I don’t know what to say about Nicolau Chaud’s Polymorphous Perversity. That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to say about it; quite the opposite, in fact! It’s just that I went in to the RPG expecting a commentary on human sexuality, some reveal of a deeper truth. I was looking to explore the psychology of sex and the libido, as Chaud has a background in psychology.
The problem with saying something about this game is that what I have to say is difficult. Worse, it’s subjective; my first ten minutes with the game left me feeling very uncomfortable. My final ten minutes with the game left me annoyed. There is a lot to say about wading through the gray mud of that journey, so I’ll just start at the beginning.
Hook, line, and sink her
Polymorphous Perversity opens with a quick splash screen quickly explaining the controls. The sound of fapping—masturbation—permeates from the background. It left me with a disgusting feeling in my stomach. As I stared at a black screen, confused as to what was going on, I realized it sounds more like the patting of an air-filled rubber ball, but being in the dark gave it the context of masturbation. I sat in silence, a voyeur unsure of what to do next. Did the game crash or is this timed? What is going on?
Shortly after barging in on the main character, he’s bound, injected with something, and told to swallow. The dialogue suggests he’s being sexually assaulted, but it might very well just be an experimental injection. The lack of context at this point is intentional, as it intends to mislead and let us set up our expectations for what comes next. The dialogue actually reminded me of a web comic from a few years back called Abstract Gender wherein the main character, Ryan, a boy, is subjected to an experiment against his will. He wakes up as a girl, who is soon renamed Rachel by friends. Rachel refuses her new gender, secretly identifying as a male and resentful of her new body throughout the comic’s 200-page run; Abstract Gender was never finished, but it can be read here.
The proper game starts in a train station, set to Phantom Train music from Final Fantasy VI; I remember it well from my childhood. Is it a deliberate choice, designed to evoke feelings of nostalgia from within me?1 Because of the ambient ricketyrack of the train in the music, I initially interpreted this as starting on a train; trains tend to symbolize a life of destiny or the journey of life speeding toward death. My impression was that the player is a captive in a human trafficking operation; a victim who needs to escape. At this point I was ten minutes into the game, and it had already managed to invoke a profound moment of self-reflection from within me.
In the first room the player wakes up in, there is a naked woman on a bed. She asks the character if he’d like to have sex with her. The character stammers a bit, unsure if he wants to answer the question. He doesn’t know if he wants to have sex. As a virgin myself, I’ve often mused about what my first sexual encounter would be like. Every single time, it’s the same way: I chicken out, saying the same thing the character does almost verbatim. The woman then offers to teach him how to have sex. Again, it’s another part of that musing, where my first sex partner is willing to teach me how to have sex.
The act of sex in Polymorphous Perversity is depicted as turn-based combat. “Fuck” is an attack and it does what it says on the tin. It looks awkward. I still don’t feel comfortable with this. After we’re done, she disappears as she’s fulfilled her destiny. Don’t worry, she’s not dead considering sex partners respawn after exiting and re-entering the room; I took this to mean that each partner needs a moment to recuperate before being ready to have more sex.
After leaving that first room, the horny meter is introduced: the player must have sex regularly or else he or she will die. In walking across the hallway into the second room and finding three more women to have sex with, I became more uncomfortable playing this game. After having sex with one woman, the character just forces himself onto other women. At this point I still had that sickly feeling in my stomach, and I was beginning to wonder if there will ever be any men to have sex with.
The tutorial is capped with a train departing to Cocota, the game’s first (if not only) town. The player meets a thin and sickly looking man. He claims he’s sickly looking because he has sickness of the heart. He says he likes heavier women because he likes to feel the weight on top of him. It presents an interesting juxtaposition: if he’s thin because he can’t find someone to love, then women must be fat because they’re radiating with love. It’s almost ironic. On the train, a waiter comes out and asks if he can get anything. The sickly man orders “pussy. Extra fat.” Wow, it IS a human trafficking operation! What a messed up world this game is set in.
Who else is trembling, hyperventilating, and needs to stop and take nice, deep breaths? Let’s take a quick break before moving into the next section.
When discomfort turned into offense
The story sends the player to Mount West Maze, the game’s first dungeon-esque area, looking for James Tonguelash’s daughter2; Tonguelash knows something about why my character is in this world and how to get out. The entrance to the dungeon is guarded by a pre-op transsexual woman, who is facing away from the camera to hide her penis. To get inside, the player has to have sex with the “tranny”; I don’t mean to offend any transsexuals with that, that’s just what they are referred to in the game itself. In effect, “it’s a trap!” This is further emphasized by the introduction of a new type of woman, a “submissive chick” who looks identical to the transsexuals; you are quite literally unaware of what you’re getting until it’s too late.3
Worse, the transsexuals have very demeaning dialogue; transsexuals in this game are presented as sex predators because of it. They all sound like men during sex. You get HPV after being penetrated by them. Doesn’t all of this convey a rather narrow worldview?
I take personal offense to how transsexuals are depicted because I have been struggling with my identity for many years. I remember being in the bathroom when I had the following thought: “I don’t like being a boy.” I was only seven or eight years old at the time.
I knew I would have to visit a psychiatrist to help me figure this out. I knew that they’d have to diagnose me with gender dysphoria. I knew that I’d have to take hormones and androgen blockers. I knew that I’d have to spend a few years transitioning from Adam to… Ada? I don’t know what my new name would have been. I knew that I’d have to deal with hair removal if I waited too long. I knew that if I wanted to go further, I’d need to visit a psychiatrist again to determine if I was fit for sex reassignment surgery. I knew all of this before I turned 10 years old. How fucked up is that?
I was always scared about accepting that I was thinking about these thoughts. I eventually pushed them to the back of my mind. Being surrounded by conservative homophobic and transphobic propaganda pretty much mandated that. I was always scared that my parents would flip out; I was afraid that my father would beat me—he was never a violent man, but I feared that hearing his son wasn’t his son would make him snap because that’s what I read in the “coming out” stories I found during my research. By that same token, I was afraid that my sisters would look at me with disgust, that I would be disowned by my own family.
In Cocota, there’s a man in James Tonguelash’s mansion named Gino. After returning from Mount West Maze, Gino has breast implants. After returning from the second dungeon (Mount East Ranch), Tonguelash has turned Gino into Gina. She’s a post-op transsexual at that point, and Tonguelash documented all two weeks of the transformation. The research journal reminded me once more of Abstract Gender, but also of Anna Anthropy’s dys4ia, which recounted her transition with hormone replacement therapy.
This game makes me feel too sick with what memories it brings back into focus. If I had some backbone when I was younger, I might be a transsexual woman right now. The depiction of transsexuals in this game made me too uncomfortable and too angry. I can’t play this game anymore.
After I exited the game, I did some more research into the transitioning process. It had been 13-14 years since I did my initial research. I talked to a few transsexual women about their own experiences. I learned that hormone replacement therapy requires regular visits with an endocrinologist, regardless of age. I learned that I’d feel uncomfortable in my own body for a long time while the hormones worked. I learned that hair removal is a very painful and very expensive process. I learned that a vaginoplasty is very expensive and can become more of a health risk the older the patient is. I realized if I wanted to act on these feelings that I should do so soon.
The power went out for three hours the night after I renewed my research. I couldn’t shake those old thoughts and feelings, as if I wouldn’t be able to bury them again after this. It was too much for me to deal with, and I’m at a point in my life where the future is uncertain and I don’t really have anything to lose. In the candlelit dark, I told my sisters, “I think I don’t like being a boy.” My oldest sister responded, “Yeah, men are kind of entitled assholes, aren’t they? No offense. Feminism is interesting and kinda depressing, isn’t it?”
She completely missed the point. I let out a sigh of relief; I wouldn’t have had anything to fear if I had told her all those years ago.
Was it worth it?
I came into Polymorphous Perversity expecting to go on a psychological expedition of human sexuality. I was expecting some deeper truth to be exposed, and that’s not really what I found. I found an ancient vault that was forcefully opened, when perhaps it should have been left interred.
That doesn’t mean that commentary isn’t being made, however. At best, this commentary just isn’t meaningful. At worst, it’s downright offensive. For example, shortly after arriving in Cocota the player can meet a male hooker. He teaches the player how to perform anal sex. The player can then pay $75 if they want to practice their new move on him. However, this is accompanied with the dialogue option (as in, the player character is saying this) of: “rape me my friend.” The hooker tells you to turn around and it’s time for sex. Anal sex is not intrinsically rape, otherwise gay men all over the world would be raping or getting raped by their partners every single day. Second, you’re paying the man for sex. That’s a business transaction. Paying for sex is a form of consent, thus it’s not rape.
As another example, Tonguelash’s 13-year old daughter, The Princess, is captured by the Minotaur. The player is tasked with saving her and bringing her back to Cocota. The Minotaur informs the player in no uncertain terms that he intends on raping The Princess, as she has “the gift” and can bring eternal happiness to the man who loves her. The Minotaur lets the player take the Princess away when the character says he doesn’t love her, therefore the gift cannot be his. After freeing The Princess, the Minotaur forces himself onto the player, and the battle is inevitably lost; this loss causes the horny meter to fill. After returning to Cocota, the Princess reveals that she does have “the gift.” The player character, feeling entitled to sex as a reward, then tells her to spread her legs because he’s “going downtown.” This suggests that he’s willing to rape to get what he wants, despite having literally just saved her from a rapist. The Princess then tells the player that she loves him, despite being threatened with rape. The entire exchange conveys that rape—and being raped—is okay and totally justifiable.
What. The. Fuck.
Aside from the beginning of the game where it briefly mentions the psychology of sex, there isn’t anything remotely engaging about the rest of Polymorphous Perversity. Psychology is used as a hook, but then just slaps sexual imagery everywhere to deliver on a theme that doesn’t actually exist. It lets the audience make their own conclusions, as it were. It reminds me more of Wish It, Want It, Do It from the sixth episode of Family Guy’s ninth season, “Brian Writes a Bestseller”; Brian Griffin writes an awful self help book that borders on satire—his book contains 10 blank pages where the reader can write down their wishes—but then he starts to take it seriously when it gains bestseller status and national attention.
That seems to very much be the case here, where Chaud sets up a look into how we develop our sexual identities, but then it delivers that world through constant innuendo. It’s a world obsessed with titillation but it doesn’t say anything meaningful about it to reveal some darker truth about our own world. What arguments it does make about sex and gender comes off as horribly misogynistic, transphobic, and begrudgingly accepting of homosexuality.
I don’t know if I’m happier identifying as a man or a woman. I don’t know if I’m hetero-, homo-, bi-, or pansexual. What I do know is what I’m taking away from playing Polymorphous Perversity: it’s okay to be yourself, just as long as you’re a sexually overactive male without decency or standards. Everyone else should be ashamed of themselves, including me.
I didn’t need this flaccid excuse of a game to tell me that.
- Later, in Mount West Maze, we hear the music of Sonic the Hedgehog‘s Marble Zone. Again, it’s an old game from my childhood. It seems very much that these choices are deliberate, to remind the player of their youth before puberty. This is further reinforced by some sound effects coming from Kirby’s Adventure, a game which I adored as a child. However, any deliberation is betrayed by the rest of the music selection; modern beats with lyrics referencing sex, lack of inhibition, and lust. The dissonance between what is and what was is sudden and without reason. It is almost surreal, in a way. ↩
- The Princess bears some resemblance to Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita. The Princess has just turned 13 and reading her diary suggests to us through innuendo that she is a nymphet. However, what differs between Lolita and Polymorphous Perversity is the presentation. In Lolita, the innuendo serves the story, and combined with mise en scène we are revealed the nature of the precocious girl’s relationship with Humbert; we have a deeper, albeit surreal, understanding of the characters and the game they’re playing. In Polymorphous Perversity, the innuendo is apropos of nothing. There is a lack of craft to the scenes and character motives are superficial at best. The Princess switches between grateful for being rescued to falling in love with her savior. She isn’t playing any games, so it comes off as being the player’s destiny to have sex with The Princess, that at the end of the journey a loving relationship and sex will be the ultimate reward. However, when presented with that destiny, the player character denounces The Princess; he can’t wait for her to be ready to have sex, he needs it now, even going so far as to suggest he’ll rape The Princess. The PC’s entitlement to sex and rejection of the The Princess belies anything interesting the game may have had to say, creating a feeling of disgust. ↩
- There’s nothing wrong with having sex with a trans woman, but in this game your sexual options are limited to dildos, anal sex, and handjobs. If you don’t have any of those, then you’re literally screwed and enter into a no-win state. ↩