Ladykiller In A Bind dev reworks controversial scene

Ladykiller In A Bind

Ladykiller in a Bind [official site] is an erotic visual novel in which you’re trying to win votes from former classmates on a transatlantic cruise while impersonating your twin brother. There’s a fair amount of sex and the tale doesn’t shy away from exploring elements of queerness, roleplaying and various kinks as well as having sections of dialogue which explicitly demonstrate people asking for and receiving consent.

But one scene in particular seemed an uncomfortable fit for the game and provoked strong enough reactions from players that, as per developer, Christine Love, “The bulk of the scene has been completely rewritten and now has a different tone.”

I started playing the game after the scene was removed so I’m only familiar with what happens via reading other people’s accounts and perusing the Pastebin document Love uploaded with the deleted scene’s script. Essentially it was an optional scene in the game (also made skippable in a subsequent update) which revolved around the sexual humiliation of the player character by a rival character.

I can’t add in my own reaction because that scene isn’t part of the game anymore but I know that Kate Gray found it jarring, especially given the context of the rest of the game – here’s her description of this particular section:

“There are also transactional sex scenes late on in the game which are more akin to rape. There is the option to skip them, and there are content warnings, which are both important, but I think I’d rather not have a rape scene at all – especially not one in which the character, who is a lesbian being forced into unwanted heterosexual sex acts, says that she enjoys it.”

Going back to Love’s blog post about the change offers a bit more insight into the reasoning behind the scene:

“The original goal of the scene was to demonstrate a darker—certainly not safe IRL—fantasy to contrast with the safety of the Beauty’s arc. But even after multiple revisions, clearly a lot of players were extremely uncomfortable with its presence, and still ended up being blindsided—I think I failed to account for the player’s context, and I’d rather the scene be gone than make anyone else uncomfortable. My apologies to anyone who was upset by it. (In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve uploaded the full script of the now-deleted scene, so you can see what was removed.)”

I’ve been thinking about this. I’m about halfway through Ladykiller and it strikes me as an interesting game, and a valuable addition to my library, but one which isn’t quite working for me. A big part of that is less a “not my kink” thing and more a “not my pop culture” thing. The game is replete with anime and JRPG namedrops, as well as versions of tropes or characters or art I recognise from Japanese pop culture in various forms. As someone who never found a foothold in manga, nor in anime, nor in popular Japanese gaming series, a lot of Ladykiller is just gently abrasive or distant. I’m also clenching my jaw at the heavy repetition of the word “cute” at this point.

Ladykiller In A Bind

I think that my lack of a connection to the game is important here. Even when I think it’s doing interesting things, like presenting a negotiation of consent between a nervous and a confident partner and leading that into a lusty sex scene, I’m not treating it as something to get off to. Playing as an observer and playing as a kind of participant on one side of the glass with a hand down their pants, I think, are very different prospects. I think it’s entirely possible to be blindsided by porn when it takes an unexpected turn and for that to be a bitter or worrying experience because it suddenly changes the terms of engagement for the viewer in a way that’s different from other kinds of gaming.

To put it another way, if you’re in an aroused state, buying into the scenarios or being stimulated by them, running into one which suddenly flips the game into a darker and more troubling experience can be… embarrassing at best. At worst, I think it can feel like a betrayal, because indulging in a fantasy is personal and you’ve let your guard down for an author.

I also think players conceive of games differently to books or videos so it’s not a matter of skimming for personal favourite passages or scrubbing through troubling bits because there’s no traditional fast-forward method. With games specifically I feel weird about just skipping sections too, like that’s cheating. Partly it’s because games culture heroes completionism but it’s also, for me, about a lack of control. I only get to skip what the author lets me skip rather than deciding when to duck out and when to return so I’m ceding a lot of control.

At this point I want to say Merritt Kopas and Simone de Rochefort have a thoughtful piece on the subject over at Polygon. The title is “Ladykiller in a Bind shows that we’re not ready to handle messy queer stories” and it delves into things like letting queer people speak to their experiences or explore fantasies without being expected to write the perfect queer experience every time. It also contains reminders about indie developer resources when it comes to fan critiques and content warnings as things to facilitate conversations rather than shut them down.

As they point out, “Queer experience is no monolith, and content warnings aren’t intended to demonize whatever they precede. They are not a suggestion that the content is wrong — there is a content warning at the top of this story — they’re just a way to help the consumer access it on their own terms.”

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20 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    johannsebastianbach says:

    I didn’t bother looking into this game after reading Kate’s review and don’t intend to do so (just not my kind of art/sex style), but nonetheless very interesting thoughts you laid out here. Thanks, Pip, always enlightening!

  2. davebo says:

    Thanks for this article. With the utter lack of racing cars, shooting mans, and loot grinds, this game is way outside my genres of choice, but it’s been an interesting title to read up on. As the generation that first grew up with games and more subsequent generations reach adulthood, I hope that adult themed games gain enough success to warrant further titles from any studio wishing to pursue them.

  3. Danda says:

    “A lot of people are annoyed because of the No Russian stage. OK, we’ll patch it so you can only shoot cops.”

    I’m sorry that those reactions pushed Love to change that scene, but I would also be concerned if I had to keep my audience happy and willing to buy my eventual next game. I’m just glad that I downloaded the original Humble Store release last October so I can preserve the original version.

    • April March says:

      I think there’s a lot of space between “I changed that scene because, as an artist, it was not communicating what I had intended to my audience” and “I changed that scene because people said they didn’t like it and my foremost concern is that they buy the next game I release”. I quite strongly feel that, if Love was in the latter camp, she would simply remove the scene after the first playtesters had raised red flags.

  4. Buggery says:

    It’s interesting, because it’s already a niche addition to a niche genre – and a considerable part of creating a title within that niche is going to be understanding the enthusiasts of such a title and how they react to the idea that you’re going for.

    Frankly, I’ve felt less and less like there’s much for me to respond to in each successive Christine Love game as she further explores areas of sexuality that I don’t properly understand so I won’t be giving this a go – but kudos for her for creating something like this. Still, if the aim is to create a title for a specific audience and she realizes that her own personal vision of how she expected people to understand a section of her game proved wrong, then perhaps she ought to explore further why and how that came about, rather than just passively responding and changing the scene.

  5. LogicalDash says:

    About those content warnings.

    * On release the scene had none.
    * Then a patch added the warnings, “Transactional straight sex” and “Problematic fantasies”.
    * Another patch added the ability to skip the scene, and changed the content warning to “Degradation (Receiving)”.

    None of those make it all that obvious that you’re about to watch a rape scene, do they?

    The Polygon article does a great job of selling the idea that fans pressured her into the change and need to grow up, by wrapping that in aesthetic and ethical quandaries that are vitally important to things other than this game.

    • Premium User Badge

      MajorLag says:

      I haven’t read the polygon article, but your summary of events certainly makes it seem like the developer was pressured into removing content they felt was in some way important to the work.

      Sometimes part of the point of a work is to make the consumer feel things they don’t want to feel. While this isn’t exactly on-par with, say, removing all the Jew killing scenes from Schindler’s List, it does kind of feel a little like that.

      • LogicalDash says:

        I think the Polygon article wants you to believe that, but here’s what the creator has to say:

        The original goal of the scene was to demonstrate a darker—certainly not safe IRL—fantasy to contrast with the safety of the Beauty’s arc. But even after multiple revisions, clearly a lot of players were extremely uncomfortable with its presence, and still ended up being blindsided—I think I failed to account for the player’s context, and I’d rather the scene be gone than make anyone else uncomfortable. My apologies to anyone who was upset by it.

        (her full post on the subject)

        I don’t understand why she didn’t just put “CW: rape” on it to begin with, or at least “non-con” to use the porn term. I guess I do understand why she didn’t even use “dubious consent” as a warning, though, since the game’s premise renders all its consent dubious.

        Can anyone comment on the new scene, by the way?

    • theliel says:

      No, yeah I read the unedited scene and that needs full on cw:rape, humiliation and corrective rape.
      That’s some hard corps old school beyond insex shit right there.
      The kind of thing the West Coast Assholes would notify a dm about and make sure there were no bystanders about to catch shrapnel.

      In short it probably needed a strong ass cw warning. It’s almost my jam and it wrecked my MOJO for a few minutes and I was expecting it, I feel bad for the people who just hit it blindside.

      • Premium User Badge

        MajorLag says:

        Maybe, but it would depend on intent wouldn’t it? Based on what the dev has said on the issue, it wasn’t at all intended this way, but what if the point had been to surprise and offend and disturb the player? In effect, mimic in some small way the experience of actual rape by forcing upon the player a sexualized experience they didn’t want?

        Personally I think that would have been an interesting artistic statement.

        • sosolidshoe says:

          That’s your first mistake – art or intent mean nothing in the realm of hardline identitarian politics, all that matters is whether any given individual is disturbed or offended. For identitarians, perception is nine-tenths of the law.

          It’s a tough one, because on the one hand you can see the argument for appropriate warnings out of, if nothing else, simple politeness, but the part of me that grew up reading Enlightenment philosophers instinctively rebels at the notion an artist should have to moderate or compromise their works to placate the mob.

          • FeepingCreature says:

            Freedom of art is not an excuse to make people’s life worse. When you engage with a work, you implicitly trust the author to put images into your head and evoke emotions, potentially strong ones. So it is generally considered good for artists to not violate the expectations of their audience in a way that harms them.

            This is exactly what content warnings are supposed to be for. Everybody can make whatever art they like. But when they’re interested in having an audience, it is wise to keep the interests of that audience in mind, especially when it touches on mental-health issues. Maybe don’t think of it as censoring content, think of it as the equivalent of a “flashing lights, may cause epilepsy” warning.

            Especially in the context of kink, the importance of negotiating consent should not need to be pointed out.

        • April March says:

          I remember a teacher at a creative writing course telling the class: A story needs to stand on its own, because when it’s read you won’t be there to explain what it means.

          Sure, intent counts a lot when we’re trying to ascertain whether or not someone is an asshole (which is a dangerous proposition if you’re trying to judge from their artistic output, to begin with). But when you analyze a work by itself, what matters is not what the author intended, but what is there. In fact, analyze is too strong a word for this: if a person plays the game, and that person feels awkward or hurt or sidelined or disgusted, and (this bit is important) the author didn’t intend for people to feel this way, then I think it doesn’t matter what the author tried to do, and changing the thing in question is akin to fixing a mistake. I personally wouldn’t mind an author in such a situation just saying that they sympathize with the audience but do not wish to change their work, warts and all; but it’s a tough proposition to say that and then go on charging for the thing.

          • Charles de Goal says:

            A story finds meaning through centuries or millenia of accumulated culture. Readers are not blank slates, they interpret stories using their own experiences and biases. A story that “stands on its own”, without having to presume anything on the reader’s part, would have to be an extremely blend, uninteresting story.

    • makomk says:

      By the way, it looks like the author of that Polygon article also objected to the content warnings being added at all for the same reasons that she’s now objecting to the removal of the scene in question. (Ran across this when looking for something else.)

      Also, if I’m understanding how this works correctly, the first patch offered players this forced choice between two paths with literally identical content warnings. Not terribly useful… Other routes avoid this choice, but that would require knowing that they exist and are better, and possibly replaying most of the game to get to them because of the way the routing works.

  6. SaintAn says:

    Seems illegal to take content from people that already paid for the game. Big pass on this game and everything this person ever touches. Censorship is wrong. The only way to get this game uncensored now is though piracy. Hopefully they go broke and shut down if they are going to support censorship.

    • Planeforger says:

      How is this censorship? How is this supporting censorship? You seem to be massively overreaching here.

      This is more akin to what Square Enix is doing with Chapter 13 of FFXV. The fans hated it, and the developer responded by changing it. If it makes the game more enjoyable for a significant number of the fans (or…hell, if this brings the game closer to what the developer originally intended) then how is this a bad thing?

    • MercurialJack says:

      Illegal? What on earth are you talking about? So is Blizzard reworking talent trees and removing a lot of how they work illegal? Is the removal of a lot of those spells and skills illegal? (Vanilla WoW compared to now) Don’t be ridiculous. Changes to a game, even removal of content, aren’t illegal, even if you’ve paid for it.

      I agree with you that censorship is wrong, and that perhaps stronger and more explicit warnings should have been given etc, but calling it illegal to patch out the content because the author’s vision changed is a massive leap of illogic.

  7. April March says:

    This is a very interesting can of worms that I’ll be watching develop, if anything else happens.

    I find more interesting right now, though, that (from what I understand) Steam censors erotic games that have titties and pussies¹ but allowed a game with a non-graphic rape scene.

    ¹I really missed a word that I could write here to mean vaginas while being playful but less strong that ‘pussies’. Basically, the vagina equivalent of ‘willies’. Is there such a word? Vaggies?

  8. Charles de Goal says:

    Interesting. While I was quite disturbed by the original scene, I understand why the author wanted to put it there and respect her initial choice. The fact that she felt pressured to remove it can sound disappointing. But this is not a new thing. For example, it was common for some composers to change a work in response to the public’s reaction.

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