Torchlight should be branded with a warning. The game is pornographic, it’s number porn and clicking porn with a Tolkienesque fantasy fetish thrown into the mix. After loading the game there is a brief introduction to set the scene, and immediately the player begins clicking madly on everything moving.
With each click the characters moan, scream, and produce other sounds juicy with stimulation. Of course it’s not the meaning of the sound they make, it’s the fact that each of these noises is calculated to be so brief and repetitious, fading in and out instantly and producing a peak at just the right tone. It elicits pleasure in the player’s brain, and without thinking he or she understands that another such buzz is only a click away. When the clicking is finished, the number action begins. The screen fills itself with numbers. They sprawl across each other, mixing together, interacting to produce more numbers. They grow bigger and bigger, until they climax and the game returns to the clicking.
Okay, it may be more than a stretch to say that a game like Torchlight is sexual, but its mechanics play into a similar psychology. A simple enjoyment of watching a computer operate. Clicking mice and watching numbers change. It plays into the most basic instinctive motivation for using computers. You move your cursor around, unite numbers, watch them procreate into more numbers. A primitive instinct, but one that still hasn’t been overwritten even after decades of computer evolution, and probably never will.
John Carmack understood this dimension of games when he was quoted saying that stories in games are the same as stories in porn. Doom is violence porn just as Torchlight is number porn. This is a key reason why developers and players alike struggle for cultural validation, the non-game playing asexual public sees the violence and the statistics, and wonders why this should be taken seriously instead of kept private in dimly lit rooms.
This is an idiotic conclusion to make, despite how reasonable the logic leading up to it may be. A game that taps directly into primal instincts isn’t a bad game because of it, nor is it bad at all. Any sport will do the same, music does the same, praying does the same. A thing only becomes porn once it perverts its source into a drug. The most beautiful things in life are the most fundamental and simple, anything that glorifies those multiplies their value.
There is a fine line on the edge of pornography where art exists, and Torchlight walks that slackline without blinking. It’s a game that heightens the player’s understanding of number systems, where balances between complicated and subtle forces can produce various and unpredictable outcomes. The ability for the player to realize this resides in his or her own ability to walk that line. If the player wavers and falls, then the game can serve to stimulate that instinctive desire and nothing more.
Whether or not Torchlight or Doom or any videogame is lowbrow smut is your decision. But no matter what you decide, it’s important to understand the connection. Similarities undoubtedly exist and need to be recognized. If videogames want to achieve a higher status, then the similarities need to be reconciled.