Explicit content in games, audience appeal, and solutions?

This precisely.

When something like MS’ single aesthetic tableau between (as far as I recall) consenting parties that has thematic weight and significance gets mentioned in the same breath as RAPE PRINCESS…why? Why do they have anything to do with each other? How are they related at all in any way? They both involve “sexual content”, but that’s such a wide breadth of stories. You might as well say “I don’t care for violent fighting games like spec ops: the line or pokémon”-- except there’s no queer axis of oppression there connecting gay sex with assault.

This conversation is reeking of lobster.


Explicit content in games, audience appeal, and solutions?

Is this topic more about how to warn people about explicit content? …or trying to broaden the appeal of explicit content? …or trying to create more tolerance/understanding of it?

The posts above raise a great point: all sexual content usually gets thrown into one sack, regardless of the approach or the angle that the story takes. When I tagged the Lights trilogy with NSFW tag, I got automatically sorted into the same place as Ultimate MILF Hunter 3000 or some other Necronomicocks (which, nothing against games like these, don’t take it the wrong way), despite the fact that they have nothing in common, outside of featuring sex as a focus. And I think this makes explicit content easier to dismiss and/or mischaracterize. If all NSFW is in the same place, it’s easier to assume they’re equal; it’s easier to make a strange mental connection between portrayal of consensual sex and rape because they are sharing a space, in a way (and I’m not even touching upon additional layer of queerphobia because I have things to do and I’d be there all night if I did so).


The cyclops was also there in the MDL original, since the 1977 version. But you are right, the princess was not introduced until the 1981 Zork II release.

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I don’t like to talk about it much, but the main reason I avoid sexual content is because I like it (in my opinion) too much!

I think healthy sexual relationships between adults are some of the best and most rewarding things on earth. But single, on my own, sexual thoughts don’t really have an outlet, and so I can get in a spiral where I think about them a lot, like several hours over a week. And it doesn’t feel good. Similarly, when i was married, I felt like it was a distraction away from my actual partner.

I just don’t want to waste my time on it. I feel like I can get so much more done when I’m not wasting my time imagining fantasies or searching online. And it’s not too hard for me to ‘tip over’. “But Brian, can’t you have more self control?” yes, I can, and my self control is avoiding sexy games and movies and other media.

That’s why I don’t mind playing games with sexual content as much when they’re by bad authors. Who cares? There’s nothing exciting. But that’s why I skipped out on Victor Gijsber’s latest game and use ‘safe’ mode on Hanon’s stuff, because they’re honestly great writers and games like Turandot genuinely shook me.

So if I review a game and say, ‘I don’t associate sexuality in games with positive feelings,’ that’s what I’m talking about. If my libido is high enough that it interferes in my daily life, I want to keep that cooled down.

My apologies for being so open about this, I’m sure several people are not interested in hearing about the love life of an old man, but I figure if anyone’s read this far down the thread they don’t need warnings.

Anyway, I don’t think this means people should be banned from making sexual games, but I do think it means that it should be labelled.

All of this agrees with things Naarel and Hanon have said, I just wrote this because I think people might be interested in a perspective of avoiding sexual content that isn’t just ‘sex is bad’. I think it’s great, but there can be too much of a good thing.


Preach, Brother Rushton!

I do want to emphasize that this is a personal rule and not a general one I expect all to adhere to!


I couldn’t find these on IFDB please send links…… :wink:

kidding. I’m not opposed to sexual explicit content in fiction or interactive fiction, but I personally don’t actually look for it in a text game. I loved Turandot which certainly included the mention of explicit sexual content and a lot of dialogue references to it. I do actually think in the case of Turandot it was mostly very relevant to the story. I would not have enjoyed the story if all it involved was depiction of gratuitous sex, violence, or other “adult” content that it has. It is IMHO far more than the sum of its individual parts. A content warning would not deter me from trying out a game, but if something “more” does not reveal itself after 15 minutes or so, I will likely stop playing it.

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There’s also the gnome, the robot, the vampire bat, the spirits, and the guardians, although each’s amount of interactivity varies.

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Oh my gosh, this makes so much sense. It’s like how I should limit my YouTube spiraling because once I get started I’ll keep watching recommended videos and get nothing else done.

So…in my opinion that is kind of the purpose of the NSFW (Not Safe For Work) signifier. It’s supposed to be a catch-all meaning “hey, if you’re browsing at work or in a public place, whatever is behind this link likely contains content you might not want other people to hear or see, or you could get in trouble for if you’re allowed work-safe browsing.” Ideally you can block or mute the NSFW tag on a public computer and be relatively safe.

It’s not meant to be a detailed content warning, it’s “be careful of this link if you’re in public”. I posted a video earlier of Smosh playing a CYOA board game and labeled it NSFW because there is mild cursing - even though it’s YouTube safe - which means you’ll hear them say “shit” and “bitch” but “fuck” is bleeped out. Otherwise the video is just three people playing a board game and occasionally swearing at each other. If you’re listening to it in a machine shop it might not be a problem; if you’re in your school library on a public computer you don’t want your computer-neighbor or the librarian to hear close friends calling each other “bitch” in the friendly competitive manner - as tame as it is because they don’t have the context.

TL;DR: “NSFW” basically means “not a public friendly link” whether it’s a clip of Samuel L. Jackson swearing creatively in a movie or tentacle porn.

This topic was split from “What are some topics in games that make you uncomfortable or hesitant to recommend it to others” and it’s kind of all of that discussion. We’re not trying to convince people to play games they don’t want to.


@CMG was making some points about Midnight, Swordfight and didn’t want to derail the original topic so I split it. I was curious specifically how MS somehow has gotten a weird rap that it’s somehow “pornographic” or subversive based on one paragraph of sexual description and some general adult content, whereas I’ve entered games like Cannery Vale and robotsexpartymurder in IFComp that include extended flat-out sex scenes without any such shock or pushback and gotten XYZZY nominations for them.

Maybe it’s that most of my games somehow involve erotica and I make no effort to conceal that fact, and it’s rare to get a family friendly one from me like Fair or Cursèd Pickle (for the most part) and CMG isn’t known for that so it’s a surprise when it happens?

Not complaining, but my specific question was is it a matter of egregiously signposting and content-warning (nobody plays robotsexpartymurder and can legitimately say they were shocked and offended that it’s exactly what it says on the tin) as opposed to the legitimately content-warned Midnight Swordfight that contains one surprising paragraph of explicit sexuality that is possibly 1% of what is otherwise likely perceived as a mildly-adult “bawdy” romp.


Midnight Swordfight Awards

Nominee, Best Game; Nominee, Best Writing; Nominee, Best NPCs; Nominee, Best Individual NPC; Winner, Best Implementation; Nominee, Best Use of Innovation - 2015 XYZZY Awards

3rd Place overall; 1st Place, Miss Congeniality Award - 21st Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2015)

23rd Place - Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2019 edition)

Pretty sure MS is not suffering from a reputation of being too pornographic or subversive. It has received far more positive attention than negative based on my admittedly non-exhaustive search.

Maybe I missed something in the original post or something that was posted here about it. But even if someone here on intfiction.org has attributed it as pornographic, it doesn’t seem to be the general consensus (either that or porn IF is super popular :+1::+1::grin:)



Based on comments in this and its parent thread, I think it’s less about Midnight Swordfight having a negative reputation in general and more it’s author struggling to not take the negative comments too seriously. It’s not rational, but it is far too easy to fall in to the trap of giving more weight to a single insult than to a thousand compliments, and I think that’s what has happened with Midnight Swordfight, a minority of players have slammed the game over something that is actually a pretty small part of the game, and despite all the accolades the game has gotten, the author can’t help dwelling on those few negative reviews.

I haven’t written anything award winning, but I have recieved comments attacking me or my work because of its contents and while I do my best to ignore the haters, I’d be lying if I said their comments never hurt.

Probably doesn’t help that it’s easy to conflate “Your work isn’t for me” with “your work is bad and you should feel bad” especially when someone is talking about something you put a lot of work into and are quite proud of.

Also, reading this thread really made me want to play robotsexpartymurder… so I was rather disappointed to discover it’s interface seems to be entirely made of JavaScript Clickables, and like most clickables I encounter in the wild online, they don’t appear to work with keyboard input(actually, I’ve read it’s possible to code clickables to respond to the enter key like they would to a mouse click, but I’m not sure I’ve ever actually encountered ones that did). My screen reader does give me a way to activate clickables, and it works well enough when I only need to activate a few, it’s inefficient enough that playing a whole game like that sounds exhausting.


I’m exactly the same way, except about the Riemann zeta function.


9 posts were split to a new topic: Sexy Math Jokes

Now that in US is from early dawn to wee night, and I can reread the prior debate without trailing behind, I must note a most important point on subject (audience appeal) on tagging content I have overlooked:
Nathan incidentally notice an issue about LGOP: the abuse of tagging, perhaps can be classed as false advertising in the 80s (back in the day, in Italy the review pointed that indeed the “lewd” level was rather tame (with hindsight, by EU/Italian standards…) but that today, as Nareel points out, is abused for actually attract people to low, if not zero, quality binaries & content, if not outright scams and fakes (a similiar attempt to abuse IFdb was attempted some time ago, leading to an hot debate about limiting the visibility of pseudo-“aif”)

so, explicit content can be manipulated for questionable motives, and what solutions are around whose don’t raise an heated debate ?

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

Ahhh, ok thanks for this. That makes total sense now. I was legitimately confused because I probably have not encountered the negative reviews of Midnight Swordfight or people who dismiss it as something unworthy because it has a single lewd scene. But I can fully empathize with taking negative feedback badly or out of proportion.

It’s hard to hear that something you poured yourself into to create was received poorly by others. It’s hard not to react to that. It’s why reviewers should be careful about how they express their dislikes, because the author is a real person who put their heart into something.

It does seem to me that the IF scene is more cognizant of the feelings of authors than a lot of other communities.

That’s partially it, but not completely it.

I already mentioned, earlier in this thread, that M.S. has received plenty of positive attention, including high placement in IFComp. So bringing up awards, etc, doesn’t add anything new to the pot. But you can’t comb through all the comments it has ever received, because a lot have been directed to me personally, across various platforms, over an almost nine-year period. The latest review essentially triggered a chain-flashback, since I’ve heard the same exact complaint so many times.

I don’t mind as much when people level the “shock value” charge at games like Taghairm. It’s also objectively wrong there, since I know my own motive and “shock” wasn’t it, but I get it. With the “transgressive” elements in M.S., however, there’s an axis of oppression in the real world related to these issues, as Aster said, that makes everything hit on a different level.

What is the purpose of this thread? Not to convince sex-averse people to play games with sexual content, that’s for sure. But if I had to pinpoint some root point of divergence between how M.S. and robotsexpartymurder have been received, my hunch is parser vs. choice. That “erudite, chaste” description applies more to parser IF; with choice, many queer authors have already broken boundaries and established that things much more wild than “plain old consensual sex” can happen in the format. But with parser, you’ve basically got squeaky-clean puzzles… and Stiffy Makane.

Nothing against Stiffy Makane. I’ve written a Makane game myself (which explicitly involves sexual violence, yet it’s never been hit with the “shock value” charge; probably because I wrote a mini-essay to explain my intent, and because Makane is a “known element” in IF). But whatever Makane might be now or become in the future, he didn’t spring from a mature place. For most of parser IF’s history, sex has been represented as nothing more than prurience. So when a game like M.S. comes along, people clutch pearls.

More boundaries probably need to be broken in the parser format. More games with actually mature elements need to be written; more reviews and articles need to discuss them.

But that’s only half the conversation. What was the purpose of my post in the original thread? Exactly what that post in the original thread said! The response to games like M.S. has molded my creative output. Eat Me was more conventional. The game that I’m planning to release in this year’s IFComp is more conventional still. I doubt I’m the only author whose games are influenced by communal sentiment.


It’s hard when informed, reasoned opinions from people you respect are critical of your work. It is also something to take to heart and to learn from.

It shouldn’t be hard when you have the equivalent of those 1-star reviews of a can of pickles that just say in so many words “I hate pickles”. Why then did they eat them?

Regrettably, these days the norm is the latter, rather than the former. And possibly it always has been.


You are correct; I didn’t quite balance the wide load in my hyperbolic statement, my bad. MS is of course decorated and CMG is better at this than I am, but he’s apparently experienced some review sniping that I have not. MS came out before my games did and those extreme reactions are what made me sort of obliquely assume mature sexual content would not fly in a Comp. To my surprise, instead of it being a magnet for hate-voters of the type who had issues with MS, those people steered clear completely and my game was evaluated by people who were mostly on board with the content I was presenting.

My apologies - I was using AXMA and exploiting all its possibilities for flashy interface madness, and that game is likely an accessibility nightmare.

I think LGoP kind of got the same rap - it was widely touted as an ‘adult’ game and it does have mature content, but I expect many people steered clear of “Infocom’s sex game” when it’s basically a delightlful farce that gains a lot of mileage via wink-nudge implication - the title alone[1] implies so much more than actually happens. [2]

Ah! Right. I can’t disagree that the parser audience are very particular about what they want!

it’s back to “historical” parser AIF which as I’ve stated made so many missteps to put people off - Stiffy Makane being the ur-example to the point it’s parodied now. The modern erotica authors who are doing it better aren’t doing it in parser, I must sadly concur!

  1. A few months after Infocom moved into its Cambridge offices, Meretzky jokingly wrote the words “Leather Goddesses of Phobos” on a large chalkboard that listed all of the Infocom games that were in release at that point. Meretzky described the title as “something that would be a little embarrassing, but not awful.” Joel Berez spotted the added line before anyone else arrived and erased it quickly, but the name stuck and was jokingly brought up whenever a non-existent game title needed to be worked into a sentence. Eventually, in 1985, Meretzky came around to the idea of actually creating a game under this title, and started its development as a 1930s science fictionpulp story – the idea was instantly accepted by Marc Blank and the other Infocom staff. Upper management was more difficult to convince, and then-CEO Al Vezza (who was more interested in the business side of the company) was not enthused with the idea. However, when Infocom was acquired by Activision in 1986 due to the bankrupted business products effort, Activision president Jim Levy was much more excited: when told that “Leather Goddesses of Phobos” was not its definitive title, he allegedly responded with “I wouldn’t call it anything else!”[3](Wikipedia) ↩︎

  2. Infocom marketing director Mike Dornbrook referred to Leather Goddesses of Phobos as “Hitchhiker’s Guide with sex.”[4] In The Status Line (formerly The New Zork Times), Infocom’s official newsletter, Steve Meretzky stated that the title Leather Goddesses of Phobos was conceived more than four years before the game was released.[4] He also cites “pulpy space opera” as an inspiration for Leather Goddesses , and expresses that a lack of controversial response to A Mind Forever Voyaging was another reason for Leather Goddess’ conception, stating that “I was hoping that [A Mind Forever Voyaging ] would stir up a lot of controversy. It didnt … So I decided to write something with a little bit of sex in it, because nothing generates controversy like sex. I’m hoping to get the game banned from Seven-Eleven stores.” (Wikipedia) ↩︎

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The Riemann Zeta Function isn’t one of the bits of mathematics that get my motor running, and I was the undeniable King of the Nerds in highschool, but I’d totally be down for a parser game where you play the bookdumb jock on the verge of being kicked off the team if he doesn’t get his maths grade up and you’re tutored by a cute girl who decides male teen hormones are the best way to motivate the player. I figure the game would be heavy on puzzles inspired by highschool maths, many with extra credit style secondary solutions, and perhaps with a parallel social interaction element where you try to woo your tutor. I figure either aspect could unlock sexual interactions, but if you’re just doing well at the maths without doing so poorly at the social aspect she storms off and refuses to tutor you further, the interactions are mostly transactional, but if you actually woo her, they’ll be more emotionally charged. A few potential endings could include ending up alone in a dead end job(barely do well enough to reach the end of the game), becoming prom king and queen before she leaves you to go to University(do poorly at the maths, but well, but not great at the wooing(though perhaps near perfect scores on the relationship front would convince her her boyfriend is more important than her education), The two of you end up going to different universities(do well at the math, but fail to woo her), and you end up renting an apartment to attend the same university(do well at both of the game’s goals). Sort of a 18+ Dating sim meets nerdy mathy puzzle fest meets Galatea(Playing off the idea of a single, highly developed NPC, like instead of the usual dating sim formula of half-a-dozen girls who are more archetypes than real people, at least at first glance, the tutor is the only girl the game lets you romance and she’s multi-faceted enough to replace the usual cast of girls to woo, and the facets she shows to the player depend on the player’s actions).

Might also be a good choice for a game where there’s some real-time elements(maybe each tutoring session lasts a certain amount of in-game time, and every few sessions, there’s a test with a strict time limit) or you only get one shot at a puzzle(the tutor walking you through what you did wrong if you fail a puzzle in tutoring, you only getting your marks from test questions), and perhaps some randomization(perhaps each tutoring session is on a certain maths topic, the tutor has like five puzzles for each topic, presents them to the player in random order, and the expectation is only a really good player will be able to solve the whole set in the allotted time with the expectation being more like getting three puzzles right or getting 1 right and needing the tutor to explain a second.

If anyone likes this idea, they are more than welcome to run away with it, and if anyone knows a game with a remotely similar premise, I’d love to hear about it, even if there’s no actual sex and at best the tutor just flirts back or the player gets to go on dates with her instead of everything being tutoring sessions. Or any IF where you can romance a girl who’s brainy and not afraid to show it.

Though, perhaps one reason I’m more open to sexual content in IF than some others might be comes down to the fact, even if I could find ones that are accessible to blind players, I wouldn’t get as much out of a mainstream eroge as a sighted player would, and unless someone makes sci-fi-style virtual reality an actual reality, that isn’t likely to change(though count me in for permanently hooking my brain up to a webcam if anyone ever figures out a non-invasive means of projecting digital images directly into the visual cortex(or whatever the relevant part of the brain is called), bypassing the eyes and optic nerves entirely.