I can pinpoint the moment when I started down the path to identifying the way I do now: an 18+ visual novel about incubi and succubi helped me realise that I was ace. It sounds quite ironic, but I promise it’s a positive story, as opposed to my having played a game with such terribly-written erotic scenes that I was put off the idea of sex forever (which, while that isn’t really how sexuality works, would be a reasonable response to some of the bad erotica out there). No, the game in question, Cute Demon Crashers, which I played for the first time back in 2015, is a sweet, gentle, fun little interactive story of loneliness and love demons, and one of the first pieces of media to explicitly say to me “you should only have sex if you want to.” Much of the world runs on the assumption that everyone does want to, which filters down into our fiction in many forms both benign and insidious. It was an assumption I had adopted into my own mindset and my own relationship, and it was an assumption that this indie game helped me realise did not fit me.
Cute Demon Crashers is a visual novel created by Sugarscript, originally launched as part of a game jam called NaNoRenO (in which creators take on the challenge to make a game in the program Renpy in one month) and completed later. On the game’s homepage the team expresses that the idea for the game came from “a need of consent in 18+ VNs for women.” True to their mission statement, consent is not only the biggest theme in the character-driven story of Cute Demon Crashers, but also its most prominent game mechanic.
The game follows a lonely college student who is stuck home alone over spring break, and who accidentally summons three incubi and one succubus into her bedroom when they sense her sexual frustration. Your first option as a player is to call the police on the four strange scantily-clad creatures that have appeared in your player character’s home. Doing this ends the game immediately, and is effectively pointless, except that it demonstrates the player’s ability of choice: if you don’t want to deal with these love demons, you do not have to.
Even if you decide to let them hang around, the message remains that you do not have to have sex with any of them, regardless of their offering it up. The player navigates through a series of conversations with the four demons, getting to know them over a period of a day, whether that means playing video games with them on the couch or talking about books. When evening falls, the four demons present themselves to you asking who, if any of them, you would like to spend the night with. Five options pop up: one for each prospective lover, and one to opt out and not have sex with any of them. If you choose this last one, they do not mind, and simply go on their way with no hard feelings. If you choose one of them to sleep with, the ensuing erotic scene is peppered throughout with dialogue and action options as the demon asks you what you would like to do — is it okay if they do this? Would you like them to do this, or that? Would you like to stop?
As well as the occasional options, there is a big pink “stop” button in the corner of the screen at all times, which ends the love scene instantly — again, with no hard feelings from the demon. Just as there is no pressure to have sex in the first place, once you initiate the scene there is never any pressure to perform certain sex acts, and never any pressure to continue to climax. The scenes themselves are tastefully written and really quite sweet, the dynamic with each demon different and varied but each equally kind and gentle. Sex is treated at once like something important and personal, but also like something that’s no big deal if you don’t want it to be; just something two consenting adults do together if they want to. I was surprised to realise that, fantastical element and occasional goofy comedy and all, this game contained some of the most mature conversations about sex I’d ever seen in fiction.
Cute Demon Crashers was the first piece of media I can think of that explicitly said to me “you only have to do this if you want to.” Most other fiction seemingly runs on the principle that of course you want to, whether that comes in the form of corny-and-horny comedies about college students trying to lose their virginity, or the grand tradition of romantic arcs culminating in passionate love scenes (or at least the strong implication of one). It’s a massive step aside from the norm to see fictional characters have a serious conversation about “only doing it once they’re both ready.” But while those conversations and the focus on consent and personal desire are important, they do, once again, come with the assumption that those characters will one day be “ready”, and sex will happen, because that is what a reasonable person wants even if that wanting comes at different rates. If that wanting never appears, the character is likely a villainous or humorous husk of a human being, meant to be Othered whether that’s for horror or for laughs — or simply waiting for the right person to thaw their unnatural frigidity. Ordinary people, the heroes of rom-coms and action movies alike, all get romantic storylines driven by sexual tension, and they all see these storylines through to their so-called natural conclusion. And this is certainly true for dating sim protagonists, where the entire point of the game is, in many cases, to woo the player’s favourite character and get that coveted erotic scene with them.
Cute Demon Crashers is noteworthy in not just the VN/dating sim world but also in fictional media at large, since so much media is created with heteronormativity embedded, including the idea that of course everyone wants to have sex. Cute Demon Crashers is not explicit asexual representation, but it is the first fictional world I’ve entered where I felt genuine space for asexuality to exist. Schlocky and sexy as the game’s premise may sound — a group of love demons are at your beck and call! — its open sex positivity left space for asexual positivity as well. The incubi and succubus emphasize repeatedly that there is no point engaging in any sexual act unless both partners enjoy it: they won’t get the energy they feed on if you’re not having a good time, and so they want you to have the best time possible. Consent and pleasure are placed in a position of utmost importance via magical worldbuilding, making the titular Cute Demons an unexpectedly positive and nurturing version of the succubus/incubus mythos. Creatures usually used in stories to convey the terror and ruin in unconscious sexual desire are incarnated here as champions for mutual enjoyment and consensual personal fulfillment. They are here to make sure you have a good time, and they acknowledge, where most other voices from fictional media have not, that for some people having a good time does not equal having sex.
Cute Demon Crashers is a special little game that struck me somewhere deep in my heart. I assumed, when I first played it, that I was simply delighted to find some erotica to my tastes — a genre I’d always avoided since it usually contained tropes or language that put me off, a genre that, for reasons I now understand but didn’t quite get back then, I could never really relate to. But in retrospect, I can see why this game spoke to me: it validated a part of me that I did not yet know existed. In putting the question “do you want this?” to me so directly when no other media had before, it started me down the path of trying to answer it for myself. It turned out that the answer was “no.” It also turned out that my partner at the time thought the game sounded silly and had no interest in playing it, not even to try and understand what I had enjoyed about it so much, so in some ways this heralded the first cracks in our understanding of each other, too. Sometimes I joke that Cute Demon Crashers destroyed my relationship because it gave me standards. In all seriousness, though, it goes to show how important this conversation is to have: to have media of all mediums and genres weave consent and positivity into their love stories and/or erotic narratives, to leave room for that question, “do you really want to do this?”, and to have it be genuine, rather than backed by the assumption that the answer is always “yes.” If a game all about sexy demons can take the time and loving care to make space for asexuality, there is no reason other fictional media cannot.
Alex Henderson is a writer and fledgling academic from Australia, currently working on a creative thesis about mythic archetypes and gender. She has reviewed books for magazines, been published in fiction anthologies, and writes essays and analysis about anime, superheroes, YA novels, and other pop culture over on her blog The Afictionado. She is passionate about queer representation in fiction and hopes to create fun stories and interesting articles that all kinds of people can relate to and enjoy.