Succubus: Abuse

Apparently at this point in the story Succubus got bored with itself and entered executive summary mode:

We went on a series of quests, and temporarily joined a group doing some dungeon diving. I got new cloth armor and some trinkets that gave me increased critical strike. I nearly doubled my intellect, and managed to level up all the way to 9. Along the way I got a couple of new abilities.

Mana Conversion let me trade in 25% of my remaining Health and gain back 20% of my total Mana. It was great for when I was in a really hard battle and ran out of Mana, which left me unable to cast spells – like that time when I fought the bandits. Now I could refill my Mana, then Soul Suck some sad sap to rebuild my hit points.

Another three paragraphs are spent on describing two more abilities and Stig and Alaria or Anaria or whoever getting some upgrades. Now, it’s not like this is a Let’s Play where the creator is limited by the content of the game they’re playing, and sometimes if there’s a boring patch they might be better off making a supercut of just the good parts. This is a wholly made up video game. The author is free to hand out levels wherever he wants and to have his quests be appropriate to whatever level he likes. Our next encounter of actual significance is an assassin sent to retrieve the succubus’ collar, which will stop Ian from resummoning her, specifically, and instead allow whoever holds the collar to control her, and I don’t see any reason why that encounter couldn’t have happened immediately after the baron. Maybe hand out a level for escaping the baron’s clutches if you want some new abilities on Ian, Stig, and the third member of the trio whose name I can never seem to hold onto.

Also, it turns out the succubus is just as shitty a person as Ian:

We finally reached another land, one far away from goddesses of chastity and barons of dumbassery. There was more of a mix of different races walking around – humans, orcs, blood elves, gnomes – and we spotted a few Warlocks with their own succubi.

Alaria was surprisingly catty.

“Oh my God, can you believe what she’s wearing?” she whispered to me about a plum-colored demoness in boy shorts. “A girl with an ass that big really shouldn’t try to pull that look off.”

It also turns out that Rogues are OP, in that they can turn completely, 100% invisible, only have to decloak in order to attack, and can attack so rapidly that decloak-shanking is a perfectly valid tactic that makes them basically invincible. So it’s not great news for Ian when a Rogue shows up to shank his succubus (apparently an NPC, because we’re too busy pretending to be portal fantasy to interact with the actual premise at all). Being that it leans on WoW pretty hard, it’s possible that Succubus has a rock-paper-scissors relationship between classes, where some classes are fairly hard counters to others, so maybe some classes can see invisibility and the Rogue is pretty much helpless against them. If so, that’s bad game design for a game which, like this one, has open world PvP, and honestly it’s not great even for games where you only PvP in designated regions or arenas that you will presumably not enter without a balanced party at your back.

But while trying to figure out how to deal with the Rogue, Ian hatches a plan:

“So why are we doing this?”

“Because the stuff is sticky, and it doesn’t come off until you wash it,” I whispered.

“So?”

“So I’m going to try squishing a whole bunch of them into my bag, then flinging it out at him. If I can tag him, we’ll be able to see him even when he’s in cloaked form.”

And I’m going to point out here that this kind of thing demonstrates more tactical thinking than 80% of what Jason did in Awaken Online, despite the fact that brilliance is supposed to be his defining feature.

Soon (ish, I’m summarizing a lot here) afterwards, Succubus remembers that it hasn’t done anything sexist in a while, and sets out to correct this problem:

Once her guard came down, she’d admitted the truth: she liked being around me. That was a step in the right direction.

Remember, kids: Don’t take no for an answer. Wearing someone’s willpower down until they no longer have the energy to resist is basically the same as consent! I’m willing to tolerate the tsundere thing when it happens naturally, because yeah, it does kind of reinforce the whole Nice Guy “if I just chase her long enough, she will eventually collapse from exhaustion into my arms!” thing, but if someone wants to tell a story where two people initially don’t get along and then, without either of them intentionally wearing down the resistance of the other, ultimately come to like each other, then that person has a right to tell their story regardless of what horrible message is taken away from it by people who are already predisposed to believe terrible things.

That’s not what’s happening here.

What’s happening here is that our hero’s actual plan is to hang out with this girl until she realizes what a nice guy he is and gives in to his affections, despite her repeated insistence that she doesn’t want to sleep with him. Granted, she’s sending some mixed messages by also repeatedly sexually harassing him, but that mostly just means that in addition to holding him in contempt, she’s also an abuser willing to use his attraction to her to convince him to do things for her. And also to torment him for the Hell of it.

Almost immediately after that, Succubus realizes that for all the sexism it gets up to, it doesn’t really get up to any racism, and sets out to fix that problem.

Other regions in the game were patterned after different parts of the real world, too. Some were inspired by Asian cultures, with pagodas and rice-paper sliding doors. Others resembled Native American habitats, with tepees and wigwams and burial grounds.

“Habitats.” Animals have habitats. Your first reaction might be “stop nitpicking, Chamomile, it was one word,” in which case clearly you haven’t figured out what I do around here, but don’t worry, it gets better.

Whatever the hell this swampland was, they were apparently basing it on Louisiana or Mississippi in the American antebellum South.

The houses were made of wood with giant neoclassical columns out in front. Vast green plantations surrounded the houses, with crops being picked by laborers.

Laborers, huh? Still not impressed? I mean, two slip-ups in a row like this is at minimum indicative of bad editing, but don’t worry, this is still just part of the build up, up next is the part where AJ confesses and tries to pass the buck…

In the past, the makers of the game had come under fire for some of their… shall we say, less than sensitive depictions and stereotypes.

…to himself. The author’s trying to convince us that no, no, you see it’s all the game developers’ fault, but the game developers are fictitious creations incapable of responsibility for anything. The author wrote this reference to historical atrocity in. How much you wanna bet he has anything at all interesting to say on the subject, that he has an actual reason for again drawing an explicit parallel between his fantasy creation and the real world? Smart money says that if he does try to attach a message to this, it’ll be vague, vapid, and just as easily accomplished with less direct reference anyway.

Succubus waits less than a page to settle that bet:

I stopped thinking about the field hands and concentrated on the mission at hand. It was too uncomfortable to do anything else. “This is the place?” I asked Alaria.

“This is it,” she said, looking around with an expression halfway between pain and hatred.

The reason why Succubus brings up antebellum slavery is to make the bold declaration that it is bad. Not because they have something to say about how an entire society could embrace something so obviously evil, or about what effects this kind of life has on someone’s psyche, or anything. No, it’s just used – again – to signpost a villain. The first Assassin’s Creed game also had a set of nine villains who it needed to identify as evil, and it did a really good job of that without resorting to drawing swastikas all over them.

Then something weird happens:

“Are you going to take a bath?” Alaria asked.

“After you’re finished.”

“You know… there’s room enough in here for both of us.”

I looked around at her sharply. “Very funny.”

She batted her eyes flirtatiously. “We’ve bathed together before. I don’t see why this time should be any different.”

Something inside me snapped. “You just like to twist me up in knots just so you can feed your own damn ego.”

She smirked. “And you aren’t enjoying it?” “No, I’m not.” “You don’t enjoy seeing me naked?”

“I… actually, that part’s great, but the mind games and crap that goes along with it sucks.”

“If I gave you one wish,” she said, “something that can happen in this room, what would you wish for?”

I stared at her, and I could feel myself growing hard again.

Then I wised up. “You’re not going to grant my wish, so what’s the point in answering that question?” I said in irritation.

Has the narrative finally noticed that Ian is being abused? There’s no coming back from the tonal whiplash of having a story that scene-for-scene is mostly about setting up straw villains based on people the author doesn’t like and then knocking them down, but the overarcing plot is about a rape victim avenging herself. That said, I have the faintest glimmer of optimism that this book might at least end up unwinding one of its biggest problems: That it completely ignores how deeply unhealthy Alaria’s behavior is.

“Would you like me to take you in my mouth?” I gulped. I hadn’t been expecting that. “Would you like me to get you hard… and then suck on you?” She smiled and suggestively licked her lips. “Would you like me to play with your balls as I slowly move up and down on your shaft, my tongue soft as velvet, slowly bringing you higher and higher until you explode in my mouth?”

Suddenly she returned to her same old game: she went cold. A 180 degree change in attitude. Her face grew distant, and her eyes turned icy. “It’s always about what you masters want. You humans. You always take and take and take without any thought about the person you’re taking from.”

“I’m not like that,” I said defensively.

Ha ha, just kidding, Alaria is actually using Ian’s lust and guilt to manipulate him into doing things for her. There is no version of this that is not 100% abusive. Ian is pursuing Alaria’s agenda, not his own. Her quest for vengeance is driving the plot, not because of circumstances beyond Ian’s control, but because he has decided that is the quest line he wants to pursue. He hypothetically has the power to command her to follow his own agenda if he actually had one, but he doesn’t. Likewise, if it was really “all about what you masters want,” he’d just order her to do it. Ian can turn pain off at-will and death is an inconvenience for him. Alaria cannot meaningfully retaliate against him even if she does end up with a different master who is also willing to let her run around pursuing vengeance. As much as Ian’s Nice Guy strategy of endless pursuit until consent is finally extracted is creepy and wrong, Alaria doesn’t know about it, and even if she does what she’s doing here isn’t more firmly establishing boundaries but rather manipulating Ian’s attraction to her.

And this is apparently supposed to be romantic. Sure, the book realizes it’s not your standard, mainstream romcom kinda romance. But it thinks it’s some kind of romantic, that some kind of genuine and healthy relationship is evolving here. This book doesn’t seem to realize that it’s about the cycle of abuse.

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