Tokyo Game Show Cracks Down On This VR Game That Lets Players Fondle a Mannequin

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Tokyo Game Show has been going on all week, and one virtual reality experience that made a big splash with attendees has been a booth that shows off a new modeling technology called E-Mote. The software, which was created by developers at M2 Co. Ltd, allows VR developers to create 3D models that look similar to 2D animated illustrations, but which can be interacted with in three dimensions. M2 also went a step further and showed off how developers could use touch sensors on a physical object in addition to VR to provide some added immersion to interacting with the 3D model in VR.

There are a lot of different ways that this type of technology could be used, but M2 has decided to go with the “dating sim” route–or, at least, that’s how I might describe the type of VR experience they’ve put together here. There isn’t any narrative involved, though, since their booth was mostly displaying a tech demo for the capabilities of the development tool that they built, and it sounds pretty simplistic.

M2 created a VR simulation of a 3D model of a young woman, and they also brought along a mannequin dressed up to look like the young woman in the simulation. The mannequin had touch-sensors in her torso so that any player who touched her breasts would receive a reaction from the 3D model inside of the VR experience. I’m not sure what type of reaction she provides, but based on the screenshots I’ve seen, it appears to be a consensual experience.

That said, this is a development tool, so VR developers could really implement it in whatever way they wanted. There are a lot of examples of how to use the tool shown in one of the promotional videos for E-mote, embedded below. Some of the models are men, some are women–and some of them look very, very young (not all of them… just saying, that’s in there). Again, though, this is just a demo of a tool that could be used in a lot of different ways–it’s not a complete game or VR experience that we could evaluate on its own merits. It’s something that developers could use to make a more complete experience, which we could then evaluate accordingly.

Game developers wouldn’t even have to use this tool to create a pornographic game, but that is the type of experience that it seems M2 wanted to show off at their booth–specifically, a VR experience starring a female character. This obviously says a lot about who they think would be in attendance at Tokyo Game Show and how they wanted to go about showing off this new technology that they built. That said, their decision to show off E-mote in this way, at a public booth at an all-ages game event, has drawn some criticism.

After several players had interacted with M2’s display and touched the mannequin’s chest, Tokyo Game Show decided that they didn’t care for M2’s display and, according to Reuters, they asked M2 to remove the touch sensors from the mannequin’s chest so that players would stop fondling the mannequin. M2’s tech demo is still available to play, but now if you touch the mannequin’s breasts, nothing happens.

I have a lot of questions, but I’ll start with what I see as the most obvious one: why didn’t M2 put up a privacy curtain when displaying this VR demo? Surely, M2 knew that a display like this one would end up being controversial, especially at an all-ages event. It seems like they probably would have been allowed to continue displaying the E-mote technology for the entire length of the con with no complaints if they had only implemented some form of privacy while players engaged with the VR experience and mannequin. When I’ve seen dating sims displayed at other game conventions, I often see developers use privacy curtains so that people can play without onlookers watching them. It’s a courtesy to the players, who might want to play in private, and it’s also a courtesy to onlookers who might not want to turn around a corner and watch a stranger touching a boob in a game.

As VR technology ramps up, so too will sexy games become super popular in that sphere–I get that, I expect it, I’m not surprised that this tool exists, and I think it’s fine to make games using this type of technology. I just also think it’s important to understand that not everyone at a public gaming event (many of whom might be there for work or networking purposes) wants to interact with this type of tech demo or be expected to enjoy playing it. Ideally, sexual content should be opt-in. Springing sexual content on people without them realizing what they’re walking into? That’s not cool. Assuming that everybody is going to be into a tech demo like this, and that it’ll actually sell your product? Also not a great call.

There’s also the larger problem of how games, and how society at large, already objectifies women on a level that is so systemic that it’s become a casual part of our everyday lives, and attempting to create games that subvert that paradigm and give women agency over their own sexual experience is still a radical and rarely-seen act … but I’m not going to blame this one piece of VR technology for somehow contributing to that problem, because it doesn’t, necessarily. The tool is fine, but the booth doesn’t seem that great to me.

I can think of plenty of ways that E-Mote could be used to make some radical and subversive games. But in the meantime, it’s important to let people opt into which types of sexual experiences they see, and that includes not having to see some strangers at a convention groping a mannequin. So, good on Tokyo Game Show for asking M2 to remove that aspect of their tech demo from the public convention floor. That also means that now more people can check out the tech demo without feeling like they have to interact with it in this specific way, if they’re not comfortable doing so.

(via Geek.com, image via YouTube screencap)

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Maddy Myers
Maddy Myers, journalist and arts critic, has written for the Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and tons more. She is a host on a videogame podcast called Isometric (relay.fm/isometric), and she plays the keytar in a band called the Robot Knights (robotknights.com).