A Trip Down Ovary Lane: Covert Sexual Advertising in Steam’s “Casual” Games
Chocolate advertisements and copy writing are some of the most hilarious and cringe-worthy erotica this side of a Bill Clinton/Jabba the Hutt slash fic. In an attempt to sell their product to undersexed mid-state housewives with barely-suppressed “native” barbarian fantasies, chocolate ads read like the rough draft scribblings of a Showtime script writer as he huffs across his own masturbatory finish line. Check out this chestnut:
“Crunchy bits of golden, caramelized honey mingle with deep dark chocolate, like secret lovers meeting on a warm summer night. Sweet and decadent, the HoneyComb bar will charm you…one nibble at a time.”
Holy shit, did I just buy a candy bar or softcore interracial porn?
Of course the primary goal of all advertising is to associate a product with an abstract idea or feeling in the mind of a consumer. If this means that a product made for and primarily marketed to women does so by appealing to certain repressed sexual desires, then it’s no worse than Axe not-so-subtly suggesting their products turn men into mind-control sex-gods.
What I didn’t realize was that an advertising paradigm used to sell candy could also be used to sell casual game titles, to what I imagine is largely the same audience. While explaining to my fiance the “Sparkle Ponies” phenomenon (google it), I randomly clicked on a suggested title at the bottom of the page, thinking I’d be ironic and funny and have a quick five-minute laugh. Little did I realize what my blasé, unknowing stab at hipster humor would uncover: a pitch-black rabbit hole of seething sexual frustration, lust and yes, even violence masquerading as a clutch of innocuous match-three games and hidden object titles. It was like watching Mulholland Drive but with more vegetables and horses.
I’ve returned from that dark corner of Steam with four of the creepiest, weirdest and most sexually frustrated titles the Steam casual market has to offer, each with its own attendant “titillosity” rating, which is a completely made-up metric of how much each game grossed me the fuck out. Read on at your own risk, with an understanding that you can never unlearn this knowledge: once you know that casual video games and m&ms appeal to roughly the same group of perpetually horny, 30-something overweight secretaries, there’s no going back.
From the product description:
“Clementine Valley used to be the place to be! It was world renowned for its fantastic fruit trees lovingly tended to by Old Jim. Unfortunately Jim has lost the energy to grow enough fruit to keep the locals happy, let alone attract the tourists Clementine Valley used to have. Luckily for Jim, Flora’s kind gesture showed him that she has the spirit to continue his legacy and he gives her his Magic Gardening gloves…”
Holy Freudian erotica, Batman! I don’t know what’s worse: The implications of the impotence of “Old Jim” to plow enough of Clementine Valley’s fields to “keep the locals happy” (whatever the hell that means), or the sinister implications of that ellipses at the end of the description. I mean, what were those gloves used for before Flora got her hands on them? Disposing of the bodies of children for fertilizer? Fuck.
The game also seems a little confused at what it’s trying to imply between the lines. There’s an awful sense of sexual humiliation, like “Old Jim” must be a cypher for one of the developer’s ex-boyfriends, but at the same time one of the features of the game is “Explore tree roots to discover new fruit seeds to grow and flower bulbs to plant.” Is it a message of revenge, or one of sexual exploration and confusion? Who the hell knows, but I don’t want to find out.
Okay, so I don’t necessarily want to give this game more than the minimum rating of “NEGATIVE MAXIMUM BONERKILL” considering the underlying themes of subjugation and lost fertility, but damn if Flora don’t have some fuck-me eyes. Seriously, just look at her.
Now here’s a game that doesn’t try to create any illusions about what it is: an island-tycoon game full of reassuringly homoerotic beefcake pin-up and not a woman in sight to fuck it up for you. “Your own private getaway is devoid of females,” the description soothingly states, “so find company among the brawny native gents who welcome you with succulent fruits.” That’s seriously the gayest thing I’ve seen since I accidentally googled “Manowar”
Even as up-front as Coconut Queen is about its attempts to sell you bad erotica through a tycoon game, though, it does so wearing its seething, all-consuming hatred of other women on its sleeve. We all know rom-com depictions of female camaraderie are bullshit and that most women left in the same room too long end up re-enacting Lord of the Flies, but there’s something chilling about the attitude being displayed so…brazenly. How many women died to build your rainbow island of non-threatening hyper-masculine delights, Coconut Queen? You’re hiding something. It’s only a matter of time.
I’m not gay, but this game isn’t made for straight men, so I’m willing to entertain the idea that someone out there, man or woman, may be titillated by the idea of an island full of badly-drawn Chipendales dancers that spend their days ignoring the only vagina within a thousand miles to give each other magical, oil-soaked rubdowns.
That’s right, teen girls! In a time where probable cause for beating your wife to death includes “burning the goddamn meatloaf,” you too can rage against the machine and incite culture revolution through the magic of sexual promiscuity! Like the game suggests, you can “Conflict using a variety of naughty mini-games: Taunt, Flirt, Fib and others to stand up against bullies, cozy up to boyfriends, and evade oppressive expectations.” Don’t bother trying to learn math or get a job, though, because we all know the only way a woman can get her way is with lies and vague, unfulfilled promises of sex. That’s okay, at least you can “ Win boyfriends and other useful prizes.”
I obviously have a vested interest in giving this game as low a titillosity score as possible, considering that it’s about teenage girls sexually acting out, and I don’t want to appear on some FBI watchlist next to Jullian Assange and that guy that broke a glass bottle off in his anus. But there’s something else about this game that makes my skin crawl, and I think it’s that your goal is to “Expose the town’s depraved secret before it entraps your girls.” Re-read that. Now read it again. I just…I…no. No.
In this Lynchian study on the inner id of a barren woman, the player creates and takes control of what the game repeatedly refers to as their “little friend”, guiding it on a journey to fulfill its genetic imperative. Through poor ripoffs of mechanics already done better in The Sims and art cribbed from a handicapped child’s refrigerator, Virtual Families tries desperately to recreate the experience of being the head of a household, but only succeeds in the same way that Buffalo Bill succeeds at being a woman.
The game even offers “fully trainable people”, allowing those that are “children-deficit” to impart psychological neuroses upon their virtual offspring through careful helicopter-parenting and vicarious expectations, just like a real mother would! The wonders of technology!
If there was ever a game that caused impotence by looking at it, this would be it. Staring into the dead, soulless eyes of its clip art character models, it’s hard not to imagine that somewhere deep down, beneath the endless folds of psychological horror and barely healed scars too dark and sad to mention, there’s a real person in there. And that person is screaming.