And now it’s time to get a little naughty. NaughtyBits, a 6000-word piece of interactive fiction that I’d describe as “a sex chatbot goes on dates to prove her humanity while limited to her x-rated vocabulary” (or maybe “sex mad libs during the AI revolution”) is out in the world! Check it out here.
As with my other story notes, I’ll be talking about how the project started, the revision process, and what I like about the finished project. I’ll also be delving under the hood a bit to talk about how the sausage got made in a separate post – that post will mostly be of interest if you want to think about story coding and may ruin the immersion for you if you don’t like getting in the weeds, so be warned!
And with that, let’s go!
This is a story that started with a prompt from the absolutely kick-ass Strange Lusts, Strange Loves team (led by Sharang Biswas and Yeonsoo Julian Kim) to create a piece of interactive fiction about sex and/or sexuality – as the Kickstarter described it, the project is “an anthology of short interactive stories/games that all touch on themes of sex and the many forms it takes.” I pitched the idea of a sex chatbot trying to pass the Turing Test using only the words from their sex chat vocabulary, though the original idea was that your character would go on a dinner date with an unsuspecting flesh-and-blood human.
Note: I soon realized that this would require giving the chatbot an android body of some sort and that was probably more explanation than I wanted to cram into a 6000-word story, so it moved to online speed-dating fairly quickly. Also it’s possible that in the midst of a pandemic, I forgot that IRL dating is a thing. Either way, I’m happy with the change.
The original opening and the current one are similar in that they start with you logging in, choosing a name, and being greeted by the system. The very first version began with:
Welcome back, [Player Name]. I hope you are ready to give pleasure today.
While the current one begins:
Hi [Player Name], it’s Bitsy! On behalf of the ServiceAI family, thanks for another great day of simulated pleasure in the virtual NaughtyBits playroom!
I envision the first version being delivered by a sultry version of Siri, while the second is probably some cross between Navi from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Badgey, the evil Clippy-type character featured on an episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks. I think both work but the second one fits the current game much better. (Huge shout-out to Grim Baccaris, who did the CSS styling of the game and made it look amazing.)
Stop! Revision Time!
My main issue (as is often the case when I do interactive projects) was the game’s length. Between making the sex mad libs work and the other vocabulary-related shenanigans in the game (adding words, selecting words to describe your date, etc.), a lot of the 6000 words allotted to me for the game went to the nuts and bolts, and when I finished my first draft, it was already heading towards being way over the limit.
The mad libs were also overly complex in my earlier versions of the game, giving you types of sentences you could choose between (statement, question, demand, etc.) and then presenting the mad libs. I got great feedback from the Strange Lusts team on the complexity (which led to me changing it to 2 random mad libs per answer) and also trimmed down the game significantly to address the length.
Among the things that I cut:
- Additional Endings: Without giving too much away, there are a couple of different ways to end the game, but they included a few that felt a bit wishy-washy and like they didn’t give full weight to player choices (something I could have addressed, but not without making the game much longer).
- More Sentence Options: I had to cut down the number of potential sentences available to choose from. The best ones (in my opinion) stayed.
- Unnecessary Complexity: An early version of the game asked you to match the type of sentence you were using to your date’s preference to gain their trust. I would have needed a lot more space to make this work (and a longer game to make it clear what to do), and it wasn’t doing that much for either the narrative or the gameplay.
I also just generally pared down text wherever I could – one of the great benefits of the work I do in TTRPG writing is that I’ve gotten much better at writing to word count, and I used all those skills here!
My Favorite Things
We all have our favorites – those lines or moments in something we write that always make us happy. For me, in this piece, the most lasting joy is the ridiculous sentences that pop up in the mad libs. Part of making that joy a reality was figuring out the sentences themselves and the right set of words to fit in the blanks (shout out to The Sexy Thesaurus for helping me to narrow down the list).
As silly as this game is in many ways I also have really enjoyed the opportunity to look at the ways that sex has infused our language from top to bottom. Several of the words encountered in this game (and every redacted word in this post) are words that can have both sexual and non-sexual uses. Most either started as non-sexual or are primarily used that way. Still, over the years we’ve found ways to add them to our sexual vocabulary all the same, and as the way we communicate changes, so do the ways we describe/ask for/talk about sex. (I’m looking at you, eggplant emoji.)
And with that…time to get into the mechanics/coding side of things – I’ll link here when they’re up!