|The Nudity Question|
June 14, 2017
One Hour One Life is about growing a new civilization from scratch, starting naked in the wilderness, across many human generations. You start the game by being born as a baby, and obviously you are born naked. People can make clothing over time and put it on, but they can also take it off.
The question: how should nudity be depicted in the game?
My creative partner Tom and I parted ways about 3 months ago. Before that, we were all-in on the depiction of nudity in the game, with a character style that looked like this:
I thought it looked interesting and funny. But the detailed nudity seemed like the elephant in the living room for a lot of people. It had the potential to overshadow everything else, and recurrently popped up in discussions about the game (Kotaku comments). For me, an anti-Victorian stance is part of my makeup, and I do want that to shine through my work. But it's not really what this game is about (it's not a statement on nudity). And then there are commercial issues as well. Nudity could make or break the game either way. I could stir up interest and boost sales, or it could turn off the vast majority of people.
I've re-done all the drawings myself since Tom left the project, and I made an early decision in the new character design to keep the nudity totally abstract. After all, these characters don't even have noses or ears, so why show nipples or genitals? They're cartoons. But they're still obviously naked, because they're flesh colored, and they can put on clothing and take it off. (This is just a sample... there will be 100 different characters from a full spectrum of skin tones.)
But is this too tame? Some of my local game design friends say that I'm chickening out. They also say that I'm cutting out something that will make people curious about the game.
And we have Naked and Afraid on the Discovery Channel as a hit show, albeit censored. But people are interested in that premise.
And of course Rust. Maybe there's a difference with 3D vs 2D nudity, though. 2D leaves more room for the imagination (see Scott McCloud), making it more salacious? 3D nudity looks like mannequins, and we can distance ourselves from them a bit.
On the other hand, Rust had nothing but naked MEN for years, and they only recently added women, amid great controversy. Maybe depicting naked men is funny and okay, but not naked women. Like the game Icycle:
My wife's reaction to Tom's characters was always that they were "creepy" and that they made her feel uncomfortable in they way that they depicted female nudity. Maybe too R. Crumb-ish or something.
So is there some middle ground? Some kind of more abstract nudity that would be less creepy without chickening out?
Someone pointed out the manga character Shin Chan:
And there's the classic "inverted black triangle" for women, though even that has a somewhat creepy history, like the Playboy Femlin cartoon character (NSFW):
Obviously, the Femlin is meant to be erotic, but is there a way to depict cartoon female nudity without that effect? We have so few examples to reference.
A Google search for "cartoon nudity" results in quite an eyeful. So people are right to associate cartoon depictions of female nudity with salacious intent, given the history of dirty cartoons. Maybe there's no way to transcend that association.
Still, I want there to be absolutely no doubt that these characters are naked when they're not wearing clothing. That idea is very important to the heart of the game, while the specific way that nudity is represented is not.