Electron Dance
21Aug/12Off

A Letter to Nicolau Chaud (NSFW)

The following article is about Nicolau Chaud's sex game Polymorphous Perversity; it is most definitely NSFW, contains spoilers through to the game's ending and discusses sexual violence.

Proceed with caution.

Dear Nicolau,

We've been friends for nearly two years now, since I wrote about Marvel Brothel and, well, indirectly got Marvel to take legal action against the RMN site. Yay me.

Since then, we've traded observations and thoughts on game design and the nature of development. Nonetheless, having a great back catalogue saves no developer from the box-office bomb or the magnum opus that pisses off the fans. With the months ticking by, I was anxious about the ongoing development of your sex game Polymorphous Perversity, passing from the realms of hobby project to obsession. The more hype the project received, the more likely it would disappoint.

I know you've been anxious to hear my thoughts, so I'll start with this: you set yourself up to fail.

The game starts, a door screeches open, and we're seeing someone masturbate to online porn. It's unexpectedly full screen and involves not a single cute lo-fi avatar. It alienates and sets an uneasy tone: player beware. This is not the sex game we thought we were going to play. Still, few of us paid attention to this warning sign and pushed on through the veil into a world kitted out with a garish, fleshy palette and a woman teaching us to fuck.

Polymorphous Perversity: Opening Wank

Wait, everybody wants us to fuck them.

We keep on going until the game makes our brain throb, not with pleasure but over-stimulation. NICE DICK NICE DICK IN FOR AN EASY FUCK? I LIKE THE SQUEEZE OF TIGHTNESS COMING FROM HER ANUS NICE DICK. I had made a pre-game decision to do everything and everyone but I still found myself reeling from those initial hours because the game is so rough and forceful, a noisy, pornographic splurge.

It felt like there was a bait and switch involved. Being a psychotherapist yourself and linking the project to Freud's theories set up a certain expectation of intelligent, sexual exploration. In its place we had downloaded pornworld.

And then you threw in complicated, opaque mechanics and a smattering of grind. My initial impressions of the “fight” mechanic reskinned as sex were not favourable as I didn't quite understand what I was doing – I suppose representative of my avatar who appeared to be virginal – and I didn't enjoy the sense that sex was combative, the goal being to grind down your opponent's strength first. Moreover, the sex was asymmetric, the male avatar allowed to penetrate and wound, giving female opponents little to do other than provide the occasional oral; they don't even get to go cowgirl.

The lack of tester feedback was a sign that something was wrong.

I became snagged in Maze Mount West, buried in sexual mechanics that were unreadable, accosted by “trannies” who had nothing better to do than make sport of straight males. I put the game down and dreaded returning to it.

After some welcome pre-release hype on Kotaku, Patricia Hernandez wrote a little about her uncomfortable early game impressions – her main concern was that it validated aspects of rape culture. Two months on, she hasn't written anything else about it.

The treatment of transsexuals in Maze Mount West riled Porpentine at freeindiegam.es and she also reiterated her impressions in the comments on RPS. Neither was Anna Anthropy impressed who referred to it on freeindiegam.es as “everything i learned about sex reading 4chan: the rpg”. The word then spread that Polymorphous Perversity was transphobic.

And Amanda Lange had already given up, exasperated at the mechanics; was I going to follow?

Still, during those early hours, Nicolau, I understood what you had gone through. All that research you did, compiling fetishes from the internet and editing anonymously submitted nude photos into NPC facesets... being exposed to the game conferred that sense of crushing pornographic pressure. And slowly, you acclimatize. Slowly you develop a certain detachment and the NICE DICK NICE DICK begins to recede.

And you go back in, right? Because you've got to finish what you started.

GMB 2011 Nicolau Chaud

Nicolau Chaud scoops second prize in the Best Indie Game category at Game Music Brasil 2011 for "Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer"

Rewind

So not understanding the mechanics very well during the early game, I wasted plenty of cash, largely on getting a couple of STDs cured. I was desperately trying to make some money out of the Cocota mining game but could only earn around $3 per visit which was crazy if I wanted to buy a telephone for $100. This was completely ridiculous. What was I going to do? What was I supposed to do?

I started again. This time I was better educated and made the best use of the early sexual experiences, spent money on items that I actually needed like lube and avoided STD carriers where I could, using condoms where I couldn't.

As I was now in control of the game's pornographic chaos, I was able to think more clearly about the scenario. I mean, you're Nicolau Chaud. I've played Beautiful Escape which is a game that saves its punches for when they're important, relying on subtlety as a bridge between atrocities. You chose not to do that here and so all this has purpose. I began to wonder.

Polymorphous Perversity: Soggy Muffin

Only if the player persists will any of the game start to make sense and this, Nicolau, is what I mean by failure. The game is tough, not just in terms of gameplay but experientially. It assaults the senses and, occasionally, offends. The question is whether it offends on purpose or in error.

This isn't a game you can just enjoy from afar like Marvel Brothel. This isn't Beautiful Escape because the horror there is too obviously make believe, despite trying to elicit complicity from the player as he/she mashes 1 and 2 to drown a victim. Polymorphous Perversity is much closer to home, even the fantastical setting cannot mask that the mechanics reflect certain statements about people and society.

Despite finding my feet in the game and managing to avoid having a penis explode in my face (I am amazed this isn't a bukkake reference), there remained problems.

Okay, the protagonist is a complete asshole. You can get away with an unsympathetic character, we all know this – Beautiful Escape's Verge is the poster boy for this sort of approach. You've also got The Baron and Immortal Defense, in which the protagonists do questionable things beyond the player's control. We know the predestined stories of assholes where the player only gets to choose the colour 0f the wallpaper are workable.

But his narrative really does jerk along – he's an unbelievable asshole – because one minute he tries to force himself onto a 13-year-old girl and the next OMFG I think I know what love is. The same problem applies to the Princess, his victim-turned-wannabe, who undergoes a similar emotional switcheroo. Much of the dialogue with the Princess is particularly troublesome.

The plot whips the characters through their scheduled hoops of fire. It's like watching the last series of Battlestar Galactica and, really, I thought I was never going to bring that up again. Having finished the game, I can kinda see why the Princess behaves the way she does but that's only looking backwards. To see that forwards is a narrative leap-of-faith too far.

The game is lumpy in many ways, not just in character continuity. It also suffers from its player-sourced roots; most of the world is a smorgasbord of sexual fantasy vignettes rather than a cohesive place with an identity. And the fight mechanics do not map neatly to sex in the real world, as you've admitted, and that's a problem because I was constantly trying to understand what the sex combat actually meant. There's no such thing as an orgasm, for example. Considering sex is a major part of the game, this disconnect is an issue.

I also had a concern prior to release that the mining game wouldn't form a consistent part of the game and I was right. It has no reason to be there aside from providing an element of grind, unlike the hooker missions which integrate properly into the world of Polymorphous Perversity. It doesn't enhance the story despite a minor connection in Heaven which just isn't enough to justify it.

Another surprise regards the horniness meter. Once the horniness meter fills the top of the screen, that is, if the player hasn't had a successful sexual encounter for some time, your floppy bits go nuclear. After the introduction, no one ever mentions the problem of exploding genitalia ever again which is incredible as everyone is similarly afflicted as far as I could tell. This casts the horniness meter as a mere mechanical conceit, a player motivating device and, perhaps, an irritation rather than being essential to story.

Still, the lingering problem was the pornographic theming, rather than that of sexual exploration. This leads to all sorts of issues like the “tranny” labelling, the implication that women are there to serve your desires and the inability to just kiss someone.

However, Nicolau, as I persevered I started to see what was going on and why the game was structured the way it was. And as this started to happen, Polymorphous Perversity turned into a game that I couldn't stop thinking about and it remained wedged in my mind for days after I had witnessed the closing scenes, in all their shocking and surreal splendour.

Before I could say what is brilliant and fantastic about Polymorphous Perversity, I needed to get the negativity out of the way first. The game has more serious problems than Marvel Brothel and Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer combined but, damn, it is a fascinating thing you've put together.

On the Combat Fuck

Right, so you'll be pleased to know I stopped thinking about sex as combat with enemies around halfway through.

The world was omni-consensual, everyone was on fire and needed sex all the time. Two people in close proximity would inevitably end up intertwined, finding the coupling irresistible. It's like everyone has a dose of the dangerous aphrodisiac in Clive Barker's short story The Age of Desire, where a test subject goes wild with desire and – when there's no-one around to rape – ends up fucking stone walls because he can't help himself. In your game, the condition everyone is actually afflicted with – yet never stated – is Polymorphous Perversity, a willingness to indulge any sexual desire without regard for societal norms. But there's clearly a little more going on here and I'll come back to that when I discuss the ending.

Generally, in the game's sexual encounters, the point is to pleasure the protagonist's partner as much as possible. Although it often appears the purpose is to “wear down opponents and defeat them” that's an unfortunate interpretation derived from the combat-like mechanics. The game does explicitly reference the performance aspect of intercourse but it's easy to forget when I'm just desperate to get through an encounter without my penis exploding.

Polymorphous Perversity: Sex grade G

It took me a while to realise that encounters were actually being “graded” for performance with consequences for both experience point awards and payments for services (if you took up prostitution). In fact, I was terrified to learn that endgame success depended on top-notch sexual performances, because I'd been pretty crap at making anyone feel good.

One of the more complex problems was “potency”. When not thinking about performance, it's easy to get fixated on the idea that potency should be as strong as possible because that ends the encounters quickly; the last thing a player wants is to end exhausted because that takes you ever closer to death-by-exploding-penis. But ending encounters quickly means lower grades, dissatisfied partners. So I started masturbating a lot during sex to lower potency, to help draw out encounters. (Note: If anyone in the comments writes “and in the game” I will have them killed.)

So these encounters are about pleasuring others. Although I could fuck people down fast, it's all about trying to go the distance and enabling my partner to get the most joy from the experience. I think it's crucial to recognise that the Handjob and Oral actions cost more in tricks than basic fucking, and these are more about your companion's gratification than your own.

Also, I took note early on that each partner has a specific chain of tricks that will deliver them to Planet Ecstasy and it was my job to find it. How hard was I trying to find it? This hard:

Polymorphous Perversity Notes

The first chain I figured out was for Dora, one of the three sisters I took as a lover. Oh, yeah, about that...

While I was happy to have “solved” the three sisters puzzle, I was disturbed to find she would spend the rest of the game on my goddamned bed. My bed! I could sleep there for free! When I discovered I could sell her to the Cocota store, it was tempting to do that just to get my bed back. I tried once, just to see what happened. I got my bed back but she... she just disappeared. Gone for good. I felt too bad about that, despite the financial upside, so let her stay on my bed for the rest of the game.

I still felt bad, leaving her alone on that bed, day and night. I occasionally turned up for a bit of a session then ran out as soon as one of my clients rang for my special attentions (for some reason, Jonas like me a lot more than my other clients, he just couldn't get enough). I felt so bad I bought her flowers and I really don't know why I did that. I think my last in-game girlfriends were those of GTA: San Andreas, girlfriends from Hell who literally call you every ten minutes for a date and want flowers and fast cars.

Anna Anthropy drew a comparison with another recent game Lusty Labyrinths. She was happier with the mechanics of Lusty Labyrinths, because it permits you to “win” by taking a submissive role; I'd wager this is slightly unfair, because this is actually true in many of Polymorphous Perversity's encounters especially given what's true about the Handjob and Oral actions. What I would say is that the sex of Lusty Labyrinths is symmetric and ends in climax which lends the mechanics a more natural feel and makes them less player-centred. The trouble is I got bored of it's rock-paper-scissors+ mechanic after a few minutes; in contrast, Polymorphous Perversity’s encounters kept me occupied through to the end of the game.

The Trans Problem

The game really has nothing to say about women's sexuality and it is bound to the cis male sexual perspective. Perhaps you should have stated that more clearly in advance but what is done is done. The player cannot choose a particular gender or sexual identity, although is allowed to experiment. You can't be exclusively homosexual even if you wanted to - then again, you cannot be exclusively heterosexual either if you want to win the game.

So you've come in for some criticism that the game is transphobic. Pre-op MTF transsexual NPCs are labelled “trannies” and they often seem to serve the purpose of duping and dominating the protagonist. “Give me $1 or give me your ass.”

This was likely to be frowned upon. Take a look at this comment from a transgender forum:

The main problem with "Shemale" porn is the influence it has on our public perception. People have much easier access to this than they do to valid information. The same goes for anyone who thinks they may be trans and wants to find out more... Just look at how many people think "Shemale" [is] not only appropriate but [a preferred name].

I took a step back. One of the crucial characters in Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer was Daily, the player's androgynous love interest. You can do nuance if you want to. So what gives? Why force “trannies” down the player's throat? Why frame transsexuals as cardboard cut-outs from pornography—ahhh. There it is.

You see, it was the offensive stereotyping of “trannies” that really got me wondering what you were up to. And you piled on the offence as the game progressed. I had sex with skanks and booty. Who gets up to all that incest and bestiality? Why rednecks, of course. Although I didn't see any MILF, I did a mammaw and grammaw or, to be frank, they totally did me. A twink too (although not necessarily a hostile term) who wants gifts before he'll give it up. The code became more apparent as the game drew on, especially in its more thoughtful, quiet moments later in Heaven.

So on one hand, I think too much of the game's sexual offerings are founded on pornography but on the other, I think it suited your message just fine.

This place is pornworld, where highly idealized fantasies have run riot and society barely functions. No one can walk two paces without fucking something or talking about fucking something. Maze Mount West represents a transsexual porn domination subgenre. It's also where you took the opportunity to surprise what you hoped would be a cis male player into taking a cock.

I need to address one other point which is an unfortunate design accident. Players are sent to Maze Mount West by the game's early questgiver, James Tonguelash. Now outside of Cocota, STDs are rife – and it is highly likely that the first transsexual encounter will also be the first encounter that infects the player with an STD. This adds insult to an already salted wound, making it seem like the game has a grudge against the transgender crowd.

On VD

On that note: I think the STD mechanic is clever but ultimately fails. The presence of STDs contrasts too much with the hedonistic free-for-all attitude of the game and this is one of the real world aspects of sex that should have been dropped, just as the possibility of pregnancy was.

The need to use condoms in sex is just... irritating. It's an extra item to carry and use in every encounter and considering how many encounters the player is put through during the game (I got a badge for doing the midnight tango a hundred times) it's absurd to expect players to use a condom every single time. What will happen is what I did- find out who possesses STDs with unprotected sex and then reload, using condoms only where necessary. Or, alternatively, avoid those individuals like the sexual plague they are.

(For STDs as a workable game setting, I'm going to drop an obligatory reference to Size Five Game’s Privates.)

Humour

Nicolau, I'm not sure you get enough recognition for your black humour, although Polymorphous Perversity is a mixed bag as I've explained. Still, one of the conversations with the Princess that worked for me was when she chased after the rejected protagonist. She says something like, "I think... you're different" and the guy just blurts out "So why won't you have sex with me?" Putting aside the dissonant context of the scene, it's such a honestly male moment that I smiled out loud. If you really like me, you'd put out.

There are lots of moments like that. Talking to the prophet's brother, Arthur, while the leeches were upon him also delivered classic Chaud dialogue. And then, when the prophet reveals that The Gift of Neverending Bliss will destroy the world, the protagonist's response is... “Awesome!”

And that is actually awesome.

Going Deep

I've got to congratulate you on the attention to detail and depth in this game. The doctor who can cure you of STDs will refuse anal sex unless you're wearing a condom; the Tease trick doesn't work on those people you'd expect it to fail on such as your slave (oh I tested the Tease on a lot of people just to see what would happen).

But there's so much in here that I'm certain I haven't found everything. By complete accident I found the sage hiding in the corner of Cocota. And I was stunned by a disturbing visit to the Temple of Dionysus – which only happened during my first aborted game and never in the second. And there's the vampire. The amputee. The path of abstinence. The guy who tells you how many times he's had sex, which goes up every time you talk to him. Just when you think you've seen everything, it throws even more at you. I was quite aghast at discovering corpses that you could... couple with.

I was delighted at how many side quests there were; some are on show but others are buried like the genie who wants to live in a vagina. Some are simple fetch quests but others are brain-bleaching puzzle madness, like the "rescue ten women" problem. I read about a master key in the comments over on your blog but I never heard of that during my entire play experience.

Polymorphous Perversity: Rescue Ten Women

Others have commented on your superb music choice and I particularly like the special numbers used for important encounters: Lady Valencia's encounter plays out against Gaiola das Popzudas' “Quero te dá”; an instrumental version of Sarah McLachlan's “Angel” is the backdrop for the encounter with the Archangel who admits he/she wants the world to end.

The graphics in the sexual encounters are extremely polished and the metaphor for taking a breather in sex to catch your breath, a man napping, is absolutely priceless. As Robert Yang said, “Doesn't everyone take naps after hand jobs?” Yes, we do. We just don't talk about it openly.

On Rape

So it's clear I don't think the game is in any way condoning rape and the fact that everyone consents to sex is connected to the underlying theme... which I'm coming back to. Hold on. I need to talk a little bit about rape fantasy first. I actually didn't think you'd go here because it would push the game into difficult territory. There are two occasions where rape is permitted (ignoring the replay opportunity during the endgame) and both are shocking but in completely different ways.

The first is in the housing complex, in the “redneck incest” room. This is non-consensual incest and you give the player the opportunity to free a woman who is tied up. If I do that, she starts running around like crazy and her rapist brothers don't get angry, they just laugh away. Now, there was something Benny Hill about this and, thus far, sex was an irresistable force and everyone consented when it came down to it. So I took the opportunity to take this woman when the game offered.

Bollocks.

She protested, and the usual moans of sexual pleasure were replaced with pleading whimpers and you even adjusted her position – posting her near the corner of the sex arena to enhance the disconnection of this encounter. And once I'd started, there was no getting out of it. Parallels might be drawn with Edmund by Paul Greasley (the author of Under the Garden), which I've commented on before as distasteful, a game that dupes the player into sexual violence. I think the scene you present is slightly different because it actually captures part of the rape mindset: men think they have the signal to go but actually don't. It's effective but, in the end, I wasn't sure if it was enough.

Now there was also the hunter game in Heaven. Pay $50 and the player can go hunting a group of women who, it is made quite clear, don't want to have sex with the protagonist. This sequence is total game, with a time limit and challenge as the victims quickly disperse into the trees. On top of that, you chose Stray Cats' “Sexy and 17” as its soundtrack.

It's ridiculous to say rape fantasies, from both the rapist and victim perspective, do not exist and thus in a game that is trying to capture every different type of sexual fantasy, it's not unexpected to see it here. But it's a fine hair-trigger line to tread and I don't know where this rape mini-game lies. The scenario is over the top, treating rape in such a light-hearted manner as to be absurd, but I don't think it really said enough either.

But there was one seemingly pointless aspect to this mini-game and I don't know if anyone would grok its power to shock on first glance because I didn't: I could name the hunted women.

It took me a week to realise why anyone might want to do this.

The Sexual Apocalypse

I constantly wondered, though, where the game was heading. The pieces were there in front of me but it was only as the game reached its disturbing climax that everything began to fall into place.

Marvel Brothel makes another appearance in here which is excellent; it was like a homecoming. I loved Judas' fourth-wall breaking complaint that there were no male hookers in the brothel, echoing one of the original game's criticisms. Even now, I haven't spent too much time in the brothel, because it requires a lot of cash. But this time around, it is a more jaded experience. Both the prostitutes and clients lament in private the feeling of being used: sex, once money is involved, cheapens the deal. Holga, a long-time prostitute, withers away. And some clever graphical duality here: make-up on the older prostitutes fails to hide their exhaustion, looking more like they are suffering from black eyes.

When you get into Lady Valencia's property, you're forced through another sequence of vignettes. The player is not allowed to visit the Lady herself until we've witnessed others “who have nowhere to go,” the sexually dispossessed. I found some of the choices in here fascinating: the woman with no limbs, a mother, the pair of old women and the overweight Lolo. I love the statement here that everyone has needs and it's not all about happy, young hedonists who look amazing. (Why on Earth the man with the dog who fucks people is in here, I don't know. I'll pretend that didn't happen. 1337.)

Polymorphous Perversity: Abstinence

And as the game approaches its conclusion, it casts off its vignette structure and allows the Freud-inspired theme to dominate.

So the Princess has been looking for someone to love and love does not exist in a world infected with Polymorphous Perversity. It's an imaginary concept and, realising this with the protagonist's rejection, she abandons herself to the angels. I hated the angels, a bunch of total fucking bastards on a power-trip. Thus the endgame is a race to save the Princess from this fate.

Okay, one negative note to signal here, Nicolau. I was disappointed that the first step of the challenge was to survive an orgy featuring all of the characters in the game which echoed Marvel Brothel's save-the-world orgy a little too much and, worse, I'd really had enough of fucking these people already. First time I played the endgame I followed the instruction FUCK EVERYBODY! to the letter. Second time I realised I didn't actually need to do everyone, which was a relief. I couldn't go through all that again.

After that, the protagonist meets the Archangel and this is much more key. The Archangel mirrors where you are, both as character and as player. All this sex, this noise, this desire, this inability to exist in any other way: this has to end. These angels preside over a place called Heaven but the bitter irony is that it is just a part of an infinite, unending sex hell. She cries during the encounter, pleading with the player not to leave her.

And finally I reached the Princess. This was the sexual encounter the game had been building towards. I didn't want to fail or disappoint; the Princess had been established as the only fragile character in a game awash with fucking and the encounter was oddly nerve-wracking. Echoes of Cart Life here, making me feel bad if I let an NPC down in a personal capacity.

The brilliance of this particular encounter was the introduction of the Talk and Kiss actions which I'd complained had been missing from sex all this time. There was foreplay! You couldn't just have at thee and thrust away. The protagonist was evolving, moving on from a chaos of pure desire. But he needed to prove he'd conquered his lusts and deliver an experience which was all about someone else.

I failed first time, having spent so much lube and candy on getting through the Archangel, and heard the Princess utter the best game over dialogue of all time: “That's it? You're done?”

But yet there are no happy endings for you, are there Nicolau? In someone else's hands, I am sure perfect sex with the Princess would have resulted in the display going misty and suddenly the protagonist waking up happy. No, to ram this point home, how far the protagonist had come, you had to destroy the world.

When the protagonist breaks away from the Princess nothing happens. That's how it is. Consensual sex is rarely life-changing. The day before you lose your virginity and the day after are pretty much identical. Sex is important but relationships are more than sex.

But this entire world is make-believe, an experiment in the protagonist's head. Reaching the Princess and giving her pleasure is proof that he has succeeded in thinking beyond his own desires. This is the Gift, it's the exit. And now it's time to leave.

Once the Gift was imparted to the protagonist, the Princess became just another girl to be abused and packaged into a fantasy. To be ejected from the experiment, the protagonist must understand he can no longer be part of this world. He believes in love but this world will not allow it. It sets out to destroy the person he has fallen in love with.

The last thing we see are the NPCs of the game queuing up to take on the Princess and the scene descends into horrific gang-rape; we witness this, helpless.

Polymorphous Perversity: Gang rape

The screen goes black. And–

He climbs upwards, further and further, and a soundtrack of moans and climaxes builds until we reach the top, where a woman waits for him. They are the same; she is he. The implication that every man has a feminine side is a little cliché for an endgame revelation, so I don't think that is what you were reaching for. I think this was just your way of revealing that everything was in the protagonist's mind. Everyone had sex with him because that's how the fantasy, the experiment, was designed to operate.

The last encounter plays out, the “ultimate sex” scene which is like sex vomit, limbs and breasts and holes that don't make sense. The protagonist can't get exhausted because he keeps being invigorated. It doesn't stop but it needs to stop. Sex, sex, sex--

And it's over. He escapes the nightmare and his desires are under lock and key. No music. No pretty graphical showcase. Silence and peace reign. The game stops dead.

The End of Desire

Nicolau, the game isn't perfect and has plenty of faults. But I've not played anything like it before; a pornographic game with so much thought invested in it. I know how tough the development was for you and can imagine how all the criticism can sting.

It left me with much to think about. I read the game contrary to its overt, showy playfulness; I actually think it's an austere look at the state of sexuality today, the result of what your intense porn mining did to you. I suspect you wanted to fool your audience, give us what we thought we wanted and then turn it back at us.

In a world where every extreme variation of pornography is available on tap from every internet connection, Polymorphous Perversity warns us not to fall into a trap of letting desire think for us. Society does not function if its people are obsessed with self-gratification.

Thank you for this game Nicolau. It is definitely one of my gaming highlights of 2012.

All the best,

Joel.

Polymorphous Perversity: Diagnosis

Postscript

  • I almost applauded when I was offered the opportunity of sex with the old, white-bearded doctor in town. That felt more transgressive than Maze Mount West.
  • I liked the Rorschach-esque hints of body shape in the world map. Via @IamSpaceGiraffe, I discovered there was such a thing as a “breast-shaped hill”.
  • I wasn't sure what to make of the “anal fuck is safe” comment. The game mechanics quite clearly don't believe it, but it was a narrative oddity without an obvious comeback.
  • Nicolau, were you that Archangel? The development of Polymorphous Perversity could only end once you let players in. You wanted it to end perfect but the players were always destined to move onto other games.
  • We discussed Vore in an e-mail once, I wondered if the “little man” in Heaven was a result of that conversation?
  • The fact that potency was a hidden stat that declined in encounters confused some players. Was this acknowledged anywhere in the game?
  • I'm not convinced the endgame sexual diagnosis works that well. It would measure how players attached themselves to activities in the game, rather than their sexual inclinations. Polymorphous Perversity is very "gamey" and I explored most things not because I had a need to “see a horse fucking a person” but because I wanted to see what happened next and whether there were any consequences. The other problem is that because many of these activities were mechanically inconsequential, no one would do them again if they reloaded the game.
  • I never did figure out what James Tonguelash represented in the grand scheme of things.
  • Awesome comment on your blog from the guy who modded the game so that the gender changing machine worked.
  • I know you found Adam M's piece on the game interesting but I think this is perfect example of how the game has been mis-sold for want of a better word. He's right, though, Polymorphous Perversity can be quite alienating. (I think he took "rape/anal sex" dialogue a little too literally.)
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Posted by Joel Goodwin

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Comments (27) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Hmm, interesting. I did eventually get around to trying this game and burnt out around the time I got to Mount West Maze. This is the first thing I’ve read about it since that’s made me think I should maybe go back and try to play it again.

    I’m not sure I buy the predator/trap narrative surrounding the trans people in the game as being merely a reference to porn though. It is a cultural narrative that is so pervasive outside of porn – and so linked to fear and violence – that I have a really hard time viewing it as a clinical statement on pornography divorced from real-world context.

  2. Hey Switchbreak.

    I think it’s a game that’s best approached with a sense of wariness rather than thinking its going to be a lot of fun or even educational.

    Knowing him fairly well, I simply couldn’t believe that Nicolau intended to cast transgendered people in that way without reason. Any more than I could believe he wanted to say “rape is fun”. There are other transgender references later and one key character flips sex during an encounter – and this isn’t done to surprise the player in the same way, but a rite of passage to make it to the end of the game; Nicolau demands that you accept and explore both homosexual and transgender sex before you leave.

    I would agree that it may well reflect broken perceptions rather than purely pornographic representation and it would be easy to argue that practically any other representation would have been the safer option. But the whole game represents the mind of a guy who has learnt everything he knows from online porn. It is the game version of click-click-click to access the next fetish set-piece, the next choreographed scene of sex-shock. The end of the game signals that an overload of fantasy is dangerous if we allow desire to usurp our culture; the only way to escape is to defy the pornographic illusion. It’s all fake.

    This isn’t the sex game we were looking for, but it was the one that got made.

    (Apologies for all the typos and lazy sentences, but there’s four weeks of work here which I squeezed out in one. I’ll tweak some of the phrasing in the article as the week goes on.)

    (Uh and also, go to bed?)

  3. Holy heck, HM, what a post! Great to read this. If anything I feel a bit the opposite of Switchbreak – I feel absolved of playing it. I did play through to Heaven, but then it was just too insanely repetitive and I gave up there. Nice to see someone coming at it thoughtfully – my own intellectual engagement was rather too easily deterred in the end.

  4. Thanks Pippin. As little was being written about this “highly anticipated” game, it felt like someone needed to cover the experience in its entirety. I shied away from splitting this up over multiple weeks because I wanted any discussion to be based on the complete picture. Plus, I’ve just emerged from a series or two and I didn’t want to make another one! And so, voila, an essay of infinite length.

    I also knew readers would also be interested in the ending, considering so many have quit on the game, so I had no intention of producing a version devoid of spoilers.

    I think Polymorphous Perversity is wide open to interpretation but issues relating to transgender representation and the story itself have cockblocked analysis.

  5. Yeah, you did it just the right way I think. And it is a shame that this game didn’t get so much coverage in the end. Interesting how things can get derailed like this.

  6. So I was reading this, I clicked the link to “Privates,” I clicked a link in there, and I went back to “Privates” thinking it was this page again. So I saw “Post-game buzz: Free. Jaunty educational fun, short but still worth a shake. Free,” thinking it was meant to apply to PP, and I was like, wha?

    So this is a Grand Theft Rothbury sort of comment, since I haven’t played the game and won’t, but I’m disturbed by the idea of using sexual stereotypes, slurs, and rape as part of a lengthy, subtle argument meant to undermine the porn culture it comes form or whatsit. They seem likely to make a loud enough noise that it’ll drown out the author’s subtler points. Is a transgendered person going to get the message that the use and stereotyping of “tranny” is a parody of cardboard cutout porn stereotyping, or is zhe just going to hear that hateful word again? Is a transphobic person likely to pick up on the point?

    It reminds me of the controversial New Yorker cover showing Obama as a Muslim terrorist and… well, basically every other slur you could think of. One thing I noticed about it was that pretty much every black person I saw commenting on it was offended.

  7. Thanks for covering this game. I find the ending to be really interesting, since… I gave up, as you mentioned. Honestly, I’d give the game another shot if there was a money cheat. But having to grind out a ton of money in the mining game is tedious. I imagine if I got good at the sex-battle stuff, maybe prostitution would be a better route? It seems like it just takes a ton of items to get a good score, though, and that makes it a drag.

    (I also can’t figure out exactly what to do next, once I arrive in Heaven. So there’s that.)

  8. @Matt: I actually don’t know if this is what Nicolau was driving at – but it’s what I got out of it. Some of the choices definitely hurt it; some players will simply shut down the game when they encounter some of the risqué sections and walk away from it. There’s probably an argument that art can be built from stereotypes, slurs and rape; whether it works or not is another matter. Nicolau’s games tend to sail close to the edge and this one has bounced over it.

    Even I, when watching the protagonist trying to force the Princess into sex, was staring at the screen in horror: WTF are you doing? I didn’t tell you to do that! It’s the moment when the player becomes divorced from the character and you never quite recover from that.

    That said, there’s a lot of clever and strange things to be found in the game, and I started to suspect early on that none of the action was “real” and that, effectively, it was just one long fapfest.

    @Amanda: Thanks! The mining game becomes more lucrative if you find (a) something in Maze Mount West and (b) do something specific in Heaven. Having said that, I was regularly making $60-80 per trick and that was without resorting to lots of special items. Maybe this is down to my levelling choices? Maybe it’s just down to figuring out the mechanics? I think there’s an art to the combat and if certain things don’t click then it can seem completely baffling. This happened to me with Beautiful Escape, I was never any good at it even though Nicolau thought the gameplay was straightforward. (As for the next move in Heaven, did you find somewhere you can’t squeeze into?)

  9. Yeah, probably mastering the “combat” would help. And as to where I’m stuck, yes, apparently I need something so I can swim? That’s what I vaguely remember.

    I got pretty good at Beautiful Escape… I find these mechanics a little less transparent.

  10. I don’t know if Anna Anthropy is going to write a comment here but she just tweeted to me: excuse me, “self-aware ironic transphobia,” which is totally definitely what the use of the word “tranny” in that game is

    She’s right, of course, that is the contorted position I’ve written myself into.

  11. This is the first time I have posted on any review or topic discussing Polymorphous Perversity. I said to myself I wouldn’t, but I’m happy to make this one exception, for two simple reasons. One, this is not just any review: it’s the best, most engaging review I’ve ever read on anything of my interest, and it’s from one of (if not the one) my favorite game writers on the Internet. I’ve always felt there’s some sort of Midas touch in everything I read on Electrondance. And you’re also a personal friend, who motivated me to pursuit this project to the end, empathized with the process, and if not for that, I’m absolutely sure you wouldn’t have endured playing the whole thing, just like everybody else.

    My answer to your enormous review shall come in brief words though:

    Thank you.

    I’m afraid I cannot actually comment on your review, for reasons you already know (and I’ve just reiterated on the game’s blog). I will, however, reply to your postscript bullets, as they are direct questions and very objective.

    In order:

    > lol! I had a similar reaction when I read the way you synthesized the main character’s relationship with the Princess in “one minute he tries to force himself onto a 13-year-old girl and the next OMFG I think I know what love is.”
    > there’s more out-of-proportion forms to be deciphered in the game (like Heaven).
    > Don’t mistake a character’s line for the game’s line!
    > I guess! But there’s so much more to the “I want it to end, but I need it to be perfect” line.
    > Yes!
    > When you learn Fuck and Assfuck, the move description states that it lowers your potence. The tutorial in Cocota Mall explains it as well.
    > I’m actually convinced by that diagnosis. The data is extremely revealing on a close statistical analysis, and the final diagnosis is just a blunt synthesis. One thing that data reveals is that the final scores don’t discriminate players who did more from players who did less (and that you can measure, for example, by the count of the number of times each player had sex). I mean, if you explore the game deeply, doesn’t mean you’ll get a high score on everything, and even if you do, they won’t be balanced. There are quite a few activities in the game that don’t need to be done more than once (or maybe ever), but still, SOME people do it often, and that’s what discriminates low scores from high scores. Hard to explain without actually discussing specific data. But yeah, I know it’s flawed and hard to interpret.
    > He’s the ego.
    > Yeah, I loved that!
    > I think Adam was just trying to make a name for himself as a clever writer using the game as a backstory, and apparently it worked.

  12. Well, Nicolau, thanks for saying such nice things!

    In a parallel universe, where we didn’t know each other and, quite possibly, my name was Brooke, it’s possible I might not have persisted with the game. I just don’t know. It’s why I wrote this as a letter, to expose the potential for personal bias and not cover it up.

    I can say after I started the game again, I didn’t have a problem playing it right to the end. Plus, I worked through Cart Life even though I said “enough!” after my first session.

    With a lot of the dialogue towards the end of the game I felt like I wanted to print it out and sit down with a coffee to ponder. The Archangel conversation definitely fell under this category. You remember I discussed the “quality” of ambiguity on Dear Korsakovia – well, this was good ambiguity. I felt like meaning was lurking just out of my grasp.

    I understand why you don’t want to comment in detail and that’s fine. I think what you’ve said here and on your blog post-mortem has already revealed enough to see what you were up to. Not in detail, but I can see where you were going; I even have new thoughts on Maze Mount West now.

    I could boil down the problems with Polymorphous Perversity into two blunt points (a) mechanical difficulty and (b) the ingredients have powerful meaning in isolation, which can be blinding, discouraging thought about their role in the whole. Still, I respect your decision for not wanting to spell everything out in obvious terms, which is something that grates with some games whose developers were concerned the subtext would be missed. “And James Tonguelash suddenly turns into the word EGO.”

    As you think the diagnosis has some value, I’m pleased to have included mine in the article. I think.

  13. Hella great column, Harbour Master. Ever since Amanda’s piece I’ve been reading about this game with curiosity. Nicolau’s work has always been bold and experimental; in this case it seems like maybe everything didn’t work as well as it has in some of his other stuff. Kudos also to him for popping in and sharing a response.

    Obviously some games are divisive, and I can understand that. In the case of this one (which I have not played and thus speak from a largely ignorant perspective), it seems that the author’s intent may not have been fully realized… or that the author’s intent was realized and it’s something that is going to be very divisive. You, Amanda, and Patricia Hernandez over at Kotaku all brought up some alarming points about the rape-as-objective concept implied in PP. This compounded by mechanical problems definitely seem to hurt the effort.

    Thank you for your thoughts on this game!

  14. Thank you for looking at this game so closely. Getting involved in this one is just not something I’m up for right now, but I might’ve forgotten it existed by the time I would be!

    PP sounds oddly rich with optional things to do- I appreciate that in most any game. Contrast that with Chulip, an RPG/adventure about just kissing for the PS2; you MUST do everything to win, but you can only find out how through trial-and-error experimentation, which results in an avalanche of game overs.

  15. @Amanda: Checking out a Let’s Play video I just found out there’s another way of boosting your cash flow on the mining game. I had no idea!!

    @Steerpike: Thanks, good sir. There are scenes which are “charged” like that but plenty which are not – although I’m sure everyone can find something uniquely offensive. Patricia’s point about “validating rape culture” was because the player was compelled to have sex all the time (otherwise my penis asplode) – she hadn’t actually reached the actual scenes which relate to rape – that the horniness meter represented societal pressure to have sex. I don’t agree with that, of course.

    @BeamSplashX: Yeah it’s quite the gauntlet, as I’ve pointed out. If you think you have the stomach for it, I’d go for it. But you will have to subject yourself to all sorts of sexual experimentation in the game and often with a dissonant NICE DICK track playing in the background.

  16. Um, in that linked video, did Jenika say “You know how to get a raise. What a Jew”? Because that’s what it sounded like she said.

  17. No she said “what a Joel”. Okay, alright, yes she did. I did notice before linking.

  18. OK, let’s talk self-aware ironic bigotry again. Well, I have no clue whether that was self-aware or ironic, but even if it is it’s nasty stuff to use stereotypes like that. And I venture the same thing applies to the transphobia etc. If there was a game full of characters called “Jew moneylenders” whose main goal appears to be to rip you off, that’s going to have the effect of spreading Jewish stereotypes even if the game ultimately has some sort of subtle argument about stereotyping going on. Except that transfolk have a lot more to worry about from stereotypes than Jewish people do.

    (FWIW, I’m Jewish and cis.)

  19. It’s not so much an emotional thing- I just suffered through Drakengard, which looks like a typical action game, but is actually a jackhammer for the mind and soul that I can’t bring myself to sell after mostly beating. I just have a lot of other games to work through. It’s not an issue of however long or short PP is, either, as I have plenty of untouched short indie games on my hard drive.

    I am obligated to my backlog, I suppose.

  20. FWIW when I said I wouldn’t play it it wasn’t any sort of boycott thing, just that it didn’t seem like much fun or fun-equivalent, and also the Windows-only thing is kind of dispositive.

  21. @Matt: We’re actually agreeing. I think some of the scenarios are too charged to be perceived in any other way than the Inflammatory Interpretation. But I knew Nicolau’s intent wasn’t to load the game up with any sort of hate agenda, and there are plenty more transgender events later (e.g. an NPC transforms from man to woman gradually and concludes they are happier this way), so I wanted to explore what he might be trying to say. Reading through Nicolau’s responses, I don’t think I’ve actually figured out his intention, but he seems happy that players see something – even if it’s negative. In the end, everything in the game is a cipher. (FWIW, I’m atheist and cis-ish.)

    @BeamSplashX: Heh, no problem! Right now I have Shuggy, La-Mulana, Thirty Flights of Loving, Vesper.5, Exo, Polymorphous Perversity and [mystery game] on my desktop. Oh God, I forgot Mass Effect too.

  22. You’re going to play La-Mulana? Who recommended you do this? Whyyyyyyyyyyyyy-

    (I just hear it’s punishingly difficult in terms of both survival and puzzle-solving. I haven’t the fortitude.)

  23. Right, I’ve just gone through and fixed all the bits of the article which were annoying me. These are more cosmetic changes, I haven’t changed the meaning of the words.

    @BeamSplashX: Why am I playing La-Mulana? Interesting question, one which I will answer in the sometime future.

  24. Those were significant changes! I felt like the meaning of phrases have changed in some places.

    Regarding the diagnosis, you’re wrong in saying “because many of these activities were mechanically inconsequential, no one would do them again if they reloaded the game.” There are a few inconsequential actions that had no reason to be done more than once, yet players did… and that includes things like eating shit, fucking the teddy bear, paying the girl to be fucked by the horse, etc. I say that based on tester’s data. There are plenty of things that can be done in the game for reasons that are not “let’s see what happens”, and you mentioned some of them yourself (like bringing flowers to Dora). I mentioned the guy who modded the game to use the transgender machine, but there’s also a tester who tried it over 40 times to see if it worked. I could mention numerous other examples.

    I’ll also disagree on the mining minigame having no purpose, and I’ll mention another player testimonial example. There’s a badge in the game that you get for having 5000 (filthy reach). I’ve heard of people who reached that amount of money by mining. You definitely don’t NEED 5000 in the game, and even if you have all the mining tools and profit schemes, prostitution is still a balanced option. Yet someone would still CHOOSE to mine dozens (or even hundreds) of times. “Why”?

    There are some things I could predict/expect to an extent, but some of them surprise me. Yet, reading/watching players reactions and comments has been very interesting.

  25. Nicolau, I also did the teddy bear twice, too. I’m not sure whether it was just to see if there was an effect or I actually got a kick out of the teddy bear sequence. Or a laugh. Anyway, I guess you win =)

    My thing about the mining mini-game is that it doesn’t seem to have a proper role in this strange world of sex. Narratively speaking, it’s anomalous. Everything is sex-obsessed – except for the mine. I know there’s a guy in there who says he likes to spend time in the mine to get his libido under control but, well, if he spends too much time in there his penis is likely to explode.

    I got three badges, but I never realised there was a badge for hoarding cash. What I love about your little achievements, Nicolau, is that they’re not flagged in advance to encourage player grind. You just find them and the game says: well done for being so, er, enthusiastic.

  26. Hi HM,

    It looks like I’m late to the Polymorphous Perversity party, but I really enjoyed the open letter. I just finished the game, and agree with you on everything except one: the final encounter at the top of the tower is not with yourself, but your mother.

    Remember, this game is based on a Freudian interpretation. Also remember, the Prophet’s cinematic sequence states that everyone feels separated at birth from the womb, a lifelong trauma that people try to cope with by union with others (sex). The final line in the game is, “COME HOME,” and the central figure during the “ultimate sex” orgy is a very large female, and you gain stamina from her by sucking on her breast, and she is the subject of your main fuck action.

    This is all very in line with the standard Freudian concept of the desire to return to the womb, as alluded to in the game.

  27. Bartleby, this is hilarious.

    “Freud is all about sex with your mother” is such a cliché in modern culture that I didn’t even THINK of that possibility. I am blushing here that it didn’t even cross my mind because it fits pretty darn well!

    To be honest, I’m sure there are many other valid interpretations of the game other than what I’ve put forward. I’m not really talking just about the final scene: I’m not convinced I got to the heart of the archangel confrontation. It’s a bit David Lynch in that respect; keeps you guessing about the truth of things, which seems tangible yet just out of reach.

    If you have any other ideas about what scenes or characters mean, I’m all aural orifices.

    Don’t worry about being late to the party, I leave the comment threads open just in case someone has something interesting to say.


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