Warning: This week's post is NSFW. Proceed with caution.
Nicolau "Calunio" Chaud's blog, June 2011:
"Making this game has been a very interesting and weird experience. Researching sexual preferences, googling for pictures, spriting 24x32 sex, reading and writing porn, getting e-mails with naked pictures from players... it's all very weird. Fun, at first, but gets somewhat unpleasant after a while, and the feeling of numbness I'm getting towards the theme is disturbing."
A Hard Act To Follow
Brazilian psychotherapist Chaud is well-known, perhaps infamously so, for two game projects written using RPG Maker 2003.
One is Marvel Brothel, a brothel simulator using Marvel characters that led to an explosion of internet fame as well as legal action from Marvel. It's neither erotic nor sexual, but scores high on the weird scale, laced with zany humour. It has an unexpected charm that will beguile the persistent player.
The other is Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer, a difficult game for many players to stomach but offering one of the cleverest game narratives of 2010. The protagonist is a sociopath who, as a member of an underground fraternity of "Dungeoneers", torture vulnerable people to death or insanity - and share videos of the results. And at its heart, it's a love story. Beautiful Escape has been listed as a finalist in the Best Indie Game competition for the Game Music Brasil festival being held in Rio de Janeiro this week.
But where does taboo-breaking Chaud go from here?
In April, Jordan Rivas broke the story that Chaud was working on Polymorphous Perversity, a game "about sexuality". Chaud has been secretive on actual details but his blog states:
You are [insert your name here], a young male with an unknown sexual disorder captured by some mysterious agency and thrown into a bizarre parallel reality where everything gravitates towards sex. You're set on a sexual quest to explore unknown lands, meet strange people, and learn more about your sexuality.
We do know that an important character attribute is how "horny" the protagonist is - reminiscent of Marvel Brothel's horniness rating - and he will die if he gets too horny. Further, the RPG Maker 2003 combat mechanics have been adapted so that "attack" is now "fuck", evoking Molleindustria's Queer Power which framed sexual pleasure as competition, as combat.
Although Chaud hadn't intended to go public so early, he ran with it and threw open the doors of the Polymorphous Perversity blog. He invited the people of internet to send him private sexual material: nude images and personal fantasies. The images would be cropped and de-personified for in-game avatars; the fantasies would be used to add reality and depth to the game's sexual tapestry.
In May, Chaud's mood was ebullient: "I had a very weird insight today: I treat my game like a girlfriend... Yeah, I know, weird. But the good thing is: it loves me back."
But his posts were infrequent and in June he made a quick remark that this special relationship was fast becoming dysfunctional: "Making this game has been a very interesting and weird experience. Researching sexual preferences, googling for pictures, spriting 24x32 sex, reading and writing porn, getting e-mails with naked pictures from players... it's all very weird. Fun, at first, but gets somewhat unpleasant after a while, and the feeling of numbness I'm getting towards the theme is disturbing."
He explained this was why he wouldn't give interviews after the game was done, because he just wanted to finish the project and put it behind him.
I got in contact with him anyway, curious as to the extent of the game's impact on Chaud himself.
"It has definitely had some impact on me," he told me. "But that's the tricky thing about feelings: sometimes you can't name them, and that's when they're harder to deal with. I don't really know."
There is some irony here; the psychotherapist wrestling with his own feelings. "I think in order to succeed in what I'm aiming for, I have to keep some sort of neutral attitude, some degree of emotionlessness, because I don't want the game to be purely a reflex of my own sexuality. I have to try and understand other practices, and if I do this without lowering my own barriers, it won't work. But at the same time these barriers exist, I am human and I have tastes and repulsions. So while I'm playing the neutral man and getting exposed to all sorts of perv stuff, I'm also violating myself.
"The effect is noticeable because it's cumulative. So, yeah, receiving a picture of some random person's dick, resizing it, recolouring it and using it in a game is not really a disturbing process by itself, but after you do things like this for hours, days, months... it gets weird."
The word "weird" seems incongruous, as if a placeholder for something else.
I ask if he is serious when he says he won't want to talk about Polymorphous Perversity after release.
"It's just not really pleasant. I'm constantly searching the internet for material, not only photos, which I use in the game as facesets, but also texts to read about people's sexual preferences. The underlying assumption is that it's all sex, there shouldn't be a distinction from normal to pathological, from acceptable to unacceptable. The behaviours are different, but the drives are the same. No single human being's sexuality is like that of an animal, so we are all perverse."
Chaud's problem is that while he wants his game to open people's minds to the entire carnal spectrum, he carries with him his own definition of normal. "Googling for pictures of trannies, zoophily, fisting, bondage... not pleasant. Reading personal testimonials of people who enjoy having sex with amputees... not pleasant."
And finally, the word "weird" gives way and Chaud allows himself to characterise the experience as "volunteer sexual mind rape". Even though he will see the project through to completion, part of him just wants it to end.
Tale of a Flower
So Chaud is on a mission to create a serious game about sex, but this mission is costing him.
It's unclear what the game will be when complete although it's likely to be as divisive as his previous successes - repelling and fascinating its audience at the same time. In addition to a number of screenshots, Chaud has posted a video of one scene from the game which reveals its fearless embrace of pornographic imagery. And a healthy shot of black comedy.
But I cannot tell whether this is a visual metaphor for a string of failed consensual encounters - or simply gang-rape. As I turn this question over and over in my mind, something else occurs to me. Maybe it's Chaud who is the flower, putting himself through a gauntlet of unpalatable sexual research, all for his new baby, Polymorphous Perversity.
Nicolau Chaud is looking for people to test the game prior to release. If you're interested, please get in contact with him via his blog.