Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Joy of Sex – my joyless journey into sex and tech

Sky Arts has just had aired 'The Story of Joy of Sex' about that famous Alec Comfort book. I watched with interest, as I produced the interactive version in the late 90s. I thought it was going to be a lot of fun but turned into something else – a set of lessons in life and business.
All projects have unexpected screw ups
First we had to scan and digitise all of those original drawings. They were held in the publisher’s basement vault, so we had them couriered down from London. They needed insurance and security, as each drawing was, as they say, a money shot. The book had been a phenomenon, breaking taboos in media and publishing. As I found out – nobody ever owned up to buying it but It sold squillions. Big problem - one drawing was missing - the erect penis. So I commissioned 'Big Bill' (6'5"), a Brighton illustrator, to come up with the goods. It took longer than expected as he used himself (and mirror) as the model, so whenever he turned to draw in detail, it drooped. Had staying power, did Bill.
People will do anything for money
The video shoot was even weirder. The young couple were great in a narcissistic sort of way, a couple in real life, they did what they had to do – for the money. The shoot for the old couple, in a swimming pool, in the section on ‘Sex for the older couple’ was toxic. They had broken up recently. She hated him, he still loved her. She feigned arousal and undying love in a worryingly, well practiced manner, while he was bitter with unrequited love. It was horrible.
Edutainment is neither fish nor fowl
This CD (pre-internet) was an educational product, commissioned by the publisher. I say ‘educational’ but the interactivity, which was quite smart, didn’t do what the book did – which was not educate, but titillate. I’ve been suspicious of edutainment, serious games and gamification ever since (see critique here).
People want porn
This project taught me that people are pure in their wants and when it comes to sex, they want porn. Sure enough, the internet exploded not long after this work and porn drove lots of the innovation in tech. It was ever thus. Read ‘The Erotic Engine: How Pornography has Powered Mass Communication from Gutenberg to Google” by Patchen Barrs. Payment models, methods of payment, streaming, biofeedback, driving up demand for broadband – and lots more. It made SnapChat a success, expect it to be central to the development of the VR market.
Expect the unpredictable
Despite what I said above about games, the best bit of the product was the ‘Mr & Mrs’ game. You could play this with your partner at home. First the presenter pops up and asks you a question, while your partner has earphones on or is out of the room. You write it down. Then you’re partner is asked the same question and you compare answers. Simple but a real hoot., especially at parties – if you want them to end in bitter accusations, acrimony and people heading for the door shouting abuse at each other.
If you don’t know the famous story about the TV version of this game, listen up. The husband was asked “What’s the strangest place you’ve ever had sex?” After lots of evasions the husband finally says “…in a bus shelter”. His partner comes out of the booth and is asked the same question. She is horrified and refuses to answer. Several times she refuses to answer. Then the presenter says “…but your husband has already given us an answer”. She looked horrified, thought for a moment and said, “OK…  it was up the bum”.
Rules of one medium don’t always apply to another
I worked with a really lovely guy, Peter, from the BBC, but TV production is different from interactive production. In games and sims, it’s POV, you are the director, so you have to break a lot of the traditional rules of TV and film production. These lessons apply to the new medium on the block – VR. Virtual reality has a grammar of its own and it’s not the grammar of TV and film. You need to think in terms of scenes, slow things up, understand that the viewer will look around, take their time and explore.
Lesson 7: When it comes to consumer buying nobody knows jack
We built this thing but it sold diddly squat. Wasn’t as bad as our foray into feature films, where we lost a fortune on funding “The Killer Tongue”. You can watch it on YouTube – if you have patience, resilience and the ability to watch plotless tat.

I’d like to say I came out of these experience s a better person but I didn’t. I came out wiser, more cynical and determined to avoid mistakes. Forget all that bullshit about failure being good for you - that’s usually mouthed by people who have a fall back position – rich parents.  It’s painful and to be avoided at all costs.

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Blogger Rob Alton said...

Did you also produce the interactive version of Killer Tongue - Point & Lick?

3:07 PM  

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