There was a lot of winking and nudging when the MMO Final Fantasy 14 introduced three new poses for dozing a year ago. And behind the closed doors of virtual houses and apartments, much more went on after that.
If you're a connoisseur of online role-playing games, you know that icky feeling when you stumble upon a crowd of scantily-dressed, silent avatars standing a little too close to each other somewhere public. In /whispers and /tells, probably, they're having cybersex. Online erotic role-playing, often abbreviated to ERP, has existed as long as online games have, and well before that in chatrooms. Avatar bodies gave voice to the less vocal parts of it, but simply standing together and talking isn't totally evocative for more visually-minded gamers. With increasingly vivid emotes for avatars to express themselves, cybersex in turn has become increasingly vivid.
A FF14 player by the handle of Asami Hanasaki met me on a bench in the virtual city of Ul'Dah to tell me how she gets it on in the game. If I walked over to the nearby Quicksand Tavern, she said, I'd see a few scantily-clad cat girls leaning against a banister with words such as "dozy" or "daddy" next to their names, which was exactly what I found. At the tavern, players type nasty things to each other in private messages. Hanasaki said that what goes on at the Quicksand is just half of the FF14 ERP experience. To bring an extra something to the encounter, players will take each other home to their in-game residences to act things out.
"/Doze is probably the most common," Hanasaki told me when I asked which emotes are used for sex more often. It's an emote for sleeping that, curiously, is mostly limited to private quarters on private furniture. To use it, an avatar types /doze into their chat box while they are near a piece of furniture, such as a bed, on which the character will then lie down. There was no /doze emote available until FF14's relaunch in 2013, but shortly after, when publisher Square Enix introduced private housing and furniture such as beds, developers tweaked /doze so players could sleep on the furniture. Until last July, /doze looked like a character literally dozing off, sighing a little and groggily leaning over until they woke themselves up. Now, it's a little more horizontal.
/Doze in FF14
For sex, a player "usually has someone sitting on top of the other, whether it be on the other character's face, or near their naughty area," Hanasaki said. "Sometimes they will use the stretch emote to push their arse against the other person." When /doze was released, Square Enix didn't exactly play dumb about what its fans would do with the new emote. In 2013, a Square Enix community manager said that its use was limited to more private settings to "prevent the taking of not especially appropriate screenshots". And yet, with /doze, players can change their poses from laying on their side to their stomach to on their back, maybe with a knee or two up.
/Doze in FF14
"People were ERPing long before /doze existed," Das, another player who ERPs in FF14 told me. "Before /doze, people would just /sit on the edge of beds instead." That way, another avatar could simply stand above them to evoke oral sex. With similarly old emotes like /pray, which has a character get down in their knees, FF14 players have simulated oral sex for years. The same goes for /hug, although, since it's already a motion toward intimacy, it tends to come off pretty innocent.
Things are only getting crazier as time goes on. Another ERPer who goes by Bryte Darklyt told me that /doze didn't actually affect her in-game sex as much as the /playdead emote, which was introduced earlier this year. The /pushup emote, which was added into FF14 just one month ago, has also been a big game-changer in the ERP scene, something I confirmed after stumbling upon a couple mid-cunnilingus on the public steps of Ul'Dah this morning:
Emotes in online role-playing games are like symbols in a still unstudied language. They change meaning depending on context and whichever other emotes proximate avatars are using. Sex in MMOs is what's advanced the language of emotes beyond what developers may have intended, but a lot of it goes on in private - that's what makes it intimate.
After our interview, I thanked Hanasaki for her time. "No problem!" she effused. "And that Miqo'te that just ran passed us was an ERPer," she added. "They were in their underwear."