Sex Games Can Be Art, Too
Though the prominence of any game with a LGBTQ main character is generally about sex and contributes greatly to sexual objectification, doesn’t mean we can’t call them art. I wouldn’t put Hurt Me Plenty in the same category as Journey, but I would say that Hurt Me Plenty is as much art as Assassin’s Creed III.
But what makes art? Well, it’s up to you really; there are about a million different theories out there and mine is no more valid than the next. For me, art needs to reach out from within itself and apply to the real world in a way that makes the audience learn something. Apply this logic to AC III, and you can probably say you learned that no matter how cool a game may look, static characters and glitchy gameplay frustrate you. Some might even say it makes the game not worth the full price.
For Hurt Me Plenty, there are few things the audience might learn. One, they might learn what BDSM is, which forces them to a lot of research outside of the game. Second thing they might learn about is consent. In the game, you “shake” the hand of the shirtless man on the menu screen to negotiate the terms of the scene. The optional terms are “underwear”, “no underwear”, “intensity”, and “safeword” Once done, the session beings. Here, the player spanks a man until the session is over. You can go as hard or soft as you like, regardless of what the character says. Then you are required to provide aftercare (which is really just BDSM code for snuggles), and the character says something different depending on whether you went beyond the negotiated terms or not.
For those who don’t know BDSM, they are likely be very confused as to what a negotiation is and what “safe word” might mean in this context. Thus, (I hope) they will at least Google the subject and learn how important a negotiation is and what safe words are. Without this knowledge, the player can unknowingly blaze right through the line of consent. Most will notice (I also hope) enough to feel uncomfortable about the game’s situation.
For those who do know BDSM, the game becomes an interesting experience in pushing your own boundaries of consent. You can stay within the rules if you cannot bring yourself to move past them, push but don’t go overboard, or go straight to red. Whichever way the player does it, they will learn something. For example, you might learn that you can’t push the line of consent, or find that you can and the other side is a terrifying place.
Paired with the other two games of Yang’s series, Hurt Me Plenty is probably the most relevant to the general player. However that doesn’t mean the others cannot be called art either. Succulent for example, is a game in which the player must make a shirtless man suck a popsicle with great enthusiasm. This game plays with consent as well, but it’s not quite as explicit as spanking someone. Succulent forces the player to go at it, and go at it hard. A man has never sucked a popsicle with such vigor before, and it gets to the point where the player can feel like you’re shoving it down his throat. An interesting thought, when Succulent is depicting the wonders of receiving a blow job. Making the person giving it to you choke and unable to breathe is not a good thing, no matter how many porn stars do it. However in the game, the harder you do it, the more the lights and other men become a very clear depiction of what the creator thinks an orgasm should look like. There is no consent in doing something so hard, without the ability to negotiate the terms first like in Hurt Me Plenty. Again, allowing the player to learn what it feels like to cross that line of consent.
So no matter how sexy or poorly made, these sex games are still art. As long as the player learns something by the end of it, like consent, BDSM, and all the rules that come with having a healthy knowledge in sex. Both Hurt Me Plenty and Succulent, are about consent, regardless of the extremely sexual themes and contribution to the sexual objectification of the LGBTQ community. Try to apply to this to Yang’s third game in the series, Stick Shift, and try to think why it’s so weird to be jerking off a car and what it means when you “lose.”