Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: none
Awareness of either of these games before the month of Adam: none
Welcome back to the month of Adam. Adam donated money to the Calgary Distress Centre, and has chosen some really weird games for me to play, because he is simultaneously charitable and sadistic.
As odd as it may sound, I take pride in my writing. I won’t pretend that every piece I write for Almost Infinite is particularly novel, or filled with brilliant observations, or even terribly coherent. All the same, games are important to me, and the writing I do about them is important, and as with many things I’m proud of, I share my writing with the people in my life who matter to me.
Having said that, I have some reservations about sharing this particular post with my Grandma.
So, let’s start by ripping this band-aid right off. Ladykiller in a Bind is a game about BDSM explored by LGBTQA+ characters.
For someone who deeply loves both good storytelling and video games, I actually don’t play many visual novels. But the promise of a story told interactively, primarily through dialogue options appeals to me. After all, I don’t love the Mass Effect series for its shooting-from-cover, I love it for the excellent writing. It stands to reason that if a game did just that, I would also enjoy that, right?
Well… the writing needs to be good. For better or worse, a lot of Ladykiller in a Bind’s writing is not very good. I recognize that writing can be extraordinarily subjective, and what people like or dislike will have a lot to do with their own experiences and preferences.
Before I delve too deep into the specifics of the game, perhaps I should give an overview of the story, such as it is. The main character, referred to in game as the Beast, is manipulated into crossdressing as her smirking jerk of a twin brother in order to fool and further manipulate the members of his private school’s graduating class. The class is taking a transatlantic cruise, during the course of which a mysterious, manipulative figure will give the winner of an onboard popularity contest five million dollars.
Like Twelfth Night, in a superficial, cruel-spirited kind of way.
Since the Beast is standing in for her brother, and her brother is a dismissive, manipulative jackass, I am thrust into several situations where I have no idea what’s going on, the Beast has no idea what’s going on, and the other characters sit there waiting for a response that I have no idea how to give.
What’s more, I like my characters to be believable or relatable, or preferably both. The characters I’ve encountered in this game range from absurd caricatures to people who seem to go out of there way to make empathy impossible. The characters in the game are, almost without exception, spoiled, or selfish, or openly manipulative, or all three in ways that I find thoroughly off-putting.
However, Adam didn’t put the game on the list because it was bad (or at least, not only because it was bad). He put it on the list because of what it talked about, and it talks about some things I could go on and on about.
To begin with, the game’s most significant relationship is a BDSM relationship. The relationship (including, but not limited to sexual encounters) between the characters known as the Beauty and the Beast is one of dominance and submission, and consensual power exchange. Secondly, almost all of the characters I’ve encountered in the game fall somewhere within the LGBTQA+ groups. These are concepts and groups that are often not represented in mainstream games, or at least not represented well.
When I was playwriting in university, one of my peers wrote a two act play about BDSM, and LGBTQA+ relationships. It was a fascinating, challenging piece, that was thoughtful, provoking, and carefully put together. She took a lot of pains and put in a lot of extra effort to ensure that the story she was telling was expressing the right thing. In the end, I think she succeeded. It presented the people within these relationships as flawed, complex beings, without blaming BDSM and LGBTQA+ for those flaws and complexities.
Ladykiller in a Bind feels like it wants to tell that story. However, between the over-arching $5,000,000 popularity contest, the old twin switcharoo, and the cast that is, in turn, unlikable, unrelatable, or unbelievable, it just falls apart. What’s more, for a game that opens with a disclaimer regarding the consensuality of all power exchanges, the game doesn’t always handle consent well.
Ladykiller in a Bind is seriously lacking in the storytelling department. Other types of games might be able to get away with that, but if the story presented in a visual novel isn’t great, there’s very little left to enjoy. I feel like the game and story would have benefited from focusing less time on the manipulations and social jockeying of a high-school group, and more time talking about why these relationships matter. Of course, giving background information would be uncharacteristic of many of the Machiavellian characters involved, so maybe just cut them too.
One concern Adam had when selecting this game was its sexually explicit nature. After all, the game does feature some scenes that would be decidedly inappropriate for all ages. With that in mind, Adam gave me a second option for this week, in case I was unable or unwilling to write about Ladykiller in a Bind. This is the only game he gave me such an opportunity. So, let’s take a look at Midnight Ultra.
Midnight Ultra is a first-person shooter in which I have to fight my way through a demonically possessed American southwest.
That’s it. That’s the whole game.
No complex story or character motivations, no deep and intricate explorations of minorities or fetish subcultures, no disclaimers regarding the subject material, just a simple game with a simple goal: to fight my way through a demonically possessed American southwest.
It is not a fascinating game. Its aesthetics are marred by poor graphics, or perhaps its retro graphics are hindered by a dedication to a strange aesthetic, but it’s not pleasant to look at. It is stupid, destructive, and carries no deeper significance. This is a game that once I stop playing it, I don’t need to stop thinking about it, because it requires that little emotional or mental investment in the first place.
It is also ridiculously fun.
I find it hard to think of two games in my Steam library more unlike each other than Ladykiller in a Bind and Midnight Ultra. One is demanding, one is giving. One requires extensive thought be placed into simple actions, the other requires no thought put into violent actions. One fails at telling an important, complicated story, the other succeeds in telling a thoroughly unimportant, mindlessly simple story. I would characterize neither of these games as particularly good, so I guess they have that in common.
Next Episode: The Norwood Suite