Ladykiller in a Bind

Mike Kelly
5 min readAug 1, 2017
The game’s subtitle is actually: “My Twin Brother Made Me Crossdress as Him and Now I Have to Deal with a Geeky Stalker and a Domme Beauty Who Want Me in a Bind!!”

The first thing you see when loading up Ladykiller in a Bind sets the tone immediately. “All Power Exchange Must Be Negoiated” is emblazoned upon a silhouette of someone tugging at a leather collar on a kneeling figure.

This is a game about BDSM, to be sure, but it transcends the purely prurient. Ladykiller is about consent and negotiation, boundaries and limits, and how we push against them. It’s also about vulnerability, intimacy, and trust. But the truly novel thing is that the game transcends mere lines on a screen and its themes become a key mechanic in how the story is conveyed.

The format, on its face, is pretty familiar — the game is a visual novel, driven by dialogue and choice. But even within that framework, everything is a negotiation. New topics will arrive mid-conversation, and you can either choose them or let the current discussion play out. But each has a hidden opportunity cost. These aren’t “choose one or the other” outcomes where you can see the consequences, these are more subtle, providing options to respond to a situation that give an opportunity to negotiate the outcome.

Everything is negotiated — even down to the character names. No one has a proper name in the game, only descriptors. Your very first choice is to name your character: “The Hero”, “The Beast”, or something else entirely. However, this game takes the unusual step of doing so for every other character in the game as well. It’s a way of asserting power over the narrative, but also negotiating the context in which you’ll operate. You are less likely to be involved with someone named “The Stalker” than you are “The Hacker”, even though they refer to the same person.

The sex scenes are the apex of how the narrative can be shaped by this negotiation — through the context of sexual power exchange. It goes beyond the dichotomy of domme/sub to the different modes of behavior within those roles. If you choose to be submissive, you can be either entirely willing, bratty and hedging, or resistant. As a domme, you can be gentle, harsh, playful, or sadistic. But there’s one thing that overrides all of this — consent.

The game treats consent in a novel way. It’s paramount, of course, the essential and ultimate limit on action. But consent is not simply a blanket sign-off before the act — that too is an ongoing negotiation. For example, you choose a safeword, something that immediately ceases activity that you are uncomfortable with. It’s purpose goes beyond a pure red light, however. It’s a concept that is revisited and reaffirmed constantly throughout the course of play. The one in power is always aware of that limit, and while they respect it, it does not prevent them from pushing on and negotiating those boundaries. The form of the safeword itself also must be negotiated— whenever a restraint would prevent its use, there is a shift in what new form it will take (eg, when gagged, snap your fingers).

Perhaps the best part of the narrative is how the queer culture that the game deals in serves as texture for the overall story. Most games I’ve played that seek to address queer issues tend to start from an assumption that the player has very little knowledge of the queer community. This runs the risk of spending a lot of time describing various aspects of queerness, and getting lost in the details.(“A Normal Lost Phone” is a good example of this)

Ladykiller in a Bind takes an entirely different tack. It starts from the point of view that this is a story about characters who are already intimately familiar with queer culture, or at least with their queer classmates. As a result, no explanations are needed. It displays queerness in a context where it’s not seen as aberrant or in want of acceptance — it’s already there. That’s not to say that there aren’t moments where the game needs to explain a relatively niche aspect of the culture (noting that another girl has particular nails that are closely trimmed, or that lesbians liking beer is a “thing”), but the basics are assumed. Even for someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience in queer culture, inhabiting that world is seamless and serves to educate via immersion and osmosis.

The game does make strange choices with its frame story, making things needlessly convoluted. You are a gay woman masquerading as her straight twin brother, and you need to remain above suspicion for a week while on a high school trip on a cruise ship interacting with people that are familiar with your twin. Parallel to this, these high schoolers are forced into a social experiment/game whereby whoever earns the most “votes” from their classmates will win $5 million. However, your twin is part of a shadowy organization dedicated to sowing general societal dissent. But even that’s a front to allow them to blackmail your father out of millions. It’s a weird framing, and although it allows for some good interactions — furthering the idea of negotiation with votes as actual currency — it adds very little to the themes the game treats so well otherwise.

There are also hard left turns in the main plot. As a woman pretending to be your twin brother, this necessitates presenting yourself as male. Which is all well and good, but in a game with a lot of sex scenes, pants come off quite frequently in front of the people you have been deceiving. You’d expect them to be a bit taken aback when the guy they’ve been talking to suddenly has different plumbing. Aside from genitalia, it’s immediately obvious that you have been dishonest about your identity. You are not the person that they know, and in some cases, have been intimate with. This is handwaved very quickly, and the building suspense of “what happens if they find out I’ve been lying” fizzles instantly. It misses an opportunity to explore a circumstance where the power has shifted dramatically, and play with the idea of what happens when it all goes wrong.

Ultimately, though, it is clear why Ladykiller in a Bind won the Excellence in Narrative award at last year’s Independent Games Festival. It’s a huge step forward in realizing how interactivity can add to the narrative experience of a game. While most games deal in static text and blatantly obvious branching points, it succeeds in elevating its core conceit — power exchange and negotiation — to an essential part of how one interacts with the narrative itself. It’s a simple thing, but it is executed masterfully, and provides deeper involvement with a game’s story than I’ve had in quite some time.

Plus, you know. Girls tying up other girls.



Mike Kelly

I’m trying to find a good place to scream into the void about video games.