Content Warning: While no imagery requires content warnings beyond “Not Safe For Work”, the article mentions mind control content, incest, and nonconsensual sex.
Since TMW has had its first few negative reviews of NSFW games, and a part of that is the writing therein, I realised… Hrm, I’ve been thinking about the viewpoints on writing in NSFW games for a while, and the answer, funnily enough, is “Yes.” Now, when people think of writing, they invariably think of world building, Deep Lore, narrative arcs, that sort of thing. These are not necessarily needed in any game, let alone an NSFW one… Although world building and narrative arcs definitely make things more interesting, even if it’s not always noticed. Hell, sometimes the point is that you don’t notice. You accept the world.
But no, while none of these things are necessary, there’s more to writing than that. And this, readers, is where the cool gets separated from the bland.
Characters We Believe In, And Want To Fuck.
We all have our fantasies. The office worker or the secretary, lying on their back on the desk, their shirt in disarray and their sex exposed. The adventurer, who’s gotten themselves in a pickle… An enjoyable pickle, but a pickle nonetheless. The monsterfolk, the police person, the Girl/Boy Next Door… I could go on for quite a while, and, if you’re interested in NSFW games enough to read this, I’m pretty sure you can too. But these are absolutely basic ideas, and just from this alone, we’d have trouble setting things up. Right now, as it stands, they are almost costuming ideas, with maybe an idea of how they look.
But, as you add just a little bit of detail… You get a clearer picture. The adventurer was confident, maybe overconfident, and now, they’re facing someone too big to fight… Maybe… Diplomacy, of a sort? The Girl Next Door is shy, and bringing her out of her shell not only leads to a new friendship, but maybe some tender lovemaking. Or some bed shaking fucking, as it turns out she’s quite the hellion, once she feels she can let her hair down. The succubus isn’t interested in your stammered excuses. She knows you want this, she’s read your mind, and you will submit, toy!
See? A little detail goes a long way. Even that little detail can give you more ideas. Like how they look, how they stand, how they react to situations, and how they wear their clothes and handle their things (and people.) And those, funnily enough, let you be a little more clear to your artist or art team (or yourself, if you’re doing the art too.) This, of course, applies to your protagonist(s) too.
Purple Prose, And Engaging The Senses
Sometimes, a place feels bland because it’s just… There. It’s never described, and so… Literally the only purpose for it is to be a setting for something that happens. And yes, you can tell a story with your images, but, all too often, I’ve seen both these parts fall down. My personal “favourite” example here is the classroom, or the hallway. If you’ve ever been in a school, your school hallway has character, all of its own, especially between classes. But what do you do with it?
“You can talk to Love Interest A, or Love Interest B.” And then you talk to them. That’s… That’s your lot. And, just like characters, you don’t have to do much to sell your location. Let’s take that school hallway as an example. It’s between classes, and you’re trying to find one of the aformentioned Love Interests (Let’s call them… Bella and Petra. Just to personalise it a bit.) In either case, the hall has students, either heading to their next class, or the cafeteria, or somewhere to take a smoke break or a drink. They’re chattering, gossiping, laughing… They’re a little bit of colour that sells the place. And when you find Bella, she’s standing on her own against a locker. She was waiting for you, jackass, and she always waits here. Petra, meanwhile, is talking to some friends. She doesn’t notice you until you draw her attention, and she apologises to her friends, but she really must head off to… Collect the books she forgot in class, yeah, that’s it!
The history of a place may or may not be important, and, if you’re keeping it tight, keeping it short, unless it is important… Ditch it. But giving someone the feel of a place… That’s important.
But of course, engaging the senses doesn’t just apply to locations, to people. It applies to when you get hot and heavy too. The breathing, the feeling, the wetness, the whispers, the growls and moans, the way the participants talk to each other… And you can imply the pacing of the sex too. There’s a fair amount of difference between pushing, thrusting, pounding, and hammering, for example. Tender strokings, hard fuckings… Each has their own soundscape, their own mood.
Thankfully, this is a part of things more NSFW creators get right (I mean, if they didn’t, it would be really dull, wouldn’t it?) With… One exception.
Oh God, I’m Being Fucked By My Boyfriend’s Dick!! In The Ass!
A fair few NSFW games, and a fair few Ecchi manga have this one… Overnarration. The example above is ridiculous, but… A common one. And it’s always someone who’s in the scene. And it’s often multiple times, in the same scene. Just as you can tell not enough of a story, you can overtell, spend too long lingering on a single thing… Or just… Y’know, have your protags say everything that happens to them out loud. And part of it is understandable. Many NSFW games are labours of love, or on a tight budget, and so you have static images of the actual fucking happening. Maybe more than one, but still… You have to tell the story with words as well. And this is where overtelling like this can happen.
But here’s the thing: So long as an NSFW writer is using the advice above? They don’t need to overtell. They can concentrate on, ooh, I dunno… Characters reacting to the sex the way they would, as characters? Giving people a better idea of how the sex feels, and maybe things like how it interacts with where they’re fucking?
Box Ticking Writing In NSFW Games
Sometimes, a game’s writing is just… Box ticking. Let’s take an example I’ve rambled about briefly before: The mind control VN. The protagonist is a NEET, or a dot com web developer, or other person who is either down on their luck and returned to the family home, or considered useless. This will never be mentioned beyond the introduction. They will have relocated to the family home, where there is no husband, no son, only various women family members. And then, somehow, they are given mind control powers/drugs by somebody, or discover that they have them. That somebody may or may not play a further role in the story, but usually not. And then, whether through just using these powers, or gaining some kind of leverage with which to get them to the point where the powers can be used, and then, it escalates. Usually toward self degrading, overtelling sluts who sometimes speak in third person after this happens too.
Now, at this point, people would correctly point out that this is Nukige, It’s a porn delivery system, why worry about writing, m’duuuude?
Well, the writing of the scenes is formulaic too. Domineering sister? Doting mother? The woman who runs the coffee shop in town? Pretty much the same arc, and whoever they are is almost barely referenced except in “[CHECK ONE: Teehee/Oh my!], we’re fucking in a [CHECK ONE: School toilet/Hospital/Under the desk of the cafe/Park/Other (Please describe)], I’m so [CHECK ONE: Horny!/Ashamed!]” moments.
Cliches aren’t necessarily bad. Hell, most of the things I described in that first segment are cliché. But the devil’s in the details.
Working Your Length
More accurately, working with your length, but hey, couldn’t resist an opening like that. Still… Not all games have to be long to be enjoyable, but that length changes things. If you have a formula you stick tightly, that formula becomes much more noticeable in short games. Similarly, if your game is long, you have to pay more attention to what is simply padding, or, in the mechanical design, grind. When it’s short, you don’t have a lot of room, so you need to balance getting all the above well done, and keeping it short. For readers, a game can be short because the team don’t have the budget for the art assets, either time or money, or… They want to be short and self contained.
As with game design in general, the golden rule is: Cut what you don’t need. You need, as mentioned, well described sex (You probably already know that part), and characters who aren’t one dimensional (They don’t have to be super nuanced or complex. Just… Actual characters.) You need to engage the senses. You probably don’t need all 20 (or 200) segments of your Deep Lore, unless you’re planning some serious worldbuilding and/or a whole series. And you may or may not need Steve From Accounting, that guy who pops in for part of one scene to say something (Depends if it’s already obvious, or if only Steve From Accounting would know, wouldn’t it?)
Following this will save you time. It’ll save you assets. It’ll hopefully save you from me having to collect all 200 bits of your sodding Deep Lore to get the Goddess of Succ to do her thing. (I haven’t had to specifically do that, yet… But I have had to level up a stat that levels at a glacial pace, and requires repeating things I’ve already done about twenty times. Fuck right off with that, please.) So it’s a good rule to understand your pacing needs, and the space you have for them.
Why The Heck I Said All That
A lot of NSFW games sit in the Visual Novel, CYOA, and RPG genres… And I mean a lot. And, while I may well be preaching to the crowd with some devs (maybe a fair few devs), yes, writing is important. It gives your players feels. It makes your writers horny, specifically for the scene you’re setting. And it’s very noticeable, both when it shines… And when it’s jarring, or just plain bad. We already have large portions of the games industry neglecting writers, or obscuring their work with the demands of their CEOs and Marketing Departments… And this is an area where an ill chosen word or phrasing can fuck you over.
Example: There was a not-bad Match X game, with an interesting mechanic I looked at for review. First scene… Wasn’t great, definitely a little problematic, but not anything that couldn’t be talked about. And then… Midgame, there is a scene that is referred to as a rape. Which… Both parties knew, and were in the process of initating sex, it’s just the female character not only decided to be the first to initiate, and top the protagonist, it was wild, rough sex. That the protagonist was into. And yet… That wording, that choice, barred it from being reviewed. (The next game from this developer, who I decided to give a second chance, alas decided that it was a mind control story that they didn’t reveal was until after the penultimate sexual encounter. So… Yeah, that was a curveball that fucked them over here, despite my acknowledgement of mind control as a fantastical kink…)
And so, I decided to remind folks that the writing is important, moreso than a mainstream game, precisely because the subject is culturally charged. Precisely because it makes a large part of the difference between a good and a bad game. And partly to encourage and give advice to writers who wish to expand the field and experiment themselves. Especially the straight, vanilla authors, who actually form the minority in adult only games. There should be spaces for folks. There should be spaces for a lot of folks. But I definitely see holes, from PoC media and characters, to the aforementioned straight and vanilla, to folks who want to explore and acknowledge sex and sexuality from the perspective of disability. And that’s something that can be fixed.