Today I have an interview with Aleksandra Sontowska and Kamil Wegrzynowicz on their game, The Beast, a single player, long-play, narrative game. I played The Beast in an early playtest, and it was fascinating - an experience I could never repeat, but certainly a game I'd try again to see something new! See their answers to my questions below.
Note: The Beast is targeted for adults, and the game and this interview both contain sexual content.
What excites you about The Beast?
Kamil: For me it’s about body horror and physiology. It was about breaking boundaries about what I can do with my body and how can I perceive it. There’s a lot of tension and excitement with breaking, rearranging the body, the way it works, experimenting with it.
On the other hand there are feelings involved. What do I feel about sexuality, how do I approach my physiology. How can I deal with all the things that turn me on. So, yeah, these are all the things I found in Barker and Cronenberg and was fascinated by them and I wanted to put in the game.
Aleksandra: One of the things that excites me most about Beast are secrets. The Beast is a secret. You can remember that when I was organizing playtests, the playtesters reveal sparingly what happened with their Beasts, what they looked like, what they wrote in their diaries. People told me what cards didn’t work and why, but without details. They pointed which cards were triggering, but not why. Even now, when there are 2 or 3 actual plays online, I feel there’s so much more, hidden behind what was said or written.
I know, too, that the fact that the game explicitly says to burn or hide the diary makes people uneasy. There’ll be a reason for them to do it.
And I too won’t tell what happened with my Beast. I too shivered with desire and disgust of vivid imagery that came to me.
When you were designing The Beast, what sources did you use for inspiration?
Kamil: I was this brooding and rebellious art geek for a long time, so it was my hobby to find transgressive and weird media. Right now I’ve mellowed but there’s counterculture guy still inside - besides the most important here and mentioned before - Clive Barker and David Cronenberg there was JG Ballard, Kathe Koja, Dusan Makajevev’s Sweet Movie, cinema of transgression, Coum Transmissions’ art and so on. Not always obvious and not always mentioned, we didn’t have enough space, but I guess I owe them a lot.
Also, we were thinking about and designing games about sex and sexuality before. This is what you get when two game designers become a couple. For my part it was a follow up to our earlier game project - Mistress and Sexbot - and the thought that we couldn’t finish this game was nagging me. The Beast first appeared from this design frustration.
But most important and inspiring thing for me here was Aleksandra’s input - her emotions, ideas, and sources she found. They really pushed The Beast forward.
Aleksandra: My sources were more personal . I suddenly discovered pleasure of sex, and then I was reading everything I could find. Mostly these were articles about sex and interviews with people into BDSM and kink. Kvinden der drømte om en mand was an important movie for me, showing a woman sexually obsessed with a man - who was an asshole, really, but it didn’t matter for her. Not often can you find a movie showing sex from woman’s perspective.
What about The Beast do you think causes players to dig so deep into their dark fantasies?
Aleksandra: Is it so? I think important part of this experience is that we’re upfront what the game is about. And when I say: “in this game you’re fucking the monster in your basement” most people will know in a second whether they’re excited or disgusted by the idea (or both). If they’re excited, we’re just helping them.
Kamil: First, long term play. You get used to the beast, and even if question you get is triggering or uncomfortable, you have whole day to deal with your emotions. And long term play makes The Beast part of your daily routine.
Second, questions. Every question had to:
- be presupposing and provocative, and,
- involve one or more of four categories: sexual, physiological, personal, social.
With the secretive nature that Aleksandra mentioned, how did you encourage players to both share and keep secrets, using the game's mechanics and language?
Aleksandra: And why haven’t you shared your Diary widely? ‘Hide or burn’ is for a reason. The Beast is obviously skewed toward keeping silence about what happened during those 21 days, mostly because in the game you’re playing yourself or someone similar to you. It’s the reason the game feels personal - and why players don’t go around talking about it.
Kamil: As of both sharing and keeping secrets - it’s a funny thing. When players are in “honeymoon phase” of the gameplay, by which I mean the moment they bought it and later on the first five or six questions, they are really eager to show off their game and enthusiasm. But later when they’re become invested in the fiction and the game hits them hard they go silent. And even when someone plays The Beast in public it’s visible for me there’s a lot more than what they show to the world.
Most of the instructions and the way it was written is Aleksandra’s work. She really tried to take care of the player and make them feel safe. I think this part is important here. It guides the feel of the gameplay.
What is the most intense experience you have had (that you are willing to share!) with The Beast on your own?
Kamil: For me it was realization how mean and cold I could be in a relationship. I perfectly knew the game tricks me to feel this way but I was still caught off guard when it happened. And even now I’m writing “this happened” instead of ”I thought and decided in the game”.
Second thing in the same gameplay was also realization how my fantasies were growing in unexpected direction. At first I wasn’t sure of my beast, it’s not really my kink, I thought, but let’s see what happens. Later in the game I started to like it and experiment with it. It was scary.
Aleksandra: Excerpt from my Diary:
“Someone knows about the Beast, why aren't they talking about it?
'I'll give you a blowjob, just don't tell anyone about it'.
Kneeling, I clench my mouth on his dick. I'm doing it like the Beast is with my whole body. I swallow his penis, I'm choking, I'm swallowing it again, I'm vomiting his penis and full dinner.
He runs off.
He won't tell anybody.”