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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

On Despair Stories

Stories have shapes. This should be a surprise to no one in the literary field. Typically they look like wave patterns; rise, then fall, rise then fall, etc. building up to the glorious climax. The truth is that this pattern doesn't just apply to typical stories you could read in a bookstore, but porn as well if it has anything more than a token plot.

Of particular interest to me is something I call a "despair" story. The point of those stories is that the bad guy wins and everything ends up terrible. These are different from tragedies in that the victim(s) often are not at fault at all. None of my games are really despair stories, but they're essential to a lot of adult content out there. It's important to know why we enjoy them.

An AI recently gave a basic overview of these patterns in an article. For the sake of convenience I'll post it here.

These are the story types:

1. Rags to Riches (rise)
2. Riches to Rags (fall)
3. Man in a Hole (fall then rise)
4. Icarus (rise then fall)
5. Cinderella (rise then fall then rise)
           6. Oedipus (fall then rise then fall)

The ones of particular interest to despair stories are 2, 4, and 6. These are stories that end on a down note. They also end on a kind of twisted up note. Whatever perverse plans the villain has have succeeded. Be that mind break, brainwashing or what have you.

Let's break these down a little bit more. We'll start with the Riches to Rags story. This is the quintessential "invaded kingdom" story. The story goes like this: There's a kingdom with attractive lady knights and/or princesses and it's invaded. The invaders win and the story starts. These stories are always ramps simultaneously both upwards and downwards. The female characters are slowly degraded and lowered in status over the course of the story. That progression effectively IS the story. It only ends when the heroine has hit rock bottom. It's also going upwards in terms of sexual content. While they typically start with sex or rape of the main character they then move onto public humiliation, violating the character's friends and often monster sex. They generally end with some sort of public gangbang.

That's not the only story that uses it. In the Erotic Mind Control writing community there's a pretty typical story. There's a girl that's unpleasant to be around, she's brainwashed and the sex is steadily ramped up along with the mind control until she's essentially a meat puppet.

The common theme here is the humiliation and despair in defeat. Someone is flawed or fails in some way and is punished for it. Perhaps the person is blameless, in which case the focus is on evil simply having its way with the innocent. The joy here has several layers, not all of which everyone will experience. First is sympathy with the character; like we watch horror films to feel fake horror as we self insert into the roles of the protagonist, many watch despair flicks to feel this fake despair. Second people can sympathize with the villain; for them this is a rags to riches story. The lower the princess goes the higher the villain is buoyed up. This split-narrative is really important to despair stories. Unpleasant joy mixed with despair create a unique sensation in the viewer some will like. The point of a genuine evil villain winning is to tinge any sympathetic joy with disgust or horror. It makes the sympathetic sensation of "victory" bittersweet.

The second type of story is Icarus. Generally speaking the theme of these stories is hubris and punishment. This is the Taiminin Asagi type of story. You've got very powerful heroines. Maybe they're sentai or magical girls or ninjas, but they start off the story from a strong position wiping out weaker foes. They embrace their power and confront the villain. The turning point is generally hubris. The heroines underestimate the villain or the villain has an unforeseen trick the heroines might have avoided if they were less contemptuous of their opponent.

For instance in Kangoku Senkan the characters Lieri and Naomi are stuck on a ship with a crew actively trying to turn them into sex slaves. They successfully fight off the entire ship and the villain, but the villain turns out to have been hiding knockout gas canisters beneath his shirt. From there it's like story one; a long slow ramp of humiliation and escalating sex scenes while at the same time the villain's status keeps going up. For them the story is usually the Man in a Hole story. Commander Bowgun, for instance, the villain-protagonist of Kangoku Senkan starts out having just gotten out of the prison Naomi and Lieri put him in. They have weapons and authority on their side; for him it's an uphill battle against powerful opponents.

Again we see how the story is split. Another layer of all this is Schadenfreude; these stories often go out of their way to ensure than the female victims are rather unpleasant people to start with. All the more reason to see them punished. Not only for the hubris but also for their character flaws. While this should bring the reader closer to the villain the villain is often despicable enough that they're not even slightly sympathetic even when they should be in the narrative. The joy of seeing those who have done wrong punished is tainted by the villains perversion and nature. Yet a common theme here is also that the victims flaws are not worth even the slightest fraction of the punishment they receive. The punishment is always, by nature, unfair and disproportionate.

The final story is Oedipus. We all know Oedipus, of course, but it's a tragedy. A despair story isn't usually a tragedy because the events that happen are usually outside the victim's control. Tragedies are, at their core, watching someone fall due to their own flaws. The Oedipus despair story is different. In them characters fall because outside forces (the villain) make them happen. They need not be passive victims but it is futile. They are doomed from the start.

Perhaps the best example of this I can recall is a mind control story called Radio Flyer. Now while the story is much too lighthearted to be thought of as a despair story it would take almost no effort to tweak it into a story that would be.

In it, the main character develops a mind control device and brainwashes various girls. A councillor discovers this and helps the girls resist and break free temporarily. The villain is almost defeated. Then he overcomes their resistance and gradually breaks the councillor's mind using the same method she protected the girls with. The girls in the story follow the pattern. Low as they're enslaved, high as they're freed, and then low again as they're re-enslaved, more tightly than ever. And again it's the opposite arc for the villain protagonist. Low before the device, then high after he gets his harem. Low again as it goes free and he's on the run, but it once he defeats his nemesis he's back on top again with everything he could ever want.

Understanding the patterns of stories is essential to writing them and I'm particularly fond of the despair genre myself. They have a pleasing duality to them that's both a greasy kind of wonderful and terrible. They're unusual stories in that the villain and the heroine often get equal screentime. They're erotic but also tickle the part of us that feels the drop starting when a rollercoaster tips over the hill. We want the dread and misery. We want the joy of evil triumphing over good.

Why? Because we've all suffered unfairly at the hands of forces outside our control. Be that slow lines at the DMV or the victim of a hurricane many of us know the feeling of unfair pain that we did nothing to cause. We've also seen villains win before. Real life doesn't mandate good always wins like a Saturday Morning Cartoon series. Moreover sometimes all of us are a little evil and we like it. Essentially this is just a way of freeing the id and doing whatever you please without regard for the consequences, something every single human being has dreamed about at various points. So you combine them. The joy of evil's triumph and the despair of the innocent violated. The point isn't to cause you to feel real pain but sympathetic pain and joy. Nor is it something so crude as to "show dem wimmenz what fer" or anything like that. Though misogyny is a big part of this genre it's a part of it because degradation is part of the downward spiral. And indeed, nothing keeps this story from having a female villain and male victim, or a villain and victim of the same gender.

Things like this are a part of how the human mind works. To learn how to deal with fear we set up fake fear simulators and call them "horror stories". To learn how to deal with despair and our own dark impulses we seek out stories like these. Some love them because they imagine themselves the villain; others love them because they imagine themselves the victim. There's nothing wrong with either side for so long as it remains fantasy no one is harmed. Indeed, those who go in and read these stories may emerge refreshed and better able to deal with life's unfairness and cruelty. We're not evil creatures but we're not wholly good, either. From time to time even the best of us loves to see a little evil.