This 'xxxhibition' complete with dildo joysticks was the highlight of PAX Australia

This year at PAX Australia I was given a wristband with an R18+ rating on it, certifying I am a real adult who is allowed to look at real adult games. Australians campaigned long and hard for 18+ games to be sold here and the system's still not perfect, but I'm glad to see official recognition that games aren't just for children. With this wristband I could have lined up to play South Park: The Fractured But Whole over on the show floor, but instead I chose to spend the last day of the con at an 'xxxhibition' of games for adults. 

It's a hike from the show floor to the theater building and then up two flights of stairs to room 214, where a sign with an eggplant emoji welcomes visitors to this showcase of sexy games. It's not a place you're likely to stumble across by accident while looking for the Injustice 2 booth. 

Compared to most of the con it's a calm and quiet space, illuminated by fairylights and a widescreen monitor where people play Genital Jousting (a game whose publisher chose not to submit it for classification in Australia, and which cannot be sold here) with controllers made from dildoes. In the middle of the room is a kiddie pool full of sextoys and around the walls are stations where you can play The Sims 4 with the WickedWhims mod installed, visual novels about intimacy, some of Robert Yang's games about gay culture, and Luxuria Superbia with another custom controller, this one designed to evoke a vulva complete with "twin-clit controls."

This xxxhibition is curated by the Blushbox Collective, a group dedicated to highlighting games about love and romance as well as sex, and Bar SK, a videogame bar that hosts indie games and whose owner makes custom controllers like the dildo joysticks here. There are no games about building a harem of anime girls, no VR humping simulators. Whether it's laughing at Genital Jousting's wobbly wangs or discussing what to say to someone you wake up beside in visual novel One Night Stand, these games and this environment are designed to foster intimacy rather than boners.

Katie Stegs, one of the co-founders of Blushbox, talked me through the xxxhibition.

PC Gamer: Tell me about Blushbox. How did it start?

Katie Stegs: It started as a collective in the beginning of 2016 and the reason we started was because Kim Allom from Defiant Development wanted to go to Lyst Summit, which is a symposium in Norway about love, sex and romance. She rang me up like, "Have you heard of this? It's really awesome." So we started this collective over here and we raised a bunch of money and went over to this convention. It blew our minds, like, "Wow, this is awesome. There's nothing like this in Australia. We've got to do something for this side of the world." It's so under-represented, under-talked-about.

We have three core tenets: we curate resources, we create events, we prototype games. This is one of our exhibitions—we do love, sex, and romance so anything with a focus on that. This one xxxhibition is obviously about sex and this is the second time that we've run it. We've got a rotation of about 10 games over the weekend and custom controllers. It's about getting people to come into a space where there's a lot of confrontational content in an accessible way that allows them to gain something from it and feel comfortable. 

What sort of reactions have you had from people here at PAX?

KS: The best reaction was 15 minutes after we opened this. A person cosplaying as the Shame Nun from Game of Thrones showed up, and shamed every single one with this big bell, like "Shame! Shame!" And I heard someone walk past and go, "Jesus, what's in there?"

A lot of people have said to me, "This is the most relaxing space in PAX, it's a real oasis." It gets busy, it kind of ebbs and flows, which is nice. Just hearing people play games like this one [Luxuria Superbia], which if you didn't have the vagina controller it's not immediately obvious what it is, playing together and talking about these things. We wanted to have games that focus really strongly on a theme and I think all the games that I've selected for this do that. 

Tell me about some of these games.

KS: That's a Robert Yang station and that's a visual novel station. We have three games rotating on those. The one over in the corner, One Night Stand, is by Kinmoku. It's a story about a person waking up after a one night stand and it's about choices that you make. Are you gonna go home or are you gonna speak to the person? What are you gonna do? Are you gonna get their number? The awkwardness—it's up to you really if it's an awkward encounter but it's exploring that idea of sex with a stranger and intimacy with a stranger or someone you don't really know. What do you do? How does that feel? It's really interesting to me because I think sex is often talked about so biologically. This game explores the emotional side of it much more. It's really awesome.

If you've got something as simple as a dick you know what to do with it. You've just got to grab it and move it. That's how it works!

Katie Stegs

Luxuria Superbia by Tale of Tales, it's about female pleasure. It's like a very slow, deliberate racing game I suppose you would say. You're trying to make these little petals bloom to climax, it gives you hints and feedback along the way.

At the Robert Yang station we've got recent, controversial indie hit The Tearoom. You would have seen probably a bunch of articles on that.

Yep.

KS: That is actually super interesting. It's very complicated. It's about a topic called 'cruising.' Robert does a lot of work with interactives on homoeroticism, so his work explores those themes. This one is a historical look at what cruising was. In that game you're in a public bathroom and you have to cruise for guys and meet them without getting caught by the cops. If you don't know anything about the practice or history of that it might sound like a very crude game, but it was a process a lot of gay people had to go through back then because it was very frowned upon to be gay and it was one of the only ways to meet people and get your rocks off, I guess. Really interesting that he made that as a short historical work.   

And then classic Genital Jousting, by South African developers Free Lives. My friend who I met at that conference in Norway made it, his name's Richard [Pieterse]. He's coming to speak at the Heartbeat symposium that we're doing in January and he's going to be speaking about why he actually made this game. It's had a lot of controversy around it, it's all about penetration and being penetrated, but it's not necessarily about pleasure or the penis as a power symbol. It's more about the funniness of it.

They are very silly penises.

KS: They are very silly penises! And we don't often see penises represented in this context. It's usually a symbol of power, of dominance or aggression. This is the opposite of that. He made this dick joke.

Is that why the dildo controllers are a good match for it? 

KS: The dildo controllers are made by Louis Roots, this exhibition is put on in collaboration with his Bar SK. Louis makes these custom controllers, Louis's whole tenet is about bringing accessibility to games for people who don't identify as gamers. He broaches these topics that are sometimes heady, or silly, or gamey and he tries to find a way for people to talk about and interact with it. A lot of people find traditional controllers too gamey. To people who aren't traditional gamers they can be quite confronting. If you've got something as simple as a dick you know what to do with it. You've just got to grab it and move it. That's how it works! It's a lot more accessible for people. It's also a talking point. It'll get people to sit down and play something because it's so different and out there. It might start a conversation or at least be a bit of laugh. 

What are your plans for Blushbox?

KS: My plans for Blushbox are essentially to become a community resource for developers interested in intimacy, love, sex, romance games. I would really like it to be a self-sustaining community of people who collate these resources and investigate these themes and host their own events. There just isn't really that much information about it. It doesn't have to be a taboo topic. A lot of people think it's porny, but it's not porny. As you can see with these games there's some really interesting things being discussed. 

What do you hope people take away from this exhibition?

KS: I want people to leave here having experienced a game that they never ever have seen... I think that games are often infantilized and seen as childlike, but they definitely don't have to be. There's a lot of content out there for more mature viewers. I really want them to play these games and have fun, obviously that's the core thing that people want to get out of a game, so come away learning something new, having thought about things in a different way. And I think these games are all really thought-provoking.