It was definitely unexpected. I had begun to make some assumptions about the Bakery Story playerbase. I expected a lot of young women—from the user list I read, more than a few mothers—and a few men with smartphones who were exploring a feminine-coded fantasy in a fun, light, safe space. The Storm8 free-to-play topdown sim is one of a long line of Story games all built on the same model: using the tools and space provided, build and maintain your own something-or-other. Expand your something-or-other. Visit other people’s something-or-other and maybe send them gifts to help them improve their respective something-or-others. Leave messages on their walls telling them how much you like what they’ve done with the color scheme, or whatever. In this case, it was a bakery.
I can’t honestly say I was expecting to be sexted.
Oct 29, 2013
“r u bi se xual, n ur name sounds soo HOTT N SÉXYY!!!”
“i want u…if u no wat i mean”
I don’t know what romances me most about them. It might be the circumventions made by the sender to get past the censors. The spaces and accents. It shows an extra level of effort taken to introduce something to a squeaky-clean virtual world. There’s a fetishism toward perverting something innocent that I can, in certain contexts, appreciate. It might be the simple fact that it upturns my expectations about Bakery Story and about who’s playing it, what their intentions are. It might be the giddy thrill of having a pass blindly made to me, if their female avatar and inquiring into my bisexuality support the assumption, by a queer person expressing their queerness to a stranger online. Maybe this is a safe, exploratory space for them in a totally unexpected way.
There is a part of me, nonetheless, that didn't appreciate unsolicited sexual advances from a stranger, found it too forward. If this were in a different context, one where I was made to feel threatened or disempowered by an unwanted pursuer, I would have been highly offended at their selfishness and inconsideration. But I was mostly amused. And I chose to put it aside, forgotten, unless I wanted to scroll down and have a belly laugh again.
I had named my bakery Hot Buns mostly because I knew I could, because I formed a habit in games with obscenity checks to push the censors as suggestively as I could without triggering them. I'm the kind of person who gave a wide-eyed NPC in Animal Crossing: New Leaf the catch-phrase “In my butt” and posted her oblivious vulgarity to Twitter. I'm kind of gross and petulant, and it shouldn't surprise me that all manner of behavioural phenomena gets superimposed on sanitized virtual worlds. People have virtual sex, people sometimes forge even more lasting relationships. People exploit and abuse each other. People help each other. People form friendships or fall in love. People break up. All type of things good or ill that go on in the real world have, at some point, been enacted in a game environment.
All told, the social ecosystem of Bakery Story is built on the premise of cooperation. No one’s really competing; there’s no reward for having the “best” bakery. Whatever little restauranter fantasy you want to carve out of the tools the game gives you is completely up to you, a perfect and contained fantasy where the headaches of food service are blissfully kept at bay. In another game, any neighbouring bakeries in the online community might be seen as direct competitors. Here, they’re allies and potential friends. They’re people you can freely ask favours of. Do you mind sending me some chocolate chips and a set of screws? I need some to finish building my pancake griddle.
The game is almost cynically clean. The cheerful pastels. The endless supply of satisfied customers. The looping elevator muzak. It constructs a fantasy that, true to most F2P RPGs, it expects you to fulfil your fixation for with microtransactions. The game concertedly doesn't want you to be patient. It even has two currencies for in-game items, one vastly more difficult to acquire than the other. If you don’t want to wait for the timer to run down on an in-progress baked good, you can pay with in-game currency to finish it. If you don’t have enough, you can use real-world currency to overcome your deficit.
Players, for the most part, seem to get around those temptations with a social contract: you tip me, I’ll tip you. You send me a gift, I’ll send you a gift. You sext me…
Well, I didn't. But other people did sext back. Part of this person’s confidence may have come from the fact that Bakery Story had unwittingly made room for a little sexting niche. Out of curiosity, I decided to pay a visit to my secret admirer’s bakery and take a look at their wall. I knew I would find something utterly wonderful.
As sordid as it was, among the insubstantial sugar, the fake cheerfulness, the conditional neighborliness, there was some actual humanity poking through on this player’s astoundingly vulgar wall. I don’t condone or exalt some of this behaviour, but the mere fact of its existence in a place like this is at least proof to me of the impossibility to truly suppress the weird and cavernous human spirit. For better or worse.
Lover: “yah I am *kisses u harder…gimme milk gimme gimme now *sucks Ur nips even harder”
Oblivious Player: “tips :-)”
7 days ago
It was beautiful. From three half-conversations you can see that someone responded in kind to my sender’s advances. Someone broke out into a fight with them. And someone else wanted nothing to do with any of it. It’s not all the finest examples of enlightened humanity, least of all some of the sharper notes of that altercation. But I love it because its emotion is untempered by Bakery Story’s metagame. It sullies the fantasy, it casts utopia into doubt. It’s what happens when humans land on a system. And, well, two people with similar desires found each other in a place that is not overwhelmingly geared toward facilitating their online trysts. They get to explore who they are, who they want to be, in an unbodied space by bending a system to their wants. Getting past the censors alone feels titillatingly transgressive.
I finally decided to contact my would-be bakery sim lover one day. Save one person, I hadn't seen anyone be outwardly threatening or hostile in the game. I still felt relatively safe. This person had made their intentions known, albeit a little too bluntly, but hadn't pursued when I didn't respond. I thought, maybe, I could reach out. No, not in that way. Just as one curious party to another.
4 days ago
“you probably don’t remember but you asked me if i was bi se xual. i am bi, dunno how you guessed.”
I thought maybe I’d be a little cheeky. I thought that would be apt, but maybe I was wrong. There hasn't been a response but there might be one yet. Though, perhaps that lover’s “hey” was a sign that they've disappeared. Maybe they've been shamed out of coming here to explore this part of themselves. The bakery is still active, so maybe they’re there, but quiet. Maybe that fight meant more than just a superficial quarrel. It did get pretty nasty. This is the only time in Bakery Story I have ever really speculated about and second-guessed someone else’s intentions and words, and my own. The sweetness is unbearable now.