For the first exhibition at the Museum of Unspeakable Games, I wanted focus on the history of sex games, but with a very broad interpretation of why they are so often "unspeakable." Obviously proactively preserving this history, which comes to us incomplete and with absences that say as much as what remains, is the important work left in the wake of corporations and platforms that refused to do it, and often led unpredictable waves of censorship and deletion against such work. But considering sex through games also has other unspeakable aspects, the deeply personal nature of sexuality and desire, and, often related, the problem of sexual shame. This small collection and the accompanying texts is an invitation for even more contributions that explore and work towards dispelling this unspeakability for us all.
Unless I put a kind of dirty spin on my fixation on the Jump Start 2nd Grade frog, I feel like this is probably my earliest erotic experience of a videogame. As a teenager, I was kind of scared to look at or consider sex directly. Like I would read sex advice columns rather than look up porn. I encountered this game as a really early HTML version (the creator has recently ported it to Ren'py) and the labyrinthine structure as well as the very schematic and gameable way of controlling the progression of the date (once you learned how to use the back key in the pop-up frame) gave me enough of a self-justifying "out," of having a distanced and technical curiosity about it rather than wanting to think about and try to form my feelings around sex itself. Even though the early 3DCG static images are often awkward looking (and, trust me, the 3D penis, when it appears, does NOT look good), there's still something pretty exciting about poking around, tracing paths, seeing what happens.
Information on how to play here!
I wanted to include this game because I think the normalcy of doujin games and adult games in Japan offers an alternative view of how things could be. Avoiding idealizing it, I just think it's interesting that something with actual sexuality and sex scenes in it could be such a broad hit in the same medium where, in a different country, the idea of even fade-to-black implied sex or mild PG-13 level eroticism is enough to attract scandalized commentary. Independent distribution and the infrastructure that exists to support doujin work probably has a lot to do with this, and considering that's where the gigantic Fate franchise started, it's also illustrative of its impact. When F/SN was adapted into popular anime series and non-pornographic versions of the game, the sex was replaced by sensual dolphin and dragon montages, which is of course the "good" or "evocative" way to write about sex in more prudish eras. And the proliferation of the de-sexualized or merely horny Fate media has resulted in the original being harder to find, and even met with disbelief or surprise by new fans.
As for the actual sexuality, well, it's not that good. The way Nasu describes genitalia and related activities is notoriously puzzling and unappealing. There's the part where Rin, one of the main romantic leads, decides she's bisexual because she's having a magical threesome with the main character (who's a guy) and the historical King Arthur (who in this case is a girl). I mean, that kind of sucks, but also who manages to figure that out in a "normal" way anyways? As I've come around to having self-confidence in my own long, un-ideal and un-instructive journey to self-understanding in this area, my affection for this kind of wild attempt at something grows.
As of 2033, lost to the sands of time, aside from this screenshot, recovered from the curator's backup drive.
I did an LP of this before streaming or let's play channels were a big lucrative thing (remember that?) and before YouTube moderation was so aggressive just because I thought it was such a clever, fun and funny thing. There was a brief window where you could play it and post about it before Twitch basically led the charge on making it The Game That Must Not Be Spoken Of. And it's also weird how the game itself kind of charts the progress of this puritanism across platforms (the tumblr where all the dick pics recorded by the game are posted is now under multiple levels of "sensitive content" blocks, which essentially kills its functionality) in addition to all the stuff it's already doing deliberately about entanglements between private desire and tech surveillance, and a playful attitude towards sex. Nothing good tended to last on the rapidly commercializing internet of the 00s and 10s, and I think you have to put in your credit card number to view my LP now. Still, this game is a great example of how the context of a sex game can both be tied to a particular moment and change its meaning or even its gameplay over time.
Play it here!
A collection of games that sparked the influential "Space Shuttle Sex Murder" genre, leading to a gradual explosion in games featuring speculative psychosexual dramas. As a response to both aesthetically conservative tendencies and platform crackdowns on risque or experimental games in the late 2010s and early 2020s, this collection played a major role in popularizing short but rewarding and narratively rich sci-fi games featuring explorations of robot and alien and zero-g sex, opening the form to new audiences who thought games were just kind of dull before. Domino Club also highlights the importance of cultivating your own audience, using free and open development and distribution methods, and being commercially untouchable through controversial content and IP infringement to a work's longevity.
Play it here!
Made for the Domino Tech Splay-n-Date console, a solar-powered, e-ink device developed while the UK remained in the Playdate Exclusion Zone, this masterwork is anonymously distributed and still occasionally updated through Splaynet, the open games distribution protocol. An erotic visual novel which not only features beloved characters from all of John Carpenter's films, but seamlessly interweaves them with the canon of several other series, including Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Bloodborne and Breaking Bad, its complexity and sensitivity makes this mysterious project the Codex Seraphinus of sex games.
At the end of the exhibition there is a suggestion box with cards next to it...