Originally published in A MAZE. Magazine Issue #1: WOMEN
When Consentacle was first announced at the Sex Games panel at last year’s Different Games conference, heads turned. Sex and tentacles?! A cooperative card game for two players, Consentacle represents a consensual sexual encounter between a curious human and a tentacled alien. Players have to figure out how to build trust and do sexual things with each other, even if they can’t communicate easily.
What to make of Consentacle? Is it brilliant? Icky? Different? To me, what one of the most fascinating things about Consentacle is how it sets out to quantify the unquantifiable: sex. Actions like winking and penetrating are assigned a certain number of Satisfaction Tokens and totaled up at the end of a game, and players can interpret those numbers using a table provided with the card deck (see: rules.) I talk with Naomi Clark to find out the process behind one of the most original card games currently out there.
A Sex Game Or A Game About Sex?
Krystle: Tell me a secret. How did you decide on the number of Satisfaction Tokens given or taken for each action? Did you have long and, I imagine, fun reflective sessions over how to quantify sexual acts?
Naomi: Hah! Unfortunately it’s not anything particularly exciting. The game has an arc with more tentative actions that tend to happen near the beginning, but also recur throughout, building up towards the more intense and difficult maneuvers to pull off – the things that take more trust. Those actions were always the ones I intended to be more racy and worth blushing about. As for the exact numbers, however – it was a process that involved a lot of math and simulating theoretical games in a spreadsheet. Totally not sexy – which of course is part of the amusing paradox of the whole thing, what makes the game feel like “Love in a Time of Systems” to me.
Krystle: Consentacle is like an entire economic system in and of itself! How did you come up with the mechanics of it all? Why so system-oriented?
Naomi: System is a huge area of interest for me when I design games. Although I wouldn’t say it’s the only thing or even the most important thing, it’s an ingredient in my work that I always want to keep an eye on, or a lens that I always want to make sure that I peer through. So much of our interaction with the world, with other humans, with various constructed experiences is mediated by systems, even if looking at everything that way is far from the whole truth. There was something horribly appealing to me about dealing with the economy of trust, love, and sex; these are sacrosanct facets of life to most of us, things we like to think of as being beyond the influence of economies and numbers and rules – but of course, systems around us are influencing our relationships at a deep level all the time. I don’t just mean through overt economies like money, but also in scarcity and difficult limitations of care, and trust, and affection, of structure-born differences between people and the expectations of society about relationships…