One woman's hilarious game about the UK's weird porn laws

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Designer Holly Gramazio makes games you play in person, at events and installations: non-digital works that use physical spaces. But thanks to a very special set of rules—namely, the long list of sex acts suddenly banned in the United Kingdom—Gramazio was drawn to make a hilarious digital game for the first time.

Imagine two or three people go to a hotel room -- a normal, clean room with a computer on the desk, and in that computer is a descriptive, interactive rendering of the room that they are in. It takes just twenty minutes to 'play', and the game is really just a facilitator for people to explore, play and think about the state of being in a hotel room.

These are the experiences Gramazio engineers normally: "One person left three really dirty cotton buds in the bin. There were no cotton buds in the hotel room," she recalled. One person scrawled 'I am going to kill you' on the mirror, and left a trail of lipstick smeared toilet paper throughout the room. Once couple remained in the hotel room for far more than their allotted 20 minutes, one with all their clothes on, one without any.

Experiences that rely on social interactions and physical spaces make good stories, and there are all kinds of even simpler folk games you can play and install in public: Imagine racing sticks down a brook, or counting steps, or choosing strangers in a crowd and betting with your friend on who reaches the crosswalk first. Gramazio's unique public space games explore the interesting possibilities of everyday materials and social interactions.

Despite this, there are some aspects of digital games Gramazio admits to feeling a little jealous about: "You can make a thing and other people can play it, even if they're not there in the space with you. Really, really jealous of that. And then if you want to show it to people you can just take a screenshot. You don't have to hire a photographer and get some people pretending to be playing, because people really playing look terrible. And when the game's over, it doesn't vanish forever. The bounds of what is permissible behavior are implicit in the bounds of what the game actually lets you do."

So when the UK's bizarre list of sex acts banned from pornography began making the rounds, Gramazio saw an opportunity to try making a digital game for the first time ("these sound like bad rules," she thought). pornbeginner2

The result is Gramazio's Pornography for Beginners, released late last year. It's a charming game that sees the player visiting a "porn shed" to find all the little bits that make up a porn, from genitalia to faces and wine glasses. Thanks to the natural limitations of PuzzleScript, the tool Gramazio used to make her game, the genitalia is limited to 25 pixels. Watching your screen fill with tiny dongs is hilarious, as is Gramazio's charming, winking writing.

But the act of pushing around incomprehensible shapes to arbitrary rules is a wonderfully-subversive commentary on the UK's weird and often-sexist pornography laws, even if it led to mass audiences missing the point of the 'low production values' and insisting they would never pay money for such a project. Luckily nobody has to: Try Pornography For Beginners in your browser, for free, at Gramazio's website.