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Monday, February 26, 2018

Why sex simulator, Honey Select, is a game we should actually be talking about

Article by Matt S.

Note: None of the below is any more NSFW that what you’ll usually see on DDNet, and please read through it all, because I’m not actually going to spend long talking about the “adult” side of the game. Just in case you skim through the first couple of paragraphs and think this is a “review” of an adult game rather than a more sociological discussion piece. 

Recently, Fakku – an adult entertainment publisher that typically focuses on manga, but has been selling adult games for some time – announced that it would be publishing a game for the first time itself, developer Illusion’s Honey Select. Honey Select is a remarkably simple game. In it, you create a female character, and then “interact” with her in a hotel that you’re both staying at. And by “interact” I do of course mean have sex with her all over the place. The game supports an apparently bewildering number of different sex acts, from the romantic right through to stuff that would make 50 Shades of Grey seem positively prudish. Each character has her own personality, and each interaction has a different result, which can affect the way the woman responds to you. Offend her enough by doing stuff with her she doesn’t like and she’ll leave the hotel, and that appears to be what the game considers to be a “lose state”.

At least, the above seems to be what the game’s about, based on what I’ve read from tapping around the Internet for people that play these kinds of games and then write about them in English. The demo doesn’t give you much of a sense of all that. Yes, to go with the announcement, Fakku also threw up a demo, which allows you to experience the game’s character creator, as well as one particularly benign sex scene (starts with kissing, progresses to standard run-of-the-mill missionary sex).

Now, before I get on to the character creator bit, which is the real point of this article, I’ll quickly address that one particular “gameplay” scene, because it’s quite ridiculous in how bad it really is. Take for example the kissing. When the characters are “kissing” you get all the sounds alright, but there’s always a noticeable gap between the lips. Things get even worse when it gets time to put the man bit… places. It (the man bit) simply clips into and out of the woman character’s body, with no.. adjustments to her body the way that normally happens with sex. The “gameplay” doesn’t actually involve anything more than scrolling the mouse wheel up and down to adjust the pace of which things are happening until you find a speed that either of the characters are happy with. Doing that will start to increase a meter, and then when it's maxed out, you’ve got a choice; you can either finish yourself (inside or all over her, porn-style), or you can let her orgasm, in which case the scene somehow finishes before you do.

If you decide to put your… pleasure… ahead of her’s, the grand finale is the most ridiculous depiction of semen that you could imagine. Think physics-free water (PlayStation 1 games having better water effects), and it just rounds out what is a thoroughly unconvincing depiction of sex. Given that the full version of the game is 80 per cent about sex, it’s quite incredible how badly the demo sells the full experience, by being not even remotely erotic. Now the full game will also support Oculus and Vive VR, and who knows, perhaps things will be better looking at it through a VR lens, but I wouldn’t count on it. At the very least it still won’t look like sex it given that it’s just two character models clipping into one another.

But putting aside the fact that I went from uninterested to deeply uninterested in the full version of the game based on that demo, there are a couple of things that are worth talking about in relation to Honey Select, and the reason that I downloaded the demo, and would recommend 18+ readers do as well.

The first is the character editor, which is included in the demo. Of the many, many games that I’ve played over the years, is the most in-depth, comprehensive, fundamentally interesting character creator that I’ve ever come across. There are hundreds of different customisation options, allowing you to adjust the most minute details over every element of the body. Slight inflections in the direction of the eyes. Subtle shifts in the position of the waist. The character creator even splits larger parts of the body, such as the waist, into “upper” and “lower” halves, to further tweak the balance between them. Hair can be tweaked according to top, sides, and back of the head.

And of course, bust and butt sizes, shapes, and so on can be fine tuned to perfection. This applies both to the female characters, and the male protagonist that represents “you” in the game. Except for the male bit. For some reason that part of the anatomy seems to be the only thing that can’t be edited in terms of size and so on.

An attempt at building Dee Dee, the DDNet mascot. It's not perfect, but I got bored soon after getting to this point. It was hours of work.

After you create your character model, it’s then time to dress them. Oddly the options here are a little thin at this stage, but it’s something I assume is being held back for the full release… or for mod tools, if they’re available. I honestly don’t know if that was a thing with the Japanese version of the game. By the time I had finished creating a character I just dressed them in whatever I clicked on first. Then it’s time to take a photo (with a huge range of different poses available), which represents the save file in the game’s system, set the character’s personality traits, and bam! You’re ready to go.

It’s initially overwhelming to work with this character editor, and can honestly take hours of tweaking to start to arrive at whatever character you had in mind, but it means a couple of things; firstly, you’d be able to create almost anyone you could possibly imagine in there. Yes, the characters in the game have a slight anime sheen to them which prevents them from looking photo-realistic, but it’s still eerily powerful in the way it can approximate real people. A quick glance at the Fakku Twitter feed (that is NSFW, you’ve been warned) shows many of the women who enjoy the lewd things in life sharing their recreations of themselves. Others are creating favourite characters from anime or games. Some are original creations you’d have to assume resemble people they know in real life.

This might all sound very uncomfortable – especially given the ability to “put yourself” in the game via VR – and certainly given the context of what you’ll then be doing with the characters after you’ve created them there are going to be a lot of people who are made very uncomfortable by this, but in so many ways this also represents exactly what technology has been threatening to do for years. A few years ago I went to an art gallery in Japan, and there was a special exhibition going on, where a well-regarded artist (Hiroshi Sugimoto) filled the gallery space with various apocalyptic scenarios. These ranged from meteors striking the planet, to nuclear war, and various social catastrophes that meant people simply stopped breeding. One such scenario was described as follows:

The Escapist

Today the world died. Or maybe yesterday. It all began when I went to a Hatsune Miku 3-D (sic) concert as a kid. I couldn’t tell virtual from real. After a childhood immersed in gaming and anime videos, imaginary stuff is more real to me than actual things. To most young kids, reality’s the fantasy. It’s like home grown Zen and everybody’s already reached satori. But enlightenment was a dead end. Folks who spend their whole life dreaming couldn’t be bothered to make babies, so the human race just petered out. Game over.

This of course sounds far-fetched and unbelievable, but there’s already scientific research suggesting there’s more than a grain of truth behind most of the potential apocalyptic scenarios that Sugimoto outlined. There is a risk of a meteor strike, for example. There is a risk of nuclear war. And there is a risk that people will become so wrapped up in virtual worlds they no longer see the need for conventional interaction with other people.

For example, a man called Donald Hoffman has been doing research into supernormal stimulants (you can watch an excellent TED talk by him here), and basically supernormal stimulants are when something is so “perfect” that it effectively replaces the real world interaction that a person (or animal) should be having. A beetle in Australia nearly went extinct when it mistook the design of a certain kind of beer bottle, when discarded on the road, for being a hyper-idealised mate, and stopped breeding with the females of its actual species to instead try and breed with the bottle.

Humans might be more intelligent than beetles, but we’re no less susceptible to supernormal stimulants – something the advertising industry regularly consults Hoffman for, he told me in a conversation a few years ago. While Honey Select isn’t quite there as it is ridiculously limited by what happens after you’ve created a character, that character creation mode, and premise of the game is very much that of supernormal stimulant. Especially in the context of the VR capabilities. In the game you’ve got more control than in real life, and its idealised as you want it. As people become more and more busy, the indications are that more and more people will turn to experiences like this, sex robots, and similar, in order to satisfy that particular craving. As that experience will be a highly idealised, less time consuming, “superior” solution, there will be little incentive to participate in standard social interactions. Again, there is evidence to support this; Japan, with its hyper-busy work culture and excess of supernormal stimulants, has a famously plunging birth rate, particularly among younger adults.

That’s not to say that Honey Select, or some similar and improved iteration down the track, will in itself be a sign of the end of the world. That’s also not to say that there’s something inherently “immoral” in the existence of supernormal stimulants (though the way they’re designed by be another matter). It’s just an interesting observation to make about the way that we’re increasingly supplementing or replacing our experience with the real world with a digital or technology-driven experience that is highly customisable and our own.

On a lighter note to finish; that character creator really is so incredible. Traditionally the adult entertainment industry has often led trends that become more mainstream; it was the adult entertainment industry that drove VHS as a home film format and was able to aggressively monetise the Internet faster than anyone. It would be great if these character creation tools could make their way into other games, because compared with what this offers, even the likes of BioWare, and other studios that are well known for their character creators, can’t quite keep up.

Pardon the pun.

- Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld

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Why sex simulator, Honey Select, is a game we should actually be talking about
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