looking to (safely) spice up their game to pick up Monsterhearts, or at the very least to tune in to @Team Acagameia for our live-tweet sessions!
And if neither of those things entice you, I’d at least be curious about your thoughts! Have you roleplayed sex or romance with your friends?