July 26, 2011
inside the anything-goes world of NYC indie arcade Babycastles, these mainstream norms need not apply. As such, “Bad Bitches,” the DIY arcade’s latest exhibit, includes games that unflinchingly tackle issues of gender-swapping, sexual deviancy, dom/sub relationships and more.
Behind a rusted metal door on Kent Avenue in Brooklyn, crowds gather to try the games that their local Gamestop won’t touch with a 10-foot pole.
While Babycastles’ new warehouse digs don’t resemble any kind of kinky club, the worlds inside the games certainly do. Almost immediately upon arriving I ran into Gamasutra editor Leigh Alexander, the exhibit’s curator. “We’re trying to get to the sex scene!” she announced emphatically, with a hint of impatience. She and a few others were standing in front of a hand-carved arcade cabinet housing an obscure import game called Yin-Yang: X-Change Alternative, a Japanese dating sim where the main character switches genders using magic potions in order to have sex with all of his/her classmates.
The exhibit’s two “headlining” games were both developed by indie creator Anna Anthropy. Alexander had nothing but praise for Anna, a talented game designer and critic who has won a great deal of admiration in the indie gaming community. Both of Anthropy’s games at Babycastles focus on the same decidedly non-conventional topic of BDSM relationships. But through her clever use of familiar game design tropes and humor, even the conservative and squeamish find little, if any, barrier of entry.
One of Anthropy’s most recognized games, Mighty Jill Off uses its insanely challenging platforming to parallel the difficulties of being on the lower half of a dom/sub relationship. It’s a fitting metaphor as “abusive” games of this kind share a long history dating back to the days of the original NES. Other modern day examples like Battle Kid and I Wanna Be The Guy take this idea to sadistic extremes, causing gameplay to feel more like a battle of wits against the game’s diabolical designer.
Accompanied on either side by decorated department store mannequins and projected against the venue’s dusty south wall, Lesbian Spiders Queens of Mars is the exhibit’s most prominent game. It’s the “dom” to Mighty Jill Off‘s “sub,” involving a distraught femme-arachnid who must whip and ensnare her subordinates back into submission. Originally made for Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim game portal, the PacMan-like black & neon playing field makes it seem like it might have easily blended in at an arcade in the 1980’s, bare-breasted spider maidens notwithstanding.
Like prior Babycastles lineups, the games are perfectly suited to the wry humor and alternative sensibilities of young Brooklyn. But Alexander and co. hope that the games will also help promote a greater understanding of sexuality, coaxing sex out of video game marketing departments and into more erotic, adventurous places.
Read the full article at the Motherboard website. Her book Rise of the Videogame Zinesters will be out in March 2012.