I was first introduced to Twine games only last year, when I sat down to review Merritt Kopas’s Consensual Torture Simulator. While this is that review, I’ve also in the long time between playing that game and getting a chance to write this come upon several other games in the fairly specific genre of kinky interactive fiction. Interactive fiction games, generally written using a platform called Twine, fall into a niche that seems to appeal especially to queer audiences and others exploring “alternative” modes of sexuality through writing games. This is a genre that plenty of us nerdy queers are hungry for, but it takes a moment to get used to the conventions of Twine and understand what you’re doing, exactly, when you play a Twine game.
On the plus side, Twine games are typically under $5 and easy to play on any computer. They’re also (or at least seem, from a consumer point-of-view) fairly simple to create in a technical sense, which makes them accessible to those looking to tell a story outside the mainstream without a ton of resources to do so. If you’re looking for more on Twine in general, Kopas has curated a book on the subject, Videogames for Humans. The basic idea, though, is that the game itself is a series of screens with text, hyperlinks, and sometimes images. Like a choose your own adventure novel, you follow the often-branching path the author has created for you by clicking on the links and seeing where the creator’s imagination takes you. Here, I’m particularly interested in how game creators are helping their readers to engage with kink through the medium.
[talk of NSFW content behind the cut]
Consensual Torture Simulator: Playing with Kinky Subjectivity
The first thing I was struck by when playing Consensual Torture Simulator was the immediacy of this specific game and of the genre in general. The second person puts you, the player, right into the author’s scenario—in this case, you have a new girlfriend and you have “this really powerful, amazing, hot thing going. She likes getting beaten up, and conveniently, you’re pretty into doing just that.”
When you play CTS, you stand in the shoes of a kinky top. You don’t get a choice about the character you play, which I was initially dubious about—I’m more used to major game titles and RPGs where choosing who to play is a big part of the fun. But that restriction was in fact significantly less restrictive than I expected. As the game progresses beyond the initial setup, you get a number of choices of what to do to your girlfriend, and your mileage in the scene varies based on what you choose.
Sitting at my desk, clicking away on words like “cane,” “punch,” and “scratch,” I realized that my subjectivity as a player wasn’t necessarily limited by the point-of-view the interactive narrative takes. In fact, the well-written snippets of story that come out after each action fill in the details of the scene and made me giddy to see what this sexy top could do next. Though the player is active in the sense of clicking the links, I was able to mentally put myself in the place of the story’s object, trying to coax as much as I could out of… well… myself. So that’s interesting.
Beyond this cool opportunity to play with subjectivity, I’m impressed by Kopas’s writing, which goes beyond descriptions of who’s hitting whom with what and fills in the little moments of fear and delight that take place in an actual kink scene. I love the way the game uses the introductory text to set up the girl’s vulnerability, the risks the player necessarily takes as a top, and the raw emotions of the moment. For someone raised on kinky fanfiction with plenty of plot and unresolved sexual tension building up to the porn, this game feels more real and more satisfying than either mainstream porn or a typical video game where the production values sometimes take away from the feeling of actually being the character you’re playing. It also feels very queer, even if that’s never explicitly stated.
Of course, your options for play are ultimately limited, but I like the way your choices affect the “rest state” of the girl and offer a nice array of combinations to try—not unlike a real scene, you can’t be totally sure how much she wants or what will happen if you pick a particular type of stimulation, but it’s fun to play around with the choices. I’d recommend this game (currently available at just $3) for anyone who enjoys kinky fiction, and particularly to queer/trans folks who want to support one of our own (nice bonus: the game never specifies the player’s gender, so anyone can easily get sucked in).
reProgram: Recovery Through a D/s Relationship
reProgram is a free Twine game by pixiemania about kink, self-doubt, and recovery. The game uses transitions, color, and font to set the mood and build intensity as the player meets a girl who calls herself pet and follows her emotional journey. It’s a somewhat more directed narrative than CTS, less open-world-like and a more similar experience to reading a short story, but there are still choices throughout.
The first half of the narrative takes place in a mental health facility, where the player explores areas from a private room for masturbation to a very odd yoga studio. There are a limited number of choices, though I did particularly like the option to chose what kind of porn pet jerks off to. Throughout the story, pet is followed by a sometimes eerie, sometimes snarky shadow version of herself, through whom we get to know pet’s “issues” more personally.
The game is ultimately hopeful, as pet meets a Sir who (not to spoil too much) is both cruel and seemingly good for her. The kink is fairly centered on some chunks of unrepentantly dirty text, and woven through with more revelatory storytelling that brings up questions for the player around mental health and the function of D/s. It will likely especially speak to those who’ve experienced self-doubt and unhealthy relationships, particularly anyone who has ever longed for a top who would help them to become a better version of themselves. Personally, I appreciated the humor of the shadow character, snarking at pet for “being all zen with your cultural appropriation” in yoga class, for example. I also like the way text effects are used, though unfortunately almost all of the images in the game were broken when I played. While there’s less control here, the form does lend the storytelling an interesting additional angle.
Negotiation: A Model for Real Life Disguised as a Game
Negotiation by sexartpolitics is a fairly straightforward game that takes place in a bar and, as it says on the tin, focuses on scene negotiation. Your choice of potential play partner’s gender determines pronouns in the story, and your gender gets to remain unspecified. There isn’t much of an introduction—this brief kink game is all about choices. You start by picking what you’re flagging (S&M, bondage, or sharps) and then get to narrow down your play interests, indicate your experience level, let the partner know about limitations, and indicate whether you’re interested in a couple of different options.
This isn’t a pornographic game, though it is playfully sexy. It actually would serve as a pretty good introduction to kink negotiation and to BDSM culture/consent culture, unlike much fictional material that’s out there. Each of the potential paths include the top clarifying your interests and asking for his/her/their own aftercare, which is cool. Admittedly, I would enjoy an expanded version with more flirtation and kinky talk, since negotiation can be its own kind of play, but I really like the concept.