Published on August 6th, 2013 | by Andrew Vestal


You Don’t See Any SEX Here: Broken Adventures

Irony be damned-these games are terrible. Terrible on purpose, but that doesn’t make them any more fun or playable. Erotic, ostensibly, though that’s highly debatable. Still, if they’re broken, it’s in the way all games used to be broken. They’re a reminder of  the time when games seemed full of infinite potential, if only you could find the right thing to say.

yourswimsuit3The first game is Amy Dentata’s Your Swimsuit Jumped Over Its Own Shuttlecock, You Liar! The form is loosely based on erotic Japanese visual novels, but the content is extraordinarily random. The dialogue is linguistic linguine, chopped and screwed from Dickens’ Great Expectations and Azumanga Daioh. It’s a memoryless nightmare driven by Markov chains, where no decision has any impact on any later choice. Sometimes the girl gets mad and leaves. Sometimes she takes off her clothes. You will never understand why.

The author wanted to highlight the effects of extreme randomization on game narrative, but my experience was something far more specific. I was acutely reminded of the experience of playing through a Japanese import without knowing any Japanese. Even if you know a word here or a kanji there, the cumulative effect can be worse than gibberish. The mind abhors a partial vacuum and can’t help forcing understanding. That’s the character for “fire,” that one mean “woman” … is there a woman on fire? A volcano goddess? Or maybe Katniss Everdeen? You select a word from a menu, and find the meaning only in the aftermath. It’s ludicrous…yet thousands of gamers cut their teeth on these half-comprehended stories.

sexchamberThe second game, Leigh Alexander’s THE SEX CHAMBER, explores similar ground. Leigh cogently argued that Leisure Suit Larry should never have been remade: an adventure game that once seemed as sad, funny, and random as human sexuality itself has been reduced to hi-res hookers and a bar full of Kickstarter backers. Perhaps the golden age of Leisure Suit Larry games really is 13; dragging the series kicking and screaming into the modern era has demeaned us all.

THE SEX CHAMBER seeks to capture Leigh’s experience of playing these buggy, sexy adventure games as a child. Adventure game logic meant it wasn’t uncommon for players to get stuck for days in the same spot. Had you missed a clue? Did you lack the vocabulary? Maybe the answer was something only adults would know-or maybe the game just hadn’t been properly tested. There was no way a kid could know for sure, and that uncertainty added to the illicit feeling of the whole enterprise. Just keep trying! There has to be a way to understand!

leisure-suit-larry-1Two games, two separate hemispheres of tradition, but the same subject matter and conclusion: adventure games used to be opaquely adult, frequently incomprehensible, and totally broken. And that’s what made them cool. Your imagination not only has the best graphics; it also has the best gameplay, the most robust systems. When things stopped working, it suggested the gears of a complex and fascinating world grinding to a halt just behind the screen.

Modern games have had all the randomization systematically stripped out and all the rough edges filed down to dull safety. It’s not enough that you can’t lose – you can’t even stop winning, not for a moment. But as researchers discovered with children’s playgrounds, too much safety can actually be quite dangerous. A game that doesn’t challenge the way you see the world can never inspire you to see it differently. A game with no broken parts can never have a real heart.

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Founder. Still likes videogames, but for different reasons. Has two cats.

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