When I was in middle school, my brother taught me how to download anime off of IRC. He was tired of my incessant requests for new series (Trigun, Evangelion, Utena) and just sat me down and showed me: here is how you connect with other users, here’s how you browse a directory, here’s what an upload ratio is. I went through puberty early—I started being curious about sex and sexuality a year earlier. After my brother taught me about IRC I downloaded my first Eroge, True Love.
Eroge (a portmanteau of “erotic” and “game”) are hentai games. They’re porn. I had just barely had my first period but I’d spend my weekends and weeknights down in the basement, acting as a straight man trying to fuck a bunch of attractive women. Although True Love wasn’t a popular game in Japan, apparently it was a huge success in America, and remains a classic of the genre in the states. I had no idea when I was 11. I was just watching porn.
All of us learn a little bit about sex through porn. We learn that girls moan and men are silent, that blowjobs are expected but cunnilingus is not, that everyone is hairless and no one sweats. What I learned from True Love is the psychological aspect—to see someone naked you need to make them feel needed in certain ways, to appeal to their ego, to remake yourself in their image.
True Love, like a lot of the other dating sims I enjoy now, rely on simulating high school in order to boost certain statistics—athletics, intelligence, style—so that you can appeal to the women you’re courting. TokiMemo Girl’s Side doesn’t culminate any relationships in sex, but True Love does reward you with pixelated images of the naked female form once you’ve proven yourself. There’s an aspect of randomness to the whole ordeal as well; one girl you meet while out shopping is actually an angel, who will only fuck you once you’ve found her missing charm.
I didn’t know any of this—I was just desperately horny in that prepubescent, aching way, with no outlet for it. I was a gawky, strange girl, reaching my full height in the fifth grade and too smart for my own good. Other girls were dating, kissing, giving their first blowjobs and I was in a basement watching anime and playing games. I wouldn’t have lost my virginity until I was almost 20. But I wanted to know what sex was like. I wanted to know what it was like to be naked in front of someone.
True Love wouldn’t show me the reality of any of that, but it would give me a comforting fantasy. Every sexual encounter is clear cut, follows a set routine. You undress her tenderly, you finger her, get her wet, she goes down on you, you enter her and she moans, her face getting red and her lips parting, her tongue lolling in her mouth. Usually, you come on her naked body. At the end of the game you choose one woman to be your girlfriend.
I wonder how much of my own sexuality is born from this experience, of pressing myself into an armchair while I played, while the girls coyly answered my questions, and I tried to coax them out of their clothes. One girl—a pop star in disguise, with wild pink hair—I remember in particular. She was in hiding, running away from the popstar life and I, Gita, not the player character, wanted to take her away from all that, wanted to show her comfort and safety. I failed. I remember the dialogue prompt so clearly—either run away with me to this hotel or wait for your brother, and I chose to wait. I don’t remember what made me choose that, other than knowing that my own brother wouldn’t have let me run, that he always has my best interests at heart. But I remember her pink hair, equal parts wanting to sink my hands into it and wanting someone to untangle my own dark curls.
When I fuck now I feel like I am following the same routine. You fondle me, take my shirt off, finger me, get me wet, enter me, and I end up with all your fluids all over my body. I’m not embarrassed—this is what I want. But I wonder what it comes from, if this is just the same routine I was told to follow as a girl. Dating and fucking aren’t a game, but they feel like one, they feel like they have milestones to reach, that if I can just use the right product and clear up the acne on my face, if I can read the right books or listen to the right music I’ll have what I want. A human connection. A relationship. A romance.
Most men I fuck I think learned different things from porn than I did—but we were experiencing different kinds of porn. True Love was all about the emotional foreplay, the dates leading up to intimacy, the touches and signs, the gestures. The sex scenes in the game are brief, and it asks you to really fall in love with these women, to ask yourself, what kind of girl do I want?, in order to be satisfied by them. This labor, the courting process, is as sexual as the act of sex. It is all in the anticipation of feeling someone’s skin on yours, of hearing their sighs in your ear, of tasting their sweat on your skin. True Love is about love in that it is about the sheer ecstasy of fucking, about the moments when you’ve broken down all the barriers between you and someone else and there is just heat and flesh. It’s about everything that comes before sex but nothing that comes after.
As a woman now, I’m still at odds with learning about my own sexuality from the perspective of a man, especially as a girl playing at being a man. True Love never showed me what men actually want—it’s as varied as from one woman to the next. True Love showed me that men do all the work, that women are hesitant about sex, when even as a preteen I knew that wasn’t true. I did then, even before I knew what it meant, want to be fucked. I want to be fucked now, but more than that I want to be and have the kind of man from True Love. I want a man who will work at me, and I want to work at a man. It’s not that I want a man who will change for me, but that I want the labor I do, the wearing the right dress and answering the questions correctly, to be reflected in my partner. I want to raise myself to the occasion, and I want a man who will do that for me.
If I played True Love now I’m sure I would be disgusted. As a child, it all seemed so normal, it all seemed to make so much sense, that women will be attracted to people who share their interests, that the things leading up to sex are as important as the sex itself. It was indoctrinated into me as a girl that this kind of work pays off. But maybe we are all just that angel, that woman we meet out shopping, that will only fuck us once we’ve returned her charm.
Every girl in True Love is a type—there’s the sprightly pop star, the sporty swimmer, the wholesome girl next door. These women never change, but as a man, you always do. You’re a cipher, a detachable penis, essentially a ghost. True Love made me think that I was a type, but I am really that angel, untouchable, unreachable. All sex and all love have parameters as random as the angel I never fucked in the basement of my parent’s house. It’s all a mystery—and it’s better for it.
Gita Jackson has dedicated her entire adult life to wading through the marginalia of popular culture and finding gold. Find her on Twitter @xoxogossipgita.