Warnings: language about sex, specifically relating to BDSM
I played through Merritt Kopas‘ Consensual Torture Simulator today, a Twine game about the player’s experience as a dom walking a submissive partner through a particularly intense session of play, where the balance is set as checking your desire to get your partner to the breaking point she asks you to reach while not actually going to far in inflicting real harm to her physically. It’s steamy, but in a literary, introspective sort of way.
What I found particularly interesting is how well the flow of BDSM activity translates to relatively straightforward game mechanics. As someone who has (TMI all through this, but hey, we’re adults) been in a dom situation regularly in the past in very similar circumstances, the thing that I’ve always said about sexual activity in that context is that responsible dominant behavior and pain play skews towards more heady, thinking-over-feeling ways of approaching sex. One has to balance the physical capabilities of both partners to perform actions, your partner’s capacity to withstand punishment, the emotional state of both parties, and the general flow of achieving your stated goals of a session in as fun and elegant a way as possible.
All that stuff is ultimately (even though I’m loathe to use the word) gamification, down to the slang of calling BDSM (or other sexual activities) play, and what CTS gets right is how it feels in a dom position to choose from a variety of potential actions to get specific feedback from your partner. When my partner is standing there expectantly, and I’m given a collection of verbs, do I start with scratching or do I go straight to the cane? The responses are entirely in the form of physical feedback, so whatever justification of choice you have rests entirely on the player.
( The answer, btw, is a slap to the face, because it focuses the attention and causes the pain-as-pleasure response without overstimulating more sensitive areas that receive later attention. This isn’t a justification that the game cares about, as far as I can tell, but ultimately in this intimate space what you bring to the table as a dom hoping for a positive experience for both parties is as important as how the sub responds to your administrations. )
It’s certainly a situation that could be abused, in that you’re given a character who explicitly states a deep trust in you and are given the means to inflict pain on them. Your sub gives you a safe word, supposedly to use if things get too intense, and your character is given the power to break for some care or even end the session outright at any time. The game then basically hands you the same rules of trust that a submissive partner would hand you in the same situation: here’s the rules, here’s the outs, I trust you to make the most of it.
That’s not a light responsibility, so I couldn’t tell you if the game has a fail state or not because I didn’t try to see where the situation would break down. This scenario is very close to actual experiences I’ve had, and as a person who has accepted that responsibility in the real world I don’t think I could ever go the other way even in a consequence-free space ‘just to see what would happen’. That the game can trigger that response is both a testament to its writing and to how gracefully CTS mirrors actual BDSM play if you go into it with the appropriate attitude. Which is probably why it’s called a simulator.