Mon. Sep 25th, 2023

Since Black Mirror came out, it has shaken viewers with both heartwarming and unsettling stories regarding the advancement of technology. With Season 6 coming back in June this year, let’s look back at one of its most significant episodes. Often, episodes show a more futuristic setting with technology further progressed than it is currently. Aside from the dystopian-ness, though, episodes like “Striking Vipers” display technology as neither good nor bad. The episode focuses on the digital world’s effect on sexuality.

Danny (Anthony Mackie) and Karl (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) have been good friends (and at a time also roommates) for over a decade. Before the 10-year time jump, the two friends are shown staying up to play “Striking Vipers,” a canonical video game modeled after “Street Fighter.” They display a typical “bro” type of friendship between two men without any sexual tension. After the time jump, though, technology boomed enough for gamers to experience a pretty realistic virtual reality. For Danny’s birthday, Karl gets him the new “Striking Vipers” along with the accompanying digital reality set so that they can actually play as their respective characters.


For their entire friendship, Karl has always played Roxette (Pom Klementieff) while Danny usually gravitated toward Lance (Ludi Lin). When they literally jump into their characters, the sudden shift in sex creates an irresistible sexual tension between the two buddies which initially freaks them out due to internalized homophobia and guilt. Danny especially cannot get over the fact that he is engaging in an affair with another man. As two black men, the surrounding stigma to be the image of masculinity adds another layer to this internal conflict despite no one even knowing.

“Striking Vipers” Proves That Sexuality is Fluid

Danny and Karl play
Image via Netflix

Digitally, the affair is between a man and a woman which blurs the lines of sexuality making this a very confusing situation for men who have always seen sexuality as black and white. Karl is better able to accept the situation than Anthony Mackie’s character, and this could be attributed to his gender swap. Being able to experience pleasure as a woman would leave him more curious to explore while Danny role-plays male. As the episode progresses, the men decide to test their chemistry in person, and, to their relief, there is none.

Their lack of attraction in person adds another layer of complexity because it creates a separation between the real world and the digital world. Because of the way VR works in this episode, a player can fully step into the body of a new person (or even an animal). This could explain why their digital attraction is so separate from their in-person chemistry, and by the end of the episode, they also accept that it is only a digital attraction.

RELATED: ‘Black Mirror’s Best Episode is the One You Least Expect

The Relationship Between Karl and Danny Shifts Due to VR

Karl becomes Roxette played by Pom Klementieff in Black Mirror's version of VR
Image via Netflix

Despite the affair only gaining traction digitally, it still affects pleasure for the organic self. For instance, Danny rejects his wife’s (Nicole Beharie) attempt for intimacy after his birthday party, but his first virtual rendezvous with Karl a.k.a. Roxette changes his mood. While this is not a typical affair, the internal guilt and homophobia create a rift between Danny and his wife and only resolved after Danny accepted his desires. The episode ends with Karl and Danny continuing their virtual sexual relationship, and in return, his wife is free to explore intimacy elsewhere thus creating a rather intriguing polyamorous situation.

While “Striking Vipers” is a fictional futuristic scenario, it is not far off from present day. On the internet, people can become whoever they wish to become. Catfishing aside, there are anonymous chat features that can be used for sexual gratification leaving everything about the other person’s real self up to the imagination. Karl describes something similar when he mentions engaging in virtual intimacy with anonymous players. In general, this type of romance exists in a sexual gray area because it provides pleasure regardless of intersectional identities. The situation in Black Mirror takes this idea and shows viewers how this could work between friends.

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