Let's make this clear: of course there's nothing wrong with games about sex, nor games about people trying to pair up with others to have sex. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with games being used to turn someone on. What remains the case is that it's absolutely fine to criticise such games for being utterly terrible at it, and indeed comment on their representations of people. To loudly point out that a game is a misogynistic pile of shit is not to call for it to be banned, but simply to observe the fact. Everyone good with that? Great.
House Party [official site] is a misogynistic pile of shit. But first and foremost, it's a terrible game. (NSFW warning: There's some nudity in the pics below.)
House Party is, if nothing else, a fascinating exploration of a certain type of male mind. It's the type of male mind that sees women as goals to be conquered, rather than autonomous individuals, and believes that manipulated suitably, all women will want to see inside your underpants. Or, as is the case in House Party, you can show them inside your pants whether they like it or not. Here, have half an hour of my playing it! (NSFW warning: video contains a great deal of nudity and sexual content)
You are a man, with no identifying features beyond a permanent erection, who arrives at the house party of a lady called Madison. As the game's introductory text attempts to say, "Looking around, the attendance seems heavily weighted in the female variety, and the male competition looks pretty weak. This might be your lucky night..." Gosh, we seem nice, don't we? And so into the party you go, chatting to the five or six ladies, and two other men, trying to work out whether the utterly obnoxious remarks you're offered to choose from will be understood by the authors of the game as utterly obnoxious, or indeed astoundingly charming.
That's actually the biggest challenge in what amounts to a first-person adventure game with cartoon boobs: working out what the people behind its creation think is a clever thing to say. So telling a girl that she's prettier than her ugly sister is, of course, an ingratiating remark that warms you to her heart. But ask someone their star sign and she'll react like, well, you just called her sister ugly. It's quite the lottery!
The ultimate goal is to see which of the ladies at the party you can trick/lie/drink your way into shagging you, with - the developers claim - different avenues cut off or opened up by the choices you make. None of that's true, of course, because at this point in early access it only has two ladies with storylines written that end in sex. But getting that far in either is as much a test of your taste as it is of your patience.
It's a terrible game. Movement is ghastly, your character seemingly seven feet tall and mounted on casters. It's ugly, with terrible textures. Some of the women's faces are well animated, and a lot of love has gone into making the boobies bounce just right, but beyond that it's clunky as all hell. You can interact with some objects by picking them up with a disembodied floating hand, and sort of brokenly throw them around. Others are fixed in place and have hotspot responses to your mouse cursor, and can be picked up and put in your inventory. And sometimes you have to combine the two. It's the sort of idea that most developers would not even have, let alone not reject upon implementation. I wasn't able to complete one "quest" (which involves attempting to sober up one of the other men at the party by making him coffee) because I tried to balance a kettle on someone's head, and it fell behind a table, irretrievable. Other times you'll just not see objects that can be picked up because the game is so laughably lit that they're invisible on their surface in the darkest corner of a dark room.
There's one lady, called Katherine, who is designated as the "clever one". This is both an outstanding insult to every other girl at the party, and the most hilariously revealing example of the witlessness with which the game is written. The attempts to write "clever" dialogue for her are... it's embarrassing for everyone involved. Oh, and abandoned as a notion pretty much straight away when the path to getting her to bed lies in getting her to pose topless for a photograph to show Frank, the Vin Diesel-looking guy at the party who has - for no clear reasons - confiscated all the alcohol and forbidden anyone to drink. (Get seen holding a bottle by him and it's an instant game over.) Katherine responds to this notion with:
"That fucking douchebag! Well what the fuck, I'm not just going to strip off in the middle of this party with all of these people around. And the cell phone service in this house is spotty at best. I have way too many important text messages going on, and I seem to get the best reception here. Figure that shit out if you want a tittie picture of me."
I love everything about how awful that outburst is. First, it's not, "No, obviously I won't do that," but rather, "how dare he, it's busy in here". Then she just utterly at random changes subject to discuss phone reception! Because that's a thing. That's how people are! The reason for it, you discover, is that the puzzle to get her alone so she'll agree to a nudey snap is to chase her around the house holding a cell signal blocker until she randomly runs to a quiet place. Yes.
The result is a game where women are portrayed in the most insulting way imaginable, feeble simpletons who will get their tits out if you can only get their idiot little minds to recognise how awesome and manly of a guy you are. And heck, if you can't manage that, you can always press P to get your penis out, and just show it to people. Different characters react in different ways, some horrified, some delighted. And if that's not enough, you can then press 1 to have a wank. No one seems to really mind if you jerk off in the middle of the party, so long as you don't ejaculate directly on them. Do that, and, well, they'll express their displeasure, before carrying on as normal.
What a thing.
But as I said at the start, that it's created by the sort of mindset that makes you have a long worry isn't the only awful thing about House Party. It's just so badly made. Katherine, after being snapped with her boobs out, can then be given rum and thus made incapable of resisting you. (Her boyfriend is, she informs you many times, "a dick", so she wants to have sex with you for revenge.) So upstairs you go, lock the door, when she reveals she wants two other things first. Something to masturbate with while you're out the room (you know, like ladies do), and a bottle of water. As it happens I already had the necessary salami in my inventory, pilfered previously from the fridge. But a bottle of water I had not found. Never mind that I'm carrying five or six bottles of beer that no one wants, I can't empty one out and use that, no no. Never mind that the house is covered in dozens of empty cups! Instead you're supposed to pick up a so-poorly-designed-that-it's-almost-invisible empty vodka bottle from Frank's table, and fill that. But pick up the empty bottle without saying anything to Frank and he literally kills me. I hadn't saved in a while. And good grief, if I wanted to see some sex I can just google it, and then it wouldn't be badly drawn cartoons.
It's more than just one multiple-path story though! Players can create their own custom stories within the framework of these characters in the house, and if you subscribe to the developer's Patreon you can download custom stories from their forum. (Presumably Steam Workshop is desired, but the game is already pushing its luck with what's normally allowed on Steam.) You too could create your own desperately sad little wank fantasy, rather than, you know, just having a wank? (Although the possibility for trolling this whole thing, with a story in which the female characters surprise the player by giving him extended lectures on feminist theory, does seem quite tempting.)
I think a lot of people assume that us liberal press types, us Social Justice Warriors, hate sex games. (That RPS has extensively covered the topic both positively and negatively doesn't seem to change this perception.) But it's invariably because the games themselves are just plain awful. This is atrocious! That it's also stupendously sexist and depressing is the poisonous icing on a manure cake. But yes, it's stupendously sexist and depressing, a sort of unaware failure of an alpha male simulator. And that's a shame! A game in which you can meet funny, smart characters, find things in common, talk maturely and have that result in hook-ups at a party? That sounds a pretty decent idea for a sex game! This, however, is not it.
House Party is out now in early access for Windows, for £11, on Steam.