A post by a psychotherapist on the RPG-Maker forums informed the world of his latest idea: a game about sex. Not the clean, safe sex we typically see in games, mind. The game would be an exploration of sexuality and the human libido, including the kinkier, if not darker sides of desire -- from perversions to fetishes and more.
It would be called "Polymorphous Perversity". Now, a year later, with a fascinating road to completion behind it, Polymorphous Perversity is almost finished.
The developer, Nicolau Chaud, is no stranger to uncomfortable subjects. Prior to Polymorphous Perversity, he developed Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer, a disturbing game that put the player in the shoes of a serial killer. This serial killer is a part of a cabal who share videos of murder with each other for judgment. Players accessed victims psychologically to learn how to best gain trust, and would then lure them into ‘dungeons' where they are tortured. Ideally, players construct a trap elaborate enough that victims can escape, but not without being pushed to their verge first. A "beautiful escape", if you will.
Polymorphous Perversity, the follow-up to Beautiful Escape, is named after a concept by -- surprise! -- Sigmund Freud. According to Freud, before we teach children how to be ‘ civilised', they achieve perverse gratification through the body. Such tendencies are repressed in our attempts to create an upright citizen, but the game would have no qualms about indulging a player in those desires.
The premise of the game is straightforward: you'd be a young guy with a sexual disorder who stumbles onto a world where everything is about sex. Instead of saving the world, you'd go on an adventure to ‘discover your sexuality.' It'd be an RPG, only without battles in the traditional sense -- you'd be f**king people (who can give you STDs as status ailments), and your performance is graded afterward. Finishing battles is easy enough; actually having proper technique or pleasing your partner, though -- not as simple. Just about everything you might expect from an RPG will be included too: side quests, dungeons, bosses, levels, customisation and minigames.
Outside of battle, skills and options like 'masturbate' are available to the player. These options sometimes affect the story, but sometimes not. The hope is that players will find themselves taking the options, regardless of how ‘meaningful' they are, as a means of observing themselves. Maybe even learn something about themselves in the process.
Development wasn't supposed to take long. In fact, the game was a side project, something Chaud took up as an experiment. A month or two, tops. He didn't plan on thinking about it too much, the initial design mandate was to put in whatever popped into his head. Then, blogs found out about the game. Expectations were set, though they made Chaud nervous. He kept working on the game, even though he figured it might be a bad sign: "the longer you take to make the game, the less likely you are to finish," he wrote on his blog. Nonetheless, he continued -- with the help of readers.
Nicolau set up a couple of ways for his followers to contribute to the game. The idea was that the game was supposed to represent the things people thought about, but couldn't vocalise or had to hide. He needed to get into people's heads for that to happen.
He created a "bathroom wall" on his site, where people could write anything sex related that they wanted in the game -- fantasies, personal experiences and so on. People wrote all sorts of things, as they often do when granted freedom and anonymity -- we've seen this in action on PostSecret, for instance. The wall filled up with taboo things like ‘rape fantasy', if not bizarre things, like ‘I want to turn a man into a woman, and then into a statue' and ‘centaur porn'. He also asked for pictures of player's body parts to put into the game. He put them alongside pictures he created, if not pictures and contributions from himself.
Things started to get strange. Chaud's relationship with the game changed. He compared it to a girlfriend, who he showed off to everyone, couldn't stop thinking about, didn't want to neglect. The game became more important than his life, his friends. More interestingly, Chaud got so entrenched in sex and his game that he started feeling numb. "Researching sexual preferences, googling for pictures, spriting 24x32 sex, reading and writing porn, getting emails with naked pictures from players... it's all very weird. Fun, at first, but gets somewhat unpleasant after a while," Nicolau remarked on his site.
When you consider some of the things Chaud had to subject himself to, it's not surprising. As a psychotherapist, he delved into the psychological root of fetishes: "the base origin of every perversion is the repression of libido in its form or goal." Still, that didn't prepare him for some of what he researched -- like crush films, which were a suggestion of the bathroom wall. Crush films are exactly what they sound like... with animals. The crushing to death of animals for sexual arousal. "What have I gotten myself into?," he asked after thinking about the implications of his choices.
Eventually this all affected his ability to work on the game, and he had to take a short break.
Chaud's interest, above all, in the ambiguity of human capability. In an earlier interview with me -- one of the only ones on Polymorphous Perversity, before he decided that he would no longer speak about of it the press -- he told me that his ideal was to communicate that "the worst of people is in you too." This idea, probably best relayed through games, was taking a toll on him though. In another interview with Electron Dance, Chaud revealed that making the game felt like "volunteer sexual mind rape".
Nonetheless, it seemed as if ideology kept him moving forward. He knew that sexuality could be a beast, though not necessarily a ‘dark' one, despite how society socialises us to think of kinks. He lamented how sex was handled in most games -- particularly that they wouldn't let you see what happened. This game was going to change that; he would let people see. He didn't know how insightful the game would be anymore, if the game would achieve what he set out to do, but it didn't matter.
It wasn't about doing sex ‘justice.' Sex can be serious, it can be captivating, it could be weird, it can change everything... but sex can also be silly. Sex is sex. Most of us think about it, chase after it, some revolve lives around it, but it's a touchy subject. To Chaud, it was just a drive, instinctive and universal.
Still, he felt the game was making him sick. "Imagine having a pervy ghost whispering fetishist porn in your mind all day long for a year," he posed in his blog. Well, some might find that amazing -- but Nicolau had particular comfort zones that had long been crossed. The only way to finish would be to, well, finish -- disregarding how good the game was going to be. More than that, he had already failed on his initial vision on representing human sexuality in full. Instead, it would focus on male sexuality -- what he was actually knowledgeable about. Even there, Nicolau wasn't sure he was able to include everything the game would need.
Perhaps the entirety of human sexuality in a game was too lofty to realistically achieve, in retrospect. Still, Chaud's endeavour is an admirable one in its ambition and unfettered approach -- regardless of how the game turns out. Nicolau promises that we'll know soon.