House Party, an early access game on Steam from developer Eek! Games, is a bad video game. Your nameless player character will get stuck in walls, it’s misogynistic, and I’m pretty sure the only way to trigger an important event in the game – a fight between the straight edge, alcohol guardian Frank and the stereotypical bro character Patrick – is to essentially put in a command to end the fight or else wait for them to flail around endlessly. That all being said, I can’t stop playing House Party, and according to Steam, I’ve put almost 20 hours into it in only a few days. As crass as House Party is though, it’s got me thinking about the state of adult content in the video game industry and how it’s held at a double standard next to violent titles that feature gallons upon gallons of blood and gore.
In House Party, you play as a nameless male “protagonist” that’s invited to a party hosted by a woman named Madison (she has a sister named Ashley by the way, get it?) by your friend Derek. Your goal is to mingle with a small cast of characters to make friends and ultimately, get lucky. Like how it is in real life though – at least how it was for me, anyway – that’s easier said than done. Following classic adventure game logic, you’ll have to meet certain conditions and jump through huge logic hoops to win over the hearts of the parties’ guests.
If you want to, for the lack of a better term, “romance” a character named Katherine for example, you need to get her a drink, but all the alcohol is guarded by a bald headed, muscle bound gentleman named Frank. In order to win Frank’s trust and get some rum out of the liquor cabinet, you have to take a topless picture of Katherine, however Katherine won’t just strip in the middle of the party so you need to get her to move to a private area. You accomplish this by finding a cell phone jammer in the garage which, when turned on, will cause Katherine to move to a room by herself. Before you can take the picture, you have to find a camera and an SD card and should you take the camera while being seen, Frank will be sent to beat you down and it’s game over. Should you wish, you can spike Katherine’s drink which opens up an opportunity with another character, Stephanie, who will realize that she really likes to help people, but the end goal to both quests is the same: you get some.
I came to learn about House Party when Danny and Arin, the co-hosts of the Let’s Play series Game Grumps started playing it one day. I found myself weirdly endeared by the game and couldn’t wait for each new episode to upload to see what path they would find themselves going down or what weird bug they would uncover. I also got way too much enjoyment out of the voice acting with my roommates and other friends who watched the series introducing ourselves with Frank’s trademark “how’s it going, dude?”
I don’t have that much experience with the adventure game genre having not grown up with a PC that could run any games really, but to me at least, playing House Party brings me back to the days of playing Maniac Mansion on the NES where the characters you took in your party changed the outcome of the game. I’m not comparing House Party to that masterpiece, not by a longshot, but that’s the feeling I get personally when playing it, and I just find myself falling down one rabbit hole after another wondering what I can do next or starting over to see how I can possibly hook up with another character.
You might be reading this and think, “oh this guy a pervert who just wants to see naked virtual ladies” and that isn’t the case one bit and amongst all of the nudity and manipulating woman to get busy with, House Party is trying to start a conversation about how video games treat the content it’s presenting.
Would you call someone a murderer because they love the feeling of getting a kill streak in Call of Duty or think that someone needs to seek help because they get a smile on their face when they perform a glory kill in Doom (2016)? No, you wouldn’t, and why is that? We as players escape into video games, taking on the roles of a chainsaw gun wielding space marine, assassins who can leap off of towers into a bale of hay without breaking any bones, cowboys and superheroes, and House Party really isn’t any different.
This game is by no means a sex education tool and far from an introduction about how to act in social situations, but then Call of Duty isn’t a war training simulator either, and just because House Party’s conquests are pretty despicable at times, it doesn’t mean you can’t learn anything either.
One of my favorite parts of House Party is the disclaimer of all things when you open up the game. It pokes fun at the fact that House Party has been banned from platforms like Twitch because of its content, but games with guns are perfectly okay, jokingly stating that we should all be ashamed of our genitals. The disclaimer is weirdly clever for a game that at times barely functions, but some of the stories featured within House Party deal with issues about stereotypes, body image and in the case of one character, them learning to be comfortably with their sexuality when society tells them they should be ashamed of it.
When you talk to the character Stephanie in House Party, found in the living room dancing to the one obnoxious song, she says things like “OMG, I love this song” and asks you to get a can of whip cream out of the fridge to get high. Depending on actions you take, you as the player find out that Stephanie is indeed quite smart for someone who acts like a complete air head and you learn not to judge people based on first impressions.
Britney, a character who is ashamed to leave a room because she’s self-conscious of her bust size needs to feel like all eyes aren’t on her. Amy, a shy, young college student, finds out through a fairly risqué scavenger hunt that women shouldn’t be ashamed of their sexuality and that when it comes to nudity, men and women shouldn’t be held at different standards.
I understand that not everyone is going to take away the same things I do from House Party, and the reason it blew up in the YouTube space is because, well, to put it bluntly: BOOBIES. House Party is broken and immature, but there’s also nothing quite like it. Whether intentional or not, Eek! Games have started an important conversation about how the video game industry needs to take a look at how it classifies titles that explore themes of sexuality.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to continue ignoring my backlog because I just got Vickie Vixen to come to the party and I want to see what happens next.
House Party is available now for PC via Steam. This article is based on a copy purchased by the writer.