Hello, gamers! In (belated) honor of Valentine’s day I’ve decided to get sexy and talk about porn: specifically the erotic and controversial visual novel Ladykiller In A Bind. But, before we get started, let’s talk about art, pornogrophy, and what defnines each of them.
It seems that everyone has an opinion as to what does or does not constitute ‘art.’ At the first PAX convention I attended, an audience member asked Penny Arcade’s Jerry Holkins if he considered video games to be art. Holkins thought (and I agree) that this was a silly question: how could something that hundreds of artists work on for months possibly be anything but art? This school of thought has been spreading, especially since Anita Sarkeesian has so famously subjected video games to the same thorough analysis that academics have used to look at literature and film for generations.
So, assuming we can agree that video games are art, we still haven’t answered the question of what ‘art’ actually is. It’s a question I’ve thought about a great deal, especially while I was working on my BA in a creative field. Novelist and educator John Green describes art as ‘something someone put into the world to make my life more interesting(1).’ My personal definition is similar, though not exactly the same. I believe that, on the most basic level, art is a form of communication: something created by an individual to inspire a reaction in an audience.
This is why I’ve always thought the dichotomy between ‘art’ and ‘pornography’ to be false. Many years ago, I found myself interviewed for a ‘man on the street’ segment of some sort, where I was shown a series of pictures and asked I considered them to be art or pornography, and why. I probably skewed their results, since I classified every single image as ‘art’ (though I recall describing a few of them as ‘art with pornographic subject matter’). Putting aside ‘I’ll know it when I see it,’ pornography is generally described as media designed to titillate or sexually arouse. Which, going by my definition of art, doesn’t separate pornography from art at all. It places it as a category: a form of communication meant to instill a particular response in the audience.
So is a pornographic video game art? I would unequivocally say ‘yes.’ Mind you, that doesn’t mean it has to be good art. We can probably all agree that film is an artform, but that doesn’t mean all movies have equal artistic merit. Some films are thought provoking while others offer little more than base escapism and toilet humor.
Ladykiller occupies a nuanced position on this continuum. It stars a young woman (the Beast) who has been forced to masquerade as her twin brother while his high-school graduating class take a cruise ship across the Atlantic. If she acts too suspiciously she’ll be thrown into cargo hold, ending the game. The mechanics revolve around accruing ‘votes’ (for an in-game contest that may or may not be BS), while avoiding ‘suspicion.’ Conversation options appear and disappear as they occur to the player-character. There are two main romance storylines to chose from or combine, as well as a number of side-stories involving minor characters. The player gets to chose the names of each character as they appear, either from one of two default options or by entering a custom name. For the remainder of this article I’ll refer to the characters by the default names we chose in our longest playthrough.