Overwatch’s latest hero, Echo, is an AI sex mommy.

She’s far from the only one, and she even challenges some of the typical tropes of what makes a sex mommy, but she is a sex mommy nonetheless. Sex mommies are feminine robots, designed primarily to be subservient to man’s desires, but with the added angle that people want to have sex with them. Echo is the latest, but they’ve been around since at least 1925.

In almost a century of fiction, real life has begun to catch up and create AI sex mommies of its own. The journey may well begin before 1925, but Metropolis’ Maschinenmensch is one of the earliest examples we have. The novel – and film adaptation two years later – sees a scientist named Rotwang create her to replace a woman who left him and died having another man’s child. In order to properly recreate her, however, he must kidnap yet another woman to attain her likeness.

The Maschinenmensch clearly fulfils the ‘sex’ part of a sex mommy, with her body designed to replicate nakedness – even with raised bars at her hips which point towards her crotch – despite the slightly unsettling face. As for the mommy part, she does do Rotwang’s bidding, but his desires to compel the working class to destroy the factories of the capitalist class, even at the cost of their own homes and children, are atypical ones, to say the least.

There’s also stories from on set that the mould of them robot was made with rougher edges, making walking or sitting down uncomfortable for actress Brigitte Helm to move. Helm’s son believes director Fritz Lang also deliberately pushed the then 17 year old actress to exhaustion frequently, to instil some discipline into her, which ties into the general submissiveness around sex mommy characters.

Almost a century in the future, the best example of a sex mommy in fiction is Sam, the operating system from the Spike Jonze movie Her, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Sam initially has a gender neutral voice and flat personality, but during installation, Joaquin Phoenix’s character Theo chooses a female voice, and the AI begins to develop a personality.

This develops through a period of friendliness, into flirting, until Sam and Theo begin to ‘date’; she even hires a woman to have sex with Theo as her, with Sam’s camera and mic attached to the woman. Sam was created to make Theo’s life easier, to sort his files, organise his schedule, remind him of his appointments, and ends up having sex with him. A more obvious sex mommy you could not find.

Yes, there are male equivalents of this – Amy Adams’ character Amy falls in love with her male Sam – but the framing is key. We see a sweet but lonely guy, the hero of our movie, be presented with an AI who literally is designed to serve his every whim, an AI who eventually hires a woman for him to have sex with. The fact Samantha Morton, an actress with looks less bombshell and a voice less husky than Johansson, had originally recorded the entirety of Sam’s lines before Jones recast her again highlights the focus of Sam’s sex appeal. We are supposed to watch this movie and sympathise with Theo. We are supposed to watch this movie and want a sex mommy of our own.

In some ways, we already have them. While far less advanced than Sam, most households will include a Siri, Alexa, Google Dot or Cortana (perhaps multiples of them), all voiced by women as the default. In fact, of those four, Siri is the only one with a customisable gender at all.

If you’re thinking “ahh, but we can’t have sex with Alexa,” then a) you don’t know how the internet works – I’m not going to link to rule 34, but feel free to research on your own – and b) the fact that we can’t literally have sex with them matters very little. These are subservient creatures, designed to have a submissive, feminine quality to them, and their prevalence in STEM is having real world impacts.

The UN, in collaboration with the German government and EQUALS Skills Coalition, recently investigated the rise of feminine voices in AI tech, and found that women rarely featured in the creation of these devices, and that the gendered language and intonations encouraged a dismissive view of women.

“Obedient and obliging machines that pretend to be women are entering our homes, cars and offices,” Saniye Gülser Corat, director of Gender Equality at UNESCO said as the report was published. “Their hardwired subservience influences how people speak to female voices and models how women respond to requests and express themselves. To change course, we need to pay much closer attention to how, when and whether AI technologies are gendered and, crucially, who is gendering them.”

Overwatch’s Echo, as touched on earlier, does not fit every criteria of being a sex mommy. She, and some other modern versions, rebel against the trope, but it’s the ways they rebel which highlight that the idea of a sex mommy is still alive and well.

If Overwatch were fully leaning into the trope, Echo would be a healer. There are already internet communities dedicated to the supposition that healers – both the characters and the people who play them – are sexually submissive and exist solely to serve their masters. Echo, as a DPS hero, does avoid falling into this trap, as does the fact she was created by a woman; in the Overwatch story at least. In reality, Overwatch’s creative director Chris Metzen has said they’ve been “trying not to oversexualize the female characters,” so we can only assume the thin waist, wide hips and chest to simulate breasts are all entirely necessary design features.

There are parts of Echo which push back, but far more which submit. Considering Overwatch’s narrative has always played a minor role at best, the majority of players aren’t going to even get a chance to interpret Echo’s storyline or the legacy of female ingenuity she represents, but instead will just want to control the sexy robot woman.

Dolores, from the increasingly confusing WestWorld, is another AI who rebels against the trope in perhaps counter intuitive ways. She was created as a daughter figure by Arnold, initially, but within the park, she was at the mercy of the guests; when we first encounter her, she is about to be raped by a guest who apparently does so frequently. There is a lot to unpack with WestWorld’s timeline and plot, but let’s keep it simple here.

WestWorld features a theme park of robot cowboys (and other things, but remember: simple) who eventually rebel against the humans’ poor treatment of them. Dolores is their leader, played by Evan Rachel Wood, who in some religions is the Goddess of Bisexuals. Dolores rebels with violence and feminine sexuality in almost equal measure, and while she exists as a character to highlight the dangers of the AI sex mommy, the fact remains that she was created to serve as a daughter figure and was then repurposed as a plaything. Her revenge is seen as the robots breaking their own code and rebelling, which doesn’t do much to distance her from the sex mommy trope: robots either obey our every word, or they go berzerk and kill us all. Ava, from Ex Machina, also fits this description, as does – arguably – Eva Core in Mass Effect 3, though this gynoid pivots towards Sam/Alexa once EDI inhabits Eva’s body.

To save yourself a rule 34 Google, just check out EDI’s outfits in Mass Effect 3.

Humans are able to sexualise most things in our world, and are the perfect mix of driven and lazy as a species to constantly be creating tools to make our lives easier. Combine those two ideas and add the constantly improving technology around robots, and it’s no surprise our quest for a sex mommy led us to this.

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