In 2002, games journalist and researcher Jane Pinckard used the Trance Vibrator — a USB accessory that would vibe in time with the music of the trippy PS2 shooter Rez — to masturbate. In her now-classic blog, Pinckard lauded the game’s dripping colours and transportive sounds, but found the physical sensations generated by the Trance Vibrator most compelling.
“I moved the vibrator into my lap,” she wrote. Her boyfriend continued to play the game while she sat in her underwear, Trance Vibrator rumbling on. “As the levels got more advanced, so did the vibrations… revving up to an intense pulsing throbbing…”
Pinckard observed that the Trance Vibrator’s flat design lent itself to masturbation, separating it from video game systems’ buzzing, potentially enticing, but ultimately clunky gamepads.
“I found it’s tough to actually play the game and use the controller in nasty ways at the same time,” Pinckard wrote. “Another issue, and one not solved by the Xbox controller, is the shape of the device — less than ideal.”
Even in 2022, a standard video game controller’s rounded W-shape is perfect between your hands, but awkward between your thighs. But sex tech innovations from the past two decades or so — many centered around virtual reality and teledildonics (the term for remote-controlled sex devices) — have made horny gamers less interested in their controllers than in a quilt of new technologies and gadgets that are pulling sex and video games ever closer together.
In fact, relying on a DualShock’s gentle but inconsistent thrum is actually pretty basic by today’s standards.
“I think most people consider the controller-as-vibrator experience a little naughty and a little taboo,” Ana Valens, editorial strategist at The Mary Sue and video game creator, told me. “But the truth is, game controllers just don’t feel as great to use as an actual vibe that is purposefully designed and engineered for genital pleasure. It sounds naughty in theory, especially if you’ve never used a sex toy before — and no shame if you haven’t. But it’s really just the floor, not the ceiling, of what you can do with sex and games.”
Of course, your controllers will still be there, vibrating. If you really would like to use them for, shall we say, unintended purposes, be aware that their plastic might not necessarily be the same bacteria-resistant, skin-friendly kind a good sex toy is made out of. A body-safe sex toy is also going to vibrate in a way that’s meant to stimulate your body, whereas a video game controller simply reacts to a game’s commands.
There’s always room for some over-the-clothes experimentation, especially if you’re curious about vibrations but don’t know where to start. But to that end, I can give you a few ideas.
Buttplug.io makes the magic happen
“Buttplug.io as we know it today started in April 2017, but the history goes back far longer than that,” said Kyle Machulis, a creator of open-source software that can control sex toys over networks. When Machulis began working in sex tech in 2004, he realised “that there was no standard way to access toys.”
“Since I have a background in hardware programming and reverse engineering, I decided to just do the boring part for everyone,” he said. According to its website, buttplug.io now stands as the leading project “for controlling intimate hardware, including sex toys, fucking machines, and more.” But in addition to supporting perhaps more expected hardware, such as the app-controlled sex toys made by We-Vibe and Kiiroo, buttplug.io also offers plugins for game engines and can interface with various devices via Bluetooth, USB, and other standard protocols.
This allows buttplug.io to yield what Machulis calls “shitposts,” like using the haptic feedback in social simulation game Animal Crossing: New Horizons to twitch a linked buttplug or heavy blows in Elden Ring to buzz a Lovense Diamo cock ring. But you can use it in earnest for more intimate endeavours, too.
And the project continues to evolve. You will also soon be able to couple buttplug.io directly with Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons, Wii Remotes, PlayStation DualShocks, Oculus Rift Touch controllers, and HTC Vive controllers to let games and apps control their rumble functions. But until then, there are still plenty of ways to cleverly use the software with games.
But before you start deciding what toys and games to connect with buttplug.io, Valens suggests you ponder three questions. “One, is this game really accommodating to rumble effects? Two, is this game single-player or multiplayer? Three, if it’s multiplayer, is there something particularly intimate about gameplay, or something you could sexualize with other consenting parties?”
After you’ve sorted out the answers to those questions, which ask you to consider your desired physical effects, as well as the scope and boundaries of your intended activity, it’s time to play.
And there’s a lot to play. “There’s something really kinky about your partner beating you up in a game, and you actively feel that effect with your vibe,” Valens said. “There’s also something really sexy about playing a game like League of Legends with your friends and everyone getting each other off by using their abilities as they play. But I don’t know if I would necessarily advise people play [single-player games like] Metal Gear Solid 3 with a vibrating butt plug, unless they just want something to go off in their bodies and tease them as they play a video game.”
You can also dabble more directly in simulated sex by pairing your toy of choice with imaginative porn games compatible with buttplug.io, like Caveman BIOS Teaches Erotic Typing, which makes your device quiver with each word you type. “Several adult games also have buttplug.io capabilities thanks to mods,” said Valens, “such as Koikatsu Party and Bondage Club. There’s a full list on GitHub.”
VR sex is the new frontier
While we’re talking about fully pornographic games, both Valens and Machulis mentioned cartoonish virtual YouTubers (VTubers) and virtual reality in general as commanding NSFW gaming’s neon-bright future.
“As a VTuber myself, I’m really interested in what Projekt Melody is doing,” Valens said, referring to the lewd, purple-haired VTuber. “As fans of her know, she uses teledildonic sex toys in her streams, and viewers can tip for them to go off.”
Associating tips with a lewd act performed on camera is “pretty standard in the cam world with IRL models,” Valens says, but Projekt Melody’s streams blend physical and virtual by combining animated sex or stripping with the tangible feedback of a teledildonic toy.
“I would argue that Projekt Melody’s appeal is in her connection to anime and gaming,” Valens said, “and that the 3D sandbox experience she’s hosting in her cam sessions could be considered a game in and of itself.”
Digital porn stars like Projekt Melody could also serve as inspiration for stepping into your own reality-disintegrating VR sex world.
“The amount of immersion you get when strapping TVs to your head is already massive, so putting vibrators and whatnot all over your body while you strap TVs to your head is the obvious next step,” Machulis said. “There are VR games like Virt-A-Mate, Heat, and others that provide complex interactive scenes with hardware support,” he said, while erotic, social VR experiences like ViRo Playspace can bring you into a heady, animated sexual scenario in which your toys are interacting with in-world virtual objects or even other players. Some VR worlds lean into the fantasy, like Captain Hardcore, a slutty space exploration game that advertises linking your fleshlight to a naked alien’s body for “total immersion.”
These types of VR games and social groups, which let you look and feel exactly how you want, are arguably the most fully realised combination of sex with gaming. They enable gamers to transcend their bodies in all the ways a person might want to — looks, gender, voice — while keeping them tuned into their body’s sense of satisfaction. Think of the most immersive, detailed role-playing game then imagine you could literally fuck in it.
It’s funny to think of VR sex that way, perhaps one headset or screen away from real-life sex, but real life doesn’t come with mods that let you penetrate a hand with a two-foot blue dick like VRChat, now does it? And, crucially, real-life sex isn’t a game the way VR allows it to be in its single-player games. When you pursue VR sex alone, armed with nothing but whatever pulsating plastic you have on hand, you can experience a safe, exploratory way to visualise the boundaries of your sexual imagination and desire.
An open world of possibility
Both video games and your physical pleasure are what you make of them. Sex tech may help you wake up dormant parts of your sexuality, perhaps ones wrapped up in shame, and brush them off to discover what feels good, what you’re ready to do, and where your boundaries lie. But there’s no rush, and you should never feel like you need to try something you aren’t interested in or aren’t emotionally prepared for.
“Sexuality in gaming is a very complicated topic,” Valens said. “There’s a lot of stigma attached despite sexual content being an enormous part of gaming fandom. My advice is to take things slowly, go at the pace that feels comfortable to you, and don’t be afraid to experiment when you’re ready.”
Don’t be afraid of exploring something you never knew about before, either. “Sex tech, while far more known that it was when I started this 18 years ago — thanks to the advent of things like smartphones and better wireless communication — is still somewhat of a niche,” Machulis told me. “There’s also the usual assumption that it’s more about perverted lust than anything. While that’s true in some situations, the nice thing about single-player, offline sex games is that it provides a safe environment to experiment and explore without having to worry about dealing with the expectations of other people.”
So let your body lead the way — if you’re feeling curious about melding sex with video games, scroll through the resources we talked about and let your curiosity flourish. Ask yourself what you want and what you don’t, and, whenever you’d like, allow gaming to show you something you’ve never seen before.