The first time she hits me, I laugh in surprise. The blow lands with a sharp crack, inflicted by a riding crop, maybe, or something similar in nature. I've said something foolish, and The Beauty, as she's called, is inflicting just punishment. Those will become a lot more frequent in a few short minutes, while my chuckles will dwindle.
Pain is pleasure — a goal even, if that's your thing — in My Twin Brother Made Me Crossdress As Him And Now I Have To Deal With A Geeky Stalker And A Domme Beauty Who Want Me In A Bind!!, shortened as Ladykiller in a Bind. It's a lengthy title with a purpose, says creator Christine Love: It does some of the heavy lifting when it comes to explaining exactly what the game is. Buyer beware, here comes the kink.
Ladykiller in a Bind drops players into a game of social deception. You're trapped on a cruise ship for seven days, pretending to be your twin and trying to curry favor with your companions. Factor in that the person you're pretending to be is kind of a dirtbag, and it gets a little complicated.
"Everyone is trying to fuck with you, because the person you're pretending to be, no one likes him very much," Love said. "It's this balancing act between you not coming across as suspicious, but also trying to gain favor and make amends, or totally humiliate yourself in front of people to get their support. Either works."
"Navigate very complicated politics ... while also having a lot of sex on this cruise."
The game is dialogue-driven, but conversational choices play out in a more natural way. As you talk to other characters, options will pop up and fade out as the conversation organically changes. People aren't waiting for your every word, Love said, and conversations will move on without you. The goal is to make you defensive in your conversations, choosing when to interject or what to say. If you act of out character for the person you're trying to imitate, you draw suspicion — and blows from The Beauty. The Beauty is one of two characters that will help you politically if you mess up, after she's doled out appropriate marks.
"You're sort of trying to navigate these very complicated politics that you don't quite understand, while also having a lot of sex on this cruise," Love said.
Sex plays a major part in Ladykiller and is being "front-loaded" into the game's relationships, Love said. It's less of an endpoint for the relationships and more of a starting point.
"It's always ridiculous in visual novels, or really any games in general, where sex is the end point," Love said. "It doesn't make any sense. The first time you sleep with someone it's not necessarily that great, right? It's you becoming familiar with a person. This is you becoming closer.
"Instead, what we're doing is you basically start with a hookup and you get closer based off that."
[Trailer below is super NSFW.]
Ladykiller won't use the "fade to black" trick, in which a player only watches the cutscene leading up to the moment. Sex scenes are given just as much importance as any other relationship-building dialogue. Love says that video games are a great way to experiment with sex, and kink especially, because they give you the chance to explore.
"I feel like a lot of presentations of BDSM, you look at Hollywood, it's generally either you see elements of this used to sensationalize a villain, or you have the sort of abusive relationships dressed up in the kink dynamic," Love said.
"Can I make a game that gives you a boner?"
"I think showing kink as being the consent elements, the negotiation, is really important because in my personal experience, a lot of people into kink are the biggest into making sure that people's boundaries are respected. That consent is given. That everything is pre-negotiated. You have this concept of pre-negotiation in kink that isn't necessarily there in other sexual spheres."
Although her game is full of dirtbags, Love says different characters will still have boundaries for how they want to be treated, touched and so forth. That's part of what makes even sleazy characters a little charming, she added.
"I feel like so long as you're practicing good consent, [dirtbag characters are] not necessarily a bad thing," Love said. "There's charm in that. There's appeal in that. I'm more interested in something that is sorta sleazy but in a well-negotiated way. Video games are very good at non-consensual sleaze.
"This is a fairly dirty scenario, and not just because of the kinky sex. You're playing as a slightly sleazy person trying to deal with a bunch of people trying to wreck your shit."
Still, Ladykiller in a Bind is meant to be sexy, and Love wants players to enjoy it outside of a typical game experience.
"People say 'games made me cry,'" Love said. "OK, I've done that. Now, can I make a game that gives you a boner?"