Review: Ladykiller in a BindConsent questions and sexy queer ladies
Ladykiller in a Bind is a fantastically written visual novel about queer romance and consent dynamics… which fails to ever address its most core discussion of romantic and sexual consent. It’s a tale written in such a way that, as a queer trans woman, felt relevant, engaging and sexy for me, but simultaneously never addressed one of my biggest questions about its own central conceit.
I walked away from Ladykiller in a Bind deeply unsure how to feel about the game, even though its positives probably outweigh its negatives.
Ladykiller in a Bind is a visual novel about a lesbian high school dropout taking her twin brother’s place on a private school graduation cruise. From the beginning it’s clear that her story ends badly, with her tied to a chair being interrogated by her brother, but the journey to that plot point is a lengthy one. The majority of the game is spent socially manipulating your classmates toward the aim of winning a competition with a five million dollar prize, attempting not to raise too much suspicion that you’re not your brother, and flirting or sleeping with a wide variety of cute ladies.
Flirting or sleeping with a wide variety of cute ladies.
Mechanically, one of the more interesting aspects of this particular visual novel is the way actions and dialogue prompts are handled. The game teaches you early on that when dialogue options come up you can often not select them, continuing the current conversation and waiting for more dialogue or action options to arise. Sometimes waiting will cost you your chance to say something decent, sometimes it will provide you a much better option instead. The balancing act is working out how long you can wait out a conversation without drawing suspicion, taking your chances for a better option mid-conversation to arise.
Having played a lot of visual novels in the past, the idea that dialogue options don’t need to be selected straight away creates a much more fluid flow of conversation. With the knowledge that the protagonist is lacking in social clues about characters who believe they know her already, the temptation to wait for extrapolation balances really well with the risks of your silence being out of character with your brother’s boisterous and outgoing personality.
The bulk of the narrative threads in Ladykiller in a Bind revolve around trust, consent, and the costs and rewards both come with. Tasteful depictions of BDSM scenarios include safe words being negotiated before a character’s ability to speak is impaired to ensure they can still effectively withdraw consent. Encounters with shy characters who have sexual hangups are treated respectfully with options to reassure them that there’s nothing weird or wrong about their personal sexual hangups. Consent is repeatedly renegotiated, with the safety of all parties involved taking precedence over anything else in the scene. Scenes often focus on making sure to understand what a character needs, be it someone to take charge or a confidence boost about their own sexual appeal, and tailors the experience to make sure everyone is getting something good from the encounter.
At no point is there a character who turns around and tells you that it was really unfair of you to take advantage of built up relationship dynamics for your own sexual or romantic gain.
These stories are, for the most part, dealt with tastefully and tactfully, but there is a core conflict between these well-written consent narratives and the conceit of the game. While BDSM situations and first time encounters with new partners alike are treated with patience, care and safety in mind, at its core this is a narrative about someone misleading people regarding their identity before sleeping with them. There’s an inherent question about whether consent can really exist when those you interact with believe you to be someone they already have a personal investment in. None of the narrative threads ever address whether consent can occur under those circumstances. Does the fact you are not the person they believe they had a series of past social encounters with invalidate their consent?
Characters who discover your true identity either brush that fact off as unimportant, are blackmailed into keeping quiet, or use that fact against you. At no point is there a character who turns around and tells you that it was really unfair of you to take advantage of built up relationship dynamics for your own sexual or romantic gain. That feels like a big misstep.
Putting that conflict aside, as a queer trans woman I found a lot to love in the cast of characters, the relationship dynamics presented, and the romance options in LKIAB. The characters available covered the spectrum of fun outgoing women eager to flirt and nothing more, to those unsure about opening up, to women upfront about their aims, and other enticing romantic options. Flirting with this cast felt fun, fluid, rewarding and controllable. Everything from first introductions up to bedroom encounters felt like it was written with queer women in mind as an audience, and I found an awful lot of the writing written in a way likely to be most sexy to queer women. That’s rare to see, as there’s a difference between writing romances with women for women and romances with women for men.
Overall, while the writing and dialogue mechanics of Ladykiller in a Bind were fantastic, as were the depictions of consent in isolated narratives, I could not help but linger on the missed opportunities of the story to address the bigger question of how those consent dynamics apply to a woman masquerading as her own brother. While it’s nice seeing a game where genitals being revealed doesn’t inherently blow your cover, I feel like this is a big core aspect of the game never addressed.
Oh, and I hate this game for getting my hopes up and making me believe Pussy Zealot and Racer X Made Me a Lesbian were real bands that existed.
A review code of this game was provided for the purposes of this review.
Platform: PC/Mac/Linux (reviewed)
Developer/Publisher: Love Conquers All Games
Release date: October 10, 2016
- Well written queer sex scenes
- Engaging visual novel dialogue system
- Brilliantly written cast
- Doesn’t address content regarding misleading identity
- Some paths lead to no choice besides transactual sex
Ladykiller in a Bind tackles consentual queer romance, sexual consent and BDSM consent really well, while not addressing its most core discussion of consent.