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S.EXE: Increpare's Striptease (NSFW)

Things That You Can Win

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Today’s sex and/or relationship game is Increpare‘s puzzle game Striptease. I’d like to point out that this game, though it might seem from its title to be lighthearted titillation, contains depictions of violence against women and addresses issues of sexual assault. If this might trigger or distress you in any way, I’d recommend to take care in reading this, and consider whether playing this game might distress you before playing it.

Stephen ‘Increpare‘ Lavelle is probably one of the most important game makers of our time. I do not say this lightly. Increpare is prolific, distributes most of his games for free via his website, and constantly plays with form, structure, message, theme, mechanics, and music in a way that no other person does, in a way that large scale games development would never dare. He is ridiculously well read and his work displays a constant and empathetic awareness of social struggle, of political issues, and of complex interpersonal issues.

He is my favourite game maker. I discovered him two years ago whilst I was an emotionally broken wreck living in my friend’s attic. I sent this Wot I Think, my first ever, to Alec from that attic, and it was on Increpare’s Slave of God, which had the same sort of effect on my heart as a defibrillator. I’d been a zombie for months. I’d been trailing around the winter streets of Brighton and London half a frozen human being. I felt like I’d been shot and was slowly bleeding out until all of a sudden that game made my fingers type. I wrote words; at a weird juncture in my life, Increpare’s game all of a sudden made me a writer. That was when I knew that I would be okay.

Slave of God articulates feelings of isolation, overstimulation, alienation, or abandonment through images, flashing lights, the environment of a club. Striptease manages to take a fairly simple tile-moving mechanic and make the player understand the sexual objectification of women and how it depersonalises and demeans them.

On the right, there is a barely clothed woman, dressed up sexy. A yellow box designates the part of the woman you are concentrating on. This is the part of the clothing that she will next ‘take off’. On the left is a set of puzzle tiles with her body parts on that you have to swap around to put together the item the stripper, named ‘Candy’, will remove.

The game begins with text: the crude dialogue between Candy’s boss and Candy. The ‘go show ’em what you’ve got’ seems simple enough, a kind of caricature. You then begin sliding tiles around to have Candy take her clothes off. Mechanically speaking the ‘focus’ on one aspect of her body at one time has you depersonalize her, until you begin to think of her as a collection of tiles that comprise that one important part, the part you want to see. The hair. The feet. The tits. The crotch. She’s not really a person but a set of things. Things that are goals. Things that you can win. You can bargain for them. Who cares about her face? Stop looking at her face.

Interestingly, you are penalised for putting together other parts of her body, the parts not designated in the yellow box. Put together her shoulders or some other ‘irrelevant’ part and the game awards you negative points. You think her neck is sexy? Guess again. It ain’t. That isn’t the point of this game. You look at crotch or nothing buddy. It’s like being reprimanded in the stripclub for trying to touch a woman, or for asking for too much without paying enough.

The second level, there’s another exchange of text at the beginning, this time Candy and another stripper talk about their last shift. Candy ups the ante this time: she’s wearing red.

The end of the second level is where it graduates from merely having you feel sleazy or gross to having you feel distinctly uncomfortable. Candy is waiting for a ride from her friend, and a guy from the bar begins hassling her.

Level three, Candy is entirely naked, and her body is covered in bruises. The focus now is on piecing together the puzzle so that she can put clothes on instead of take them off. First, her trousers. Then her t-shirt. The mechanical message here works two-fold, I think: as you work to have her cover up, you take both Candy’s role and a voyeur’s role, whereas before I only considered the voyeur role. The difficulty in having her put clothes on now seems somehow Candy’s difficulty in putting her clothes on; a long, sad, contemplative process. Perhaps even painful, along with the disturbing music perhaps dissociative of her body parts. But as onlookers, we also do not want to see the bruises on her body. She is no longer ‘attractive’ in a societally acceptable manner. She has become a symbol of everything we do not want to see. Her body is a symbol of where society fails women. We want her to hide it for us. If women are silent about it, it does not happen.

The game ends as Candy’s friend finds her and asks her questions about her attacker, to which Candy replies only a stuttered answer.

Striptease is a sensitively complex way to explain how women’s bodies are treated as commodities, and how value is measured and placed upon them at a purely cosmetic level. Usually games are very quick to offer up both men and women as objects that can be beaten up, but rarely if ever is the woman’s point of view represented on this violence, which is the crucial way in which the gender treatment differs. Women are never afforded the reins to their pathos. Male characters get revenge or important dialogue, some sort of narrative bluster. Male characters might get angry about the way that women are treated on their behalf, but rarely are women allowed to have their own anger.

The moral consequences of violence may be shown in terms of a police rating in GTA for example, but you won’t see a prostitute pick up a gun, assume some badass chit-chat, and embark on teaching the aggressor a lesson, or witness a playable woman gangster talking to her best friend through her stitches, because there’s no woman protagonist for the player character to lead that narrative. Women’s bodies are often the ornaments of story-led videogames. We decorate them with naked breasts or scars as if they were statues. They look nice or are punched. Only rarely are they allowed to undertake the violence, such as in Bayonetta and fighting games, and they still have to look like ornaments on a mantelpiece with very little of consequence to say.

Most of the time, women are relegated to bodies that LA Noire maps crimes on, like bruises on Candy’s body. You don’t usually hear Candy’s voice, because it wasn’t written. Perhaps what she really has to say is more gritty than twenty Call of Duties put together.

Though you can play most of Increpare’s games entirely free here, you can also donate some money here to keep him making more of the stuff we like.

You can read the back catalogue of S.EXE here. Till next fortnight, S.EXE friends.

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Who am I?

Cara Ellison

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Senior Scottish Correspondent, often known as the Notorious C A E, though mostly by her mum

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