(We’ve got major spoilers ahead for the “Black Mirror” season 5 episode “Striking Vipers”)
We’ve only got three episodes in this season of “Black Mirror” on Netflix, but the first one is such a doozy that it kinda makes up for the shortage on its own. And the fact that it assembles one of the best casts the show has ever had — with Anthony Mackie, Yahya Abdul-Mateen, Pom Klementieff, Nicole Behari and Ludi Lin as the main players — also helps.
The premise of this episode is that two old buddies Danny (Mackie) and Karl (Abdul-Mateen) try to reconnect over the newest edition of a fighting video game they used to play back in the day, the “Striking Vipers” that gave the episode its name. The twist is that the new version is a virtual reality game, employing the same sort of “Matrix”-style immersive VR that we’ve seen in “Black Mirror” in the past.
So they pick their fighters, with Karl choosing a sexy lady played by Klementieff, and Danny picking a sexy man played by Ludi Lin. And instead of fighting, they have sex with each other.
Presumably most people who read this have already watched the episode, so I won’t continue my recap. For those who haven’t seen it, that’s enough info for what I’m going to discuss in the rest of this article: how that core conceit of the episode doesn’t make sense — at least not in the world we currently live in.
Before I get into this, I should remind you that I liked this episode, so this isn’t intended strictly as criticism. It’s really just a deeper exploration of the ramifications of the scenario this “Black Mirror” episode introduces — and we can go much deeper than Brooker and co. did.
So the core conceit here, obviously, is that in “Black Mirror” there is a fighting game called “Striking Vipers” — obviously inspired, judging by the art on the box, by the real life “Street Fighter” series — in which players can take the experience in an unexpected and unplanned direction by having sex with each other.
It’s an amusing idea, but it’s also one that is basically impossible for a number of reasons. Let’s start with the practical reasons.
So when a video game is made, almost everything that a player can do with it is designed intentionally by its creators. As is the case with all software, some unexpected things will happen when the product is put in the hands of users, but there’s a limit on how far afield players will be able to go without actually modifying the software. Because there are some things that just can’t “accidentally” happen in a video game.
One of those things is players having sex in a video game. Taking for granted the idea that this virtual reality system in “Striking Vipers” is a fully immersive thing, the game’s programmers would still need to give the player characters genitals, and then also make those genitals sensitive for the scenario. A working penis is a feature that must be implemented on purpose — it’s not just an incidental feature. That’s extra work that goes far beyond the scope of the game, so they almost definitely would not bother.
The only scenario in which it potentially makes sense for players to be able to have sex with each other in “Striking Vipers” is if that’s just a feature of the VR system. But that would only make sense on a technical level. It would still not explain why they would be allowed to do that.
This is a whole rabbit hole to think about, but I’ll try to keep this relatively simple. There’s a lot of real life cultural reasons why it doesn’t make sense that the creators of “Striking Vipers” would design their game like this in the world as we know it.
Years and years ago, some players discovered that “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” had a hidden sex mode that could be unlocked if the game files were modified. Even though most people couldn’t access this “Hot Coffee” mode, and even though the actual content was really tame, the game was reclassified with an Adults Only rating and pulled from store shelves — because every major retailer has a policy against selling AO games. Rockstar Games had to print new game discs without the offending hidden code.
The reaction to players discovering that “Striking Vipers” lets you have sex with any player at any time would be somewhat more severe and be far more difficult for its creators to deal with. There would almost certainly be new laws drafted in the U.S. to ban both it and the VR system that enabled it. Territories that are already legally equipped to ban video games would do so immediately, because there would be copious issues of consent and the fact that children play video games. This whole scenario is a disaster waiting to happen.
So its online services would be terminated. And since the sexy stuff is apparently intrinsic to the game, the company that made it would be unable to do anything to fix it quickly.
And if your wife saw you were playing it, she would know exactly what you’re doing in it because all of this would have been a huge news story.
The idea that a virtual reality system would inherently allow players to have sex in any game made for it regardless of what kind of game it is is also odd. Imagine the new “Madden” coming out and every game is derailed by an orgy. The concept of “make love, not war” is taken to new extremes in online “Call of Duty” matches. It would be completely ridiculous. It’s not just “Striking Vipers” that would be banned — the whole system would be shut down and sued into oblivion by justifiably angry parents.
None of this is really what “Black Mirror” is trying to get you to think about with this episode, and it certainly does nothing to try to mitigate this line of thought. Especially given the scene where Karl describes all the orgies he did with many, many other players. Does he know who any of those other people were, or that they were of age?
I could keep going, because this concept is a veritable cornucopia of madness if you drill down into it. I still generally enjoy the episode, but it’s frustrating that a show like “Black Mirror,” which is ostensibly about the consequences of technology run amok, would miss all the craziness of this scenario.