At first glance, Luxuria Superbia looks like just another pretty tunnel game with bright colors, minimalist graphics, and quirky music. I always need more of those things in my life, so I was excited to give it a try. What I discovered very quickly is that Luxuria Superbia is also a game that is entirely and unabashedly about sex, and playing it shined some light on some toxic attitudes I have concerning physical intimacy.

When we see sex as a competition with the health of our relationships as the stakes, we start to treat our loved ones as puzzles to solve, as objects rather than human beings.

Each level starts with an open flower. The music is soft, inviting, even playful. “The flower is blank,” the game guides you. “But it enjoys color.” Touching buds along the edges of the petals fills the flower satisfyingly with bright, solid hues. But doing so also hastens the end of the level. As you touch more buds, the color and music become more intense. Dreamlike female voices sing, breath, and sigh. As you travel along, words appear and fade in the center of the screen, like passing thoughts. “Grip my petals,” the words say. “Turn me around.” “It’s never been this good.”

As you reach the end of the level, the music reaches the height of its energy, and the walls of the flower-tunnel start to pulse and vibrate. Then, suddenly, the music reaches its climax, and passes into silence as the screen fades to white. “Yes.” The message appears, briefly. “That was sublime!” It’s almost impossible to even describe the experience without using sexual language. After my first playthrough, I found myself blushing, somewhat glad that I was alone in the apartment. I felt like I needed a cold shower.

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For the first few levels, I enjoyed a sense of exploration. The score counter is unobtrusive in the top left corner, and I later discovered that it vanishes if you click on it, making the sense of freedom even more complete. The game concept is so novel, and so beautiful, that I was satisfied to simply immerse myself in experimentation.

But once the initial novelty wore off, I started to wonder, “Okay, now what?” On the main navigation screen, I noticed an icon in the upper corner that I hadn’t clicked yet. Clicking it gave me a sideways perspective of what I had just assumed was a circular arrangement of the various levels I could play. From the side, it now appeared as a sort of Grecian temple, with each level represented by a pillar. The pillars representing levels I had played were each filled with various levels of color, like a bar graph. After playing another level, I realized that there was a connection between my score and how much color filled that pillar. My focus immediately shifted. I was no longer simply enjoying an experience: I was playing a game. I began to work on my strategy, examining each level to determine what techniques would be most effective. For some, touching along the inside of the flower in a rapid spiral was best. For others, the buds were laid out in lines, but in such a way that I needed to pause frequently, or the color would fill much too quickly for an optimal score. I began to listen for clues in the music, to watch the words I was seeing, to take note of how “satisfied” the game seemed to be at the end of each level. Does “That was magical!” mean I did more or less well than when it was “sublime”?

Our society has become obsessed with the idea of pleasing our sexual partners. Walk past the register of any grocery store and you will see dozens of magazines promising new ways for women to excite their lovers. Our inboxes are overflowing with spam messages that promise more, better, and more satisfying sex, and what’s more, that our partners will love us for it. The message is clear: we need to be good at sex. Not only good: the best. Our relationships and our reputations depend on it.

So we read the articles to help improve our technique. We laugh at the horrible spam messages, but wonder whether maybe we should be doing something differently. Are we truly having the best sex we could be having? Is there a method we haven’t tried yet? Is our partner really going to lose interest in us if we’re not good enough in bed?

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When we see sex as a competition with the health of our relationships as the stakes, we start to treat our loved ones as puzzles to solve, as objects rather than human beings. We begin to see relationship as a matter of cause and effect, and lose sight of what real intimacy looks like. Rather than pursuing intimacy as a shared experience, we look for clues and signposts to show us when we’re “doing it right”, all the while nursing a nagging feeling that we’re still not quite good enough.

Luxuria Superbia has no clear way of indicating whether you’re “doing it right”. After playing all twelve levels, I still have no greater understanding of whether I’m “winning”, or whether there even is a way to win. Some of my pillars have more color than others. I can’t find a way to see what my numerical score for each stage was, so all I can do is to play each level again and see if the pillars fill with more color.

Surprisingly, now that I’ve played through all the levels, rather than feeling a need to be “better” my sense of wonder is returning. I’m discovering details in each flower that I didn’t notice before, and layers to the music I was too busy to hear when I was focused on improvement. I’m still curious about the pillars, but I’m satisfied to discover their mysteries as I go. I’m learning to be playful again.

April-Lyn Caouette

April-Lyn Caouette has been playing video games since before she could read. She also likes cats, knitting, and the funny faces anime characters make when they have feelings. She occasionally tweets at @alcaouette.