'Black Mirror' Season 5 Explores Gamer Homoeroticism in Episode 'Striking Vipers'

"Striking Vipers," the first of three new Black Mirror episodes premiering on Netflix on June 5, exploring gamer homoeroticism, as a VR fighting game takes on unexpected sexual dimensions.

Starring Anthony Mackie (Avengers: Endgame) and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Aquaman) as Danny and Karl—best friends grown distant in their 30s—"Striking Vipers" layers two worlds atop each other: the real and the virtual. When they reunite online to play Striking Vipers X, the latest iteration of their favorite fighting game from their adolescence, events soon turn erotic. Striking Vipers X has complete VR capabilities, so it doesn't take long before Danny and Karl abandon fighting for sex, coupling through their player characters: Danny as Lance (Ludi Lin) and Karl as Roxette (Pom Klementieff).

Pom Klementieff and Ludi Lin in the "Black Mirror" Season 5 episode "Striking Vipers." Netflix

Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker, who wrote "Striking Vipers," told The Daily Beast he was inspired by the covert sexuality of gaming, particularly fighting games. "One of the starting points was, I had been struck before by the slightly homoerotic nature of those fighting games," Brooker said. "I loved Tekken and used to play Tekken religiously in the '90s. Myself and a flatmate used to play it all the time; we'd have miniature tournaments etc. And I realized one day that our neighbors—because we lived in a small flat in London—the people who lived above us and below us must have thought there was an S&M dungeon operating where we were living, because constantly the air was filled with us screaming, 'Ugh! Yes! No!' all day and night."

While Danny and Karl maintain that their virtual romance isn't real, it begins to affect both of their personal lives, as they find themselves unable to consummate their real-world relationships or even get erections outside of the game, which leads Karl to chase more exotic pleasures, like virtual reality sex with a fighting polar bear.

Anthony Mackie as Danny and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Karl in the "Black Mirror" Season 5 episode "Striking Vipers."

The episode uses its virtual reality fling between ostensibly straight friends as a way to explore how men communicate with each other, particularly in the competitive gamer milieu—often a refuge for masculine aggression and the sometimes cruel social experimentation enabled by the anonymity and detachment found in an online avatar.

"Is it a homosexual relationship?" Brooker asks. "In some ways it is, and in others it absolutely isn't. It's really about male friendship and the issues that men may have communicating with each other. I wasn't sitting down going 'this is about Gamergate,' but it will be interesting to see how it's received by the gaming community."

Black Mirror's co-showrunner Annabel Jones confirmed to The Daily Beast that "Striking Vipers" has a wider thematic focus than the targeted harassment campaign that inadvertently drew attention to the widespread misogyny found in the gaming community when it exploded in 2014.

"It's about the exploration of porn in a world where porn is so sophisticated and can be tailored to your own personal preferences," Jones said. "At what point does porn stop being a healthy distraction and actually becomes like you're having an affair, or cheating on your partner?"

"The answer to the question of when does porn become an unhealthy threat to your relationship is the point where you fuck a polar bear," Brooker said. "If you're doing that, you have a pretty serious problem."'

Directed by Black Mirror veteran Owen Harris ("San Junipero"), "Striking Vipers" will premiere June 5 on Netflix.