Nude Descending A Star: The Naked Void


I’m scared. Here’s what I fear: I fear The Void is going to be the subject of unjust moral outrage because it features female nudity.

…maybe that’s making light of the problem. It’s not just female nudity that features in The Void. Talking to any female character results in the game cutting away to a vision of that woman suspended in a strange, shadowy limbo, naked except for particle effects and sometimes props. Gifting that woman with colour, as you must do to progress, causes a cutscene of them writhing in ecstasy that could probably suffice as a masturbatory aid. Doubly so if you’re a techy fellow like Alec and really enjoy particle effects.

At first I thought this was unbearably trashy, sexist and inane. You might too. Then I realised I was wrong. It’s possible you might not have the same revalation, especially if you’re the kind of easily outraged person I can see so clearly in my head writing furious blog posts and starting disgusted forum threads, so please, let me walk you through what went on in my head.

It took several hours of play, but eventually I realised the beauty and nakedness of the Sisters wasn’t harming my immersion in the game. There was no sense of ‘Here comes the fan service!!’, or that the sultry writhing I was watching was any kind of reward. Rather, it fitted with the Sisters’ role in the Void.

As I said before, the Sisters rarely move or back up what the say, and the Brothers’ savage protection of them adds to their objectification. It’s also not long before you find out the Sisters cannot turn down your gifts of colour no matter how scared they are of attracting the ire of their Brother. It’s not that they can’t resist the colour you offer- it’s that your Glyph does not give them any choice, making it a gift in name only. In reality, you’re infusing the girls with colour against their will to get what you need. You’re abusing them.

There’s more to this than soft porn, basically. I believe the nakedness of the Sisters in The Void is Ice-Pick’s way of emphasising their vulnerability and inescapable situation, and I believe the massively sexual closed-eyed curling and stretching they do with each gift of colour represents you taking advantage of them. I could also believe that Ice-Pick knew that adding some sex to their game would help it sell, and I’m not convinced they should be persecuted for that when they can pull it off without disturbing their original vision of the game in the slightest.

I guess you could still pressure The Void as a sexist piece of work on account of it depicting a world where women are kept locked down by men and rendered as pathetic and naked. My defense of the game against this would be to point out that the Brothers, the only men in the game, are the bad guys, and often come across as an exaggeration of the worst characteristics of males. They’re all enormous, stubborn, blind, hideous, controlling murderers who would probably do a better job of ruling all that they surveyed if they could agree on anything.

I’m more curious about my own reaction to seeing the nudity in the game for the first time. My instinctive response was “Oh, God”, because why else would a girl have no clothes on in a videogame but as a cheap way to keep the player interested? It took far, far too long for the other possibility to enter my mind- that this was a commercial game that was trying to use female nudity for artistic purposes.

Think I’m reaching? Maybe you think I’m reaching. I now present Exhibit A, a still taken from a video of Ice-Pick’s booth at Russian games development conference KRI back in 2007.

A woman! And she’s almost NAKED (naked!)!

Now, that guy in the foreground is Nikolay Dybowskiy, CEO of Ice-Pick Lodge. Pathologic fans out there will recognise him as the Haruspicus. What follows is me creating an argument based on his clothing and beard. I really hope this is going to work.

See, if Nikolay was wearing a t-shirt, didn’t have the facial hair he does, or generally didn’t look like the biggest Artist imaginable (which to say he looks exactly like you’d expect after reading my interview with him I’d be tempted to pass that naked woman off as nothing but a booth babe hired to dredge up interest in Ice-Pick’s booth. Doubtless she did mean Ice-Pick’s display got a few more visitors that day than it otherwise might have, but they still had her on display side by side with stuff like this painting:

It all implies these developers are comfortable with nakedness, and developed their game without the cynicism, fear of political correctness and Englishness that I know I have, and I’m sure lots of you reading this will too. Did I mention you can see the outline of genitals on your own (male) character’s ghostly avatar? You can.

Anyway, that’s my defense of The Void’s T&A. You’re welcome to disagree, but only once you’ve actually played the game and know what you’re up against.

Until then, here’s something for you to chew over: Before I decided that The Void’s use of nudity was tasteful, it caused a question to form in my head. Namely, in the case of games very consciously trying to be ‘art’, is it the job of the games critic to judge the ‘art’ inherent within them? Can a reviewer slate a game and give it a bad review for being ‘”Bad” “art”‘?

I mean, the games press is always cheetah-quick to praise games which attempt to give themselves some deeper meaning and transgress just being something you play, no matter what that meaning is or how the message is delivered. In reality, should we be taking marks off games when that message is clumsily conceived or delivered? As it stands now, we do not. If a game fails at its grander purpose the reviewer instead drops back down a level and scores the game on whether it’s fun to play.

That doesn’t quite sit right with me, and it shouldn’t with any developers like Ice-Pick Lodge who have genuine faith in the potential of this medium. At some point some of us critics are going to have to start criticising games when their artistic intention is banal, or insipid. What do you think, Nikolay?

Mm.

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