With the ever-growing selection of adult games, there is no shortage of choices when it comes time to shake hands with the milkman. As the industry grows, it will become more and more important to differentiate what purpose a game aims to serve when determining if the game is worth purchasing or not. I want to outline what I believe are two different purposes adult games set out to serve, what sets them apart, and some of the design obstacles associated with them.
The first purpose is to provide an audience with an alternative to traditional pornography. This purpose encompasses games that focus on straightforward delivery (often requiring one button to advance) and requires minimal effort for the player to consume. This purpose serves a broad audience because adult games can more accurately portray fantasies, relationships, and personality than what can be found in regular forms of pornography. As such, they primarily focus on delivering a rich story for the player to immerse themselves in. The goals when targeting this purpose are minimal effort from the player, superb writing, and quality material to choke their chicken to.
The second purpose is to provide an audience with a gratifying gameplay experience alongside meaningful adult content. These games often expand on existing SFW formats by adding heavy adult themes to the narrative. After all, who doesn’t wish more mainstream games included explicit adult content? Typically these games provide lewd content through unlockables, galleries, and other mediums that aren’t directly related to the core gameplay loop. As such, the lewd content in these games feel much more decoupled from the core gameplay and feel less like a porn game and instead of an adult-themed game.
Why is it so important to distinguish these from each other? Because I think it’s important to recognize what purpose a game aims to serve in order to be critical and considerate of its gameplay. If you’re looking for gameplay with refreshing mechanics in a game that serves the purpose of providing you with quality material for you to jerk off to, then it’s not the game’s fault. You weren’t considerate of what purpose the game serves beforehand and whether it lines up with your expectations. By now, I think most consumers of adult games recognize what they want out of a game and drift towards those that suit their needs. However, every now and then, I’ll read reviews and criticism where the writer completely disregards the purpose the game serves and I find it really inconsiderate and especially unhelpful for anyone involved. This is why I think it’s important to establish how different games serve different purposes and how we should be considerate of that when providing criticism.
Now that I’ve explained these two different purposes an adult game may serve, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re mutually exclusive to each other. Albeit challenging, I believe some games have created a remarkable balance between the two by providing both interesting gameplay and satisfactorily lewd content for the player’s enjoyment. In my opinion, this balance is an ongoing challenge for a lot of developers that set forth to push the boundaries of what an adult game can provide. Just because something is challenging, I don’t think it’s not worth doing. As more and more developers face this challenge, we will continue to see improvements in the overall production and value of new titles in our industry.
To approach this on a deeper, more technical level, I recommend that if you haven’t listened to Alex Jaffe’s talk on Cursed Problems In Game Design I suggest you do. I’ll summarize his talk without outlining the entire hour of material he provides on the subject so that you may listen to it for yourself. Alex provides a method of questioning specific design challenges on whether they are intrinsically unsolvable or are difficult but solvable. He presents intrinsically flawed designs as cursed problems that are rooted in a conflict between core player promises. So what are two core player promises that may be present in an adult game that aims to balance both purposes mentioned above? The first promise may be the usage of elaborate systems that require much of the player’s focus and input to navigate, while the other promise is to serve an alternative to pornography for the player to consume. I believe this is a cursed problem because you cannot require a players to focus both on elaborate mechanics and heavy input while also providing content to fap to simultaneously.
An opposite approach to this cursed problem can be seen in visual novels produced in RenPy. The input required from the player is narrowed down to a single button, and the focus to navigate dialogue is minimal. This enables the player to focus on the story, immersion, and what content is being provided. Therefore, providing a much more forgiving and paced experience which allows the player to self-indulge in the adult content more easily. Something like a fast-paced first-person shooter provides no time for the player to stop and indulge in whatever adult content there could be and would be a terrible design choice for an adult game. That is, unless you reconsider how the adult content is presented and when you are requiring the player to focus on it, your game design goals could hinder the delivery of your adult content. I’ve noticed that developers who encounter these design challenges in their game will pivot toward offering adult content in the form of rewards, unlockables, or non-canon extras for the player to view at their own discretion to combat the natural hindrances of their choice of genre. This allows for the player to focus on the elaborate systems when playing the game while rewarding them with adult content they can revisit later on for their own pleasure.
In conclusion, before being critical or judgmental of what features a game has and how they’ve implemented them, consider its purpose and what sort of design obstacles may be associated with it. Furthermore, if a game doesn’t tailor towards your idea of what purpose an adult game should serve, that doesn’t make it intrinsically bad. A visual novel serves an entirely different purpose then an adult match-three game. Recognizing the difference between the two is the first step we as an industry can take towards being more supportive and helpful with one another.