Peacock Feathers

2007 Feb 14

Ashi and I were discussing Kazekami Kyoko Kills Kublai Khan and the new Game for Josh’s Girlfriend (which really needs a better title). We talked about how these games were basically, as Ashi put them, “peacock feathers.” That is, like poetry written for fair maidens in times past or the witty banter between Shakespearean lovers, one major point of the games (like many two player games, including Emily Care Boss’ Breaking the Ice) is to give both players an opportunity to demonstrate that they are articulate, creative, fun, and sexy. It’s sort of flirting ritual encapsulated in a game. Even when you’re not playing the game with someone you wouldn’t mind seducing, some of that intimacy and sexual tension is there, which is part of what makes it exciting.

As Ashi said:

    …that doesn’t make it a bad structure for a game. It actually could make it an especially good structure for a game, because there’s a lot of very familiar flagging and subtextual communication. This could be used especially well as a springboard to less familiar and obvious forms, which involve a greater degree of trust and understanding between participants.

Righto. Also, it reminds me very much of email conversations I’ve had near the beginning of relationships, where both members of a new couple put on exaggerated personae and waxed as eloquently and ridiculously as possible at each other. Along the lines of:

    Greetings from the Lord Hitherston Millancipus, I regret to inform you that the timing of tomorrow night’s meeting will be inconvenient for His Lordship. Mayhaps the Fair Lady would acquiesce to delay their gathering until the morrow, for tea?

Now, Kazekami Kyoko doesn’t really succeed fully at embracing this goal, partially due to the way I approached the subject matter. Ashi pointed out that Kublai’s wives are not characters so much as scenery. They are the faceless target of Kyoko and Kublai’s mutual lust, though Kyoko necessarily triumphs in the end. So what may first seem like a rather feminist premise (Kyoko seduces all of Kublai’s wives and kills him while tormenting him with the lurid details) is really a very masculine fantasy of being cuckolded and utterly dominated by a woman. Kyoko is also a very masculine figure, both in her persona and the way in which she treats Kublai’s wives (as scenery and tools for her revenge). There’s certainly room for this to be adjusted or just improved upon by individual players in the course of play. But there are definitely some issues there. Still the game is explicitly about seduction, which may help to bring down some of the barriers people put up to prevent intimacy from developing.

The issues surrounding the Game for Josh’s Girlfriend are rather different. I told Ashi that it was weird to write rules that are just structure for things people should already know how to do, but that I supposed I was targetting the game at people who come from a strict roleplaying background and need to relearn how to just play in a freeform way. Ashi thought that having that structure was okay, saying:

    I don’t think it reflects some gamer disease or whatever. Games automatically cancel a lot of communicative implicatures. Arguably, canceling even implicatures that aren’t normally cancelable. Though that might actually be the purview of role-playing games, exclusively. …And now, thinking of the pattern [how the game is structured in paragraphs], I wonder about how much it emerges from concerns over how and whether the other person will respond… As in, to make it clear you’re responding to everything, you explicitly reference each paragraph.

Her latter concern there might be accurate. When I write letters to people I care about, especially if I’m persuing a potential relationship with them, I tend to be overly dilligent in responding to every point of every letter they send me. I guess I assumed this was fairly common, but I may be way off the mark here. Perhaps it would be better to allow more freedom in choosing how to respond, to better reflect the multiplicity of letter writing styles out there. If the letter structure is supposed to feel natural, basing it on my own letter writing tendencies may not be the best idea.

In any case, my thoughts on this continue to develop, so comments and suggestions are welcome.

4 Responses to “Peacock Feathers”

  1. John Harper Says:

    I feel like I just drank from the firehose. So much good stuff in here, and no useful comments are forming yet. But thanks for sharing this.

  2. Jonathan Walton Says:

    No problem, John. I’m actually really excited about fiddling more with stuff in this area. Whenever you put your thoughts together, get back to me. Or just post in your blog :)

  3. Eric Says:

    A quick comment regarding Kyoko as a masculine fantasy:

    You’re right, she is behaving in a fashion that appeals to a certain fetish held by some men. The thing is, that’s true of almost everything any woman does ever – up to and including being born. At minimum, you’d have to avoid this entire map to be in the clear, and I’m not sure that’s realistic.

    That said, you could certainly play up the non-sexual exploits that Kyoko’s player could describe, such as bribery, blackmail, and combat, but that seems to conflict with the stated theme of seduction. I think that, if you want to make a game about seduction, you might have to just live with the fact that sex has often been mired in sexism.

    So, yeah, just do your best.

  4. Mo Says:


    I’m trying hard not to be *really* offended by your comments, but it really reads like you have just not only framed a woman’s whole existence in terms of her ability to be fetishized by a man but then used it as an excuse not to more closely examine instances of sexism in games. I am hoping that in that you suggested taking sex out of the game altogether is a sign that that’s not what you meant, but I’m not sure it’s an answer, because it assumes that there’s nothing in a woman’s sexuality that she can’t own, it assumes that because her sexuality can be subverted by men that it will be subverted by men. It implies that she has nothing to say about it, which is even more problematic.

    Jonathan, a thought:

    Kyoko is physically and sexually empowered, and so could be considered a feminist fantasy, especially when you consider that Kyoko is able to “override” the sexuality of his wives (who may be bisexual, but we never know enough about them to tell). It could be read like a lot of early 70’s lesbian science fiction, where once women have broken out of the cycle of patriarchal domination they are released from the bonds of “normative” heterosexual desire and given the freedom to be seduced by the avatars of female empowerment. “Now that you can throw off the patriarchy, so too can you abandon The Dick.”

    It really depends on what tack the players take to play it through. Does Kyoko see the women as lovers that she liberated from Kublai’s masculine invading (taking women as he plans to take Japan?) presence, moments of personal, empowered sexual interaction that also *happen* to twist the knife she’s stabbed him with or does she see them as disposable, hapless tools, fuel and fodder, pieces used not in the acquisition of her goal but just a bonus: sexual pastillage on the cake of her revenge?

    I find it interesting that in KKKKK’s example text, there’s no description of how the actual seduction takes place, just how Kyoko happens to get into the *presence* of Jade Petal Rose. Once she does, does she show her the glory of her empowered sexuality that incurs such an epiphany in the concubine that she is compelled to have her in her bed? Or is it that Kyoko, who has “little that is beyond her formidable abilities”, uses her powers as a wind-spirit to entrance the concubine into a sexual tryst that is not of her choosing, effectively raping her to gain a little more salt to rub into Kublai’s wounds?

    This is just to say that whether or not Kyoko is a feminist fantasy or not becomes problematic long before we ever evaluate her in the context of male fantasy. But once we get there: oh yes, the lesbian stripper ninja is not just a place on Eric’s map, it is in many ways, given its pervasiveness, *the* destination on the map by popular vote, and gains more ground (for many) when you turn Kyoko into a Domme.

    Which leads to the point of my reply: Do you think that you mandated that Kyoko wins to ensure that whatever empowerment she had was never undermined to the male fantasy?

    And on it’s tail, another question: what does mandating her victory do when the players tell a story about how she brutally revenged raped (by violence) or emotionally manipulation raped all of his wives for so little as to make an art of the kill?

    I also think it’s interesting that although it’s a game about seduction, it’s not. It’s a game about the idea of seduction. Kyoko excites Kublai by telling him of her exploits with his wives, but while she may aim to get him excited, she doesn’t aim to seduce him. It’s playing with seduction in a cognitive mode. Does this make it easier? I’d say that BtI, with it’s structured negotiation of point-scale attraction that may not (because of failed rolls) mimic actual seductive elements at the table does much the same thing. What would it mean to approach this in an impassioned mode? Would it make us more uncomfortable? Would it be considered “dangerous”? Would it stop us from being able to play with it?

    I have my own answers to these, but I’d like to hear yours.

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