Video: Splashing about in Luxuria Superbia

(from June 9, 2014)

Transcript

Hello. I'm Cha and I like splashing about in video games. Today I am wading into Luxuria Superbia by Tale of Tales.

The name comes from the seven deadly sins -- it's the Latin for lust and pride -- but it doesn't have any of the negative connotations of that. Everything's very bright and playful. The lust aspect should become fairly obvious in a second. I feel like pride can easily be an aspect any game with the possibility to win or lose, or to earn a higher score, and I struggle with that gamer pride and ego sometimes. But I get the vibe from this game that it's confident it's coming from a good place, with a healthy kind of pride and... delight I guess.

The flower likes colour but if I fill the flower with colour too quickly it's going to finish and that's just embarrassing all around. So I need to take it slow and drag things out I feel a little bit under pressure to be honest. The movements are slightly inexact and the feedback can be limited, so I get to wonder if I'm doing this right.

A lot of people will be playing this game in touch screens. I'm more comfortable on PC and I've got my larger monitor and gamepad. I like the sensation of my two thumb sticks. Some people have written about Luxuria Superbia as being about a very direct relationship with technology, like you're actually pleasuring your iPad or whatever. I hadn't really thought of that but it's an interesting way of looking at it.

It's easy to assume these tunnels are vaginal, and they could be but it's a narrow way of thinking about it. Even if you are going to be literal and body-focused about it, bodies also include other spaces and bear in mind that flowers can easily be male, female, both or neither. And in some ways the level conclusion seems like ejaculation or release of pollen. Not that there's any reason it can't be a woman's ejaculation of course. There are female vocalisations in the background but to me at least it feels more like a backdrop than anything else. Like putting on a favourite record to set the mood, or even just happy thoughts popping up in your head while you're enjoying yourself. Really I'd say this is all whatever you want it to be.

The game hub is this kind of temple, though it's referred to as a garden. Layering my own ideas over the top, it makes me think about how often spiritual ideals are about getting away from the Earth and the body. That those are unclean and rejected for something more so-called pure. So this seems to be getting back to a more naturalistic kind of spirituality, where it's not such a clear binary between the Earth and the Heavens.

The temple starts out very white but as we play it's gradually filled with colours, beginning with the pink and red levels and moving through the spectrum. The stark purity of the white is replaced with something softer, more diverse, and more beautiful. Red light has a longer wavelength and lower energy than the rest of the visible spectrum. I think of it as being associated with fundamental physical concepts like danger, passion or hunger, but of course it could have plenty of other meanings.

***

I remember the first time I gave someone flowers in a romantic context. Looking back I was in a pretty crappy relationship and we weren't together very long, but it was quite physically intense and fun in the moment. I gave him dark red gerberas which are probably my favourites. And he hid them in the cupboard so his ex wouldn't see them when she dropped by. He didn't want to have to explain where they came from. I didn't really mind being a secret from her but flowers don't belong in cupboards, and every time I tried to give flowers like that it didn't go well. People were confused by it, or indifferent. In general I wanted to give flowers much more than anyone wanted to receive them, and after a few more less than successful relationships I started to see it as a bad omen and I didn't buy flowers for lovers anymore.

***

Words splashing up on screen like this is typical of a Tale of Tales game. Sometimes they've used these calligraphic, obviously hand-created letters but the more recent games use clean, modern fonts. And fair enough, it's already going to be difficult enough to read against this background.
I believe the text that comes up in the red flower here is quoted from pornography but it's so removed from its original context I can't tell if it was good porn. If you stop and think too hard pretty much everything about sexuality starts to seem ridiculous, not just porn dialogue, but hopefully in a good way.

Moving through the levels there are different metaphors going on, each with their own flavour of ridiculousness. The orange and yellow levels feel quite materialistic to me, with all these mundane and manufactured objects.
The yellow in particular is my least favourite part of the game. It's like all the expectations how a solid relationship is supposed to go. Settling down with a house and the church wedding with the bells and cake. Or, hell, maybe that's even a kid's birthday cake. Eventually all these phones start popping up like intrusive commitments.

Obviously a lot of people do want a marriage and/or kids, and everything else that often goes along with that. And a lot of people love their phones, and that's great. It's just easy to get pissed off when there are so many people out there happy to tell me what I'm supposed to want.
I really like the music in this game and honestly I tend to focus more on that than the visual objects so I don't usually end up ranting about weddings or something. There are all these layers of sound that build on each other at the same time the colours are building, and it almost seems like it's veering into something discordant but pulls itself back at the last moment.

You can call this a rhythm game but if I just let myself get too far into the rhythm things are over very quickly. If things go really badly this angry thunder cloud shows up, which doesn't feel good. Which is sort of funny because I love rain and storms and to be really cheesy about it we couldn't have the rainbow without the rain, but I still get to feel like that's a failure. That's my vulnerability. If I open up to someone, physically or otherwise, it's probably going to hurt.

Moving through the greenish and light blue levels comes back to more natural metaphors with vegetation, the ocean or the sky. I feel a lot more comfortable with that, even though there are still human-made objects that show up.
Hitting the white petals drains colour. I do that a lot, sometimes because I'm not paying attention and sometimes because the cursor's bigger than I expect it to be.

***

I've been thinking about a sex scene from True Detective. If you've watched the show you'll know the one I mean and it's mostly clothed and a bit rough and over really quickly. And the people involved don't have the best intentions and it's not smart or pretty. But it's also kind of hot, and I don't think I'm the only person who feels conflicted about that show and the things it brings up about what I find attractive. And it would be pretty ridiculous for me to be playing this
sweet game and start complaining that it's not True Detective, but it is less in the turn on, if you like. Not that it needs to be, exactly.

These levels are quite abstract but people still easily recognise them as erotic and the reviews are full of words like "raunchy". I don't like the word raunchy here partly because it sounds taboo and dirty, which I object to. Also that it just doesn't feel like that kind of sex. Sex can be beautiful in a really raw and messy way but this is softer. It's full of clean shapes and flat blocks of colour. The text repeatedly asks to be kissed gently, and there's a lot of metaphor and sensuality. But it's not very bodily. Part of that worries me because sex and bodies have been dressed up in metaphors a lot, and it makes me think about crappy sex ed classes or all the ads where menstrual blood is replaced with blue liquid.

There is another level which doesn't come as naturally to me, and that means getting back to that temple and the spiritual aspects going on here. Luxuria Superbia is part of a broader research project code-named "Concentric" which is looking at the links between sex, games and spirituality. There's an interesting Tumblr of their research stream for this, which could hint at some of the inspirations the developers are working with. And it contains this evocative mix of sexual imagery, nature, science, religious icons, architecture, old mediaeval art and so on. There's a link in the video description if you want to check that out.

Sex and spirituality are linked and connection with yourself or others can be transcendent.

The climax of each level is like a mandala, as though it's trying to connect us with some other emotion or level of existence. And moving through these different colours feels a bit like working through the chakra system, or probably many other spiritual frameworks. I'm really just skimming the surface of these kinds of ideas because they aren't things I know a heap about.

Something changes in the later indigo and violet levels. The backdrop is dark instead light, moving away from those earthly metaphors and into outer space. The words become more esoteric and there's a dissolving of physical boundaries and a loss of self.

***

Something that stuck with me from when I was fairly young... I was reading an Isaac Asimov book and, if I remember it right, a man got into a relationship with a woman from another world. But that planet was Gaia and everything was connected, so every sensation she experienced would also be felt by the rest of her planet. And the man had to get past his discomfort that they couldn't have any real privacy, and that he couldn't just love her without in some way also loving everything she was part of. I was about twelve when I read this so I don't remember much about what happened after that, but I suppose that was the right age for that idea to burrow into my head and never leave. And I wanted to know what it feels like to really be connected, and I never wanted to be private and detached.

***

The final level starts in pink like we're coming full circle, and the colour quickly drains away to a white background again. The level contains a combination of all the other colours. It's a logical way to end but I didn't really find it as beautiful as the earlier levels. Maybe because the straight lines stand out more. If all the pillars are filled the garden temple releases these sprinkles of colour, like seeds, pollen or confetti. Well, hopefully not confetti but it does feel like a celebration.

I assume this is the finished garden but if I've missed something let me know. Although I don't really want to over-emphasise the word "finished". Journeys involving love, sex or spirituality never really end and if these shiny lights are some kind of seed they'll be dispersing away to start over again. With abstract games like this it's particularly obvious how much of the experience is shaped by what you bring to it, so this has been a slightly self-indulgent way to start making videos.

Thanks for watching and I hope to see you again.