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.
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.”