March 28, 2015 7:00 AM | Joel Couture
There's something really weird and unsettling about most video game dating, right? Or even making friends? How getting closer to someone in a game involves studying what the person wants and saying or doing the right thing? How many times have I looked at a walkthrough to make sure I got with a certain person in a game like Mass Effect by saying what they wanted to hear? Looking up things they liked and specifically doing them? That's...creepy. That's a bit of a digital equivalent of spying on someone and going through their garbage. Not exactly, but games, with their focus on turning all interaction into win/lose situations, don't exactly have the best systems in place for social interactions. This is where Christine Love's Ladykiller in a Bind (also known by a much, much longer name) comes in.
You find yourself trapped on a cruise ship for seven days, and you're pretending to be your twin brother. The interesting part is that, well, no one much likes your brother, so they mess with you. This places players in a balancing act of trying to behave like your brother, but still get people who dislike him to like you. This is all done through a dynamic conversation system which doesn't bring all conversation to a halt while the other characters blink and stare, waiting for a response. Conversation options (each with a certain tone to them, which is clearly marked) show up as other characters speak, and these will be appropriate to what the other characters are saying. Sit there quietly (like I do in real life) and those options soon disappear, and your ability to say anything goes away. This adds an actual element to conversation that is often missing from game dialogue.
The game's awareness that the character you're trying to be is a bit scummy is what makes it intriguing. It's already acknowledged that dating sim behavior is slimy and weird, and people are aware you're trying to give them the 'right' answer. Getting someone to like you in that situation is what makes Ladykiller in a Bind so unique, and since you can't sit and stare at dialogue options all day, it also involves the player in making a more personal character than just some construct that gets the appropriate result. Exploring aspects of video game dating, social manipulation, sex as a step in a relationship instead of an end goal, consent, and kink, Ladykiller in a Bind will be exploring some very complex, very NSFW material when it releases some time this year.