Sex, one of those taboo topics that are rarely openly discussed in general, let alone made playable or interactive in video games. Mass Effect having non-interactive sex scenes got it classed as a “sex simulator” by non-gaming media, and that stigma means that we’re often fairly light on good quality sex games in any given year.
Still, this year there was stand out game that not only explored sex, but explored domination and submission within sex in honestly eye-opening ways. It was not perfect or free of criticism, but it certainly explored a lot of aspects of non-vanilla sex, in-depth, that other games do not touch.
Winner – Ladykiller in a Bind
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.
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 with them. 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.
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.