NSFW: In this article we talk about sex, sexuality and we will show screenshots of games containing people showing their titties and being stark naked, so reading this at work might not be a good idea.
Ladykiller in a Bind is an erotic Visual Novel (VN) made by Christine Love, published on Steam on January 9, several months after its release at the Humble Store on October 10th. The delay was due to its erotic and queer content, because Steam’s policies are unclear about which kink it wants to distribute and which kink it wants to play fool with.
…we can imagine ways to fix Monopoly – either rewarding players who are behind to keep them within a reasonable distance of the leaders, or making progress more difficult for rich players. Or course – this might impact the game’s ability to recreate the reality of monopoly practices – but reality isn’t always “fun”.
Game criticism always goes back to the question of what’s the purpose of games. The answer has to be complex because not every game has the same goal, and different players look for different things (sometimes in the same games).
For common sense, there is no complexity to it: the purpose of all games is to produce fun, and the player is always looking for new ways to escape from their mundane reality. Sooner or later one encounters different forms of this escapist idea as a justification for criticism being unnecessary, since criticism often explores the juncture where games and reality are more closely related. Criticism is then left in the awkward position of arguing that many games couldn’t care less if their players are having fun, which is true yet counterintuitive.
It can be annoying when people who don’t know the first thing about videogames claim that games can’t say anything relevant on a human level. Still, those are people we can ignore. In my experience writing about games, the true pebble in the shoe are those who know them very well, yet decide we can only take a game’s message seriously if we’re going to praise it. If, instead, we intend to criticize a game for its message being toxic, then the game’s only purpose is to entertain, and all criticism is an overreaction.
The logic behind this defensive attitude is full of false assumptions: that only some or a few games convey any message at all, that a piece of entertainment must by definition have nothing to say, that if criticisms were correct players would replicate in-game actions in real life, that you can make art without your pesky subjectivity getting in the way, that freedom of artistic expression means toxic ideas are above scrutiny.
In her blog, Amanda Palmer (singer, songwriter and writer) explains that when we create art, we put our experiences in a blender, and the higher the setting, the experiences that inspired our work become less visible. Cibele (2015) is a videogame by Nina Freeman (poet and game designer) about emotional and sexual relationships that develop over the internet, that is characterized for having set the blender at its lowest setting. In the game we’re Nina when she was 19 years old and she played an MMO with a cute aesthetic akin to the one found in Ragnarök Online (Gravity, 2002). The game is split in two alternating segments. One showcases videos of Nina acting as herself doing real life stuff. The other is interactive and gives us access to Nina’s computer, with pictures, poems and messages created by the author during the period of her life covered by the game.
An ancient conception of the individual (strange to us today) helps us understand what freedom is and where it comes from, while all the juxtaposed elements of this equation present themselves to us in a recent videogame.
Each medium has its own classicism, a point in which the device (be it a VR helmet in videogames, sound recording in cinema or perspective in painting) is sufficiently advanced technologically and its language is rich enough to build a persuasive rhetoric. What stage are videogames at? Have they reached their classicism? Considering there already are games with a high degree of immersion, in which a player can lose herself for hours on end, I’d wager to say they are; and they keep perfecting that classicism with each new technological improvement and their parallel search for the way to handle that improvement as language. There arises the problem of how to manipulate the player with a rhetoric bold enough to make her say, “It’s just a story, it’s fantasy.” The work creates a symbolic world consistent with ideas of what is beautiful/ugly, true/false, good/bad, etc. and it persuades us to adopt those values, and even reproduce them in our daily lives. Only by getting to the latent ideas that the work constructs are we able to critically analyze its subjectivity. Do the authors want us to achieve this? Or would they rather pass their work off as mere fantasy entertainment that has no repercussion on our way of thinking?
We’ve all played a game that is simply too much fun to touch. A thing whooshes when you move it, two things wiggle as they push into each other, it all feels alive and reacts to the controls with glee. There might be many things that make the game good (or bad), but just interacting with it on a superficial level you already feel like a baby who can’t look away from the flashing lights of a toy, or the song it plays.
SPOILER: This article contains spoilers about Life is Strange andThe Last of Us
For decades now the US has had the monopoly of the cultural industry. Most of the music, movies, comics and videogames we consume come from that country or try to imitate their ideology and production values. This presents a twofold issue: First, people who create content give up on any attempts to define, express and share their identity and native characteristics; Second, they reproduce a conservative ideological machine created and sustained by bigoted old men. For instance, the Academy, which gives out the Oscars, is composed by an overwhelming majority of white men over 60.
Other examples of conservatism in the cultural industries of the US are the Hays Code and the Comics Code Authority, codes which defined the moral standards for cinema and comics and that all commercial works had to follow to be distributed. Both codes were created by the heads of their respective industries due to fear that the groups advocating for censorship would give them bad publicity and hurt sales. The Hays Code was adopted in 1934 and the Comics Code Authority in 1954. Although neither is officially enforced today, the ideologies they put forth continue to perpetuate themselves in modern cultural industries, sometimes in the shape of the “Bury Your Gays” trope.