This article previously appeared on Crossfader
In an attempt to possibly understand the dark and sticky underbelly of the sex games lurking on Steam, our fearless editor has entrusted me, your fearful writer, to explore these games and report back on my findings. As a paragon of ethics in gaming journalism, it is my duty to remind readers that these games were played purely for fact-finding reasons, and because Ed told me to. No pleasure was derived from the playing of these games, and any incidental pleasure was swiftly reported to at least three clergymen.
Developer Eek! Games has explained in the Steam description for HOUSE PARTY that they are fans of classic point-and-click adventures, namely the Leisure Suit Larry and Monkey Island series. HOUSE PARTY is definitely more in the spirit of Leisure Suit Larry, for reasons that will soon become obvious. The game has gained notoriety as a risque pick for streamers and Let’s Players, and maintains that fanbase thanks to a community with access to their own story-building techniques and the constant tease of new updates, as the game is still in Early Access.
HOUSE PARTY wastes no time bringing the player up to speed: You’ve been invited to a party full of people you don’t know, most of them happen to be women, and they’re all interested in sleeping with you if you play your cards right. While that last part isn’t explicitly laid out in text, the character draped across the text box in a “like one of your French Girls” pose tells you everything you need to know.
The game told me to talk to my friend Derek, which was just good general advice because apparently he’s the only person I knew at the party. It seemed like a pretty good idea to go around talking to everyone, and as it turns out it doesn’t really matter whether you talk to Derek first or not. As long as you don’t go full Larry Laffer and drop an innuendo at first meeting, you should be able to get this house full of strangers to at least tolerate you.
As I began to introduce myself, I made casual acquaintances with a well-endowed southern belle who is afraid of being described as just that, a somewhat timid girl who’s best friends with a porn star, and a violently straight-edge dude who will knock your block off if you mention alcohol around him. Every character in the game can pretty much be boiled down to a single personality trait that will give you a pretty good idea of how exactly to get into their pants.
After I talked to everyone, it was a little daunting figuring out how to proceed and whom to proceed with. I brought up the menu and cycled through the various screens, reviewing my objectives, what options were available to me (making note of the “Censor Nudity” checkbox that renders HOUSE PARTY clean enough for Steam), and checked out the controls. Nothing out of the ordinary there except “Press P to expose your penis” and “Press 1 to masturbate”. I blinked and excused myself to a part of the house where it seemed least likely that someone’s pathing would interrupt me. Ignoring the parallels in my own party-going history, I found a room that was apparently being used as an art room and whipped it out. A large black box appeared that said “CENSORED! Terrible things are happening!” Not the most endearing pillow talk, but okay HOUSE PARTY, have it your way.
After disabling the nudity censor, I beheld my member in its full majesty. More of a facsimile than a phallus, I could sense my parents becoming disappointed in me for reasons they weren’t aware of, and in the name of journalism, I had to make it worse. Wondering what the priest who confirmed me was up to these days, I hit the “1” key and my character’s hand moved toward his Unity-rendered unit. Just before contact was made the familiar black bar appeared again, and the bar labeled “ORGASM” that appeared in the corner when I first hit “P” started filling up slowly. Reconsidering my views on censorship briefly, I composed myself and got back to the task at hand.
I initially decided to court Amy, an aspiring sorority sister who needed help with a scavenger hunt that would get her into the sisterhood. I tried to tell Amy that there wasn’t a single Panhellenic Sorority in the country that operated that way, but my options were limited to eager willingness to help or simply dismissing her last statement and leaving. I agreed to help.
I realized later that in order to fulfill Amy’s quest line (the game refers to them as “Opportunities”), I’d have to complete a whole other character’s quest line, so I switched to Ashley, the co-host of the party with her older sister Madison. Yes, Ashley Madison. To the game’s credit there’s never really a Fozzie Bear “Waka Waka” moment regarding this.
Ashley’s quest line mainly includes not being a total dick to her just cause Madison thinks it’s funny. These two like to pull pranks on each other, one of which involves me getting Ashley to strip naked under the pretense of washing her beer-stained clothes, then poisoning her with a soda spiked with eye drops. Not wanting to entertain the idea of making a virtual character strip naked and shit all over the floor at a house party, I instead opted to wash her clothes and be generally cool to everyone around me.
After achieving a modicum of success in most of the characters’ plot lines and proving that I was a cool guy by washing her clothes (despite stealing her panties?), Ashley liked me enough to want to reward me with sex. As every nice guy knows, this is how women repay men for being chivalrous and gentlemanly. We adjourned to another private room, where after some flirting the action began. Instead of full blown 3D-rendered intercourse, I had to settle for oral stimulation, which didn’t really matter either way, because the moment it started, the black box from before obscured most of Ashley’s figure as the orgasm bar from before appeared and began to fill up. Afterwards we went our separate ways, and I began to consider chasing Amy again, filled with a need to round the bases for gaming journalists everywhere.
Pictured: Me vs. My Better Judgement and Self-Respect
Figuring out just what the game needed me to say to Amy was pretty difficult. There’s a couple of meters that appear whenever you talk to someone that measure how much they like you as a friend and how much they’re into you romantically. Most things seemed to make Amy like me more but every so often I’d say something that would decrease her interest, and I’d get stuck on things like how I was supposed to procure the condom she wanted or where the expired credit card she needed was. The game, after all, is designed with multiple save slots for trial and error, and while many LPers would use guides to figure out how best to proceed, I saw those as defeating the purpose of the game.
After the guide I found told me that to get the condom Amy needed I either had to have the character that has one, Frank, catch me mid-act with one of the female characters or let him give me a BJ (progressive!), I eventually found my way into Amy’s heart. As such, she decided to express her feelings toward me in the way that most people got this game for. There’s something about multiple black bars subtly shaming you that proves to be the opposite of titillating, and it doesn’t help when the audio cues are also very clearly looping. I decided that again, I must do what must be done in order to bring the truth to the people.
By Christ I can smell the Pulitzers already
At the time of playing, Steam’s policy was that sexual acts were fine as long as the actual act isn’t pictured, which is how games like The Witcher series have managed to remain on Steam. Since then Steam has gone back and forth on whether sexually explicit and intentionally offensive games are allowed on the platform, how to monitor and review them, and whether they’re to be monitored or reviewed at all. HOUSE PARTY appears to be largely exempt from this due to the self-censorship that comes with it on Steam, but the hot-and-cold sense of arbitration seems to be making a lot of devs anxious. As it stands, there exists ways to get around Steam’s censorship outside of purchasing it from another online game store: Eek! Games offers a nudity patch downloadable from their website. It’s a simple matter of downloading the patch and putting it in the right folder so that the game knows what to do. This proved to be one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to figure out, and I spent so much time trying to figure it out that it’s embarrassing in many, many ways. I couldn’t decide if it was more embarrassing to admit defeat or spend more than an hour fucking around with it, but eventually I managed to file everything away properly.
In my scorched Earth temperament I ended up uninstalling the entire game, including the saves I’d had previously. However, by cheating making use of the strategies of other players, I decided to pursue Katherine; Katherine is an interesting character in that while there is a bit of fourth-wall-breaking amongst other characters, Katherine seems like she exemplifies it the most by being livid that she’s also in this game. Nonetheless, I was able to gain her affections to the extent that she decided to have sex with me, and also mainly because her boyfriend was being “a dick.”
Morality is a little more flexible than it should be in HOUSE PARTY
Anyway, without the puritanical oppression of Steam’s censors I was able to fully experience what the developer had intended, which to his credit, was pretty well detailed in certain areas. However, nothing quite gets past the bizarre nosedive into the Uncanny Valley the game takes when you get too close to the characters, and again, it’s made worse as the audio continues to obviously loop. There’s no really getting around how the characters do sex at each other instead of have sex with each other.
As I choked down the disquieting feeling that I was now fundamentally broken inside, I continued to poke around the world. I tried to romance Brittney, the self-conscious bisexual southerner, but the game hasn’t been written for her past a certain point.
Eventually you can get her to hang out in a hot tub, but she just keeps making eyes at Amy
I had finished saying and doing anything meaningful there was to Amy, and I knew that anything the game would have me do to develop any relationships with anyone else would be next to arduous, so I took this as a sign I should probably put the game away for the time being. The developer maintains that the game is a comedic fantasy, and as a result people shouldn’t try to apply real-world social mores to what goes on in the game. After all, thinking too hard about getting on a character’s good side by blackmailing her sister with her nudes so she’ll have sex with you, or falsifying text messages to another character so that she’ll perform more and more lurid dares and eventually also have sex with you, leaves a weird taste in one’s mouth.
The writing is very reminiscent of a very particular kind of dude, as well. Katherine is a “bitch” because she’s smart, Stephanie’s a “slutty airhead” except when it comes to drugs, and the only other men there besides your best friend are total assholes. It’s also weird what lines work on the girls and what make them hate you. Most pick-up lines fail horribly, but telling Ashley she looks like her sister decreases your standing with her, as does asking another character what her sign is. Again, a lot of the interactions feel scummy, and while the game knows and will occasionally encourage you to back down from the ledge, the rest of the gameplay doesn’t exactly make it better. Can you really have your cake and eat it too? Who knows, but if you give Stephanie booze she’ll take her top off, so that’s on the table.
I’ll tell ya what, THE WITCHER 3 ain’t the only game out there with titties and intense moral choices
HOUSE PARTY is still in Early Access, but is quickly getting its kinks worked out (or worked in) and might exit that phase sometime before the end of this year. In the meantime it’s developed a cult fanbase and has sold over 300,000 copies. This is spurred on by Eek! Games releasing a story creator, where players can create their own stories and share them amongst the community. I haven’t been taken with the desire to experiment any more than I have, but I can only assume that these stories are open dialogues regarding healthy sexual activities and how to maintain positive interpersonal relationships. I can also only hope that my parents forget to change the locks on the doors after they read this and I can eventually come home again.