Archive for the ‘Adult Only Games’ Category:

Bonds (Review/Going Back)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.79
Where To Get It: Steam

You know, I was worried for a hot minute that I wouldn’t see another positive game talking about kink subjects for a while, but thankfully, Bonds came to Steam earlier in the week, and it does a good, positive job with its subject matter of bondage modelling, and the friends who get into it.

Don’t worry, Robin, you can do this!

Right from the get go, things get done that make me smile. The awkwardness of confessing that you like being tied up (or tying up), how a fair few folks realise they like bondage fairly early on, and self experiment. How just talking can make someone feel a little more at ease, or dialling it back some. How it’s good to set boundaries on what’s comfortable and what’s not. How yes, for all that how erotic forums are filled with some terrible usernames, the folks are mostly okay (Even if some of them are cheapasses. More on that later.) And that it does so while maintaining a light tone, and a little romance… Well, that’s icing on the cake.

Heck, it even manages to be safer for work, although that may disappoint some folks. After all, the focus in the modelling sessions, and indeed, in the story, is three folks bonding over a love of being tied up, and the knowledge that there’s no shame in earning a paycheck doing what you like. I can think of much worse messages.

So… Overall, you may have guessed that I like the writing in Bonds. You may have noticed I found the positivity charming, and the relationship dynamic to be a pleasant one. Where does the mileage really vary?

One other thing I appreciate is that a lot of modelling is expression on demand, and bondage modelling? No different.

Well, let’s start with it being a tadge short, running at around an hour and a half for a single playthrough. That’s not really a problem for me, as there are a couple of paths, the ability to replay chapters, and, of course, the photo session mode, which is a nice way to spend a little time. Still, I’m aware that’s a turnoff for some folks.

A little more irritating is that session mode… Doesn’t really play up to its full potential, while, at the same time, being a gatekeeper to the plot. There was mention of arm-binders, and, indeed, those are for sale, but, funnily enough, I never needed them. Instead, my problem was earning enough for yellow socks. Yellow socks are, for some odd reason, $200 , higher than even the arm-binders, and that… Well, that was confusing. Maybe it was a plot-thing I missed. Any which way, normal commisioners vary widely in their offered prices, and more than a few are, put bluntly, jerky jerkfaces. $5 for something I have to get stockings for? Geddoudaheah! $0? Oh, buddy, if you think you’re getting a freebie, step the hell off!

Koff apologies, that part is, alas, just a little too real. Finally, the interface is just a tiny bit kludgy, and it’s all on a single save. Chapters can be replayed to different results, and it saves your progress after each chapter, so that isn’t so bad, it’s just a little disappointing. Remember, click on choice, then click on choice again to make it.

Honestly, I mainly put this one in because it fit well with playing the game more than once.

In summary, though, I like Bonds. It’s light, it’s positive about its subject matter, the art isn’t bad, the music doesn’t outstay its welcome, and I think, on the whole, it was well worth taking a peek at.

The Mad Welshman debated whether to put this one under the age-gate, but eventually decided to play it safe. It is, in fact, relatively safe for work despite its subject matter.

Let’s Talk Adult Only Games

CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses games with sexual content. This includes a lot of kink, including nonconsensual sex, mind control, milk-drinking, lolicon/shotacon, drugs, bestiality, and incest. You have been warned!

As we discussed in the last article, adult-only games have mostly been led by the Japanese development scene, and this has only recently begun to change. This, combined with the usual trend following that exists in game development, and a lack of critical examination, has led to an… Interesting landscape. A critical minefield. In this article, I’m going to be laying out some core issues. Starting with a trap that it’s all too easy to fall into when critiquing adult-only games…

The Thermian Issue

Considering one of Olsen’s examples is kinda common in Japanese H-Games, well… Orcs. Always those orcs…

In a good video on the subject of literalism, rather than critical examination of authorial choices, Dan Olson coined the phrase “Thermian Argument”, based on the aliens of Galaxy Quest (Who do not understand fiction.) And, in the case of adult-only games, it’s all too easy to fall into that trap: It is a fiction, minotaurs have addictive semen and so dependency is introduced, no abusive behaviour or writing here!

Adult-only games often have this issue, where one character or another do not consent to the sexual behaviours core to the game, and so it is, by any sensible measure, nonconsensual sex. But some of these games are aware enough of it to either attempt to explain it, or attempt to set the narrative up in such a way that the character has some latent weakness (or attraction) toward it, or the protagonist has some power that removes it.

So keep this in mind as we continue, because it has an effect throughout, and is very hard to disentangle from other things.

Some of this is Kink, Decontextualised

It would come as little surprise that very few adult-only games deal with vanilla sex. There are science-fiction games, urban fantasy games, horror games… To deal with vanilla sex in those situations is a limitation. However, overall, this is very much a case of “can” versus “should.”

An easy example would be mind control, and it’s a very common one. Whether that’s from magical mcguffins, spells, the abilities of various creatures, drugs (itself a content-warning), or plain old hypnosis, mind control is common. And, outside of these fictional settings, it’s a kink, specifically a roleplay situation enjoyed by some dom(me)s and subs. The major difference is that, in these fictions, that last bit no longer applies, because said mind control is, in the context of the setting, very real. But it’s an easy example because, taken on its own, it’s a roleplay transposed to fiction.

I originally wasn’t going to put this in, but then I listened to a friend’s music, and all of a sudden, it felt *right* … Weird, huh?

Monsters is, equally, taken on its own, a kink some folks have. Cowgirls, as an example of a common species in adult-only games, has its roots in a variant of petplay, combined with milk-drinking fetishes. Okay, fine, we want to fuck the fish. I got that.

Other fetishes, however, are illegal to perform in reality (Incest, lolicon, shotacon, gore, and vore are all under this category, for example), and some are stigmatised despite the acknowledgement by kinksters that they would not, and should not be a reality. I mention this, because it’s a good segue into…

Everything But, Specifically, the Kitchen Sink. Specifically That.

Another area where adult-only games is a critical minefield is that it’s rarely just one kink. Pairings, situations, kinks, number of partners… While the majority of games stick to certain kinks, this is no guarantee, and even navigating the forums where adult-only games have traditionally made their home isn’t always helpful, despite their diligence in tagging content appropriately. Due to pairings alone, it’s somewhat difficult to find games that are solely M/M (Yaoi) or F/F (Yuri), let alone M/F, and whether a game has the ability to turn off pairings or kink scenes is entirely up to whim and chance. Most commonly, it’s gore, vore, and openly abusive behaviours that players get warned about entering, but this is by no means a guarantee. Meanwhile, in terms of pairings, the two most common pairings to get an off-switch in the options are… M/M, and Transgender content.

Gee, thanks, but, honestly, I was more worried about all the scat. I didn’t particularly want to visit that magical realm, asshole.

(More) Gendered Presentation

It’s kind of obvious, at this point, that a lot of these games are made by dudes. It doesn’t take a whole lot to see that, considering the sheer number of visual novels, with DAZ 3D models, that has the protagonist be a Musician/PHP Coder/Salesman/Young Man/NEET given magical seduction or mind control powers. But this bleeds into other areas as well, such as relative character agency.

When the protagonist is a woman, they are often the acted-upon. Not always, and not consistently, but more often. When the protagonist is a man, it’s a little more fluid. When the protagonist is transgender in some respect, again, it becomes a little more fluid… But less so, overall, than a transgender antagonist. And, equally, less so than even a boy.

Equally, there is gendered presentation. Very rarely have I encountered a woman in these games who is not sexualised in some fashion, even the monsters. Part of that is this whole gendered agency thing, yes, but it’s not all. Men, meanwhile, can run the gamut, although the male protag is most often either a young boy (that whole shotacon thing) or strapping (Although less often muscular than other highly gendered media.) Transgender protagonists are most often trans women.

Now, this is where it gets a little more complicated. As mentioned, a lot of this comes from BDSM related kinks, and a part of that is degradation. Dirty talk is a lesser version of this, where the excitement comes from the taboo. A sexualised character who owns their sexuality is more pleasing than a sexualised character who is written to be naive of this. I don’t believe, funnily enough, that the majority of games are actively misognystic or hateful, nor do I believe a writer’s going to be bad because they’re a dude (there’s certainly counter-examples to that argument), although, as mentioned, it’s hard sometimes to disentangle what’s what. As games about sex, it’s obvious that appeal is a core requirement… But I do think we could stand to think a little more about this.

That Thing That Could Be A Positive, But Might Not Be

Just one example of media where I am *not qualified* to talk about trans representation, among quite a few.

While we’re on that subject, another extremely common feature of adult games is “futanari” content (Women either possessing both primary genitalia, or male genitalia, presented as femme or nonbinary), and… This is where I, personally, would have to step back and let more qualified folks talk about this, because I am cis, and it doesn’t matter how much or little I listen to trans folks, that doesn’t give me any sort of authority when it comes to saying what is good representation for trans folk, what is trans-fetishism (Turning the concept of trans folk into an objectified concept), or what is transmisia (Hateful, derogatory, or otherwise bigoted presentation of trans folk.)

Okay, maybe that last one’s easier to spot, but the point is, there’s a lot of folk that could be considered trans or nonbinary in adult games, and while that is representation, bad representation is often more harmful than no presentation. For a better grip on that, you’ve much better odds with trans folk who enjoy adult games.

As we’ve already mentioned, a lot of content in these games is male gaze, male focused. So when there’s a male protag, everyone wants, or is dominated into, fucking the dude, and when it’s not a dude, there is a heavy element of either getting fucked, having gay sex with other women, or both. I am also not qualified to say how the lesbian community feels about that, for obvious reasons.

One interesting note I did find, however, was that the question becomes a whole lot more interesting due to these fictional worlds and their explorations. One discussion of Fenoxo’s work (often involving transformation themes, including gender changes) notes that trans specifically refers to transitioning, or having transitioned. But this doesn’t, strictly speaking, cover beings engineered (or naturally) having genitalia of both genders, or the ability to swap freely. It comes closer to nonbinary or genderqueer, but I do find it interesting that our fiction, in a way, is far ahead of our current capabilities (once again) when it comes to exploring gender. And that can definitely be a positive.

Now, let’s talk about how they play as games, and, straight off, we hit a problem.

A Lot Of This Is Gamified In Exactly The Wrong Way

Okay, that’s probably a little strong, in some cases. Gamified in a counter-intuitive or conflicting manner, or gamified in a manner that adds to the objectification/creepiness is probably a better fit. Let’s take two common adult game concepts as our examples here: The Corruption/Lewdness Meter, and Bad Ends/Loss Sex. We’ll start with the latter.

Essentially, in many an adult game, performing non-survival actions results in sex. Sometimes, this is because the big bad monster has grabbed you. Sometimes, it’s because you lost a fight. Sometimes, it’s because you met the conditions (bullshit or otherwise) for a “Bad” Ending. Except… It’s presented more as a transgressive titillation that just happens to reduce your health the more it goes on, or a new CG (Computer Graphic) to unlock for the Gallery. In a lot of other places, gallery items, titillation, or any kind of spectacle reward happens after good things. So it’s easy to see why it’s counter-intuitive, as, in its own way, it rewards failure using mechanics you would normally see for rewarding success. Sometimes, this is kludged around by making the gallery only unlock upon successful completion, be that of the game, or of a portion of it. That presents its own awkwardness, because those “rewards” are usually decontextualised to a specialised gallery. It’s not just a bit weird (an understatement) to be rewarded with the character being acted upon (sexually or otherwise), it doesn’t even really work that well in terms of gameplay flow.

Almost all of these gallery entries are failstates. Bad Ends.

Corruption/Lewdness ties somewhat into this. In many games, it serves the dual purpose of negative health meter (the higher it goes, the worse off or more susceptible you are), and event criteria (You must be this corrupt or sexualised to enter.) Even setting aside that, as noted, the bad things are considered a reward in these games, or part of a completion percentage (if you will), there is an inherent stigmatisation here, as, in most of these, any sexual act raises this meter (Although, depending on its role as a susceptibility gauge, itself an icky concept, masturbation may lower or raise this.)

Even accounting for that first point I made (Where a lot of this comes from kink, most often BDSM or BDSM adjacent practices, where being a “good” submissive is the goal, and deviations from this ideal are punished), this is… Topsy turvy at best, ill thought out most commonly, and just plain creepy or slutshaming in the nastier works.

Porn Has, Like, Five Plots and Seven Sets, Right?

Some things crop up, time and time again, in adult games. The princess or knight who goes out and finds sex and “corruption” instead. The young man whose family and close friends suddenly get into them because… Well, often, it’s some magic or hypnosis. Horror scenarios where the monsters are fuck-happy. While sex is often at the core of sex games (Surprise!), just like the rest of games, there’s a lot of basic scenarios being plotted. How many games in the past year, for example, do you remember being heavily soulslike, even down to plot beats? More than would seem sensible, is the answer.

There are creative adult games out there, from the simpler creativity of realising “Oh hey, wait, this is a Monster Hunter pastiche”, to something like Sanguine Rose, where the situation is “Sexually active characters who have their own desires and goals are pitted up against a seductive general they’ve captured, who is using their own knowledge, diplomatic skills, and sexuality in order to escape or turn their captors.” In that last one, everyone is a character, no main character seems one note, and as such, it works.

None of this changes that the basic goal of an adult game is to portray sex, but when it’s clear thought has gone into contextualising the scenario, grounding characters, it’s…

…Well, it’s the same as when other games put in that work which is considered basic to a lot of other stuff. It elevates a bar lowered by “Eh, it’s just games, yo, don’t think about it too hard.”

Everything That Applies To Other Games Doesn’t Stop Applying When There’s Sex

Although this particular screenshot doesn’t show that Kurovadis is among the H-Games with a *punishing* difficulty curve, it *does* show that I at least *got* to the end. Somehow. It’s a bit of a blur, honestly…

Finally, on our whistlestop tour of things to critique, yes, having a too steep difficulty curve is a turn-off. Having an aesthetic seen as low effort or copy pasting is not only a turn-off, but also shines a spotlight on any other lacks of creativity shown (The “young man whose family and friends yada yada” type games are, most often, visual novels using static poses and DAZ 3D/Poser models, for example.) Writing can still be dull as dishwater, you can still have poorly explained mechanics, or inconsistent aesthetics, bad UI, bad accessibility options. Basically, developing an adult game is like developing any other game, except now you have added questions like “Is my sex being presented well? Does it feel shoehorned? How does it interact with the core game loop?”

Fin.

I’ve mentioned, here and there among the critique, some adult games I somewhat liked (and others I didn’t), and, funnily enough, all the ones I particularly liked have engaged on some level with the questions raised in this article. Like it or not, Steam’s move (and others) has dragged adult games from their dark and stigmatised corners, and people are going to be engaging more with adult content simply because they’re more visible now. And, funnily enough, while I agree a lot of adult only games are shitty for some reason or another, I’m okay with that critique happening, because there’s been a lot of shitty games overall, too. But there have been games that listened to critique, asked themselves questions about the subject they want to portray (Sometimes dealing with some equally charged subjects, like transmisogyny, racial hatred, political discussion, and others), and they often stand head and shoulders above the rest.

A Brief History of Adult-Only Games

This article mentions nonconsensual sex, incest, bestiality, lolicon and shotacon, and a fair few other kinks.

Since TMW has opened its doors to critically examine what could be called lewdgames, adult-only games, or NSFW games, it’s somewhat important to give context, because it helps to understand why these games are the way they are now. But first, a brief definition: This is, specifically, about games with sex as a core, or heavily involved, not merely nudity (Although nudity in games will receive mentions.) With that noted, let us begin with –

The West – A Poor Start

You didn’t really think I’d subject you to the shitshow that is Custer’s Revenge, did you?

Lewdgames in the West have, for the most part, followed the patterns of Japanese development, and a big part of this can be put down to how, in terms of popular reception, the early lewdgame scene largely (but not entirely) killed itself. While the first known erotic game (Softporn Adventure, Sierra, 1981) was “romantic comedy”, albeit in the same sense that the Leisure Suit Larry or Spellcasting series are (So… Mileage extremely variable in terms of the comedy aspect, sex mostly of the “Ooh-er!” type), 1982 brought a small company called Mystique, who single handedly created one of the first video-game controversies with their unlicensed Atari 2600 games: Beat-em-and-Eat-em, Bachelor Party, and… Custer’s Revenge, perhaps one of the earliest examples of “Tick every attention grabbing shittybox” known in games.

Colonialism, nonconsensual sex, poor design… It didn’t help that Mystique went out of business after only those three games. The damage had, in a public-opinion sense, already been done. And so, from that point until relatively recently, while there have been a lot of games with sex in them, games where it is a core were largely non-games, such as the MANDY.COM series (a set of compressed GIFs from pornographic movies of the period, given a short “story”), endless rounds of strip-poker (Although some, such as Teenage Queen, subverted this to a small extent), or interactive-fiction.

This did change, although it’s tough to pinpoint the year, but, as noted, from this point forward, lewdgames have mostly been following the beat of Japanese trends. So… Let’s see what Japan had been doing in the time between, say, 1981 and 1992.

Trendsetting

This could also be an example of the increasingly bizarre attempts at justifying the insertion of sex into these games. Condom Salesman is, by comparison to “The entire land is cursed with sex battles instead of traditional fights”, a tame justification…

Although attitudes, censorship models, and the like have changed over the years, it is no exaggeration to say that several core elements of lewdgames have come from developments in the Japanese scene. While a slightly slower start (The first credited erotic game in Japan, Night Life, is more like an edutainment product), 1983 was the year where things kicked off in Japan, with Danchi-Zuma no Yuuwaku (Translated: Seduction of the Condominium Wives.) A Wizardry style, step based RPG with punishing difficulty, where you are a condom salesman who encourages the various condominium wives to “test the product.” There is no explicity nudity, but a sex “minigame” (not terribly well understood) exists, and the majority of the interactions with the aforementioned condominium dwellers are meant to lead to this state.

Not exactly the most promising start, although consent is heavily implied, and a failure state leads to displeasure. But two factors then entered into the picture: Apparently, just sexual content wasn’t enough, and the beginnings of sexual depictions of underage characters (known as lolicon or shotacon, depending on gender) in the 80s. As such, japanese erotic games often (and indeed, often to the present day) contain extreme themes, such as nonconsensual sex, bestiality (or, just as commonly, the tentacle monster), BDSM, gore, and vore (being eaten alive.)

Enter 1992, and one of the first erotic visual novels, Doukyuusei. More accurately a top-down game with visual novel elements, it had many of the features of the modern erotic visual novel: A reliance on knowing what events trigger where (In this case, which girl is where at a given point in the game), and choosing the right dialogue options to increase attraction. If you’ve played a romance visual novel, or a lifesim game with romance elements, it’s likely this was one of the roots. Also in 1992, the first RPG Maker, or RPG Tsukuru, was created.

Speeding To The Modern Day

Fortunae Virgo’s Hardcoded, in development, is one of those examples of things slowly improving. I believe the technical term for this subgenre is “That Good Gay Shit”

And so, from the 90s, this pattern remained largely unchanged. The majority of games with sex as a core to its gameplay had remained developed in Japan, although imports were moderately common. One of my own first experiences was with Nocturnal Illusion, a “horror” visual novel released in 1995. Some BDSM, some Yuri, but more of a romance deal than games that even released around the same time… The next year would, for example, see Shizuako, a game with heavy nonconsensual emphasis, and three years would see Divi-Dead, a game which, again, ticks a lot of those shock-boxes: Nonconsent, tentacles, death…

In the West, it wouldn’t really be until the mid 90s, with the creation of Newgrounds, that games heavily featuring sexual consent would appear, and a lot of these… Follow the trends of Japanese lewdgame development. Sometimes a fan-game, using an established character. Sometimes using elements from visual novels or dating sims. And… A fair amount of nonconsensual elements.

Not the most promising sounding history… But things are somewhat changing. With development having become more accessible, with Twine, Ren’Py, Flash, and Unity, and jams, developers from all over are finally trying their hand at adult-only content, and some are striking out in new directions. This, combined with Steam’s “uncensoring”, the creation of lewdgame platforms like Nutaku (previously Kimochi), and jams like Lewdjam or Strawberry Jam on Itch.IO, is bringing more attention to adult-only content, is, effectively, bringing adult-only games out of the shadowy corners of games, and into mainstream, critical attention. Although the majority of content remains… Awkward, in one sense or another.

In the next article, we’ll be talking about that critical minefield that awaits the games writer…

NSFWare (Review)

Price: £2.09
Source: Cashmoneys
Where To Get It: Steam

Sexual content contained in this game includes toys, cuckoldry, bdsm, voyeurism, and multiple partners.

I’ve been struggling with this one, not because it’s a bad game (It isn’t) , not because I don’t know what to say (Definitely not!), but because it’s Not Safe For Work (pixellated, 8-bit, or not) and as such, I’ve been having to struggle with how to present this without more than a content warning at the top of the review. Thankfully, a solution was found, and so I can deal with this interesting little number safely.

Yes, let us, by all means, take it up a notch…

“So, it’s a game with a lot of fucking, what’s the big deal?” Well, short version? Positive presentation, while retaining simplicity. If you’re aware of adult-only games, you’ll very quickly notice that NSFW games fail at either sex-positivity, tight design, or both, and NSFWare… Succeeds at both.

And how does it do it? By being WarioWare, but lewd. A gross oversimplification we’re going to unpack, but that’s your executive summary.

NSFWare is a game of four buttons, the arrow keys, and, in a series of short, sub 5 second minigames, you perform the act succinctly described. SPANK. COME. SWAP. WATCH. PEEK. PLEASURE. STRIP. Some require you to press a key, some to hold a key, some to switch keys, and some (this is the interesting part for me) require you to do… Nothing at all. That last one’s sort of against the spirit of WarioWare (where you are always doing something), but I get where it’s coming from in this case.

Graphically, it’s done with, essentially, a 16 colour palette (akin to the old EGA graphics mode), all bright, all saturated… It’s a little eye-searing at times, and I will say that that’s not for everyone. I will also say that blue and differently valued blue might present some colour-blindness difficulties, although I didn’t experience any myself. It uses relatively lo-fi musical effects, and is relatively short (You can experience a lot of the minigames in just a few short minutes, and get the hang of most of them in under half an hour.)

Animations are, interestingly, rotoscoped from pornographic media, and artistically so.

Okay, enough technical and mechanical chatter, let’s get down to it (Hehe.) Why is this, a minigame collection costing £2 and some change, worth looking at in the lewdgames market? As mentioned, sex positivity is a big part of it. Apart from PEEK (where the failure state are the two active sexual partners getting annoyed), everything is clearly consensual, and being enjoyed. There are no expressions, as everyone is a rather solid hunk of pixels, but the body language shows pleasure. Although some of the kinks shown are not for everyone (some BDSM and Cuckoldry), the game doesn’t place any value judgements. Whether it’s masturbation, multiple partners, gay or not, it’s always an act, being performed by people who are into the act. And all of these games are about the pleasure of good sex. Do it wrong, it’s awkward. Do it right, and everyone enjoys themselves.

And, as mentioned, sometimes, the thing to do is to be the receiver, to be the inactive partner. When you WATCH, for example, the failure state is to not watch. And, since you’re already watching… Each act is cleverly encapsulated in simple controls, whether that’s to SEXT, or PEG, or even TEASE. Each act is presented as is. Each act is, done well, pleasurable. No awkward decontextualising, no judgements of either partner… Just 24 acts, 24 minigames, presented simply.

Which is a good segue into my two criticisms of the game. Fitting, for a simple, mostly tight game, that my criticisms are also simple, and tight. One is that, yes, there are only 24 minigames. It’s a short game, it’s priced accordingly, so this is more a “So now you know.” Secondly, there is, at the time of the review going up, no windowed mode for the game, no volume control, and no options. This can, again, be somewhat countered with its price and small size, but they would make the game a little more accessible.

What I haven’t been showing is one minor annoyance, there in the bottom right.

Otherwise, this is one of the few NSFW games, in development or otherwise (I can count them on about a hand and a half) I feel no problem covering in a positive light, precisely because it’s simple, and positive about its acts. It’s not going to educate. It’s not going to be more than a game that enjoys sex. But it’s tightly designed around one thing: If everyone’s enjoying themselves, a good time is had.

The Mad Welshman is happy to announce he finally got an age gate installed. It’s ugly as sin at the time of writing, but we’re working on it.