Degrees of Lewdity: A Review

Debates around gender and sexual identity are currently framed from the standpoint of a subjective historical narrative that is then used to categorize a particular group by its relation to said record. While identity politics may serve as useful in one sense, by offering an account by which groups can examine and coalesce together beneath, such discourse may not offer a useful way of escaping the often binary structure with which these arguments are framed within Western society. Instead, will I argue that what is currently relegated to the realm of gender identity and sexual expression, regardless of the society, actually refers to a psychosocial space that carries cultural attitudes towards that which is sacred versus that which is considered profane. Thus, rules around sex acts and bodily behaviors or presentation have a relationship to the law, as it is through this that citizens are bound to a set of regulations and expectations concerning their actions and how they “appear” within society. Typically, the original formation/genesis of laws intended to regulate the body have a material basis or origin to them (for example, rules are placed over the female sex to try and ensure the propagation of the next generation of citizens, from which the logic of classifying and othering sodomy flows) and we remain bound to the essential structure of these arguments, even in cases when their historical basis seems outmoded or easily challenged. 

While the specific nature of which codes or symbols a particular society uses to “mark” or identify those who do not carry out functions set forth by the law may vary, these simply mask the true function of this psychosocial space-as-reservoir. If as Foucault notes, “…it is not through sexuality that we communicate with the orderly and pleasingly profane world of animals; rather, sexuality is a fissure–not one which surrounds us as the basis of our isolation or individuality, but one which marks the limit within us and designates us as a limit,” then transgressive art and literature may be the very thing that is needed to speak at the heart of what is taboo, as it forces viewers to migrate towards the borders of what they consider sacrosanct. In this post, I will explore the potential of transgressive art as something that can challenge dominant ideologies through an examination of the online game Degrees of Lewdity as well as through a brief history of grindhouse films. This will be examined in what Deleuze postures as a “masochistic modality” which differs from its colloquial usage and instead refers to an agent who actively and knowingly places themselves in a passive position to shape their drama, an act through which they can subvert relations of power.

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Spurred on in great part by Flash’s end of life in December as well as boredom caused by being stuck inside during the pandemic, I decided to spend time playing porn games online in a sort of nosedive into nostalgia. As one of the longest-running components of the internet, developed originally in 1996, Flash has been responsible for some of the web’s most popular games like Bubble Shooter and Angry Birds. This computer software was also used in the creation of shows that helped popularize the lo-fi look of Adult Swim cartoons from the mid to late 2000s, such as Metalocalypse and Squidbillies. Among many uses, Flash was often utilized by smaller developers and artists to create 2D animations or interactive games. This led to the creation of portals dedicated to hosting said games such as Miniclip and Newgrounds. 

Early versions of Flash allowed for graphics and animation editing in small digital sizes that made it ideal for downloading via the web and, eventually, the creation of fully immersive and interactive sites that were seemingly complex for the time but could still run over a dialup connection. This software was provided free of charge and made available across multiple platforms which allowed for its spreadability across the web and ultimately resulted in most browsers utilizing its capabilities. Though much of the internet was already prepared to move beyond Flash well before its expiration date (or had done so already) fumbling through this erotic landscape by playing around on these original Flash-based sites made me wonder about what, if any, greater theoretic connections could be made. 

Though shorter flash games like those in the Meet N’ Fuck series were highly entertaining, I was able to finish them in succession within a short amount of time. While comedic and stimulating, the games lacked the length and depth that I craved. Eventually what caught my eye was not a Flash game at all, but an HTML5 based sandbox text game that once I started, I couldn’t put down: Degrees of Lewdity. According to the developer’s Vrelnir site, the aim of Degrees seems simple enough: “You play an 18-year-old boy or girl in a town full of people with lewd intentions. Go to school and find honest work, turn to a life of crime, or sell your body in more carnal ways.” Such instructions, while presented as straightforward, skip over the emotive aspects of the experience one has while playing the game. Far from an easy ride, the gameplay is immediately jarring, for lack of a better word. Throughout the game, your customizable character is immersed in a hostile environment filled with assault and corruption. Almost every character can pose a threat, from teachers to strangers on the street. Though the game’s themes would undoubtedly seem controversial to some, I wondered if there was not something to be gleaned from the experience of playing, as someone who is often interested in looking for novel ways of approaching media that most might deem salacious.

When examining mass media communication technologies during the late ’80s and early ’90s, Félix Guattari posited that such tools present a two-fold path through their use with one road leading towards the possible dissolution and blebbing of larger firms and the other leading us towards a technocratic dystopia. Yet what makes the internet different from, say, television and film is the sheer volume of content that it amasses because it is driven almost entirely by user participation. In a cultural sense, attempting to steer the internet in a more “open” direction will require us to, at the very least, provide a counter-discourse for understanding material that others may find abhorrent and rethink the role desire formation plays within society. The argument could be made, then, that art mediated by or disseminated through the use of modern technology, such as erotic games, may help individuals accommodate a masochistic relation to power. Contrary to colloquial uses of the term, a masochistic modality allows for the expression of historical and social guilt in an eroticized way which gives some forms of erotic material the ability to activate fantasy as opposed to disinhibiting it or only activating it in addictive, maladaptive ways. However without careful consideration, this modality can be rerouted back into frustration, anger, and “lashing out,” as much of the unbridled rage of American male teens in the past 30 years has shown, with online hubs having served as incubators for reactionary forms of culture such as Gamergate and incels. 

Though anti-porn feminists like Julie Bindel, Catherine MacKinnon, and Andrea Dworkin did not specifically cover pornographic games in their work, it would not be a stretch to say that such thinkers like Dworkin, who was an outspoken critic of pornographic transgressive stories like Bataille’s Story of the Eye, would vehemently oppose pornographic games and media like it. Julie Bindel, operating off of the notion that pornography is, “just prostitution with a camera,” has referred to Onlyfans as, “a vaguely sanitized porn set,” a digital space that allows for exploitation. She has similarly chastised Pornhub as “vile in the extreme” and points to videos of forceful encounters (whether staged or not) and rampant racism within videos on the site as evidence to substantiate her point.  

For feminists like Bindel, there is no differentiation to be made between the porn industry, sex work, and pornography. She even fails to differentiate between different kinds of sex work within the trade itself. For someone like Bindel, the ills of commodified sex (particularly its most obvious violent aspects like human trafficking) are inseparable from the production or creation of porn. Sites like Onlyfans are, to her, exploitative because of the narratives some sell on there, with some engaging in things like daddy/daughter role play and fetish play, even when the content creator is fully in control of how their work is produced. To some degree, her brand of feminism brings more liberal strains of sex-positive feminism back to reality as she tends to link the occupation with notions of “empowerment” which, while offered as a theoretical comfort, ignores claims from far leftists that all work under a capitalist mode of production is inherently unfair. Moreover, there is some merit to claims that a serious representation issue lies within the world of porn production where the kinds of roles that are given to nonwhite actors tend to follow racialized scripts. While amateur porn can diversify the types of narratives actors can choose to show, which offers creators more autonomy and comfort, this is only made possible through firms that extract from the earnings creators make.

In other words, those who support a hardline anti-pornographic stance fail to differentiate between various kinds of porn (or different trades within sex work) sometimes going as far as to flatten out all pornographic production and sex work with illegal drug trades or human trafficking, while leaving out amateur porn or other kinds of erotic materials like online porn games. Though some kernels of truth may lie within such critiques, one could say that criticisms of the ways in which pornography is produced are criticisms that could be made of work under the current mode of production in general. Eliminating the illusion of particularity within anti-porn sentiments illuminates the fact that the act of singling out pornographic production as a locale for unsavory elements within society is an arbitrary one. Conversely, popular “pro-porn” arguments tend to follow the logic of rights under liberalism and, thus, misguidedly assume that 1) freedom “to do” something within modern society is automatically linked with happiness and that 2) the pursuance of happiness in and of itself will help one live a fruitful life. Additionally, when framing counter arguments that are pro pornography, some–especially far leftists, make the mistake of placing all blame for anti-pornographic attitudes on the overarching State which is subsequently cast into a scary autodidactic specter. Such an argument obscures that the road from private viewpoint to representation within the public sphere is less unidirectional and more related to a complicated set of interests, mechanisms, and pseudo legislative bodies that change hands over time. While outputs of historic tension between male-coded and female-coded individuals can be measured in various ways (such as the pay gap) identifying what, if anything, should be salvaged about pornography is a far more difficult task. This is because in modern society what is considered pornographic refers to the spectacular, the mediated gaze of desire transfixed to the image as a focal point; a stimulus which cannot be measured or directly observed outside of its semiotic arrangements.

What is currently deemed “feminist discourse” is typically thought of as a series of what is currently deemed “feminist discourse” is typically thought of as a series of movements which are often framed as in conversation with one another and arranged sequentially. Such movements are typically focused on identifying and categorizing patriarchal codes or outputs. Such obsession with identifying codes led some to claim that the so-called “Fourth Wave” feminism of 2010s-on, with its emphasis on, and active stance against, microaggressions such as “manspreading” and “mansplaining” to be too “individual” or “subjective.” Though feminism as a concept has existed now for decades, it has yet to look at how feminism as a discourse itself has possibly permeated or penetrated the field of what is considered “male coded,” (or patriarchal) the target of its criticism. While it advances and progresses off of its history, which is typically seen as an internal dialogue between movements based around central issues, (such as second vs third-wave feminists and how each handles the concept of sex positivity) it does not look at these arguments from the perspective that the introduction of such concepts in and of themselves may have had an effect on the dominant term within the power structure it aims to assess.

A quick search for the term “mansplaining” on Fox News shows us that when we can zoom out beyond the scope of left/liberal feminism’s history, a larger structure of circuitry is at work through which feminist vocabulary passes. In an article that covered the hearing of controversial Trump Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, the outlet quotes a tweet that claims she was interrupted by Senator Cory Booker “9 times in less than 20 minutes.” The senator was accused of doing the same thing to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen three years prior in a meeting over remarks Trump made about some African and Latin American nations being “shithole countries.” While this earlier article admits to the novel nature of the term: “Booker’s hostile tone prompted…Michael Ahrens to invoke the millennial term for males talking down to women,” the latter uses it without qualification, through which we can infer that by that time the term had been ultimately absorbed into mass culture. Here, we can see just one small example of how the right (in this instance used simply as a stand-in for whatever encapsulates the sphere associated with the dominant term) tracks the introduction of a new term by feminists and tries to use it to its advantage, which, in a roundabout way, legitimizes and solidifies feminist terms even further.  

Though examining issues of sex and gender by tracking concepts and their absorption or rejection by various actors over time may serve as useful from a historical perspective, it does not necessarily offer a conceptual “out” from such tensions. Thus to try and reorient discussions around gender and steer them towards new territory, I offer the idea that what we currently speak of as the tension between male and female as well as the tension between heteronormativity and homosexuality in critiques and discussions of gender expression within society is, in actuality, a sort of psychosocial space which functions as a repository for cultural attitudes towards that which is sacred and profane. In modern societies, this is based on conceptions of that which is “dirty.” 

In Purity and DangerMary Douglas explores the “relativity of dirt” where she posits that cultural laws have historically been used as a way of maintaining symbolic boundaries, where that which cannot be neatly classified or categorized is seen as that which is wrongful to harm or improper to do. Douglas claims, “Taboo is a spontaneous coding practice which sets up a vocabulary of spatial limits and physical and verbal signals to hedge around vulnerable relations. It threatens specific dangers if the code is not respected. Some of the dangers which follow on taboo-breaking spread harm indiscriminately on contact. Feared contagion extends the danger of a broken taboo to the whole community.”

Though she originally conceptualizes kosher law as another example of a reaction against that which cannot be neatly categorized, she ultimately revises this notion to include that such prohibitions within kosher law on unclean animals “are not based on abhorrence but are part of an elaborate intellectual structure of rules that mirror God’s covenant with his people.” She claims:

Of land animals, the people of Israel may only eat those which are also allowed to be sacrificed on the altar, which restricts them to eating only the species of the land animals which depend on the herdsmen entirely for safety and sustenance. What may be burned on the altar may be burned in the kitchen; what may be consumed by the altar may be consumed by the body. The dietary laws intricately model the body and the altar upon one another.

Abominable here refers not to modern conceptions of the word, but the idea that God finds abominable that which is still cared for. Still, both examples that fall neatly under her general premise as well as those deemed to be an exception to the rule carry with them the possibility that, “if the makers of opinion want to prevent freedmen from marrying slaves, or want to maintain a complex chain of intergenerational dynastic marriages, or wish to extort crushing levies – whether for the maintenance of the clergy or for the lavish ceremonials of royalty – a taboo system that supports their wishes will endure. Criticism will be suppressed, whole areas of life become unspeakable and, in consequence, unthinkable.” Douglas relates this to the notion of risk which functions as a way through which an accusation is mounted against certain kinds of behaviors and points to actions which “should be stopped” and are located through shared cultural logic. Ultimately Douglas claims, “Some taboos reinforce redistributive policies and others prevent government or individuals from accumulating power.” Additionally, classification and identification act as cornerstones within societies throughout time.

The notion of the patriarchy as a societal force casts women as a class that requires “protection” and includes the introduction of a generalized system of implicit codes which appear to us as social and legislative regulatory frameworks. In “Women and Children First,” Laura Miller articulates this when she notes, “In the Western mythos, civilization is necessary because women and children are victimized in conditions of freedom. Introduce women and children into a frontier town and the law must follow because women and children must be protected…Women, by virtue of this childlike vulnerability, are thought to live under the constant threat of kidnap, abuse, murder, and especially rape.” If we expand this understanding of gender to the idea of changing codes which mask a psychosocial “sphere-as-reservoir,” we can also place in here the tension between the heteronormative and homosexual world as what this sphere holds consistently is a unified logic and the function of the sphere remains and exists to encapsulate a society’s feelings towards the propagation and how social life should be organized.

If, as Athena Athanaseiou has noted in Dispossession: The Performative in the Political, “…in the scene of subjectification… desire and the law are inextricably intertwined” this seems to set a bleak picture for the possibilities for revolt against this framework. However: 

In this performative intertwinement, gender and sexual categories, identities, and fantasies are reconstituted and reinvented in unforeseen ways as the law ‘strives’…to produce, affirm, consolidate, thwart, commodify, or render them proper. Perhaps it would be critical to reflect on the ways in which ‘constitutive’ and ‘regulatory,’ as well as the relation between them, get fabricated, reshaped, rewoven, and reassembled in this provisional and contestable process. So my sense is that the disruption of the conceptual transition between constitution and regulation is a way to suggest…that the means through which gender and sexuality are regulated can be also the condition of the possibility for their emergence.

If we conceive of technology as something that contains a sort of  “dual potentiality,” where one end leads towards a singular form of control versus smaller nodes that contain the possibility for collective ownership then the question remains whether or not such tools can be used to generate art that challenges the basis of what we consider “acceptable.”

White flight from metropolitan areas in the US like New York City into surrounding suburbs, as well as divestment from large companies, left many once-thriving areas in desperate need of funding. As a result, many movie theaters began transforming into Grindhouses in an attempt to fill seats. Such establishments mainly showed exploitation films, movies created with little to no budget that contained large amounts of sex, violence, or other riské or bizarre content. Though these kinds of films were being created since the 1920s and some were shortly shown for a brief period before the restrictive Hays codes of the ’30s-60s were enforced, their popularity is typically associated with the ‘60s and 70s. The kinds of topics and nature of the material covered in these films were in stark contrast to those created by Hollywood studios just a few decades prior when restrictive Hays codes which ruled cinema from the early 1930s to the late 1960s were phased out, along with an overturning of previously pro-censorship rulings (such as handed down in Jacobellis v. Ohio) and shifting attitudes in public opinion allowed for a space where smaller or no-name directors could show their experimental films. 

Though the content in such movies is notorious for their controversial topics which might seem to rely heavily on stereotypes and over-sexualization, Youtube essayist Daniel Netzel notes “…in the old exploitation films you saw a lot of representation, a far cry from the typically all-male and all-white cast of most films during the era where women were just eye candy or romance options.” Movies such as Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill! Certainly show this, as an all-female cast roams around in the desert, and characters are portrayed as strong leads. By contrast, most men in this film are scripted as forgettable or placed in supporting roles which help advance the greater plot. Other examples include Pam Grier’s roles in Coffy or Foxy Brown where not only is a black woman portrayed as a lead character during a time when this was otherwise unheard of but she is painted as in control of her sexuality on her terms, as opposed to being forced to play “nice” within the parameters of a white world. In fact, “Audiences probably saw these movies just as much to learn about shameful taboo subjects as to enjoy the sexual titillation and carnivalesque atmosphere of the show…”

If we can look to exploitation movies as part of a low-budget film era that placed viewers in touch with controversial material while forcing them to think critically, maybe similar potentialities lie within the digital landscape of the internet. If as Michael Uebel notes in Toward a Symptomatology of Cyberporn:

Men exposed to 30 or so years of the discourse and political effects of feminism are men who, for one reason or another, know it is unacceptable to evince the outright patriarchalism that was part and parcel of American social life until feminism asserted itself. What results is a tension between the “enlightened” consciousness of the American male at the end of the 20th century and a patriarchal sedimentation so old it is indissoluble. This tension is then reconciled fantasmically through a masochism that, on the face of it, seems to involve a forfeiture of dominance, but that in fact is nothing other than a compensatory mechanism, one that, at the level of fantasy, allows for the restoration and consolidation of masculine power. Let us be clear: the postmodern male is unwilling, and often unable, to assume the sadistic role MacKinnon has assigned to the masculine subject generally in a patriarchal society, but, through masochism, can achieve the semblance, the affectivity, of that power without having it linked to violence. 

What’s most interesting about Degrees of Lewdity is that you can alter your playable character (PC) in various ways, you can change how nonplayable characters (NPCs) interact with you based on the choices you make (which occasionally determines how they will interact with one another), and you can change the characteristics of the people and animals in the world with you. Thus you have control over both how you project yourself to others as well as the nature of the characters you interact with, as opposed to many other erotic games where you walk through the world as a pc experiencing a set or possible set of outcomes and move towards a given endpoint or outcome. According to the site, the outside world you play in can be altered in terms of “the people who’ll be attracted to you,” while “fetishes such as tentacles can be toggled off in settings.” Yet, this description truly undersells the game’s litany of options. Not only can you alter the appearance of those who you encounter, but you can also alter the percentage. You can also change the nature of encounters themselves via the game’s “togglable features.” Some togglable features can alter your appearance (most notably encounters where parasites become attached to erogenous zones can increase the size of those parts over time).  

Note: I fiddled with these stats throughout my playthrough, but these were the percentages I set it at, to begin with.

As a sandbox-style game, Degrees of Lewdity did not have to necessarily have a clear-cut objective. However, Vrelnir chose to set a fixed objective within the game where the player owes orphanage caretaker Bailey money every week. According to the game’s wiki, these payments are “one of the few repeatable quests given within” Degrees which is introduced to the player upon starting a new game and demanded from the player weekly. These payments increase each week as “Bailey becomes more greedy and extorts the player for what they’re worth,” ultimately becoming capped at £2000. If the player does not pay, they will receive some sort of punishment. If the player decides to date Robin (a particular NPC within the game) then their payments are doubled to £4000 a week. Punishments for nonpayment become more difficult than the last as Bailey attempts to sell the player to the highest bidder. They include:

1. Being sold to a fancy dinner party to be used as a pudding for the attendees.

2. Being sold to Eden, a hunter/huntress who takes the player to their cabin in the forest where they become Eden’s property and is then subject to many BDSM-related demands while being held captive on the farm. If the player has Stockholm syndrome, this will be seen as a rescue instead.

3. Being sold to Remy, a farmer who maintains both a teaching class at a local riding school and also operates an underground farm where the player will become cattle, to be held amongst their other cows. 

4. Being sold into sex trafficking via an underground brothel.

While you have control over your appearance/gender presentation and sex within the game, the one condition you cannot change is the overall tone of your environment, which is a harsh one. The game’s toggleable settings may help you dictate the specific nature of the encounters you may run into, but in some ways, this is just “dressing your executioner.” In effect, though the settings are vast and complex, regardless of what they are, players are confronted with the blatant output of a patriarchal world, albeit in an exaggerated and more obvious form. In essence, you are not safe anywhere. In my personal experience, this made gameplay very jarring and disorienting until I was able to establish a weekly routine. To try and make the payments, I found I had to prostitute myself around town in addition to tutoring, dancing at a strip club after school, and working at a nearby cafe. I also worked heavily on my strength so I could fight off attackers more easily. Within the game, it is also possible to make money via skulduggery or scavenging in the forest for treasure, among other things. Additionally, players can determine how they feel towards their actions in the game which then dictates how actions will affect your trauma score or other attributes.  

The player can lower their trauma score in particular by performing actions they feel in control of. Depending on the player this can be through sexual acts they enjoy, through interacting with characters that lower their stress level, or through rebellious violence. In my gameplay, it was through interactions with Robin (who I ultimately chose as my love interest) and prostitution that I was able to self-soothe. Degrees acts as a model that makes patriarchal relations all that more apparent by immersing the player in a ruthless world where all one can do is search for acts and whatever that make them comfortable, if only for a minute, options which usually can only be found within the game outside of its set institutions. By doing this, Degrees actively forces players into an othered modality but does so in a way that cuts at the core of what we find abhorrent in the process. Many of these online erotic games, because they are not bound by the confines of corporeal society and its rules, experiment with more baroque features and offer more representation, and present more experimental attitudes towards sexual acts and fetishes than in traditional pornography, but without the accompanying historical narratives that mainstream porn finds it must cater to.   

In Must We Burn Sade? De Beauvoir goes over the strengths and criticisms of De Sade’s work and thought. On the one hand, she claims he can, through the way he handles taboo subject matters, show that the relationship between the self and the other is often linked through the use of cruelty and that such stories help illuminate the peculiarities of our existence. However, she claims his drawback is precisely his reliance on the world of the flesh, by which he places all vested interest in its triumph and in doing so posits a sort of moralism as opposed to freedom, albeit an unsavory one which confuses power with liberatory potential. Thus, “The world of the masochist is a magical one, and that is why [De Sade] is almost always a fetishist. Objects such as shoes, furs, and whips, are charged with emanations that have the power to change him into a thing, and that is precisely what he wants, to remove himself by becoming an inert object. Sade’s world is essentially rational and practical.” Similarly, Deleuze claims that Sade’s sadism and Masoch’s masochism are neither linked through two external nodes that are bound together nor are they, as Freud posits, two nodes that both lie within each subject, and that, rather, “number, quantity, and quantitative participation were at the specific obsessions of sadism” whereas Masoch’s masochist “experiences waiting in its pure form.” It is through this preoccupation with disavowal, suspense, fetishism, and fantasy that a masochistic modality can offer new paths in thought. In addition:

“…masochism is neither material nor moral, but essentially formal. We need for the understanding of the world of perversions in general, a genuinely formal, almost deductive psychoanalysis which would attend first of all to the formal patterns underlying the process, viewed as formal elements of fictional art.”

We can pair this with De Beauvoir’s conclusion that what truly brings us close to eroticism is risking oneself to the lure of emotional intoxication and radical vulnerability. In addition to books like Venus in Furs, films like The Last American Virgin and Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters bring viewers closer to a masochistic modality through which transgressive works are sometimes expressed. 

Depending on how one decides to play the game, Degrees of Lewdity can occupy a more sadistic frame of reference. The player acts as an overseer from a third-person point of view and moves the narrative along by selecting from a catalog of actions and elements within the game which subjects their character to a litany of consequences and helps push the boundaries of what they find morally acceptable. The work of Peter Sotos or the music of Whitehouse helps achieve the same effect by submerging you in a world that many often would never dream of touching but through which, “Severely contingent realities are created and clouded.” Other works that could be slated in this category include John Waters’ Female Trouble, which follows the escapades of a lifelong delinquent, and Bruce LaBruce’s Raspberry Reich, which centers around a terrorist group dedicated to breaking heterosexual norms. Though such films explore transgression more so through satirical humor, the effect of placing viewers alongside uncomfortable topics and bombarding them with difficult-to-handle scenarios remains the same. Still for all of the possibilities transgressive art seems to offer, it makes sense to mention that artists and works slated within this category often suffer from an issue of representation, particularly where visual mediums are concerned, although it is not completely devoid of diversity with writers like Iceberg Slim, H.P. McElwee & Lawrence Hubbard, Toni Morrison, and Donald Goines, having produced works that explore taboo topics. Taking this into consideration, this is all the more reason for marginalized people, in particular, to delve into such topics and present transgressive art to audiences. This is especially so amidst the current social media landscape that, while it offers seemingly novel ways for individuals to monetize their pornographic content like Onlyfans, runs alongside a real and present attempt to commercialize the web. Recent legislation within the US, FOSTA, and SESTA, has been especially damaging and, along with the online culture wars of the Trump era, has led to an increasing amount of censorship on social media, forums, and streaming sites. Additionally, in terms of current media, though a greater amount of on-screen representation exists, it is often through big budget production studios such as Disney who are often only willing to show a diversity of faces without offering challenging narratives or anything that might “upset” the viewer, which simply helps to reify the notion that art should be made for a “common sensibility.” Ultimately, if we conceive of gender and sexual expression as a psychosocial space, it is with transgression that we can cut at this edge with a knife.

4 thoughts on “Degrees of Lewdity: A Review

  1. I’m the creator of Degrees of Lewdity. A friend showed this to me recently, and I just wanted to let you know I enjoyed it a lot. It was energising to read. You’ve explored aspects no one else has.

    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! I’m surprised and grateful this reached you. Your game got me through a lot of dull moments during the pandemic. I look forward to playing it again soon and making different decisions next time.


  2. this was a cool read. are you doing this blog as a hobby or part of a school project or something? either way its awesome how much effort and research you’ve put into it.
    i jotted down some thoughts i had while reading this, sorry that half of them come off as inane/stupid. like i’m not very well versed wrt to sociological theory so I didn’t completely understand this properly, but i wanted to give such a thoughtful post a better comment than ‘words nice theory smart’ lol.
    your prose is v nice and I feel you explained the theory and background clearly without a ton of jargon. Especially wrt to De Beauvoir, whose writing who i often struggled to understand properly.
    also cool was the history of grindhouse film, something im 100% unfamiliar with.
    i thought you laid out anti and pro porn arguments well and were pretty fair to both sides, and your description of ‘4th wave’ feminism was painfully familiar.

    ‘going as far as to flatten out all pornographic production and sex work with illegal drug trades or human trafficking, while leaving out amateur porn or other kinds of erotic materials like online porn games.’
    you’re not wrong about them lumping all pornographic production and it was great you mentioned specifically Dworkin’s opposition to pornographic books, but I felt citing of other anti porn feminists arguments against porn was not wrong really, but slightly irrelevant since their arguments are often chiefly concerned with harm/exploitation in the production of pornography and/or were develop pre widespread internet access. i thought it was not very relevant in the discussion of an online porn game like this one, where the sex is all simulated virtually, with no real actors. saying that these anti porn arguments generalise and don’t work well for every type of porn is valid when talking about sex trafficking vs onlyfans, but like i don’t think onlyfans and amateur porn can be equivocated with this kind of online porn game and i think neither can a lot the anti porn arguments as they dont really concern themselves at all with the latter. okay i have phrased that very awkwardly sorry, rereading it ive realised im basically just paraphrasing half your arguments, im not 100% that im disagreeing and not just not parsing your writing properly.

    i liked that line about the marxist theory about the concept of work but i’m not sure it functioned here as a refutation of anti porn arguments; i’ve often seen it used to refute liberal pro-porn arguments about consent and personal choice, ie work= coercive, sex work = coercive, coerced sex=rape, sex work is gendered etc etc. ofc marxist theory was not the focus of the piece, but it could have been a bigger focus and linked more to the game, given debt is the main driving motivator in game.

    the discussion about women as a class was interesting.
    i’m not well versed enough to properly explain why and how that relates to the concept of taboo, but it’s interesting that the game gives players the option to adjust gender in order to play in a way that either conforms to the idea that “women, by virtue of this childlike vulnerability, are thought to live under the constant threat of kidnap, abuse, murder, and especially rape.” or in a way that contradicts or subverts this. i’m not sure exactly how that would fit into taboo vs sacrosanct model, my instinct is female aggressor settings could be classed as taboo, male aggressor not, but maybe me conflating not-taboo with normalised is incorrect? after all rape is still taboo even if it is commonly depicted and eroticised in various media.
    although given the PC is quite childlike (attending school, orphanage) in many ways, perhaps it conforms to that norm eitherway regardless of gender settings? That quote did make the omission of discussion of age in the game more noticeable/odd, but i get why you didn’t explore that; this piece would prob have to be twice as long!

    wow sorry this got so long. tl;dr words nice theory smart blog theme cute


    1. Oh, hey. Yeah, no. I don’t mind that this is tl;dr at all. I’ll come back to this at some point as, uh, one of the few (only?) comments worth answering. There are admittedly some sharp turns in this piece and the one after, but I was trying to work more on this weird technique/style whatever that I can’t quite name yet but that also probably isn’t totally original (like very little is these days). One that’s kind of influenced by Derrida and also Preciado and others from many other areas and many other names I don’t think it’s helpful to mention, because good readers of philosophy will know where I’m coming from and poor readers will still get something out of these posts (hopefully) even if they don’t, which is my aim. For one, this was meant to work off of other pieces I’ve done that aren’t up here so I’m presenting a bit of a narrow view. I also meant this and other works I put up here to be more of a weird experiment, mashing elements of gonzo (for lack of a better term) journalism, political theory, smatterings of big P philosophy, media studies, and knowledge from various other topics, depending on the piece, so I’m admittedly not as concerned with being philosophically accurate as I might be in other instances. For instance, I also have since critiqued how I used dworkin here a bit myself, but I made this kind of weird connection because I’m used to people in philosophy connecting her with Battaile in a really particular way (often in the same way) that I also found kind of tired. She’s a favored punching bag among a certain strain of theorists and sometimes she’s treated in ways that I think do a disservice to some of her better points. Elsewhere I tried to pair down elements of “real people porn” in a way that could be compared to virtual eroticism by thinking more of the ways in which even our categorical classifications of that kind of porn are both tied to other realms like history but are also arguably already sort of virtual because all fantasy is, in a sense. Anyway, lots of philosophy reads as really boring and I was trying to avoid that. I’m trying to do all the things I mentioned earlier in such a small amount of space I do admittedly leave myself open in certain parts but I guess I’m cool with that as it invites others to try and go over or take up the torch with me in creating multidisciplinary, stylistically varied works. I know this is a comment more about form then substance, but I guess right now that kind of what I’m more concerned with. Since I tend to deal with politics, public vs private, and “the body,” there’s this kind of timeless visceral reaction I’ve come to expect when it comes to my stuff’s content, whatever.


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