Kane Race
University of Sydney
Loose Ends: playing the field of digital sex

This paper confronts a paradox that animates the field of digital sex. Contemporary technologies for arranging sex, from online dating sites to hook-up apps, tend to produce an intentional subject, presumed to know in advance what they want from the intimate encounter. But this would appear to iron out the element of surprise or unpredictability that constitutes a critical element of sexual enjoyment – the thrill of jouissance. The technical pre-specification of means and ends arguably poses problems for the open-ended and experimental character of sex underlined in Paasonen’s (2018) highly generative framing of sex as play. In this talk, I consider some vernacular, conceptual and methodological ways of dealing with this tension, drawn from my (2018) book The Gay Science and my work on gay hookup cultures. I argue that playful methods may expand the forms of agency and pleasure available to participants in digital sex.

Katrin Tiidenbrg
Tallinn University
Fieldnotes from the playground – a love letter to the 2011–2018 Tumblr

This talk analyzes tumblr as a site of (sexual) play. I explore the practices and experiences of a group of NSFW tumblr users between 2011 and 2018. Relying on ethnographic material (fieldnotes, interviews, collected blog outtakes etc), I look at participants’ practices pertaining to kink (in particular DD/lg age play and non-monogamy), sharing nudes and developing relationships to analyze: a) sexual practices as play, b) online participation as play, and c) self- and sense-making as play.

I argue that these types of play are immanent to each other and that between 2011 and 2018 tumblr offered an environment particularly conducive to the emergence of this assemblage of play. To explicate this claim, I add a layer of analysis and focus on tumblrs’ features, governance and perceived affordances prior to the Verizon (and to a lesser extent Yahoo) acquisition. I note how the intersection of shared practices, perceived platform features and content moderation styles birth a shared ethics, which facilitates transformations of affect, pleasures and agential capacities pertaining to one’s sense of self and being in the world. I suggest that the NSFW ban cripples this environment’s capacity to foster play, and bleeds the social media ecosystem of more than just sexual content.

Tom Apperley
Tampere University
What gamer girl porn has to tell us about toxic masculinity in gamer culture

There are many important developments in gaming that have increased its inclusivity towards women, people of colour, the elderly, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQ+ community. Yet there remains a predominant heteronormative toxic masculinity in many elements of gamer culture, which is openly hostile towards this growing diversity. This talk examines the emergence of the ‘pornified’ figure of the gamer girl in gamer culture, and in popular culture more generally, in relation to these residual masculine and heteronormative elements of gamer culture. Key connections between game cultures, pornography and toxic geek masculinity are both notable in the uptake of the imagery of the gamer girl from informal modes of circulation, through to the establishment the Playboy feature ‘Gamer Next Door,’ and the incorporation of the gamer girl and gaming into the narrative framing of hardcore pornography.

Gamer girl porn illustrates the fragility of the normative heteronormative masculinity associated with gaming. It displays a constellation of themes that include attention, domesticity, intimacy, nostalgia, and vulnerability that suggest the toxic masculinity of game cultures is deeply embedded in everyday experience. Gamer girl porn establishes an affective resonance that is cued as heterosexual, straight, and ‘gamer’ suggesting a technological enmeshing of everyday experience, libidinal fantasies, and toxic masculinity. This shared affect and popularity of gamer girl porn indicates that digital games are also used as semi-private spaces for exploring fragile, heteronormative male identities, the normalization of toxic masculinity, and the radicalization of men into more actively politicized, reactionary extremism.


Workshop 1

Jamie Hakim
University of East Anglia
The Celebrity Male Nude Leak: the male body and sexual play as value creation in neoliberal times

From celebrity skin magazines to 2014’s ‘#fappening’, images of nude celebrities have long contributed to both the official and unofficial publicity practices of the entertainment industries. The ‘overwhelming’ majority of these have been of cis-gendered women demonstrating the ‘highly commercial valuation and paradoxically low cultural status of the female body in Hollywood’ (Knee, 2006: 172) and the entertainment industries more widely.

Recent years have seen a significant increase in the circulation of images of nude male celebrities, allegedly taken from playful sexting encounters and then ‘leaked’ over gossip websites and platforms such as Tumblr and Twitter. From global mega-stars such as Justin Bieber to reality TV contestants from the likes of Love Island (2015-) the online circulation of images of nude male celebrities has become a notable feature of contemporary culture. This paper seeks to understand why.

Drawing on original interviews with entertainment professionals, and building on the arguments that precariously employed celebrities have had to turn to digital media to ‘self-brand’ (Hearn, 2008) and that the sexualised female body has intensified as a site of value creation under neoliberalism (Elias, Gill and Scharff, 2017), this paper argues that the rise of the celebrity male nude leak is one of a number of historically novel ways that men have begun to use digital media to sexualize their bodies in order to negotiate living through the current crisis of neoliberalism.

John Mercer
Birmingham City University
The Serious Play of Sex: Documenting Practices of ‘Recreational’ MSM Sex Online

This is a paper that emerges out of research for my ‘Home Made Porn’ project which attempts to situate and theorise the cultural contexts and meaning of sexually explicit audio visual materials of gay sex that men who have sex with men produce and distribute online. I am investigating a range of materials as part of this project and a range of drawing on a range of frameworks and orientations through which to build theory around masculinity and sexuality.

It has become an orthodoxy across popular 21st century discourse that sex (usually within the context of a relationship) should be ‘fun’, should be ‘playful’ and can be regarded as a leisure pursuit. I am especially interested though in a subset of gay sexual activity that is usually not tethered to ideas around relationships and is a recreational pursuit in its own right facilitated online. This then is sex as a hobby and hobbyists involved in it are keen to share the evidence of their leisure pursuits. I am drawing on Stebbins and Cohen-Gewerc’s Serious Leisure and Individuality (2013) to think about the ways in which, play, leisure, individuality and consumption are processes that are interconnected and imbricated and I see the creation and sharing of these sexual texts online as evidence of this.

In this paper I am focussing ostensibly on materials that are shared through Xtube, a platform which functions simultaneously as a scrapbook, as a dairy and as a repository of mementos for male on male recreational sex. I am especially interested in the extent to which the hyperbolic discourses of professional, commercial gay porn are corrected through a rhetoric of mundanity, the routine and even (heretically) the boring as aspects of human sexuality. For me these are texts and practices then that raise fundamental questions about what ‘amateur’ porn (a term that is fraught with difficulty) is/does/is for.


Workshop 2

Anna-Elena Pääkkölä
University of Turku
Tom of Finland, The Musical as Playful Activism

In this paper I discuss the Turku-based musical Tom of Finland as a case study of music production aimed specifically at improving audience awareness of sex-positivity through the concept of playfulness presented onstage. The musical was commissioned by the City Theatre of Turku as the prominent stage production of the Centennial Year of Finnish Independence, and ran for five months during spring 2017. I consider how the musical’s producers thought of the production both as a form of playful activism with the potential to improve awareness of LGBTQ+ social politics and sex positive attitudes in Finland in this symbolic year. I additionally present criticism of how and why this production seemed to fall short of its aims when it came to queer audiences. In a two-pronged approach, I analyze interviews with the creative team (writer, composers, director-choreographer) in order to shed light on their aims; and I undertake close readings of the music and stage performances to shed light on the creative solutions taken by the musical’s producers where the concept of playfulness as sex positivity and tolerance for gay cultures are concerned. Tom of Finland, The Musical could be understood as one of the first attempts in a large-scale, mainstream work for theatre to playfully “queer” Finnish history, subvert pervasive narratives of “proper” Finnishness, and promote an accepting, yet not unproblematic attitude towards (gay) sex.

Katariina Kyrölä
Åbo Akademi
Decolonizing sex through play in Sámi and Two-Spirit online video

Efforts to decolonize sex, sexuality and sexual pleasure, as they intertwine with and through colonial and settler colonial power relations, have emerged throughout the 2010s in indigenous and postcolonial queer, feminist and Two-Spirit critiques. Scholars have emphasized the need to reimagine sex, sexuality, gender and kinship in ways that defy the hetero- and mononormativity of settler colonialist, capitalist patriarchy. Such work is burgeoning in the Americas, Australia and Oceania, while European critiques of settler colonialism have largely left the realms of sex and intimacy with little discussion.

In this paper, I aim to create conversations between these two contexts. I examine the potential for “sovereign erotics”, as coined by Two-Spirit scholar Qwo-Li Driskill (2011), in two sets of online video works from Finland and Canada: the sexually charged music video spoofs on YouTube by two Sámi creatives, Suvi West and Anne Kirste Aikio (as extensions of their TV comedy series Njuoska bittut, in Finnish Märät säpikkäät, 2012–2013), and the short video art works by Plains Cree/Little Pine First Nation genderfluid artist Thirza Cuthand. I suggest that these online video works play with and challenge settler understandings of sexual orientation, relationships and gender, and suggest ample and humorous scenarios of play around sexual desire. The videos offer alternative, part transnational, part locally specific visions of indigenous sexuality. In the paper I reflect on whether it is even possible for a settler viewer to recognize sovereign erotics, and if so, how. Drawing on queer indigenous studies (e.g. Driskill et al. 2011), I furthermore ask what possibilities open up for a settler spectator who is often not the addressed spectator of the videos – videos which seem to care little if at all about their pleasurability or legibility for settler audiences. Who are audiovisual sovereign erotics for, and what work can playful efforts to decolonize sex do in such contexts?

Workshop 3

Miikka J. Lehtonen
Aalto University
Visualizing pleasure: exploring sensations and meanings of orgasms through visual methods

Extant research on orgasms has extensively explored the ‘what’ aspect, and it is only recently that we have started to pay attention to the socio-cultural meanings of orgasms and why they matter for individuals. It is as if previously we have understood orgasms ‘merely’ as phenomena connected to reproduction, thus ignoring the possibility that orgasms could also be related to pleasure, societal norms and pressure, or bodily experiences transcending time and space. Building on this, as orgasm is a multisensory experience often difficult to adequately explain through linguistic means, how could we study orgasms and what they mean for individuals? In this paper, I am arguing that drawings of orgasms created by individuals are one potential way forward in exploring experiences, emotions, and meanings of orgasms.

Data for this study was collected in two ways: sixteen drawings and immediate follow-up interviews were conducted in person while thirteen were collected via email by respondents sending their visualizations and answers to accompanying questions to me. Thus, in total the data set consists of twenty-nine drawings of orgasms. Each respondent was provided with the same brief; namely, draw an orgasm, and as such the respondents could interpret the brief as they wished.

While majority of academic literature on orgasms has focused on describing its physiological characteristics, popular media, on the other hand, has almost universally defined orgasm as an end in itself, a sort of glorified, strong, ideal. However, as the initial findings of this study suggest, orgasm as an experience spans both time and space, comes in many forms and intensities, and brings together a plethora of emotions. Moreover, visualizations of orgasms also shed light on the tension between societal norms and individual desires.

J.Tuomas Harviainen
Tampere University
Leaving the Swing: Why Non-monogamous Women Leave Group Sex Communities
With Osmo Kontula

This article examines reasons for cis female participants’ leaving of the Finnish swinger/orgy scenes, to which we here refer as Group Sex Events(GSEs). Swinging is the activity of participating in consensual non-monogamy by mostly temporarily switching partners for the duration of sexual activity, whereas orgies are events in which people participate in group sex, and tend to have multiple partners during an event. These activities are not clearly defined, and may overlap with each other, as well as with other types of consensual non-monogamy such as polyamory or flexible BDSM play.

Using ten freeform interviews that are combined with [first author’s] observations, the article presents a tentative list of the key reasons for women to leave non-monogamy circles that they have previously enjoyed. Key reasons that were found existed in two categories. First, there were the socially expectable reasons such as “finding of new life partner”, “loss of current partner”, “social conflict with others in the same circle”, “current stress level”, “disabilities”, and so forth. Second, however, the work also located several GSE-related reasons. These included “loss of novelty value”, “disillusionment”, “having to take one for the team”, “bring in more people” and, most significantly, “likely number of possible orgasms”.

Through a typology of these, we sex in examine how cis women are likely to enjoy (or not to enjoy), playful sex. We furthermore also look at how they nevertheless do not necessarily leave consensual non-monogamy completely behind, but rather find new ways for expressing their non-monogamous sexual needs – or at least continue dreaming of it.

Workshop 4

Alex Dymock
Royal Holloway, University of London
Chemical Erotics: Playing with the Boundaries of Sexual and Pharmacological Pleasures

With Leah Moyle (Royal Holloway, University of London; Ben Mechen (Royal Holloway, University of London)

The majority of contemporary research on the intersection between sex and drug use has focused primarily on ‘risk’-centred analysis of men who have sex with men’s (MSM) ‘chemsex’ practices. This paper develops Preciado’s (2013) work on the ‘pharmacopornographic’ – the subjectification of sexuality in late modernity through the convergence of the pornographic and the pharmaceutical – to understand the contemporary and historical interaction between sexual and chemical pleasures. While the majority of research on sex and drugs focuses on how the use of licit and illicit substances can shape sexual pleasures, function and affects, the findings of our project, Pharmacosexuality: The Past, Present and Future of Sex on Drugs, reveal that the intersection is more fluid and symbiotic than has previously been discussed. Drawing on data from archival exploration, virtual ethnography and semi-structured interviews with subjects with a range of sexual and gender identities, this paper will argue that the boundaries between erotic and chemical play are often indistinguishable and subject to ‘hacking’. While ‘sexual psychonauts’ throughout history have frequently experimented with a range of combinations of psychoactive drugs to explore, play with and ‘hack’ erotic pleasures, our findings also reveal that participants are equally inclined to use sexual experimentation to enhance, toy with and ‘hack’ the range of effects typically associated with the experience of taking drugs.

Kristian Møller
IT University of Copenhagen
The emergence and modulation of chemsex imaginaries on Pornhub and a video conferencing service

This paper approaches the phenomenon of ‘chemsex’, sexual encounters between gay and bisexual men, in which the recreational drugs GHB/GBL, mephedrone and crystallized methamphetamine (crystal meth) are consumed (Hakim 2018). What is on paper a rather open and loosely defined subject area, the concept has in practice become conflated with qualified “problematic chemsex”. The paper counters such strategic backgrounding by paying attention to chemsex as an erotic imaginary available for playful consumption to a wider range of people and publics than suggested by the ongoing medical/media/sexual panic. Chemsex imaginaries are conceived of as “cultural achievements” (Bersani, 1995: 64), in which flows of pleasure, passion, fear and shame circulate, modulate, transform the event itself, emerging in (de)territorializing movements (Delanda 2006).

The paper’s methodology is inspired by porn studies’ insistence to operate across genre, audience and sex cultural context (Attwood 2002) and more recently that the platformization of porn requires careful attention to the multiple transformations emerging with these infrastructures (Paasonen (2011). Two major sites of online representation and practice of chemsex are interrogated: the sometimes Do-It-Yourself (DIY) porn platform Pornhub, and a conference call service (service name redacted for ethical concerns) used for socio-sexual use of crystal meth. The analysis draws together different semiotic, material and social elements (Deleuze and Guattari 1987), namely, distribution platform modes of governance, video clip genre variations, the framing work done by titles and playlists, and the social erotic consumption done in the comments sections. From this it asks: What are the aesthetic, temporal and affective differences in chemsex imaginary? What flows does crystal meth enhance or modulate, and conversely, and when it is placed out of sight, to what effects?

Kerryn Drysdale
UNSW Sydney
Crystal-sex in Australia: a case for extending analysis of hook up cultures beyond sex

Authors: Drysdale, K., Bryant, J., Aggleton, P., Holt, M., Dowsett, G., Lea, T., Treloar, C.

The crystalline form of methamphetamine is commonly used by gay and bisexual men (GBM) in many urban scenes as part of their wider participation in hook up cultures. We use the term crystal-sex to refer to sexual activity among men who predominantly use crystal. While crystal-sex is a unique practice among GBM in Australia, it can also be seen as part of a globally-recognised phenomenon converging at the intersection of sexual activity and drug use, popularly conceived as ‘chemsex’.

This paper draws on data from the Crystal, Pleasures and Sex between Men research project that examined GBM’s chemically-enhanced sexual practices. Specifically, we looked at how GBM made sense of, and managed, the practical and relational dynamics of risk as part of their wider drug and sex practices, and how they negotiated those dynamics within and across their prevailing social and sexual networks. Semi-structured, individual, in-depth interviews were conducted with 88 GBM residing in the Australian cities of Adelaide (n=16), Melbourne (n=28), Perth (n=16) and Sydney (n=28).

Rather than pointing to a common experience of crystal-sex, these men reported a diversity of practice that corresponded to various sexual, social and solo ways of using. On the one hand, the differentiation between patterns of use points to the diversity of networks cohering around, and thus mediating in, practices of crystal-sex. On the other hand, the connections between these patterns of use highlight the relationality that underscores GBM’s understanding of crystal-sex, even for men who use alone. Remaining open to the entangled multiplicities of use provided for a more nuanced account of the specificity and contingency of chemsex practices found in each localised setting. Accordingly, we make a case for extending analysis of hook up cultures beyond the privileging of sex.

Workshop 5

Feona Attwood
Middlesex University
Porn, play and pleasure

This paper draws on a large scale research project aimed at uncovering people’s everyday engagements with pornography, focusing on female participants aged 18-25; the only category of our participants where women outnumbered men. I consider the elements of pornography that engaged these participants in terms of content and scenario, style and aesthetics, emotion and thought, tone and mood, and identification in order to examine what different forms of engagement with pornography can look like, and what they suggest about the relations of porn engagement, sexuality, and practices of pleasure, all understood as part of everyday life.

Jackson and Scott have noted the importance of locating sexuality within the everyday, part of the fabric of the routine, enmeshed with other, non-sexual aspects of our lives (2010, 162); paying attention to its characteristics as a ‘sphere of life’ (2010, 42); a ‘realm’ (Sedgwick 1990; 1991) constituted across material experiences, fantasy and media; or a ‘field’ – ‘a zone of knowing and imagining how sex works, rewards and punishes, and of relations between bodies, selfhood, and social and cultural permissions and forbiddings’ (Barker 2014). Studying porn engagement provides an interesting means of examining this field.

Our project found that porn engagement can be motivated in a wide variety of ways; variously linked to providing a space for transgression or voyeurism, to the broader spheres of leisure and aesthetic experience, to ways of tending the body, or to relations with the self, others or the realm of sexuality understood more broadly. In this paper, I focus on how these motivations can be understood in terms of pleasure and of play.

Paul Byron
University of Technology Sydney
Playing for real: Porn research and media literacies

With Alan McKee, University of Technology Sydney
Roger Ingham, University of Southampton
Katerina Litsou, University of Southampton

From an interdisciplinary systematic literature review on the relationship between pornography use and healthy sexual development, we found that researchers don’t often define pornography, nor recognise a range of porn genres and uses. This is particularly the case for research involving heterosexual young people. Through a generic positioning of porn (with its expected use and commonly articulated ‘risks’), broader ecologies of mediated sex are excluded, including everyday acts of making, sharing, and playing with porn. In exploring literature that engages with the healthy sexual development theme of ‘competence in mediated sexuality’, we located contradictory discourses of ‘perceived realism’ and ‘porn as fantasy’. On one hand, researchers felt it important for young people to know that porn isn’t real – that sex isn’t like that. On the other hand, some researchers dismissed participants’ accounts of porn as fantasy, insisting that porn actresses experience very real effects of the ‘degrading sex’ they perform. While ‘perceived realism’ is commonly deployed by researchers to discuss the risk of young people being influenced by porn, some literature we found complicates this – e.g. when participants in one study admit a preference for amateur and DIY porn. The ‘healthy logic’ of recognising that porn is fantasy is undermined by DIY porn and other playful practices that centre on sharing real depictions of real bodies having real sex. Such media trade in affect, and ‘perceived realism’ is necessary to incite particular kinds of relational pleasure. Considering cultures of ‘self-pornography’ and DIY sexual media, this paper adds to recent discussions of young people’s porn literacies and argues that porn research needs to be more attuned to these if it is serious about engaging with young people’s porn use.

Ingrid Olson
Pornography, Play, and Playfulness in the Nina Hartley Fan Mail Archive

In Miguel Sicart’s Play Matters his research focuses on technologies, and more specifically, human engagement with technologies. Sicart distinguishes between the concepts of play and playfulness in that “play is an activity,while playfulness is an attitude.” This paper extends Sicart’s work on the concepts ‘play’ and ‘playfulness’ at its intersection with performances that spectators engage and consume through media technology. Specifically, I examine play/fulness in the spectator’s engagement with moving image pornography. As Sicart suggests, “we can be playful during sex,” and the concept of “playfulness” extends to and includes “flirting and seduction.” More specifically, this paper examines the fan’s technological engagement with legendary pornography performer, Nina Hartley, and subsequent examples of play/fulness in the Hartley fan mail archive.

The Nina Hartley Fan Club archive contains hundreds of letters, cards, gifts, and ephemera. Some of these artifacts can be interpreted as the writer engaging Hartley in a playful, flirtatious manner. For Sicart, play is “an activity with its own purpose,” whereas playfulness “preserves the playfulness of the activity it is applied to.” In the context of sex, or engaging a pornography star in a salacious manner, “the pleasures of sex are the main purpose even if we are playful.” Examples of play/fulness in the Hartley archive include artwork depicting Hartley as a pornographic ‘superhero’ surrounded by sexually exhausted men and women. Another example is underwear sent to Hartley with a note stating that the sender hopes to see her wearing the underwear in a future video. And a personalized Christmas card from pornography director, Gerard Damiano, is a kind of play/fulness among pornography peers. This paper includes digital photographs of ‘playfulness’ as kinds of sexual pleasure in the Hartley archive.

Workshop 6 

Veli-Matti Karhulahti, Petri Saarikoski, Valtteri Kauraoja, Ellinoora Havaste, J. Tuomas Harviainen, Tanja Sihvonen, Caroline Bem, Jaakko Stenros, Tom Apperley & Jaakko Suominen
Koulu 3 panel

This panel discusses the sexualities and sexual cultures related to an influential piece of electronic literature in Finland, Koulu 3 (1993). The work has been recently translated to English (School 3). Written by one or more anonymous authors in the early 1990s, School 3 provides its reader a text-game like environment with numerous forking paths leading to sex and violence. The work is reflective of local youth cultures during its era, and as such, exemplifies how proliferating digital technologies shaped sexual engagement. The panel starts with four brief presentations, which are followed by a roundtable discussion.


Workshop 7 

Caroline Bem
University of Turku
Colourful Cockfights and Good Intentions: The Cute, the Funny, and the Woke in Genital Jousting

In 2016, Free Lives/Devolver Digital released Genital Jousting, an online multiplayer game structured around the principle of colourful anthropomorphic penises that penetrate one another. The “peens” are regularly ranked according to who cumulated the most active penetrations in a series of rounds, though there are points for being a receiver as well. In 2018, a story-mode was added to the game: now, the player can also decide to be John, a melancholic peen trying to find a date in preparation for his high school reunion. Keeping with the game’s original aesthetic, John awkwardly and slimily inhabits (there is a lot of breakage as he slides around) a creepily adorable world of miniature offices and apartments, of neat lawns and cute outfits, reminiscent of 1980s and 90s children’s toy commercials, such as Polly Pocket and My Little Pony. All this contrasts with the carefully thought-out statements on the game’s website. There, a savvy FAQ walks visitors through questions ranging from simply “Why?” to “How Consensual is Genital Jousting?” and “What About the Homosexual Audience? Is this a Game for Them, or About Them?” The clear and concise answers are visibly aimed at reassuring a woke audience of concerned players and onlookers alike.

On the one hand, Genital Jousting is a game whose cartoonish logic points to a sort of structuralist point zero of sex (to penetrate or be penetrated) and, as its makers are the first to acknowledge, in so doing it adopts, aesthetically, the form of a never-ending dick joke; at the same time, the game’s marketing is irreproachably critical of these very strategies and of the “visceral” (the website’s term) responses they might trigger (from bad humour to retraumatization). This, in a nutshell, is the paradox whose implications this paper will aim to tease out further. Relying heavily on Sianne Ngai’s aesthetic-affective categories of the cute and the zany, on Critical Inquiry’s special issue on humour that Ngai recently co-edited with Lauren Berlant, as well as on writings on humour within various digital contexts, I will track the different ways in which the cute, the funny and the woke intersect in both the game itself and in discourses surrounding it. This reflection will be enriched by an ethnography resulting from my playing the game online over a period of several months, and with input from interviews that I will conduct with players online as well as with the designers and distributors of the game.

Veli-Matti Karhulahti
University of Jyväskylä/ University of Turku
Sexuality as a Pattern in Videogame Design

Recyclable solutions to design problems, i.e. “design patterns” as coined by Christopher Alexander and his colleagues (1977), have a fundamental concept in design research for decades. The concept has had a great impact on various design sectors; including videogame design as “descriptions of reoccurring interaction relevant to game play” (Björk et al. 2003). In this paper, sexuality is probed and problematized as a design pattern.

In early 2016, an emerging new esports title from Blizzard, Overwatch, received controversial press coverage by introducing a new “victory pose” that portrayed the character Tracer in a “butt-centric” (Grayson 2016) fashion, which resulted in the players criticizing: “this isn’t a character who is in part defined by flaunting her sexuality [but] we [Blizzard] are willing to reduce them to sex symbols to help boost our investment game” (ibid.).

Soon another popular esports title, League of Legends from Riot Games, was whirled by a parallel debate. The front page of the game’s million-user subreddit was dominated by a post “I don’t think Riot will ever release a deliberately hot female champion again” with the description “thought of this after reading about the Tracer drama.” Among others, a designer from the developer provided a reply:

I think it’s important we make another [extra sexual character] not because “OMG SEX APPEAL,” but because “I feel attractive” is a compelling character fantasy that a lot of players (men and women) really attach to … As long as the character’s visuals serve and resonate with its thematic we shouldn’t be afraid of going the “sexy” route

With reference to the above public discussions and semi-structured European and Korean player interviews, the paper at hand probes and problematizes sexuality as a design pattern: a cause of as well as solution to design issues, and a descriptive layer of recurring interaction.

Jaakko Suominen
University of Turku
“Daddy Kept Playing Strip Poker After I Had Already Given up” – Finnish Memories of Home Computer Erotica

With Markku Reunanen, Aalto University
Petri Lankoski, Södertörn University
Mikko Heinonen, Tampere University
1. Tuomas Harviainen, Tampere University

Computers have been used for erotic purposes long before the advent of the currently widely available and well-known Internet porn. In this presentation, we look at how early Finnish computer hobbyists experienced digital erotica on their home computers – the Commodore 64 and Amiga in particular – in the 1980s and early 1990s. Initially, the content was passed from hand to hand among like-minded peers on floppy disks and cassettes, but it was also available on contemporary information networks. In addition to altering the communication channels and storage media, technological development also altered the contents, which range from self-drawn stickmen to digitized photographs and short animation loops of real people.

As opposed to mere technical details, we are especially interested in experiences: how was early digital erotica perceived and remembered, what were the social aspects of its consumption, and how do people talk about it now, as adults, more than twenty years since the first encounters? The study is based on 281 responses to an online survey conducted in 2011 among early computer hobbyists. Part of the survey dealt with notable titles, such as Leisure Suit Larry (1987–) and Samantha Fox Strip Poker (1986) (known by virtually all participants), whereas some of the questions were more free-form and let people elaborate on their personal experiences and memories of digital erotica.

The analysis of the results paints a picture of children and youngsters, curious about sex, but constrained by the all-seeing parental eye. Although most respondents describe porn as a “public secret” well known among friends, there are also some mentions of cross-generational interest in the emerging content (as reflected in the quote of the title). As can be seen in the responses, over time the shared experiences eventually gave way to current practices characterized by private consumption, easy availability, high audiovisual quality and increasingly explicit content. The presentation contributes to historical studies on video game and computer hobbyist cultures, porn studies, as well as, from the methodological perspective, to oral history and memory studies.

Workshop 8

Jenny Sundén
Södertörn University/University of Turku
The unsolicited pussy pic

This paper explores the humorous digital trajectory of something which seems to be a thing of legend, namely the unsolicited pussy pick. As an attempt at turning the tables on the widespread phenomenon of unsolicited dick picks, the LA-based writer Kerry Quinn decided to send preemptive “vagina picks” to a number of men on the dating app Bumble to let them have a taste of their own medicine. The experiment failed in the sense that the men did not respond in the way she expected them to. The failure highlighted how acts of sending and receiving unsolicited pictures of one’s genitals are caught up in a heterosexual imaginary which makes a difference to what such surprise appearances might mean, and how they might feel. At the same time, this does not foreclose other ways in which such images may travel, affectively as well as symbolically. In this paper, I investigate such ambivalences in the traffic in pussy pics (and dick pics) to open up a feminist analysis which currently is overdetermined by an interpretative framework of heterosexism and violence. To these ends, I will investigate humorous and creative pussy pick making as forms of intervention in a culturally pervasive dick pick culture. A core example consists of the work by feminist artist and distinct social media presence Stephanie Sarley, in particular her sassy pictorial treatment of vulvas on Instagram. Her work has generated a wide range of reactions, from high praise and fan love, to those who are chocked, disgusted, or turn downright abusive. As an echo of sorts from second wave feminist 1960s and 1970s vulva art, this is a digital instantiation gone viral, right at the intersection of copyright infringement, harassment, and platform politics which strike down hard on that which is deemed “sexually suggestive content.”

Kath Albury
Swinburne University of Technology
Playful pedagogies in hookup app culture

with Paul Byron, Anthony McCosker, Tinonee Pym

This paper draws on mixed-methods research into cultures of dating & hook-up app use in Australia. The study includes analysis of popular news reporting, surveys and workshops with app users, and consultations with project reference groups made up of app users and health promotion professionals. While the overall project focuses on user perceptions of risk, safety and wellbeing when using apps, we reflect here on accounts of learning to feel safe in app culture through play.

Our media analysis focused on a sample of 300 ‘mainstream’ news articles published in US, UK and Australian media platforms (collected via MediaCloud). We initially established coding categories that distinguished between ‘safety’ (crime, harassment, personal data and privacy); ‘wellbeing’ (sexual health, mental health and drug use), and ‘cultures of app use’ (play, hacks, ‘how to’s, and identity issues). As coding proceeded, however, it became evident that ‘safety and play’ should be a top-level coding category given the volume of material that encompasses both themes. Media articles within this grouping explored pedagogies, play, alternative (or off-label) uses of dating apps, and commentary on cultures of mediated relationships.

Both ‘ordinary’ app users in our study and journalists writing about ‘safety and play’ sought and generated shared accounts of app use that can be interpreted as pedagogical. This was often achieved via playful genres of humour, or ‘relatable entertainment’, but also involved sharing ‘horror stories’ or commenting critically on the design features of different apps. As our project aims to directly impact on Australian health promotion practice (including sexual health promotion and clinical services targeting both straight and LGBTIQ+ people) we contextualise this preliminary media analysis and our consultations with app users in relation to historical responses to the Australian HIV epidemic, including playful pedagogies of safer-sex practice.

Charlie Sarson
Birmingham City University
Playing it Straight: Being and doing ‘straight-acting’

Aspects of play, where a sexual encounter is a possible desired outcome, regularly involve the need for re-presenting oneself via props (such as clothing, be they kink-based or otherwise) and/or by adopting certain modes of communication (Paasonen, 2018). Additionally, as Christopherson (2007) notes, the degrees of anonymity afforded by the online environment allows one to be much more creative – or playful – in the construction of identity; with regards to this digital arena and its combination with the acting out of sexual selves, both Ross (2005) and Attwood (2009) have written at length of the distinctions between doing and being.

This paper will address one specific cohort of people using hook-up apps as its object of study: the phenomenon of gay men who self-identify and self-describe as ‘straight-acting’. The sexual appeal of this identity to some gay men is well documented, in both an ethnographic and pornographic context (Bailey et al., 1997; Bartholme et al., 2000; Sánchez and Vilain, 2012; Borgeson and Valeri, 2015; Burke, 2015; Mercer, 2017) however little has been researched and written on what constitutes the performance of a straight-acting identity. Drawing on a current ethnographic PhD project into straight-acting gay men, it is my aim to present just some of the ways in which this identity is ‘played out’ in the context of hook-up apps such as Grindr, where sex is one goal (among many).

Drawing on frameworks such as Sontag’s ‘Being-as-Playing-a-Role’ (1964), Goffman’s dramaturgical turn (1959) and Gagnon and Simon’s scripting theory (1986) (which continues to inform others on the subject of sex and play [see Vörös, 2015; Paasonen, 2018]), while also drawing on the likes of Mowlabocus (2010), this paper will therefore take a playful look at what it means to be gay yet act straight online.


Workshop 9

Johanna Pohtinen
University of Turku
Being kinky in the vanilla world: Fictional narrative as an ethnographic method
Inside the kink community in Finland kink is sometimes discussed in terms of play. A kink event may, for example, be referred to as a playground for adults. However, inside the community a debate exists on whether kink is about play at all. For the outside world, kink may still represent something dark and perilous, and may be seen as a pathology, or perhaps as a joke. Due to this stigma kinky individuals often stay in the closet, even though their life as kinksters is as casual, playful, and mundane as is the sexuality of a vanilla, i.e. non-kinky, individual.

In my research material, autobiographical writings from kinky identified individuals, the writers discuss the ways they navigate the vanilla-normative world. The stigmatization shows in their everyday lives, for instance, as certain conversation topics that need to be avoided in certain environments. Through these writings, it is possible to get a glimpse of what being kinky is in the day-to-day -life. However, I still face the challenge of how to describe the kink phenomenon to the readers in a manner that conveys its nuanced aspects. How to describe the mundane situations such as whether to stay in the closet or come out and risk being stigmatized by the surrounding society? How to describe the light playfulness of kink events that involve spanking, humiliation, and head-to-toe latex gear?

In this presentation, I will discuss how, in addition to the autobiographical writings, I have created fact based fictional narratives to depict the kink phenomenon. I thus make the research more tangible, in order to convey affect, and to depict scenarios from the kinky everyday life. I will discuss the ways creative writing or fictional narrative can aid in depicting the kink experience in the world that holds vanilla as the norm.

Mirjam Susanne Schotanus
University of Amsterdam
Playing with concepts in BDSM discourse
The word “play” is omnipresent in BDSM discourse – think of age play, breath play, pony play and race play – but the concept in relation to this subculture and set of practices has not been explored in depth. By using the word play, BDSM is distinguished from both labour and “seriousness”, put in the realm of fantasy and innocent pastimes. This would belie not only the physical labour, but also forgo the history of pathologization and the therapeutic and spiritual benefits that have been named by BDSM practitioners. In this current paper the concept of “play”, as well as its relationship to the related concept “fantasy” will be explored through an episode of tv show The Good Wife. In the tenth episode of the seventh season of this show, the legal team of protagonists defend a paediatrician who shared his fantasies of abducting and raping a woman on an online platform. Through this episode, the main legal and ethical question is, whether this was still just fantasizing or plotting a crime. This demonstrates that when fantasies are “played out” in the “real world”, the lines between fantasy and reality are blurred and open to argumentation. Of course, this form of play can be seen in children’s play acting, but can also be seen in the performative arts. However, it will be shown that none of these interpretations actually fits with “play” as it is used in a BDSM context. Instead, Augés “non-place” will be brought into the discussion, to reconceptualize play and fantasy and offer more insight into the concepts of fantasy and play.

Jordana Greenblatt
York University
Aerial, Apparatus, Assemblage: Pain, Pleasure, Fetish, and the Circus Body Without Organs

In Circus Bodies, Peta Tait notes that circus aerialists’ bodies—muscular, but graceful, engaged in feats that are strenuous/painful, yet expected to appear effortless—are seen by their spectators in ways necessarily confounding straightforward gendering, including erotically. Yet the non-normative eroticism of the aerialist’s body exceeds gender. Exploring the pleasures of pain in circus aerial, Jillian Deri and Wendy Mendes claim that “we do not believe that pain [in aerial]… is a matter of masochism.” Nevertheless, while masochism is not always at play, it remains a potentiality in circus aerial’s central intersection of human and apparatus that produces such painful pleasure. The overlapping interests evident in, for example, the same Toronto aerialist running a circus collective and a fetish event that includes dungeon, dance floor, and circus performance is not mere coincidence. And, indeed, Deri and Mendes note “aerialists’ deeply personal… attraction to particular apparatus,” which they relate, in part, to the different “types” of pain associated with each. As such, the aerialist selects her apparatus not just aesthetically, but for the planes of intensity it enables her to traverse, not to mention the different trajectories and types of play possible on the apparatus in both experimentation and performance. Combining performance analysis, interviews with kink-involved aerial performers, and my own experience as both an aerialist and a kink practitioner, I explore how intersections of pain, pleasure, and play in both kink and aerial practice inform each other. I argue that, as an assemblage of aerialist and apparatus, the performer engages in a Deleuzian act of becoming, evoking a Body without Organs that, in its play of intensities, is more than incidentally masochistic and/or deterritorialized.

Workshop 10
Clarissa Smith
University of Sunderland
I use it every day except Sundays!

Sex is often presented as ‘a source of happiness, a form of relaxation, a site of pleasure … a means of achieving spiritual wholeness’ (Attwood & Smith, 2013: 326) and as part of the increasing ‘leisurisation’ of sex, technologies have brought opportunities for expanding practices and creating sexual representations of our own. Even so, consumption of pornography remains an outlier activity in dominant discourse as the ‘hierarchical valuation of sex acts’ (Rubin) remains remarkably resistant to demolition. Even where consumption of pornography is a recognised mode of sexual expression and a leisure activity in its own right, the terminologies for expressing pleasure in porn remain mired in ambivalence and judgement. In this paper I explore what kinds of languages for pleasure and play are used by porn consumers. How do they articulate their expectations of diversion, playfulness and dis/satisfaction in their explorations of the complex topographies of sexual representations?

Shawn Suyong Yi Jones
Concordia University
From Pleasure to Distraction: The Porn-Viewing Room in Taiwanese and Korean Gay Men’s Saunas

Limited space, expensive real estate, and cultural norms place restrictions on the ability of Taiwanese and Korean men to establish their own residence, away from their parents. As such, notions of privacy are not only limited, but are rearticulated and established in little discussed areas of the public sphere. These limitations have encouraged the growth of establishments (such as love hotels, adult Internet cafés, and saunas), offering spaces of privacy, shelter, sexual exploration, exhibitionism, and—especially in the case of South Korea—access to pornography. This paper examines one type of establishment in particular, the sauna, with a specific focus on the porn-viewing room therein as a site in which varying notions of play are experienced and observed. The types of porn-viewing rooms range from larger theaters, more commonly found in Taiwan, to the smaller rooms in South Korea housing computers with Internet access. This paper compares the porn-viewing rooms in Kaohsiung, Tainan, and Taipei, Taiwan to Seoul, Busan, and Gwangju, South Korea as a physical space that encourages different uses through its layout, design, lighting, unspoken rules, and broadcast of pornography. But more than that, these spaces offer distractions, downtime, and relaxation from the intended interactions of the sauna. For some, this is a place to engage with one’s desire, and for others, it is a place in which to sleep; in both cases, it serves a place of play. Ultimately, this paper seeks to explore how gay Taiwanese and Korean men engage and play with and in the porn-viewing rooms of sex saunas.

Michaela Lebedíková
Masaryk University
Between objectification and agency: the most watched pornographic videos in Czech Republic

Until recently, it has generally been expected that people in pornographic videos are either sexual agents or sexually objectified: nothing between. On the one hand there is radical feminism with its anti-pornographic stance, calling for censorship of pornography which objectifies women; and on the other hand there is individualistic feminism, claiming pornography is empowering and liberating, granting women sexual agency. Just as opposite are those two point of views, it is presumed that objectification and agency are on the opposite sides too. By utilizing the sexual script theory I did qualitative content analysis of five most watched porn videos in Czech Republic on the most visited pornographic tube website in Czechia – Pornhub.com. The analysis has shown that sexual objectification and agency actually intertwine: men and women in pornographic videos aren’t either objectified or agents – it all happens at once and the levels of agency and objectification shift during the whole sex act, especially in fetish videos, where pain and pleasure mixes. The levels of objectification and agency also depend on the roles portrayed by the actors, but even though women in the analysed videos are cast in more sexually experienced roles (such as the step mother or teacher) thus gaining more sexual agency, they are still more objectified than men: four of five videos end with the money shot.

Workshop 11

Nita-Helena Taivaloja & J. Tuomas Harviainen
BREAKING FREE – Emancipation and stigma in consensually non-monogamous relationships

This theoretical paper addresses how people living in consensually non-monogamous (CNM) relationships “break free” from the social norms and rules surrounding sexuality and relationships – and the ways in which this emancipation may result in individually and collectively experienced stigma.

CNM has been conceptualized as an umbrella term for any romantic, sexual or otherwise emotional or intimate relationship in which all parties consent to forming ties with more than two people. The most common forms of CNM are swinging, open relationships and polyamory, but also new categories such as relationship anarchy have surfaced. Breaking free from the normative rules opens up numerous possibilities for play, pleasure and happiness. However, these kinds of “alternative” ways of creating relationships are often stigmatized as dysfunctional or perverse, since hegemonic assumptions create a belief system in which only cis-gendered heterosexual monogamous couples are seen as natural and morally correct. Breaking free from the norms turns out to be a double-edged sword: in order to seek new ways of play one must deal with the consequences as well. CNM types also differ in many ways on the level of playfulness involved. The play aspect is sometimes seen as inferior (in the case of ideological polyamory vs. swinging), or it may, in turn, be appreciated, in cases where swinging is seen as a value-normative way for an emotionally monogamous couple to stay as the central relationship unit.

We reflect upon this theme by presenting an overview of the international studies conducted on the advantages and disadvantages of CNM and discuss their implications in Finland. We hope that this opening will result in more critical views on the normative structures binding people and their possibilities for play.

Aljosa Puzar
University of Ljubljana
East Asian copulatory vocalizations and/as female sexual play

Situational adaptations of individual female vocal performances under different cultural and emotional regimes rarely passed unnoticed in cultural studies and cultural anthropology of gender in East Asia, with infantilized voices and whispers, to give the obvious example, being often mentioned as an important ingredient of the regionally widespread performances of winsomeness, usually specifically gendered (i.e. regulated as “feminine”). Still, the closely related phenomenon of the East Asian (prevalently Japanese but also Korean and Chinese) “signature pornographic copulatory vocalization” (or rather, a sub-type of female copulatory vocalizations) is rarely understood in the context of the secondary infantalization and/or cutification of intimacy, and it seems to be largely left to the orientalizing masculinist gaze of the male pornographic consumers in the West, interpreting these voices as the mimetic translation of lived toxic masculinity and lived subjugated femininity. The narrow purpose of this presentation is to engage with the additional layers existing in these vocal operations and representations, and, in particular, to describe the private intimate localizations of these “pornographic” sounds. The ethnographic data collected between 2012 and 2015 in South Korea, and the database of media samples will be used to explore the lived and fluid quality of these “traveling voices”, tested against the notions of androcentric emotional labor and postfeminist female sexual agency, but also seen as a part of the intricate and “more-than-androcentric” female sexual play and interplay.

Victoria Brooks
University of Westminster
When is fucking-with too fucking much?

Fucking-with as a confrontational strategy is necessary in sexuality research. Fucking-with in such work takes place on a theoretical and philosophical level, a methodological level and on the level of writing. Fucking-with is fucking with academic ethics and conventions, ways of thinking and ways of presenting sexuality work. Fucking-with is necessary in academia since judgment and assumptions remain with the potential to prevent sexuality work, and sexuality work must be sanitized of its erotic power. Fucking can be violent, fucking can be playful. Fucking-with as sexuality researchers is a strategy for survival (both in terms of our bodies and our work), so fucking is serious, but it is also playful, joyful and orgasmic. At what point though does fucking-with become too-much and too destructive? When does our fucking-with as academics become too much for our institutions, our students, for the public and for the media? Fucking around as a philosophical, methodological and literary strategy is necessarily without limits, aims and horizons, but at what point does fucking-with fuck up, and cause our bodies too much pain, put our institutions at too much risk, and at what point is there too much sex in our writing?

Workshop 12

Oliver Carter
Birmingham City University
Your Choice: The Transnational Trade in Hardcore Pornography

This paper explores the transnational trade in British pornography, focusing specifically on the relationship between Britain and the Netherlands from the late 1980s onwards. In 1984, the Conservative government introduced the Video Recordings Act. This policy required all films released on home video to be certified by the British Board of Film Classification. Prior to this, uncertified films could be distributed on home video. This loophole was exploited by entrepreneurs such as Mike Freeman and John Lindsay, who distributed hardcore pornography on the VHS, Betamax and Phillips V2000 formats. Both were prosecuted in 1984 for contravening the Obscene Publications Act. The introduction of the Video Recordings Act created a thriving black market of hardcore pornography in Britain. However, one particular company emerged, setting up premises in Amsterdam, where the distribution of hardcore pornography was legally permitted, with the intention of distributing pornography to the UK, circumventing the Video Recordings Act and the Obscene Publications Act. This paper investigates the development of this company, Your Choice, drawing on a workplace ethnography of the organisation, and interviews with its directors, to explore the cultural economic processes through which they distribute hardcore pornography from their base in Amsterdam to the United Kingdom.

Mari Pajala
University of Turku
Playful performances of sexuality: Monsieur Mosse as a gay celebrity in straight porn magazines in 1980s Finland

Monsieur Mosse (real name Raimo Jääskeläinen) was the first out gay celebrity in Finland. Mosse was a hairdresser and friend to the stars who came out in scandal magazine Hymy in 1971, the year homosexual acts were decriminalized in Finland. As a public figure, Mosse – with his appetite for celebrity gossip and luxury consumption – was at odds with the ideals of the Finnish gay rights movement of the 1970s and 1980s; the leading Finnish gay rights organization refused even to accept his membership application. Instead, Mosse found cultural space for himself in the lowly valued sphere of porn.

This paper analyses how the figure of Mosse as a gay media celebrity formed through playful engagement with different forms of sexuality. In the 1980s, Mosse collaborated with porn publisher Erotica, editing Gentleman magazine and providing stories and gossip to Erotica magazine. Notably, both these publications concentrated on heterosexual porn. In this context, Mosse presented himself as a flamboyant gay celebrity, visiting leather bars and spreading bitchy gossip about celebrities. He also staged obvious performances, such as an engagement to a black woman, claiming to have changed his ways and posing in nude photos his fiancée. Exploring how Mosse played with different performances of sexuality in creating his figure as a gay celebrity, the paper also discusses what use straight porn magazines had for a gay figure and how the Finnish porn industry offered cultural space for the development of gay celebrity.

Daniel Cardoso
The value of print: Post-porn magazines and artistic difference

Overall, the market for printed magazines has been decreasing, following a supposed ‘print crisis’ in journalism and media in general. Counter to this, however, some areas of publication have witnessed the blossoming of small-scale, niche, projects. One such area is post-pornography. By closely analyzing the context in which several publications are produced, especially but not exclusively, in Finland, we aim to understand how value is conceptualized, created and contested in tension with notions of sexual dissidence, artistic validation, and activist resistance. The places of pleasure, the uses of media and masturbation, and the physicality of the magazines themselves operate as boundary-work as these publications and the people behind them establish their own media space. To look at these phenomena, we analyze the projects’ social media connections, their content, and especially interviews to editors and former editors of Phile Magazine (Canada) and Ménàge à 3 (Finland). We conclude that this boundary-work intends to critique the ‘mainstream’ but that, by such a critique, it constructs the ‘mainstream’ and thus its own validity as anti-mainstream, while simultaneously reproducing hierarchies of value and acceptability around sexual politics. These publications play with sexuality, are seen as a means of playing with sexuality, and frame playfulness around sexuality as serving very different sociopolitical objectives.

Workshop 13

Ihsan Asman
University of Turku
Monotony, imagination and toys: Playing with and through porn in Turkey

For Miguel Sicart, ‘toy is an element for getting the fantasy started, a gate to the world of imagination’ and also, it is ‘an extension of the playful mind, an exploration of both who we are and what we do’. Likewise, Susanna Paasonen calls upon Sicart’s understanding of play as variations of pleasures, which may be hurtful and difficult and argues that ‘play can be a means of exploring and reworking the boundaries of sexual norms.’ Through these considerations of play, playfulness and toy, I would like to shed light on how some porn spectators in metropolitan Turkey watch, enjoy, get hurt/disturbed and play with and through porn.

Stemming from multiple semi-structured interviews with 20 people, who openly talk on their porn consumption from different gender/ gender variations and sexual orientations, I believe that my research data may contribute on thinking about the complexity and centrality of pleasure within porn studies in particular and sexuality studies in general. Informants’ different ways of making use of porn, like appropriating their ‘real’ sexual lives with their porn fueled imagination or deploying online porn as a remedy for their impaired/lacking imagination, in a country where hetero-patriarchal structures stand strong and online porn is persistently subjected to various censorships, can become very explicative in many senses.

To sum, far from being determinate in its proposals to evaluate porn spectatorship through toy, play and playfulness, this presentation aims to discuss, to summon Paasonen again, a pleasurable autotelic pursuit or a quest for pleasure while bringing forward a different, non-western context which would be unfamiliar to many participants of this conference.

Tanja Sihvonen,
University of Vaasa
”My Games are… Unconventional” – A Literary Cross-examination of Game and BDSM Studies

With J. Tuomas Harviainen

This article examines connections between games and BDSM, as well as game studies and the studies of BDSM. It identifies five sets of relevant connections. First, there are direct comparisons between the two types of play. Second, several live-action role-playing games have been made about BDSM, or for BDSM. Third, many other games too have borrowed ideas from BDSM, as have some BDSM activities, in turn, from games and play. Fourth, queer game studies frequently discuss subversive and transgressive play practices. And fifth, both games and BDSM are frequently combined with theories of theater and rituals, which thus form a potential bridge between these activities as well. Through this analysis, we show how deeply interconnected the two are, even if the connection is only rarely mentioned.

Maria Ruotsalainen
University of Jyväskylä
“Because he is gay like me (im not joking)” The role of the sexual orientation of playable heroes and professional players in Overwatch fandom

with Tanja Välisalo (University of Jyväskylä)

In our presentation we examine the ways players and fans discuss about the sexual orientation of the playable heroes of Overwatch, team-based online multiplayer first-person shooter game published in 2016 by Blizzard Entertainment, and the sexual orientation of the professional Overwatch esports players. Esports have been on the rise in the past years and some of the esports research has also addressed esports fandom and esports audiences (see e.g. Taylor 2012; Sjöblom & Hamari 2017). Nevertheless, studies examining the players’ and fans’ relationship to both a videogame and its fictional world as well as esports based on that particular videogame are scarce. Our research addresses this gap by examining how players and fans of the videogame Overwatch interact with the entirety of the Overwatch universe, including Overwatch esports.

During the august 2018 we gathered a survey data consisting of 135 responses, in order to find out more about the ways the players and viewers of Overwatch esports discuss about their relationship to their favorite playable heroes and professional players. When examining the reasons for favourite character and favourite players, there are overlapping factors: In both cases gender as well as sexual orientation are deemed important – this came up in the open-ended questions.

In order to further examine the way the players discuss about the sexual orientation of the playable heroes of Overwatch and that of professional players , we gathered discussions from two discussions forums: subreddit r/competitiveoverwatch and the official Overwatch forums maintained by developer of the game. We gathered discussions around three different events: when the “poster girl” of overwatch, Tracer (playable hero who is also in the cover of the game) was revealed to have girlfriend; when professional player Hyeon “Effect” Hwang came out as bisexual in twitter; and when playable hero Soldier76 was revealed to be gay or bisexual through a short story from the Overwatch developers.
Throughout our analysis we pay attention how players and heroes sexual orientations are discussed and articulated and how one’s fandom is influenced by them, but also to what larger themes the discussions are related to and how sexual orientation and sexuality become articulated in these discussions.