I don’t normally seek out erotic visual novels, but if I did, I doubt I’d leap to describe them as “delightful.” But Sugarscript’s Cute Demon Crashers proved the exception in both of these, by not only getting me to play a sexy dating sim but leaving me with a warm fuzzy feeling that (you’d think) would be uncharacteristic of the genre. If you look at the creators’ mission statement, though, you’ll realize that was the point:
In our team, we felt there was a need of consent and safe spaces in 18+ VNs for women, and NaNoRenO 2015 was the perfect excuse to make a game to fit those needs!
Consent and comfort is a massive, integral part of Cute Demon Crashers. College student Claire (who the player can rename) accidentally summons three incubi and one succubus who sense that she’s lonely, and over the course of the game she can bond with them and learn about them, and, if she wants to, pick one to have sex with that night. Whichever adorable sexy demon she picks, the ensuing sex scene is sweet, gentle, sometimes funny, and each demon is lovely in their own unique way. Because consent is an integral part of the development team’s mission, it’s an integral part of the gameplay: plenty of options pop up throughout the scene, with Claire’s lovers asking her if she wants to do this, or that, or stop. And indeed, a big stop button is available in the corner of the screen at all times. If you hit the button or want to back down, the demons never make Claire feel bad about it, and they do everything they can to make sure she’s physically and emotionally comfortable throughout the whole process.
There are no bad ends in this visual novel. It’s entirely about having a good time and exploring sexuality in a fun, safe, and comfortable way, with the magical love demon aspect managing to be adorable rather than skeevy like it could be. The whole game was a delightful and fun experience, which is why I’m super excited that Sugarscript has announced that they’re working on a “Side B” sequel/spinoff for the game.
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Until Dawn is one of the most aggressively straight pieces of media I’ve come across. All but two of its eight main characters are set up as romantic/sexual pairs, and defined as this in the quick flash of character introduction we get at the start of the game. It’s equally important for the player to know that Ashley is “academic” as it is to know that she has a crush on Chris, and given how wafty the characterisation in the game can be, their relationship status becomes one of the few concrete things we do know about them. The only two characters who aren’t either dating someone of the opposite gender or mutually crushing on someone of the opposite gender are Josh and Sam, and Josh spends half the game making lewd jokes like “I just want to push her down and make some snow angels you know?” about the girls.
Sam is a strange outlier in that her relationship identifier is “Hannah’s best friend” rather than “Emily’s boyfriend” or “Mike’s ex” or “has a crush on Ashley”. Josh is noted as Hannah and Beth’s older brother (for clarity, mostly, so in case you missed the brief mention of it in the prologue you know this important bit of information and the story will make sense), but this still leaves Sam as the only one defined by a platonic relationship. Which really, really sticks out like a sore and lonely thumb when everyone else is paired off for their respective storylines into romantic couples rife with sexual tension, some… more believable than others.
You spend enough time with Jess and Mike to see their chemistry, but Emily and Matt seem to just fight and belittle each other the entire time save for occasionally announcing that they really, really want to sleep together. Which is not what a healthy, normal, or well-written relationship looks like. Frankly, it feels forced, like the writers jammed them together into a couple because that’s just what teenagers do, right? Are horny for each other? Continue reading
If you’re involved in any writing course or writers’ group you’ll invariably find yourself faced with a seminar of some sort about The Publishing Industry. These are generally informative and terrifying, and detail all sorts of fun stuff like the importance of getting an agent, rejection letters, editors missing the point of the story and wanting to change weird shit, and how you must rewrite everything at least sixty times before it’s ready to hit an appraisal office’s desk let alone shelves. It can all be disheartening and scary and all that business can shrivel your creativity to a raisin-like state, so it was a breath of fresh and intriguing air to find a novel about The Publishing Industry in Scott Westerfeld’s Afterworlds. And one that got really gay, too! Bonus!
Lizzie Scofield survives a terrorist attack by pretending to be dead—and she pretends so well that she wills herself in the afterworld, the in-between grey-scale realm populated by ghosts and spirit guides. This act has planted her in a limbo state between alive and dead that makes her a spirit guide/grim reaper/psychopomp/Valkyrie herself, and she begins to learn how this all works from the sparkling and handsome Yamaraj… this is the plot of Darcy Patel’s debut novel. By luck that even she can’t quite believe, Darcy’s passion project (created for something that is never named NaNoWriMo but definitely is) is accepted by a New York publisher and bought for a huge sum of money, propelling the eighteen-year-old into the world of Professional Writers. Continue reading
Fangirl was/is a very important book to me. It did so many things that I rarely saw and it did them relatively well—a character deeply ensconced in fandom, who writes fanfiction on an industrial scale and deeply loves it, and isn’t presented at all as a parody or something awkward to kind of laugh at; a look at the way fandoms can shape and help people and the incredible catharsis that can come from engaging with a creative work; a protagonist with anxiety disorder; a fictional mother that left rather than tragically dying as is the norm; the horrors of plagiarism as a legitimate antagonistic plot device; and, and this is one of the big ones honestly: a YA love interest I actively liked.
Guys, Fangirl was good. Cath was a great, relatable and three-dimensional protagonist and I came to really adore her and support her, and in the end her coming of age didn’t involve her leaving fandom and fanfic behind so much as branching out and embracing other kinds of creativity and friendship as well. And good lord, her relationship with her soft, sweet, good-hearted but ultimately flawed and human love interest Levi was a rare gem of teen romance that I really connected to and enjoyed.
Upon finishing this novel, filled with the popping candy joy of completing a good book, I realised something I hadn’t really thought to notice while reading it: gay people only exist in fanfiction. Continue reading
[Spoilers ahead for Sense8 and Dumbing of Age; contains discussion of transphobia and homophobia]
Just because a story’s world is prejudiced and awful, doesn’t mean the story itself is. In fact, in some cases the story bends the world to its will in order to protect the characters that said world is cruel to.
Sense8’s Nomi Marks, for instance, is a transwoman living in a very transphobic world—even at a Pride celebration, a group of women bully her by erasing her gender identity in a variety of rude and obnoxious ways, and she also has to contend with her overbearing, equally obnoxious mother, who insists on guilt-tripping her and calling her by her (male) birth name. These are things that happen to real people every day, and they’re awful—unfortunately, Nomi is also a protagonist in a sci-fi TV show, so it can only get worse.
And it does: Nomi ends up trapped in hospital awaiting an operation that will effectively lobotomise her, the papers signed by her mother, who insists “I love you, Michael, and this is for your own good” (even if Mrs Marks is kept in the dark about the lobotomy because, as it turns out, it’s secret government agency psychic stuff, the sentiment is still horrifying, and presented as so). The nurses won’t listen to her, she ends up handcuffed to the gurney, and everything is absolutely terrifying and awful, and Nomi sobs for someone to help her. It looks like a bleak fate lies ahead for the show’s sole trans character.
But then, someone does come to help Nomi. Continue reading
So many Dumbing of Age characters wear glasses. It might seem like nothing out of the ordinary and nothing to get excited about, but usually prescription eyewear is designated to only one or two characters out of the cast—and will usually be used as visual coding for what kind of person they are. Orphan Black, for instance, stars a bunch of genetically identical clones who should all have perfect eyesight if one of them does, but Cosima wears glasses so that we know she’s The Smart One. Hey, the nerd girl in Dumbing of Age wears glasses, but… so does the ex-cheerleader, the up-and-coming political student, the party-loving advocate for sexual freedom, the roller derby star, and the alcoholic angry Canadian. Eyesight problems do not discriminate between types of people, kind of like in real life!
[Spoilers for the comic from here on out, mostly to do with who gets together with who]
This webcomic overall has a good tactic going on by filling its cast with different kinds of the same thing, creating a spectrum and avoiding stereotyping. Continue reading
I always admire authors that can switch between genres with ease, just as I admire authors who can write progressive stuff without wholly making a fanfare of how progressive they’re being. And if nothing else, I have to admire Malinda Lo not just for her lovely and addictive prose but for her ability to create a problem opposite to what I usually have: being emotionally invested in a YA love triangle and legitimately interested in how it turns out, perhaps even more than my interest in the main spine of the story. Holy cow, right? Is that even possible?
Malinda Lo has two branches to her writing career, the first being the fantastical Ash and Huntress, set in the same world but many years apart, and the modern-day (quite literally set a little while into the future after it was written, which gives you a hell of a surreal feeling when the story dates itself at August 4th 2014 and you’re reading it on August 2nd) sci-fi conspiracies-and-aliens-and-psychic-powers-oh-my! duology Adaptation and Inheritance. As previously discussed, the two genres really are two sides of the same coin, and though I feel like she has an easier grip of her fantasy books (the writing is much prettier, in any case) each of Lo’s series are as enjoyable as each other and retain an aftertaste recognisable to all her writing. And bisexuals. Did I mention that?
Sorry, I’m just a little excited. Apparently it’s a tricky thing to deal with in fiction, most likely because it’s also a tricky thing to deal with in real life and the swathes of erasure and negative stigmas against bisexual people in both. Which is a shame, because first of all and on a serious note, that’s ruining a lot of lives and pushing a lot of people into closets they don’t want to be in. And secondly because, as I talked about before, there’s something inherently interesting about a multi-gender love triangle, perhaps because it’s just a break from the norm (girl torn between two hunks, or hunk with two girls at war over him, typically) or because people attracted to more than one gender simply gives way to even larger and wackier love quadrangle shenanigans. I love a good tangle of affection, when they’re done well. And my gosh does Malinda Lo do it well. Continue reading