Love's entire breadth of expression isn't often represented in media. Cinema, commercials, books less so, tend to present love as holding hands and kisses in the rain. But this is ignorant of many people's taste. Videogames usually follow suit, but Loved—a 2D platformer by Alexander Ocias—turns jumps over death pits into an exploration of sadomasochistic power play.
All it takes is a bodiless voice (by means of text) to demand that you kill yourself every now and then. Not for your benefit (though that depends on what you're into), but for theirs; to satisfy a fetish. For some, Loved will be a terrifying encounter with an oppressive power fantasy, while others will understand it as kinky interplay, relishing in the punishing demands. Here's my recount of playing Loved.
"Are you a man or a woman?" it asks.
"A man," I thought to myself.
"No, you are a girl."
Um. OK, then. My throat is ripped out immediately.
I'm under a thumb, barely able to breathe, but I'm biting my lower lip.
Taking the form of a hefty creature with a light step, I start traipsing across a clean, black-and-white landscape. It's the epitome of control; two-tone, right angles, spike pits, red blocks of death. It's Patrick Bateman's morning exercise routine.
Then, my first option: to obey, or deny all order.
"Jump over that pit of barbs."
An easy choice. I follow the order.
But Loved's true test comes later, when I'm told to deliberately surrender myself to death. Touch a statue to be forgiven. Jump into the barbs. Take the lower path. Don't touch the statue. Do not fail. DO NOT FAIL.
"Good girl," I'm told repeatedly. I'm the gasping, bruised lover in Merritt Kopas' Consensual Torture Simulator. I'm under a thumb, barely able to breathe, but I'm biting my lower lip. I willingly surrendered to self-inflicted beatings just to meet a final, loving embrace.
But, what about the other option? What if I was to rip out the cords from my nose and throw the hospital's heart monitor at the cold, tiled floor? I play again.
"Jump over that pit of barbs."
Fuck you, I think. This time I destroy myself.
"Touch that statue to be forgiven."
I push my form up and over the statue, clearing it defiantly.
"You ugly creature," the game exudes.
My rebellion eventually rubs away the black and white, giving way to squares of color, like an obfuscated patchwork quilt beaten into existence. At the center is me. I breathe the rainbow.
But I've lost my lover, their sadism denied. I've betrayed our love. Now the final choice is whether to stay or to leave—I can walk out, fists clenched, or I can catch my breath so we can rub our skin together once again.
As in a kinky bedroom, Loved is a choice of top, bottom, or walking out the door clutching your clothes to your chest.
It provokes gut reactions within you, the range of which are far more complex than what the binary ending would suggest. That's not to say that Loved is a measuring device of how kinky you are, but at the very least it may reveal your reaction and relationship with authority. A Milgram experiment without finite positions and optional snuggling afterwards.
You can play Loved in your browser right here.