Ladykiller in a Bind, created by Christine Love, is what many would probably call an interactive visual novel. However, I argue that it should still be considered a video game, and not considering experiences such as this one video games would be a loss to the game community and the media’s otherwise diverse possibilities of expression.
First a personal note. I had never expected to play a game such as this, both in style and content. But a few articles from The Guardian later, and an incessant interest in styles of narratives led me to play it. The content is especially what would maybe normally deter me, as it is about a lesbian woman engaging in intrigue and intercourse with other female characters abort a cruise ship.
We shall return to the content momentarily, as I will first clarify why I would consider this a video game.
Shortly on the definition of Video Games
After reading a lot of various definitions of what qualifies a program as a video game, I chose to create the following definition, placed in quotes as it will also feature in my coming thesis:
“I therefore suggest to define the video game medium as an interactive software program whose play, experience, and arbitrary choice happens through a rule-based system on a binary computational device”
This definition makes the video game medium more inclusive in its simple need for play and use of choice in the experience. Moreover, I believe the software program must have been created intentionally to be a video game. For instance, you could make a game out of Microsoft Word by creating a 3×3 table in the document and thereafter instantiate a game of tic-tac-toe. This however does not make Word a video game, just that it can facilitate game-like behaviour.
Ladykiller in a Bind is indeed a piece of interactive software that lets the player make arbitrary choices via the list of optional actions offered, and the game exists through the balancing and managing of risk versus reward behaviour, avoiding too much suspicion, but still taking risks in order to gain votes from other characters.
Analysis of Ladykiller in a Bind
The following is placed in quotes as the analysis comes from my thesis paper.
“The game allows you to choose the characters names, either via a choice of two predetermined names that indicate certain relations and character traits, or it allows you to type a name of your choice. This allows for certain investment in the characters and also outlines the players initial disposition towards the specific character. An example is our female protagonist whose default name in the game is Beast, alluding to her dominant and sometimes crass behaviour.
In the game we play as Beast, who in turn pretends to be her twin brother Prince aboard a cruise ship surrounded by Prince’s high school classmates. They are aboard the cruise as part of celebrating their graduation, and know that there will be some sort of competition going on during the cruise. The player must therefore play as Beast pretending to be Prince, and try to figure out why we are even there and who these people we meet are.
As it turns out, Ladykiller in a Bind follows the structure of the hero’s journey, as it mixes signalled goal oriented behaviour with an emphasis on personal character relations. The video game works as an example of how the structure of the hero’s journey does not by definition need a hero that kills everything in his/her way, but can actually be more about social interactions, and leverage the structure as a way of inciting progression and increasing stakes. The title does indicate something different from my previous statement, namely the lady killer part. Where the story does not includes the killing of anyone, it does include a certain pivotal point of overcoming personal relations––winning people over––with power struggles becoming especially evident in the bedroom at night. This video games does however not just allow you to dominate the other female characters, but also indirectly forces you to succumb to dominance, and experience the feelings of a person that is entirely dependant on someone else’s favour. The character Beauty is especially well connected aboard the ship, and she offers to wipe away the unavoidable suspicion that Beast builds up during play, for the small fee of subservience towards her in the bedroom. Even though it does not feel as though one has much choice in the matter if we wish to succeed in the game, Beauty does handle the situation very carefully, and checks on several occasions whether Beast is alright to proceed further into the depths of her BDSM games. This highlights one of the main themes of the video games, namely that of consensual sex.
Sex is not just some tacked on “prize” in Ladykiller in a Bind, such as can sometimes be the impression in other games, but instead a central theme that is treated with a sense of respect and exploration. Respect for the individual characters and their limits, and the following exploration enabled by consent and trust. You get to know the characters along the way, and possibly even become attached to some of them, which in return may heavily influence your choices throughout, as you might wish to prioritise situations that include a particular person, over other situations that offer a greater monetary reward.
The monetary reward in the game is presented in the shape of votes. The person with the most votes at the end of the cruise wins. This ludic element, choosing situations according to risk and reward, is also enforced on the narrative level, as some characters, based on untrustworthy behaviour, will increase your suspicion level, and in the future maybe also treat you with more suspicion during future encounters. It is a system of managing resources, but the reward of votes is foreseen in the options offered, i.e. we are presented with the possible amount of votes a path offers before choosing it, and so the player does not experience much of an endorphin rush as reward for the votes given. These votes are more part of a plan/strategy/calculation made by the player. The reward comes in way of new dialogue options with characters and the promise of new scenarios where those characters are involved. In other words, the reward we are offered is closer connection to certain characters, and one step closer along our journey towards revealing the end-game plot. In fact, there is no ludic incentive for acquiring these votes, only narrative incentive in the promise of winning the competition, but players are not interested in the competition then there is nothing forcing them to pursue it. One can simply ignore the votes altogether.
Ladykiller in a Bind offers an experience that will be challenging to most in terms of content, but an experience worth while. The choices allow the player to feel invested in the narrative and the characters. The consequences can be surprising, at times pleasing, and at times, well, less so. The ludic elements of the video game were kept to a minimum – Just enough to offer the player some goals to strive for, but not so much that it removes focus from the actual story. It goes to show that it is possible to create video games that contain great stories with interesting and ambiguous narrative choices, however, I am less certain this would be as much of a success if the game was more interactive and less like a graphic novel(esque). Interactive gameplay elements in between the story elements could very well end up detracting from the narrative pacing and impact.”
This was more of a formal analysis of the game type and how it managed gameplay. Should you want a further analysis of the games theme of sexual consent, then don’t hesitate to let me know. I’ll either do an analysis myself at some point, or point you in the direction of a few good articles on the subject matter.