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'Hacked' Is a Porn Studio's Cry for Help

Digital Playground's new porno is inspired by the time their site got hacked.

In the spring of last year, the world’s preeminent high-budget porn studio had their servers compromised by a small but cocksure hacker collective known as The Consortium. That studio’s name – Digital Playground (DP) – took on a cruelly ironic new significance as hackers romped freely through their files, gaining access to the usernames, passwords and credit card details of 72,000 DP customers (including a number of US government employees), as well as the internal emails and conference calls of the company’s employees.

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The Consortium even replaced Digital Playground’s landing page with a lengthy message detailing their triumph over the studio’s apparently antiquated security system. And a part of that message was as playful as it was mocking; they reproduced an email from DP's IT guy suggesting that the company upgrade its servers to a new Adobe interface, then furnished the studio with a list of 21 bootleg license keys – updating its capabilities free of charge while screwing with them in every other possible way they could.

And then came the porn. The Consortium leaked more than 50 files, some of them trailers for forthcoming Digital Playground releases, some of them the movies themselves. In some ways, this was the greatest insult. In the age of globally dominant Porn 2.0 sites like RedTube and PornHub, the studio has positioned itself, somewhat uniquely, against the tide. DP releases are uniformly upmarket, defined by high-end production values and, more importantly, total exclusivity. Access is limited to online subscribers (who pay a hefty £29.99 / month subscription fee) and a dwindling crowd of physical media porn consumers, who can expect to pay roughly the same amount for a single DVD. So for The Consortium to throw even a handful of Digital Playground titles online for free was more than embarrassing – it was a dilution of the company’s primary selling point.

Like all great artists, Digital Playground have channelled this misfortune into their work, and yesterday release Hacked, a feature-length cautionary tale on the perils of lacklustre internet security, starring Kayden Kross and part-time VICE columnist Stoya. In the film, Kross plays an ambitious young office worker – also named Kayden – at an identikit Californian workplace. With a promotion in the works from the company’s demanding chief executive Giovanni, tensions rise between Kayden and her co-worker Stoya, with both eager to earn the boss’s favour. Stoya gains access to Kayden’s social networking accounts to send a barrage of salacious messages to colleagues and friends, sabotaging her prospects at the company in the process.

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If the premise seems like it's been torn from a doomy tabloid article about the evils of the internet, don't expect anything different from the film itself. Kayden, who's suffering at the hands of her more tech-savvy colleagues (both Stoya and her co-conspirator, a skeezy IT guy who helps out in exchange for sexual favours), soon spirals into a complete psychological breakdown, losing the promotion, her boyfriend and her job all in the space of an afternoon. In the world of Hacked, the internet isn’t just a dangerous place, it’s a sinister, abstract villain who knows where you live and isn't afraid to mutilate every element of your life in one tidy session.

The Digital Playground brand hasn’t always been so technophobic. Its vocal support of Blu-ray technology in 2006 (at a time when most mainstream movie studios were still declaring HD-DVD to be the superior home entertainment format) was a key factor in deciding the victor of the HD format war. They also moved faster than their competitors into developing HD, 3D and tablet-based porn technologies. In fact, technical trailblazing has long been company policy – as far back as 1998, Digital Playground released the pixellated pioneer of interactive porn films: Virtual Sex with Jenna Jameson, available only on CD-ROM.

One aspect of Digital Playground that isn’t so future-proof, however, is their mode of production. The studio specialises in what’s loosely known as "couples' porn" – classy, vanilla, reasonably gender-neutral erotica, featuring a story you can follow. Which I suppose is great if you're into porn for the plot and pacing, but not so relevant if – like the overwhelming majority of porn consumers – you use free tube sites and couldn't give a shit about the story.

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In Hacked, each sex scene lasts around 15 minutes and follows a pretty strict set menu of moves. Once the characters are introduced (tenuously, for a movie so concerned with narrative), the camera pulls back to a tasteful wide shot, where it stays for the remainder of the scene. We're then presented the pattern that will repeat itself throughout: cunnilingus, fellatio, spooning, doggy-style, cumshot – all of which play out in deathly silence as the performers strive to stay in character at the expense of passion, spontaneity and general plausibility. In fairness, one of the more proficient couples does deviate briefly from the routine with an attempt at standing sex, but only after it’s been tediously established that they’re doing so within a safe, loving and, most importantly, committed relationship.

This easily palatable brand of pornography hasn’t changed much since the so-called Golden Age of Porn in the 1970s, when movies like Deep Throat had theatrical runs in mainstream cinemas and racked up box office receipts in the tens of millions. But while Digital Playground’s movies might be indistinguishable from those made 40 years ago, mainstream porn tastes are not. Where once such films could pack out 1,000-seat venues and garner reviews in the New Yorker, now they’re relegated to specialist DVD stores and hidden away behind online paywalls. In 1972, Linda Lovelace was a pop cultural icon. In 2013, most people don’t even know the names of the people they masturbate to (of RedTube’s ten most viewed videos of all time, only one contains a named star).

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That might not be a problem if Digital Playground was willing to reposition itself as a rarefied niche in the porn industry, there to satisfy consumers disillusioned with modern pornographic trends. But instead the company clings to the kind of USPs that only a large, mainstream audience can support – namely a raft of contract performers (kind of like a sordid 1930s Hollywood) and a tendency to put huge budgets behind its films. DP's 2008 high seas epic Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge, for example, remains the highest budgeted porn film of all time, at £5 million.

Hacked, while a considerably more modest proposition, must also have outstripped the average porn budget tenfold; even the film’s exterior shots look more like cutaways from House of Cards than locations from a 21st Century porn film. In the words of porn star James Deen, "As far as making visually stimulating erotic cinema goes, Digital Playground's pretty much the best." Also in the words of Deen: "Personally, I hate it."

But each to their own porn. I don't want to berate the sexual appetites of an avid Digital Playground customer any more than I would those of a BBW aficionado or a hentai enthusiast. If anything, I’m just concerned about their ability to access the material five or ten years down the line. Because while those specialist industries have embraced the changing tide of technology – working with small budgets and low production values to suit the climate of the internet – Digital Playground continues to treat its films like blockbusters without making any efforts to prepare its business model for the future. The company only has 31,000 followers on Twitter, while some of its fellow studios have closer to half a million. "Retweet if you have great sex," they recently instructed their audience. Seven users and a spambot obliged.

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In the final scene of Hacked, a newly-promoted Stoya wreaks one final act of cruelty on Kayden, sending her a break-up text under the guise of Kayden’s boyfriend Bill. Keeping to the film's laughably inauthentic depiction of modern technology, the message bounces energetically across the phone screen, as though its rubbing the content in Kayden's face. Dejected, she sits alone in a San Fernando Valley parking lot, the hopeless victim of a modern world that’s finally left her behind.

Hacked is out now through Digital Playground.

Follow Charlie on Twitter: @ultraculture

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