[The Aberrant Gamer is a weekly, somewhat NSFW column by Leigh Alexander, dedicated to the kinks and quirks we gamers tend to keep under our hats-- those predilections and peccadilloes less commonly discussed in conventional media. Hentai gaming, fantasy fanfics, twisted psychology and notes from the dark side-- we'll expose, discuss and enjoy the delicious underbelly of our beloved gaming universe.]

-Just like with sex, the visual component’s a huge part of gaming. However, the text-only interactive fiction community’s still going strong, programming, sharing and entering into competition text adventures of all stripes— throwbacks to the Infocom era that are often quite sophisticated. Gamers can still enjoy over a decade’s worth of text adventures with only a simple, fuss-free interpreter for TADS or Inform, two of the most common languages for writing interactive fiction.

Interactive fiction—commonly called simply “IF”—requires a goodly helping of imagination. This is due in part to the fact that solutions are sometimes notoriously obscure, but largely, it’s simply because in today’s environment of lush game cinematics and jaw-dropping graphics, it’s increasingly tough to play a game where all of the images are user-created—that is, spun from the mind’s eye.

Many Hentai games are little more than point-and-click slideshows of character graphics; given the often typified plot construct clumsily erected to showcase the sex scenes, plenty of people prefer to bag the “game” entirely and just download the CG sets. Given this, how erotic can a completely image-free sex game be?

Not surprising, but the imagination can be quite a bit mightier than the pixel. Images or no, text adventures can offer some of the most unabashedly aberrant experiences available to gamers.

One such game, written in 1996 by “Scarlet Herring" and titled Moist, is recognized as one of the better erotic titles in the interactive fiction archive. Your player character is a nondescript naked man—he’s chanced to wander away from his nudist colony—who’s become trapped in the castle of the lascivious Queen Morghana. To escape, the player will have to effectively seduce each of Morghana’s three servants to earn a chance to try and satisfy the Queen herself.

The fairly standard text adventure puzzle structure is in play here as you explore the castle to reach new areas, any of which might hold an object key to your conquest. To put it plain, you can find rope, lubricant, sex toys and even batteries for such niceties. Each female character is slightly different and requires something specific to submit, and as expected, the Queen herself is the greatest challenge, once you reach her. It’s quite difficult, perhaps impossible, to please her unless you’ve brought the resources to occupy her in several areas at the same time. Once you’ve achieved victory, you can roam freely about the castle and revisit your new friends.

It’s a bit unwieldy and embarrassing—after all, if we are using our imaginations here, we must picture ourselves as a naked dude walking around a castle with armloads of sex props, and the medieval elements will push the nerd factor beyond the pale for some. And while the females’ responses, reactions and behavior are impressively natural considering they’ve been pre-parsed, their occasionally inappropriate AI blurting can be awkward—even funny. So’s the fact that your character can “interact” with certain inanimate objects, like an anatomically correct statue.

Overall, though, by stimulating the other major organ (remember the brain?), Moist manages to offer a little bit more cerebral and immersive a gaming experience than many of its graphic-rich, soundtracked and voice-acted counterparts—and perhaps it’s refreshing that it doesn’t take itself too seriously; it has a certain charming self-awareness.

Text adventures are not subject to the ESRB, and anyone with a readily-available programming language can make one—and remain wholly anonymous, if they so choose. As a result, games like Samantha Jones’s 2002 creation Depravity Bites are made possible. If seducing a corseted queen in Moist is too tame for you, give this one a try.

But a bit of fair warning: it’s purely alternative fetish—very alternative— where mutilation bondage and something called a “yellow enema” are only the lighter side. Depravity Bites is far closer to the true definition of psychological aberration than any plain sex game, but though I earnestly struggled to find appropriate language with which to review it, I’m forced to surrender for now.

In today’s massively multiplayer world, a solitary, stripped-down experience is surprisingly easy to appreciate. Rather than being a letdown, the text-only, no-frills interface feels intimate, the privacy a relief. Nobody’s watching—not even, technically, you—and a flexible, word-driven world provides a sense of freedom rare in the high-stimulus environments where we currently play.

[Leigh Alexander is a blogger at her Sexy Videogameland site and reviewer for outlets including Paste Magazine. She can be reached at leigh_alexander1 AT yahoo DOT com.]