Monday, July 27, 2009
When you submerge into the viscous, milky translucent ocean of cripple porn for a year or two, the question of social acceptability tends to fade away. "Cripple porn" (I really like that phrase) raises eyebrows even amongst people accustomed to the trends and oddities of modern Japanese or Japan-derived media, but in a context where showing 13 year old school girl's panties is actually not a standard practice, the concept of KS (when put in crudest possible terms, like I did) seems like an equivalent to shock image sites or something. That's why it's cool when people who are almost completely outside of the anime/manga subculture meet Katawa Shoujo.
So the thing I've been wondering about is how a person with practically no exposure to our subculture would receive KS. The odd thing here is that it even happens, but the explosive popularity of Act 1 almost guarantees that it actually does happen (a mindboggling thing in itself). In fact, I even know of one case, because one of the devs gave Act 1 to his father so he could see what his son's been up to lately. I haven't heard back what dad thought about it yet though, so maybe he is now disowned or something. As for the rest, I think almost everyone on the planet is aware of Japan's reputation as some kind of a horn of plenty of weird and creepy things. Similarly, a lot of people on the internet are aware of 4chan's reputation as some kind of a horn of plenty of depravity and mindless comedy. So when "people from 4chan" make a "japanese style porn game" about disabled people, the ingredients for a catastrophe seem to have been thrown in one pot. What does it taste like to you, normal person?
What made me write something about this was a bunch of (in this context) normal people meeting KS, in other words a quick post about KS on contexts.org (an American sociology publication) "sociological images" blog. From what I gather, people stick labels on KS very quickly (having not played the game, obviously), though do not condemn it at all or anything like that. Still it hit me that the labels and preconceptions are almost solely negative, or at least cautious. "4chan", "fetisistic", "exploitative", "ridiculing" and so on. It's sad that KS does have a glass ceiling that it will never be able to break through because of what it is, but that is the road we chose. Anyway, the big question is whether KS is abusive of disabled people or not. Unsurprisingly, the question arises from the fact that the game focuses on portraying disabled people, and that there is graphic sex in the (full) game with said disabled people.
The portrayal of disabled people and their sexuality is a tough nut to crack. Apart from Hanako, the KS girls don't really pander to the "protect me" -moeblob category and are hopefully a bit more than just their disabilities. As for the sex, expectations vary wildly. KS is expected to be both a fetisistic porn fantasy game, and a story that feels true, with romantic feelings and tender, if a tad awkward teenager sex. Can't both have the cake and eat it too, so we have to place ourselves somewhere in the rainbow of the sex-spectrum between these two extremities. It's quite well known that we are gravitating away from the "porn" angle, and KS never was a true fetish project (as in, abusing the disabilities in a sexual way). The reasons for that are weird and tangled, but basically what can be said is that porn is terribly bland, boring and out of place in your average visual novel. Thus, not obliged by a sales department, we are free to try to do things in a way that feels more natural to us. Mind, being exposed to visual novels probably has brainwashed us at least partially to abide by the convetions of the medium, even without realising it. Still I do think we at the very least keep from abusing the disability aspect in the sexual scenes.
Meanwhile in the deep end of the pool, what if all sexual themes would be dropped from KS? Would it still be fetisistic, ridiculing or exploitative? Some people say that the mere fact that KS focuses on disabled people, spotlighting them as "others" can be interpreted as fetisistic and disabled people as subjects to ridicule. Sure, there might've been ways to deal with the disability theme better and lift it into central role through something else than a cripple school, twist threads of sharpest social critique inside the text and all that jazz. But you know, we are really making a romance game here, a story about a guy and few girls and their emotions and happiness and sadness during one summer of their life. For a long time now, I've thought it doesn't matter one bit whether they are disabled or not.
-Aura, art by Doomfest