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The immense power of Tacoma’s little sex toy

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A small step toward normalizing sex in video games

Tacoma

Next to the bed of a couple in Fullbright’s new game Tacoma, players may stumble across a shockingly personal item. A vibrator, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, that belongs to crew members Nat and Bert.

The initial find of this tucked-away object belongs to Holly Green over at Paste. Green, in exploring this small moment, points out the humanizing qualities of this addition: an item you might discover in anyone’s nightstand that also adds an implied intimacy to the relationship in question, without feeling exploitative.

Tacoma may be the sci-fi story of an evacuated space station and the people who left it, but the appearance of a vibrator feels refreshingly modern for any video game.

Fullbright co-founder Karla Zimonja sees this detail, however tiny it may be, as a way to breathe realism into the relationship between these two women. Why wouldn’t a married couple have one? “Probably everyone should have one,” she says. “They're probably— anyway. It just seemed like an extremely natural, human thing for our characters to own and likely bring to the station with them.” It’s the same reason the team added tampons in one of the crew member’s bathrooms, Zimonja says. Not because of some future necessity for the player, but because it’s an everyday item someone might use.

Zimonja says that Kate Craig, one of the team’s 3D modelers, came up with the specific design of Tacoma’s vibrator. Craig surveyed the current landscape of toys before deciding on a design that look appropriately futuristic — one of the few requirements set forth by Fullbright co-founder Steve Gaynor.

The final product is simple model that vaguely resembles a fat crab claw. “There's a lot of different sex toys out there, and I feel like, honestly, the one that we did include was not super intimidating,” Zimonja says. “It's not super, you know, challenging. It was just kind of like, ‘Cool, I can see how they would have this.’”

As for the specific choice on what kind of sex toy to use — a vibrator vs. something like a strap-on — the developer called it a more “down-to-earth” option. “It's in the bedroom of a married lesbian couple, so it is explicitly focused on women's pleasure,” she says. It also removes some of the more comedic implications: “People like to use dildos as punchlines.” Consider “The Penetrator” in Saints Row, a lethal baseball bat shaped like a monster dong; the “Massager” in Dead Rising; or Grand Theft Auto’s chuckable dildos. They all exist for the sheer absurdity of death by dick.

Tacoma

Level designer Nina Freeman, whose work outside of Fullbright explores topics like love and sex, seconds this idea that toys are more powerful in games as everyday objects. It’s easy to miss the vibrator all together. If a player tries to pick the object up, game heroine Amy politely decides to leave it be. This was Freeman’s personal addition. “Having a character's sexuality exist as a normal part of the world can be a really powerful way to better explore this sort of thing in games,” Freeman says. “I kind of think that that's not the only approach, but that's one that I personally like a lot.”

Of course, there’s something to be said for the day when finding a vibrator in a video game is no longer noteworthy. But that first requires dismantling the taboos around sex and the tools that enhance or enable it.

“There is something to be said of not being scared of things like sex toys,” Zimonja says. “I know that it's not always a given, people when they're just learning about sexual identities, that it's not always a given that they think that using sex toys is okay. So it might be nice to just kind of normalize it a little bit.”