I hadn’t yet decided how I was going to begin my Spotlight article on the game Seduce Me when I read publisher No Reply‘s press release. Within it was the following exchange with Game Designer Miriam Bellard;

Why did you make an adult game?
Because there aren’t any. There aren’t any high-quality, full-length, modern, Western erotic games out there. And this is wrong. Book lovers have many erotic books to choose from. Japanese gamers have an entire genre of games to choose from. But the Western gamer has next to nothing.

An excellent point, something I’ll look at further in a bit.

I first heard about Seduce Me while reading an article on IGN about “porn” in games. IGN had interviewed Ms. Bellard, and her opinions on the erotic in gaming were interspersed throughout the article. I felt, as I was reading, that she and I had many similar opinions about sexuality in gaming. Sadly, IGN’s article was very narrow-minded and fairly dismissive of the topic.

But this only spurred me to investigate the game further, and reach out directly to Seduce Me‘s creators. I’m pleased to say that my email exchanges with Ms. Bellard were extremely pleasant, and galvanized my desire to get the word out about her and Art Director Andrejs Skuja‘s creation. I’ll state here and now that; yes, I was given the press pack and all images in this article have been used with permission, and; yes, I was provided with a copy of the game (which I wasn’t even sure would work on my ancient machine). But these things were only offered after I had already made up my mind and pitched my desire to write about what I already knew of Seduce Me and its creative team. Because not only is their game worth attention, but what they are trying to do is even more important.

Before I get ahead of myself, let’s talk a bit about the game. The plot revolves around being invited to socialite Pietra’s villa. Beautiful people and amorous intent lie around every corner, and the player character is more than happy to pursue any of it that he can. Everything about Seduce Me is lovely and sleek. From the brief opening story set-up, to the title screen, to the villa I would expect James Bond to be hanging out in mid-mission, there isn’t a single detail I don’t enjoy looking at.

I DARE you to try to claim that Ian Fleming wouldn’t read a bird watching book on this patio.

But, of course, this a game about bedding beautiful women, right? Pretty much everyone’s first question is, “How do the ladies look?”

Well, I could say “beautiful” or “amazing” or “sensual.” Or I could just do this;

Hot enough for you?

Mr. Skuja’s artistic talent has been put to good use, creating a cast of characters that are extraordinarily pleasing to the eye. They are not cartoons; there is realism both in how they have been painted and the proportions they have been gifted. There are many, many paintings of the four main (i.e. seduce-able) women, and a variety of secondary characters (both male and female) to assist or distract you during your pursuit. I could stare at any one of them all day (yep, even the men).

At this point I feel many people wouldn’t even bother asking about game-play (which I will get to later on), and stop at, “The women are good-looking? Great, thanks!” and think Seduce Me‘s importance is at an end. But that is short-sighted. The game’s title is significant and well-chosen. As Ms. Bellard said in the quote I pulled at the start of the article, there are “…many erotic books to choose from. Japanese gamers have an entire genre of games to choose from. But the Western gamer has next to nothing.”

Now, before anyone takes umbrage with that statement and starts wailing, “What about this?” and “But there’s that!” stop and ask yourself; what is the game about? If, after a long hard thought, you realize your eager example is actually more about fucking than anything else, don’t bother mentioning it. Ms. Ballard’s not talking about porn, she’s talking about eroticism.

Seduction.

And she’s right.

Now, if you’re reading this and saying, “Why should I work to see a nude woman?” then this is not for you. And I doubt an erotic book is for you, or a full length movie. And that is fine. There is an entire Internet designed for getting straight to the naughty bits, certainly feel free to go play with that.

But there is a reason there are erotic books, a reason there are full-length erotic movies, and a reason Seduce Me is important. It is not a game about fucking. It is a game about the seductive journey. And, for many, that is as important, if not more so, than the act of sex itself. And it is something that is lacking in many “adult” games.

In fact, the entire Erotic genre suffers from a problem in each of the previously mentioned mediums without realizing it. When you read a book, or watch a film, and you meet the Female Love Interest, you know she’ll eventually succumb to the main character’s advances. Yes, there’s a story, character development, a series of events and circumstances that crumble whatever preconceived obstacles are put in the way of the characters at the start. But that is all smoke and mirrors, a mutually agreed upon (but silent) understanding that the reader will pretend to not know what will ultimately happen if the author is creative enough getting there. But this is not true seduction, because the result is always the same; failure to bed this character is never a realistic possibility. It is, no matter how enjoyable the journey, inevitable.

But the same cannot be said for a Game. It’s outcome is determined by a fundamental difference lacking from all other medium; your input.

Seduce Me captures a thrill that many modern games of all genre have lost – you can fail. I don’t mean lose a life, or restart from your last save point, I mean full on Battletoads start-from-the-Start fail. I’ve played the game nearly a dozen times now, and failed just as many times.

But that is good.

I’ve been talking a lot, so please enjoy Tiffany enjoying Esper for a moment.

Failure is the unique attribute that the game medium brings to the table. The main character can’t fail a book. They can’t fail in a movie. Hell, in most cases they can’t really fail in games anymore. But you can fail at Seduce Me, getting kicked out of the house and sent back to the well-designed (but thankfully brief) opening sequence to start a new story (although you will always experience some of the same vignettes, I was pleased to find each of my games starting with different character first-encounters and different interactions). This overhanging knowledge that “enough screw ups and your chances of scoring are done” lends a level of adrenaline that other mediums can’t provide. And the auto-save makes sure your actions stick.

More importantly, it means the main character’s actions and seduction have weight. There is actual meaning and consequences to what happens.

Let’s pause my ranting here and get to Seduce Me‘s game play design, which is what makes this tension possible. It also keeps me coming back. Each interaction – Conversation, Flirting, Confrontation, etc. – is a unique “card game.” This is much better than a string of dialogue trees. Why? Because you can learn dialogue trees. Oh, Esper likes A, B, and C? I know from my last few play-throughs that mentioning A gets me this, and B gets me that. Dialogue trees mean there’s a built-in diminishing-return on the possibility of failure each time you play. But boiling down conversations to card game dynamics means you still have to be on your toes when approaching the characters, whether it is your 10th or 100th game.

But your 100th game will go better than your 10th because, even at only a dozen visits to Pietra’s villa, I could already sense my skills improving. Some of the games don’t have the most straight-forward rules, so I was still referring to the Quick Guide even on my 7th visit, but I was using it less and less. And success isn’t determined just by learning the rules. Unlike playing Strip Poker (where you can just keep winning and eventually see boobs) Seduce Me is striving to emulate a type of human interaction. There has to be finesse to your victories.

Talk too bombastically without letting others be a part of the conversation, and you’ll be shunned. Completely overwhelm someone you’re trying to flirt with and you’ll get nowhere. I haven’t played enough to know for sure if the differing requirements for winning a hand are determined by the character traits of the woman/women you are interacting with, but I certainly suspect that is the case. Either way, each interaction requires you to think about how you’re going to play, sometimes even requiring you to lose the majority of a card game in order to gain points with the ladies. And sometimes you just aren’t dealt a winning hand.

And, honestly, how more realistic could that get?

A “Conversation” between the Player, Tiffany, and Esper. Your “thoughts” (i.e. hand of cards) is bottom center.

I think that the strive for realism is the first thing people get tripped up on when misunderstanding Seduce Me‘s purpose. Players expect to win games today. To get their way. That they can just plow forward hitting buttons until they get what they want. But in Pietra’s villa there is no sure-fire method to get any of the characters naked, no way to bulldozer your way through to getting what you want in Seduce Me, and that is a powerful lesson. This is not a case of, “Press A 7 times to sleep with this character no matter what other decisions you’ve made in the game.” This is a rare case where the women in a game have power. That power is the ability to say what nary a man wants to hear, but should always be able to gracefully accept; “No.”

To the haters of Seduce Me, I ask; How is that a bad life lesson?

That is the risk of seduction’s reward; being told “No” despite your best efforts and energy. That is why the ability to fail is such an important part of not only Seduce Me, but any game claiming to be “erotic.” Without “No” you don’t have true Seduction. The pursuit of a woman, when you’ve removed the option of “No,” has its own terrible name. And that is what has no place in gaming.

Thanks for sticking with me so far, here’s another of Mr. Skuja’s beautiful pictures.

Alright, let me step down from my soap box here and try to bring things in a little.

I’m enjoying Seduce Me. Regardless of intent or realism or any of those other things I’ve mentioned, a game does need to be fun, and it really has been fun to play. Like all things erotic, I think it has its happy and helpful place in life. As someone still blissfully enjoying a now 8-year relationship, Seduce Me provides a little thrill of truly harmless flirting when I have some spare moments. And it was Amber who had the benefit of a slightly friskier Dan the first evening after I actually made some progress in Pietra’s villa (oh, Lilia, you naughty girl you…).

Like all games, I think it is important to come into it knowing what you’re getting, and why you should want to play it. If someone complained that Tetris was a terrible game because you don’t shoot enough things they’d be laughed at. Seduce Me‘s purpose is not to be a sleek gallery of naughty pictures. It is a game. Anyone who owned a Game Genie but still felt the value of playing Super Mario Bros. 3 without cheating should understand Seduce Me‘s challenge and place in our modern landscape. If you’re not willing to play the game for the reward then it isn’t for you, it’s as simple as that.

But it is worth playing.

By now, most of my usual readers are probably wondering, “…this is great, Dan, but what does it have to do with transformations?” That is a valid question, and for you I have two answers.

The first is the greedy answer, the self-serving answer. A game like this could be perfect for our audience. With a few tweaks, it would be perfect for us. Imagine, instead of being a normal man meandering the villa wooing the ladies in an attempt to enjoy what carnal pleasures that have to offer, you are a genie. Or a wizard. Or a demon. Or even an angel. Now, you are not at the villa to sleep with anyone, you are trying to seduce their most secret desires from them. Succeed, and you get to decide how those desires are manifested. Fail, and you are bottled. Or banished. Or transformed yourself. Perhaps we’ve gotten little glimpses of games online before, but nothing to this degree of polish, professionalism, and poise. Does that help flesh out the importance of Seduce Me?

The second answer, the real answer, the one that really matters, the answer I was first struck with, is that Ms. Bellard and Mr. Skuja are trying to push the boundaries of what is acceptable in a medium. All fans of the erotic, whatever field or niche you fall into, should support this goal. I’m sure many think a topless mermaid isn’t a big deal nowadays, but maybe back in 1943 it was photographed before it was painted over for being too salacious.

And here we have, in today’s modern world, an illustrated game about consenting adults having mature interactions which has been pulled or rejected from multiple sales platforms – sales platforms which sell plenty of games with graphic violence and situations where you can bed women who aren’t able to turn down your advances in their games.

For what it is trying to do, and trying to be, Seduce Me deserves attention. It deserves support. Because someday I’d really like to look back and say, “People had a problem with this game? Man, that’s as silly as complaining about a wall mural with a topless mermaid.”

Seduce Me can be purchased directly from No Reply Game‘s website: http://www.seducemegame.com/buy.html

As always, feel free to discuss below, or take your thoughts to No Reply Games‘s own forum: http://noreplygames.com/forum/