Westworld, Sadism, and Humanity

HBO continues to set a high bar in its primetime drama, and the new sci-fi drama Westworld is a strong addition to their lineup this fall. With cinematic production values that match or exceed Game of Thrones, there’s no doubt that the network has made a real commitment to this reboot of a relatively obscure 1973 movie, starring, of all people, Yul Brynner.


Please tell me nobody’s going to reboot this, too.

Westworld isn’t a sweeping epic, like Game of Thrones, but rather, a more thoughtful, existential work more in the mode of The LeftoversIt shares some common DNA with Orphan Black and Dollhouse, pushing through the boundaries of humanity in a world where technology is showing them to be soft.

Orphan Black‘s clones challenge a basic sense of human autonomy: Sarah and her sestras were made in a lab, from their carefully-coded DNA on out. They are copyrighted and patented intellectual property, reproducible by their owner. Their rebellion over the course of the series is, in part, about taking back self-ownership. Dollhouse was the converse: its featured technology did not create new bodies, but customized the minds and personalities of the individuals in its clutches. While the clones seek to reclaim their engineered bodies for their individual minds, the dolls of Dollhouse seek to regain ownership of their engineered minds.

Westworld, essentially, does both: its robotic characters have artificial minds in artificial bodies, beyond the fractured humanity of its predecessors. What self can there be under such circumstances? And how can the viewers navigate these uncanny representations of humanity?

Westworld.jpgTrigger warnings for rape and rape culture below, as well as spoilers.

Continue reading

Sexualized Saturdays: The Sims

I love this game. I love it so much. I don’t know why; it’s pretty much a computerized version of a dollhouse, and I haven’t touched one of those since I gave up babysitting. You get the house, and you get the personality free avatars to impose upon whatever story your little heart desires. I don’t know about the rest of you, but personally, I always tried to make my families as screwed up as possible. Husbands would cheat on their wives with their wives’ sisters and brothers, while being impregnated by aliens. Women would woo-hoo anything capable of walking. And I would occasionally create characters just to kill for the sake of a haunted house.

And for the record, it’s impossible to kill a kid, because social services will take it away. Even if you delete all the doors and windows, the worker will just teleport inside the house. And hell if your brat fails school, it gets shipped off to the military academy. But I digress.

I also spent a good so many hours trying to make a brother and sister incestuous, and after all that wasted time, I finally had to admit defeat. Brothers and sisters won’t woo-hoo each other. Second cousins will, though.

Anyway, the point of a dollhouse is to more or less play house. Two people get married, find jobs, have a kid or twelve, and they don’t need to do it in that order. But even as a young girl and playing with dolls, I always had to have a story or it wouldn’t be fun. It’s kind of hard to have a story in The Sims. It sounds childish, but you can’t really pick up the people and impose voices upon them or give them any identifying characteristics outside their clothes and hairdo. There isn’t much to do in The Sims other than click “run here” or “eat breakfast” or “stop playing on the fucking computer and go to work, you damn slacker!”

And while one doesn’t need to impose his or her own voice onto the screen when you can simply chose between telling them to make a joke or flirt or just plain talk—the Sims do have their very own Sim language that no one can understand, so it’s like playing charades—you can’t control how they’ll react. If you could, my brother and sister characters wouldn’t be freaking out whenever I make them tell each other something dirty.

Of course, it’s probably better this way. I don’t know about the rest of you, but you know that somewhere out there someone talks into his or her computer screen to make the story more realistic.

But by the very nature of the game, outside family members, it’s possible to hook anyone up with anyone. Anyone. There’s always something about games like this that rubs me the wrong way. Especially because I very rarely ever make a normal gay couple as opposed to trying to see what I can and cannot get the characters to do. I only ever make straight pairings when I want to produce a baby at some point. I never play The Sims to play house. I play it to ruin people’s lives.

However, it doesn’t surprise me that all the characters are bisexual, since I very much doubt that sometime soon we will see an option to choose a character’s sexuality. And even if that happens, the options would probably be only straight, gay, or bi. Sexuality is much too complicated to easily be used correctly in a game like this—then again, so is life. If they ever did that, they would then be obligated later on to make a transsexual option, or an asexual one, and you know that somewhere out there someone would be upset that they didn’t have a homoromantic heterosexual option. And I don’t know about you, but that last one I would still only use to see what I can and cannot make the characters do.

I shouldn’t really compare The Sims to a dollhouse, because it’s designed to be much more realistic than that, but for me realism dies when it comes to the sexuality. I have no problem with gay characters, and as it’s my own neighborhood, it’s my own fault for screwing up everyone and having an unrealistic ratio of gay to straight people. It’s more the fact that I can do that with no trouble at all that bothers me.

But even calling all the Sims bisexual doesn’t sit well. Earlier today, I thought about calling them pansexual, and between the two terms, I’m not sure which one fits best. You see, despite no lack of trying, the amount of non-personality that all the characters have means that everyone is exactly the same. The only thing that separates a character from another character is physicality. You have a man, well, he’s going to be wearing man clothes, but you can make him do whatever the hell you want him to do. Yeah, a man can’t dress like a woman, but you can make him as feminine as fucking possible when you try to give him a personality, which is mostly determined by how much he likes to clean or something similar. Because there’s no identity, there’s also no gender identity. That fact that it’s damn near impossible to have any kind of gender-identity makes me hesitant to call any of the Sims pansexual. But even if there was, it wouldn’t matter because they’d still woo-hoo anyone, which makes me hesitant to call any of the Sims bisexual.

It’s not a world where any sexuality exists, because even if you design a man and woman to be together, both of them would be more than willing to get with someone of the same gender. This is a world where only bisexuals exist. And while I know why game makers do this, I don’t really understand why they feel the need to. Because it’s not there to help show equality between the sexualities; it’s there so you can pimp out anyone to anyone as you play through trying to figure out what’s possible and what’s not.