Sex has been used to sell cars for ages, but sex with cars? That’s something else entirely.
Something stranger, certainly, but also something very interesting. Stick Shift, the third free game in Robert Yang’s gay sex game trilogy, uses a car’s stick shift to represent… well, you can probably guess (HINT: IT IS A PENIS). You move your mouse gently at first, increasingly intensity slowly, shifting into higher gears all the while. As you do this, your character’s facial expressions glide through waves of sexual tension and release, like so:
Eventually, you and the car climax (hurrah!), or you finish early and it’s kinda awkward (see: the end of the video). So yeah, fun metaphor, interesting way of simulating sex in a video game, good to see indie games go where triple-A won’t (oh no gay sex how scaaaaary), etc. But there’s more to it. As Chris Priestman wrote in an excellent article on Kill Screen, Stick Shift has layers:
“You may not experience another aspect of Stick Shift yourself as it only appears 48 per cent of the time. It sees two cops armed with M4 rifles, riot sticks, and grenades interrupting you during your surging sexual rumpus. Yang connects this to the The Stonewall Riots in 1969, when the gay community fought back against the police by ‘denying their authority through flamboyance. They kissed and made-out. Free self-expression was its own protest, and it utterly humiliated the NYPD,’ as Yang tells it.”
“Similarly, you can have the driver make kissy-faces at the two cops during your own mini-protest, which in turn drives up the countdown timer as a punishment. The purpose of this isn’t clear without its context, which is to reflect an experience specific to the queer community when communicating with the police. That it happens 48 per cent of the time is a reference to this March 2015 Williams Institute report, which states that ‘of the LGBT violence survivors who interacted with police, 48% reported that they had experienced police misconduct.'”
Priestman’s closing thought, too, is a sober look deep into the mechanical heart of a game many might write off as a goofy sex joke:
“Stick Shift reveals itself as a vignette about a gay man’s intimacy with technology, which allows him to live out his sexuality when parts of society would shun him for it. Having recognised my own queerness and eventually accepted it due to the internet, through a computer, Stick Shift‘s technosexual concept seems less ridiculous (as those I’ve shown it have judged it) and more affirming than anything.”
There is, then, a lot to be said for smaller, more focused games like this — even ones that are only a few minutes long. They’re like short sentences, often communicating thoughts and feelings entire novels cannot. Stick Shift is absurd and humorous, sure, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be meaningful. I encourage you to play it. See what it means to you.