Sunday, April 12, 2015

Critical Switch: BBSD, Ludocentrism, and Abstraction

Kept you waiting, huh?

Yeah, the beginning of my April was pretty rough, not to go into too much detail now, but suffice to say that one of the results of my stress was having zero inspiration to write a new episode of Critical Switch, Which Is Supported By Listeners Like You At!

In any case, that phase has passed. Two weeks from now I'm going to be talking about the Souls games (yeah, that'll be fun) and this week I'm talking about Lulu Blue's new game, Bunny Bunny Smackdown.

Full disclosure of course, Lulu is a good friend of mine, I live like a mile up the road from her . . . but none of that actually matters to you.

Anyway, Bunny Bunny Smackdown is a game about bunnies having group sex. You have a Pounce button, a Kiss button, and a Smack button.

The game has a fun multiplayer mode where each of those mechanics shine brightly somewhat in abstract, but I think the single-player modes express the ideas a lot clearer.

You start off and everyone's more or less cool with everything, but as you progress through, you need to keep check of which bunnies have what rules. Some bunnies don't like to be pounced, others don't like to be paddled. So while you're jumping around and keeping track of this high paced action, it also keeps you in check by making you consider what people enjoy and what peoples boundaries are. This, of course, already makes it a far more mature systemization of sex than most that exist in videogames.

But something that makes it equally genius is that these mechanics are all borrowed wholesale from our existing understanding of action mechanics. The “Smack” button lets you swat the bunnies with a paddle that looks . . . familiar, in the context of a 2D action game, the “Kisses” are projectiles that just look different from most game projectiles.

What this means is that Blue understands how to use aesthetics and narrative context, even in a minimal sense, to recontextualize sets of interactions and make them mean different thing. Interpreting this as such falls to us as an audience of course.

Some have already said that they're disappointed to see that the game is “just swordfighting” because of the admittedly familiar look of the Smacking implement, but we can only call it “just swordfighting” if we acknowledge that textually what we see on screen is not a sword fight, but simply borrows hitboxes and frame data from games that actually have swords according to their own contexts.

That actually goes beyond ludocentrism into something even more insidious (and sadly typical) : it is not just that the narrative context of a game object becomes irrelevant, it's that people will tend to revert to the original contexts of these sorts of in-game objects and in-game verbiage. There are people who seemingly refuse to actually let the narrative context of certain hitboxes and lines of code be changed, and I think that's ultimately because they don't want them to.

Alternatively, it means they think new narrative contexts always demands new mechanics, which is obviously horseshit. If Square in the late-90's proved anything, it's that even the most minor alterations to the ludic structure of the Japanese Role-Playing Game provides fertile ground for games about anti-capitalism, spirituality, quiet moments of being in your bedroom alone, and even gorey monster schlock horror.

Now, granted, there's something else to think about: perhaps for a game about sex the interactions could feel more like sex? Well, for one, it's about bunnies, so it's not exactly a 1/1 relationship from human sex to this (not even for furries), but also I'd argue that what we might call the “abstraction” does more important things here. For one, it creates distance between our minds and something that tends to make our minds work . . . let's say “differently.” In this case, abstracting the sex away from a narrative context that would put the audience “in the mood” allows them to be more reflective on the thing the game values most, that being respect for partners boundaries during sex, and the idea that what you do is in service to the mutual pleasure of the both of you.

This is a small game, so I guess I should've foreseen this being a short episode.

I guess if I had to be critical, and I really feel like I'm nitpicking here, I think if the idea were developed more I'd like to see the ideas about consent, boundaries, kinks and such, being put back into the multiplayer. Those elements really shine in single-player, but multiplayer is as of now mostly a freeform romp which, though extremely fun, would probably benefit from both the mechanical and thematic depth we see in the single-player.

Other than extremely trite gripes like that, I still feel like Bunny Bunny Smackdown is an exceptionally coherent, clever, and insightful game, especially given the speed with which it was developed. Blue is a very talented game developer, and given this I'm especially excited to see what she does with her upcoming 3D revamp of Fantastic Witch Collective, which was itself already excellent.

In this episode we've heard, twice, a song that has no title that plays in the background of most of Bunny Bunny Smackdown composed by the also-very-talented Christa Depken.

Bunny Bunny Smackdown can be purcahsed at the Alpha Six website at, and I'm told that Blue's older games are likely to appear there soon as well. The links will be posted in the description.

Critical Switch is supported by patient listeners like you at, and any amount that you donate really helps. We're at a point with donations right now where I can afford to feed myself with what we're doing here, maybe I can eventually pay utilities this way!

In any case, Zolani Stewart will be with you next weekend.

From Seattle, Washington, I'm Austin C. Howe.

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