The rise of sex videogames. The other kind.

Mario Bros fetish

The reaction of most people to the mention of “sex-themed videogames” is to envision something like the infamous RapeLay– which was essentially a molestation simulator – or the hidden porn sequence inGrand Theft Auto. In fact, that sort of explicit and rather juvenile games has been around forever, as the 1982 Custer’s revenge can attest, and will probably be around for just as much judging from the continuing success of stuff like the chōkyō genre and novelties like the very weird Cho aniki series.

In the last couple of years, however, the growing indie games scene gave a new twist to the idiom. Independent games are usually created by very small teams or even one single author. Photorealistic graphics and other window dressings tend to be sacrificed in favor of raw content – be it old-school action, unadulterated silliness, geeky obsession for strategy or… a message.

In a world where most adults grew up playing video games, electronic games are considered just another medium through which an author can express his or her artistic statements. With a difference: the inherent interactivity of games make them the ideal vehicle to really convey personal experiences, as you are literally put in the shoes of the protagonist and you end up suffering the consequences of your actions in whatever situation is thrown your way.
This is how we are seeing indie games about depression, mourning, maternity, culture shock and other deep human experiences – including unusual sexualities.

Just like every other genre, sex games range from the sublime to the dismal. Some of them must be praised for their originality: I don’t think you’ll have many occasions to live a “kinky lesbian BDSM night gone wrong when the dominant turns out to be into cannibalism” experience but in Encyclopedia Fuckme and the case of the missing entrée, or at least I hope so. Other games rely on the disorientation of seeing classic imagery and dynamics applied to tell very different stories from what we’d expect from, say, a Legend of Zelda-inspired setup.
This is the case of Mainichi, which looks like a typical Japanese-style role playing game but actually describes a routine day in the life of the author, a mixed-race transperson constantly bombarded by social criticisms. The troubles people choosing to change their sex go through are also the subject of the quite abstract and occasionally heavy-handed Dys4ia.

The most touching take on that topic comes in fact from another game so sparsely designed to be composed entirely of colored squares. In Lim you simply try to guide your kinky, rainbow-colored square from A to B moving through a series of rooms populated by uniformly colored squares. Problem is, most of them are very prejudiced against you and will literally bash you, making progress difficult. The solution: pressing a key to “blend in”.
That will cloak your true colors behind an inconspicuous, bland tint. But it also makes you very slow, and close your perspective on the outside world. You will also become jittery and gradually go crazy. So what kind of pains are you willing to accept for being yourself?
I wonder what bigots would think if they were forced to play these games and learn what being different really means. Would they understand? Would they just rather die? Would they start coding more anti-gay games? Either way, we’ve come a long way from Pac-Man