S.EXE: F**k Everything (RNSFW)
Flip this, flip that, fuck everything
Well, it's been a hellish two weeks, RPS. This week's S.EXE comes to you from the heart of one of Europe's most beautiful and sexually liberal cities, Amsterdam, where I am sat with a glass of Pinot Blanc, bread and some sort of Gouda, watching the internet try to hack away at the self-esteem, security, and self-belief of women who make and talk about games. I know it got to me: I sent a message to a colleague to ask his professional opinion. If I, a woman, wrote about a feminist game maker in this climate, would it be an irresponsible act?
I decided, with the gamemaker's permission of course, to fuck all that worry to one side. It is not Regency England. Women do not need to ask a man's permission to do fuck all, least of all worry what some anonymous ones on the internet think about anything. That's what art is about: expressing what you want to. Let's go on a journey into some real weird shit, RPS. Women are here. We are going to stay if we want to. We are going to talk about what we like. Today what I want to talk about is fucking chairs, fucking women, fucking men, and fucking monsters. If you don't want to come that's okay, but this here peculiar territory at 9pm is mine and no one else's. This will not be safe for work. Let's Fuck Everything.
This week's game comes from the digital artist Lena NW, who also raps under the moniker 'Fellatia Geisha'. There are many complex feelings I have about Lena NW now I have listened to her music, but I'll appraise the game first and foremost, since that's what you came here for.
Lena describes the game as 'a browser game which situates Otaku (anime/manga nerd) culture, the Japanese Superflat art movement, fandoms, Internet culture, and hyper-masculine cultures (specifically Greek [frat] life, football, and Hip-hop culture which contribute to what is referred to as rape culture), in a context that is meant to question and subvert the gender relations of the Millennial generation, and of society in general.' This game is essentially setting out to do a lot of things at once, and doesn't achieve all of them. What is certain is that Lena tried to do this questioning in a ridiculously creative and concerted manner: via parody, music, application of Murakami Takashi's Superflat art movement, and judicious application of the internet, the game is exhilaratingly abrasive in a way that is thrilling and shocking.
I should note: this game includes images of rape and traumatic sexual situations like the hentai genre it borrows from, though they are somewhat fantastical situations. This is definitely not something you could play at work or anywhere near your grandma. Unless your grandma is incredibly progressive.
'Fuck Everything' is really gross, and really weird. You'll remember I Wot I Thinked Return of the Sunfish 2 way back, and that was probably the strangest game I've ever played, though in some ways I think this game's zine aesthetic is comparable. Fuck Everything is an offbeat digital clickfest poised to satirise Japanese hentai dating games, attempting to subvert the lack of diversity in who the player can roleplay (in Japanese hentai games this is usually a heterosexual male character) and also the lack of diversity in the prey of the protagonist (in hentai often a selection of young women who protest to be finally subjugated to male desire). To this end, each time you begin the game, you are randomly assigned a gender role with a few contextual pointers as to what that might be, and you are dropped at the doors of a bar. We are now participating in a dating game, nay a sex game, of a most unusual kind.
The game is particularly art heavy; you can see by the screenshots that it's very beautiful and pointedly rips off kawaii aesthetics, but this means that the loading times are almost what we might have called a B Class Bug when I worked in triple A games. The loading of over 1000 images means that you just want to drift off and do something else while it is loading.
But if you've got a whole internet angry at you because you're a woman, it's easy to use this time to change all your passwords, put two step verification on everything, download Clef, eat a sandwich, watch the Anaconda video. That sort of thing. Pour a glass of wine. Block a few people on twitter. Delete some death threats. How often do you do this Cara? I say to myself. Oh, often. Often, I say.
There are six choices in the bar: a dog, a man entirely made out of congealing lava, a chair, a woman, a man, and the bartender. Most of your choices will end in sex, although not the sort of sex you might have imagined. Choose the dog, for example, and there's no screwing the pooch. Instead the pooch screws you, per se, by humping your leg. The dog is curiously talkative for an animal that shouldn't be able to talk - I guess this is a dating sim but - the dog craves a relationship. The dog craves closeness.
I won't spoil each strand for you, but what is interesting about this game is that it genuinely tries to be about sex and its consequences, even if those consequences might not be the ones you expected. I don't think I've ever quite thought about how dating sims or even the larger Bioware games lack an examination of the consequences of sex, may they be pregnancy, unwanted attachment, emotional abuse, or an overabundance of... blood, I guess. Sometimes the person you take home is not the person you see the next day.
Sometimes the person who leaves in the morning is not the charming, caring person they were the night before. How often does that happen, Cara? Oh, often. Often. Really quite often.
What I am sure of is that you are not going to get another dating sim very soon that lets you fuck a chair or a blow up doll quite so fervently. You might not ever get to play another game where you bone a red lavamonster.
This game is outrageously imaginative. It's completely unafraid. It is completely devoid of the fear that 'no one will get this' or 'this is too far', even if sometimes you don't get it, or it may be too far. It's actually incredibly freeing to be in the confines of this brash piece of borderline offensive art, because it is so very sure of itself and it's not just trying to hit one note on the sex-o-meter.
The bartender is an interesting subversion of the average hentai woman: as Lena says in an accompanying essay to the game, 'The attitude is that digital women are preferred because the “opposite sex is easily controlled, understandable and beautiful”' in them. As the player begins to seduce the bartender, it becomes readily apparent that the bartender is less and less understandable, less easily controlled, and no longer the beauty standard we saw in her at first. The first reveal for Mimi, for example, is that she is seventeen, making the player ethically compromised for trying to take her home, but instead of being arrested Mimi cuffs you herself, and polices her own body.
In a similar vein, the character Caroline is disgusted if you choose conversation options that indicate that she is 'beautiful', 'sexy', 'pretty' assigning her value to her looks.
In her accompanying essay to the game, the game maker also spends some time explaining the influences of internet culture on her work. Throughout Fuck Everything there are hidden links that the player can click on that lead to shocking graphic images and audio, often images of a sexual nature coupled with abrasive audio. In particular, Lena suggests that the idea of 'shock websites' can be used to 'forcefully evoke physical discomfort and subsequent feelings of violation can be perceived within Fuck Everything as analogy for rape in a virtual space that affects the user, rather than the protagonist character'.
This is interesting to me, because most games lazily drop rape in to indicate a character 'might be evil' and so the player has to kill them or to provide a signpost to 'this game is gritty' where the woman is background decoration and consequently never mentions the rape survivor again. As a result rape stays something that happens to someone else. It happens to 'another NPC'. 'Another unimportant nobody'. It does not happen to a body that you care about. Rarely does any kind of violation happen to the player character. Fuck Everything, by attempting to ambush the player with shocking sexual images or insidious audio hidden within the game - such as those suggesting that rape culture is alive and well on the Florida State Campus - is a way of quickly unsettling you. It violates the safe space of the internet for you, although this week I guess I discovered that the internet isn't the safe space I usually think of it as.
I don't think I'd recommend this game to a rape survivor, but I was glad that at least someone was attempting to make a game about sexual violence and not just assuming that rape is a far away crime that cannot be something the player has to address.
The game is accompanied by a rap soundtrack, opening with a track by Eminem. The rest of the soundtrack is also comprised of rap recorded by Lena herself under the 'Fellatia Geisha' name. Lena as a feminist is incredibly critical of hip-hop culture's misogyny, and intends to juxtapose and 'subvert' this misogyny by taking up rapping herself. Part of me is cynical of the Eminemesque appropriation of rap because Lena is white [edit: Lena is actually Hispanic, which makes this much more complex than my initial naive assumption]. However, Lena thinks that rap is an appropriate tool to 'flip the script' on men. Lena writes, 'Fellatia Geisha also uses lyrics that present sex unfavorably to men. I do not regard these lyrics as “duplicating misogyny.” Rather, I think they are a completely called for retaliation against misogyny in Hip-hop, and create a context where men have the opportunity to experience the type of oppression women are subject to on a real life and every day basis.'
I have a few problems with this: first, the possible cultural appropriation, and second, it's unclear to me what attempting to make men 'feel oppressed' is really going to achieve, although I understand the need to satirise. Using the language of rape culture to combat rape culture seems sort of skewed to me, even if Nicki Minaj does like to tell men she is 'raping' them during her songs.
The other thing is that hip-hop culture is the least of rape culture's problems in music: all our music is full of really insidious, sometimes hard-to-see rape apology that normalises instead of sensationalises rape - I mean the best known example is Dean Martin's Baby It's Cold Outside. Take away all the cosy associations and it's just someone being the worst and most tenacious rapey creep. I'd much rather have Dre put it right out in the open what his intentions are than have Dean Martin get away with trying to 'persuade me' to stick around in his vicinity.
There's also Lena's use of the word 'geisha'. There are all sorts of privileges that being western enables; stealing style from other cultures to utilise their 'Otherness' for effect is dehumanising. The fact that western society in general might find these cultural artefacts Othering is something that Lena can shrug off when she's not making music: the only thing she cannot shake off, of course, is the fact that she is subject to the rape culture that most of her work is centred around destabilising.
Which brings me to my conclusion: this game was an exhilarating and pleasingly complicated look at what games might be like if young women seized the opportunity to go on the offensive with their thoughts on sexuality. Each 'date' brings a different reflection not only on dating games as a genre but also on how we use our bodies, and how we relate to other people's bodies. It's a game that feels gloriously fleshy. I want this person to make more games. I want this person to make more bright, brash, outrageous things.
It's also incredibly encouraging also to see someone write a thoughtful accompanying manifesto to a game that is so full of ideas and beautiful art, and include references to Anna Anthropy's writing and other political artists' works. This game was ten times more intellectually ambitious in its uses of audio and interactivity, for example, than most games on a convention floor.
It also had the added bonus of really totally weirding me out whilst having me nodding along to the beats. So, there's that.
Incidentally, someone at Nine Worlds convention asked me if I had a hot playlist to write this column to. Well I do now. It's yours to get down to.
I advocate everyone becoming a little more acquainted with Nicki Minaj feminism.
"Fuck who you want, and fuck who you like."
Discussion is open on the forums. Remember, be excellent to each other.