[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.]

-When we think of Hentai games, we usually think of traditional “bishoujo” dating sims, the click-through stories with occasional plot branches and interruptions for a few still sexual images. The range beyond that is somewhat limited, largely because attempts to introduce other game elements often feel misplaced or awkward. There are simplistic strip poker-style card games, with progressively undressed women in the background, and more than a few fighting games that—except for the ability to punch off your female opponent’s clothing, possibly some erotic CG as a reward for victory—play pretty much like any 2D brawler.

The dialogue-tree story format is so prevalent because it’s safe, but it turns many off to the genre. Hard for people to sit through verbose text box after text box, automatically clicking, during what’s supposed to be their—let’s call it “intimate leisure time.” These games are often called simulators, but with a limited number of choices and possible outcomes, and almost entirely static imagery, the player becomes more a passive viewer than a real-time orchestrator of any actual action—so it’s somewhat of a misnomer.

But what if a sex game really were a sim? What would it look like if the player had flexible objectives, a variety of elements to manage at once—and complete control?

One man, three young girls, plus sex, plus total control. The game’s called The Maid’s Story (JAST USA 1997), and depending on your point of view, it’s either very hot, or utterly creepy.

It’s not uncommon for Hentai game stories to begin with a sudden stroke of implausible luck—a sorority has just moved into your apartment house, or you’ve suddenly awoken from a strange dream to find yourself the only man in a land of nymphomaniacs. The Maid’s Story doesn’t break any ground here—you play a student down on his luck, suddenly given the opportunity to take charge of a training school for maids.

Teaching then how to scrub under the toilet rim and white-glove testing their furniture polishing? Not so much. The game takes great liberty with the definition of “maid,” skewing, predictably, toward the fetishistic. These gals aren’t just learning to become fastidious domestics, but must receive training in “night service” also—hands-on sex ed with a dose of humility instruction so heaping it’s more like humiliation.

-You’re responsible for three new students—Hitomi, the clumsy blonde, Sanae, the bratty redhead, and Azusa, the raven-haired sophisticate whose endowments could have rescued the Titanic. You manage their schedule, decide what they’ll learn each day, and can either encourage or scold them as they go about their daily business. During the day, you can observe and interact with your trainees in a cross-section view of the house, and watch their statistics. When night falls, you choose a girl for a little alone time, during which you get a close-up view and some options to choose from as you perform some one-on-one instruction in her bedroom duties.

Like any training-raising sim, the girls—and the household chores—have stats to consider. Whether you praise or scold a girl, or whether you buy her gifts, affects her fondness for you, and the girls can tire out—particularly if your night service was too arduous or you attempted to force her to do something too ambitious for her current level of expertise.

-Bizarrely, all the girls have entered your instructional program of their own accord—Hitomi aspires to become an excellent maid, and Azusa actually ran away from home. Sanae has rationalized that your ministrations will train her to become a better wife. Everyone’s aware of what they’re getting into, and everyone’s consenting—no problem, right?

It’s not quite that simple. In many cases, the more you treat the girls as objects, the better they’ll like you and the more available they’ll become. The gifts you can buy them range from the charming—like sweets—to the obscene; embarrassing devices you can use on them during night service, for example. Some of the things you can do sexually—and must do, if you want to train them successfully—are unusually left-of-center even for this genre, faintly unsettling when you consider that while the game toes the line by claiming all the girls are 18, Hitomi looks like a young teen and Sanae—whose options for advanced night service are especially degrading-- looks very nearly child-like.

Moreover, as the in-game days progress, you and your girls will eventually receive visitors—usually distasteful-looking businessman types ready to test out the maids’ skills. If your maid is not well-trained, she’ll bungle the service. Given that they’re so unfortunately sweet-looking, the sight of one of your trusting trainees weeping with tea spilled all over her is heartbreakingly gratuitous. One potential visitor is your lascivious, gold-digging blonde ex-girlfriend, Itsuki, who will "vent her jealousy” on the new little ladies in your life.

-If you’ve taken care with your maids, at the end of the game (you’ve got 90 in-game days) one of the maids will, of course, become the love of your life. Though you can also get back together with cruel Itsuki, depending on some of your choices, receiving the love of a girl you’ve consistently abused, demeaned and forced is actually a common convention in h-games. Perhaps it’s not so surprising; fans of certain schools of S&M will tell you that, between consenting individuals, that sort of dynamic is erotic, even fun, and helps to deepen an emotional bond. But the power game in The Maid’s Story extends beyond sex.

When you look at it a little deeper, the wish fulfillment seems to be not in the sex act, but in the player’s status. A down-on-his-luck nobody suddenly becomes the ultimate authority in a house of difficult girls, and his ex-girlfriend comes scraping back for attention. Not one, but three girls now look to you to decide what kind of woman they’ll be. It’s an empowering vengeance act, these unusually fierce taboos and this rather callous humiliation; a forcible re-assertion of power by a man over four (including Itsuki) opaque, manipulative women.

And, as a sim, it’s not too bad. It’s actually rather challenging and involved, sexual interaction aside. And realistic, too—if the girls don’t do laundry, they’ll have to go without clothing. If they don’t cook, they starve, as spiders take up residence in your kitchen. With all this detail (even in a decade-old game), it’s quite easy to feel like you really are the man in control of this entire operation. And that’s exactly the point.

[Leigh Alexander is the editor of Worlds in Motion and writes for Destructoid, Paste, and her blog, Sexy Videogameland. She can be reached at leigh_alexander1 AT yahoo DOT com.]