One of the nice things about being a non-commercial site that isn’t funded by big corporate advertising bullshit is that I’m not obliged to be in “competition” with any of my peers.
That means that when people like our friends over at Digitally Downloaded do something cool and interesting, I can explore it for myself and, more to the point, make you aware of it, dear reader.
If I haven’t made this abundantly clear already, the following relates to a piece of media created by a friend of mine. And if you have the slightest interest in media criticism and making use of the conventions of gaming to educate or learn something… you should definitely check it out!
Matt Sainsbury, publisher and editor-in-chief of Digitally Downloaded, has been writing about games for as long as I have, and, like me, he enjoys nothing more than getting in-depth and analytical, particularly from an artistic or literary perspective.
Besides his daily work on Digitally Downloaded alongside his team of editors and contributors, Sainsbury has put together a rather sexy book on game art and the people behind it, and has now embarked on an ambitious visual novel project, too. It’s this latter affair, known as My Time With Dee Dee, which we’re concerned with today.
Danica Dee, or Dee Dee for short, is Digitally Downloaded’s mascot, appearing in a variety of places around the site and on its merchandise. The aim of the My Time With Dee Dee project as a whole is not necessarily to give her a canonical, fixed personality, but rather to use her as a “virtual actor” who provides a means of exploring a variety of artistic and literary genres. A close analogue would be the way that Crypton Future Media’s Hatsune Miku character provides a means for creators to explore different musical genres through the use of a consistent, recognisable “virtual idol” — and this is doubtless no coincidence, since Sainsbury is a big fan of Miku.
Each volume of My Time With Dee Dee will focus on a particular genre in narrative media — be it books, films, anime, TV, theatre or video games — and use its central narrative to demonstrate that genre in practice. Alongside this, a dedicated “Teach Me, Professor” section provides those who want to know a bit more about the history and theory of the genre in question some further information and suggestions on how they might further explore things.
The first volume of My Time With Dee Dee explores the nature of the erotic thriller. This is a sensible choice for an opening volume; while not all visual novels feature erotic content, the medium as a whole is, for better or worse, lumbered with the reputation of being “sex games”, and thus it’s good to acknowledge this aspect of things up front.
While once popular, erotic thrillers saw a sharp decline after the ’90s ended, with Stanley Kubrick’s final film Eyes Wide Shut (1999) being regarded as one of the last great works of this type. At least in Western cinema, anyway; there’s a strong argument to be made that the idea of the erotic thriller is alive and well in the eroge subdivision of the visual novel medium, with titles such as the Grisaia series providing a thoughtful, exciting and stimulating balance between action, narrative, characterisation, emotional engagement and sexually explicit content.
My Time With Dee Dee’s first volume explores this through a strong metatextual element. It is both an erotic thriller and a story about erotic thrillers, demonstrating, exploring and subverting the conventions of the genre in a variety of ways over the course of its runtime.
In the game, the player takes on the role of a self-insert protagonist who can be named at the outset of the narrative. As the story opens, “you” have been paired up with Dee Dee for a class assignment in which you are expected to, as a pair, explore a written work that was adapted into a movie. “You” feel that The Lord of the Rings would be the perfect subject; Dee Dee, meanwhile, feels that the aforementioned Eyes Wide Shut would make for a much more interesting presentation — and, spoiler, she’s definitely, absolutely right about that.
There are a few decision points in the game that ultimately lead to four different endings — three “bad”, one “good” — and they begin with that all-important choice of movie for the pair of you to study. From here, the story branches in a few different possible directions according to the decisions you make, with more than a few surprising twists and turns along the way.
To say too much would be to spoil these surprises, but suffice to say for now that things aren’t quite what you expect in most cases. The game does an excellent job of subverting expectations by luring you down what initially appears to be the “correct” path and then throwing some rather sharp curveballs in your direction that might cause you to rethink your preconceptions somewhat.
At the same time, it highlights, reinforces and explains a number of the genre’s appeal elements through practical examples that really drive home the distinction between fantasy and reality that good erotic thrillers have always played with. It also cleverly skirts the line between erotic content and pure pornography — something that a lot of modern critics really seem to struggle with — and contemplates some of the reasons that the genre might have declined somewhat in the West over the course of the last couple of decades.
My Time With Dee Dee’s first volume is a solid start to what has the potential to be a fascinating series. Sainsbury’s subject knowledge clearly shines through in the writing, but the game doesn’t feel overly preachy or condescending — even if this particular incarnation of Dee Dee is a bit of a know-it-all at times!
Instead, it acts as a great starting point for further exploration of a fascinating genre of popular media, and the optional “Teach Me, Professor” section provides both a helpful “reading list” and some interesting background information.
I’m looking forward to seeing what adventures the future holds for me and Dee Dee; there’s a lot of fascinating genres out there to explore!
My Time With Dee Dee, Volume 1: The Erotic Thriller is available now via itch.io. Purchasing a copy of the game helps support Digitally Downloaded as a whole. Matt was kind enough to provide a review copy of the game for the purposes of this article.
The MoeGamer Compendium, Volume 1 is now available! Grab a copy today for a beautiful physical edition of the Cover Game features originally published in 2016.
Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
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