The boundaries of humor: an interview with John Cadice, creator of Tentacle Bento

| brandon

John Cadice, creator of Tentacle Bento, says that while the game is full of sexy girls, and a “horrid, tentacle flailing, slime oozing monster from outer space,” his game is not about tentacle rape, but rather tentacle…tickling. And cake baking. Anything but rape.

Cadice says the game is a satire of a “horrid genre of anime,” but I simply don’t see the satire. It’s cuter, it’s lighter, but that does not a satire make. So I am meant to believe that while the game is based on the genre of tentacle rape anime, it is not about tentacle rape. There’s clearly a fundamental disconnect between our consideration of inference and implication versus intent.

I got an email from Cadice not two hours after my initial article, and within 24 hours the Kickstarter was canceled. We had a dialog all along the way, which was a very curious process. First Kickstarter limited the game’s searchability. The game was now only viewable through direct links. At the same time, my article, as well as Kotaku’s, had given the game greater media attention, and after my article went up the project rocketed up from $23,000 to $30,000 in funding. Clearly, as we scrutinized and criticized the project, we also popularized it.

After the project was canceled at Kickstarter, I wondered to myself – while I felt I had struck a blow against a game I found to trivialize rape and molestation, had I also struck a blow for censorship on Kickstarter? In the end, I feel this project shouldn’t have been allowed on the site in the first place – most of the approvals process at Kickstarter happens at the front end – it’s allowed, or not, based on what Kickstarter decides. I think this one simply fell through the cracks, and simply got canned much later than it should have.

I’ve been asked by some what part of the Kickstarter terms this game violates. It’s entirely subjective, but it’s right here: “Offensive material (hate speech, inappropriate content, etc).” There are some who don’t find this game offensive. Its creator claims the game is clearly not about rape or molestation. I maintain, based on looking at the Kickstarter itself, that it is, he just has a much higher threshold for it than I do. You could also make a case for it glorifying acts of violence, depending on which side of the “does this infer rape” argument you fall.

In the end though, I couldn’t stop the game from getting funded. The project had moved to its own site, and appears to be well on its way to coming out. I still maintain that the game is a trivialiation of rape and molestation, and that those supporting it are supporting that mindset. Cadice disagrees. In the following interview, Cadice speaks his mind about his project, and where he says it’s really coming from.

Brandon Sheffield: You send me an email after my initial article, and stated: “We figured it (TB) would be controversial, and anyone who knows the genesis of this game, knows that the project is entirely a satire on what I personally consider a horrid genre of anime. We do not in any way condone or illustrate violence in any way against any of the ladies in our game.”

In what way do you find Tentacle Bento to be satire, and why do you find tentacle rape porn to be horrible?

John Cadice: First off, we would like to apologize to anyone hurt or upset, rape is in NO WAY the focus or intent of our product and such detestable violence is not condoned or encouraged by Soda Pop or any of our products.

The “tentacle” genre is a well known cliche’ in the anime/manga fan circles. This product is one of many products we have designed, or are designing to touch on interesting or odd cliches or themes in popular Asian and Japanese sub cultures that have found their way over to the US. They simple “are,” and we wanted to give a snapshot that was true to the weirdness of the subgenre. A tip of the hat to one of the weirdest things I have ever seen come out of Japan, and one of the most “unspoken” of inside jokes within the US anime subculture.

As for why we would find tentacle rape porn to be horrible… I mean aside from visually depicting the abuse, murder, and violation of people in grotesque and deeply strange fashion… and being aware of the connection to our product went to great lengths to keep the cliche for the adult anime fans who would want to play with a product while not stepping over our personal lines of content that we don’t want to create or have our brands be associated with.

BS: If you find tentacle rape to be horrible, what differentiates Tentacle Bento?

JC: The same thing that separates entertainment products like “Kittens in a Blender” from the abuse and killing of innocent house pets… the designers and consumers will ride a morbid curiosity about a “thing” because of the thing and the notoriety or discomfort it creates. We are not trying to be edgy, and very few of our backers find our product out of any kind of norm as it relates to their interests. Find me any genre of entertainment that you enjoy, and we can see if it survives any kind of cross examination.

BS: You also said: “Yes, the art is suggestive, but there is no nudity, no running screaming fearful faces dripping with tears and horror, there is plenty of innuendo, as it is geared to get a naughty giggle out of a table of adult gamers.. but anime fans know about this genre, the taboos around it, etc.” – in my article, I asserted that treating the subject of rape or molestation lightly is part of the problem. How do you respond? It calls to mind these old ads. Some might call it harmless fun, others might say it perpetuates a mindset of casual treatment of violence toward women.

JC: It’s a valid point, there is nothing casual about violence, rape, molestation. Working in marketing, social norms shift and change depending on the audience you want to reach. I don’t ask everyone to love this game, anime in general is quite a rub to lots of people. I do not believe it perpetuates a casual mindset toward rape, because, as its designer, that was not the intent, and mostly because there is not rape in our game.

We can run down a million rabbit holes just as bad by cross examining why women wear high heeled shoes, the appropriateness of camouflage as a textile pattern for children… etc etc etc. Show me ponies being ridden by children under a rainbow, and I will find someone to shout about the subjugation of intelligent animals for our petty amusement with as much intensity as this argument.

BS: You further said: “In the end, we make a series of game exploring the “whole” culture (and in this case, sub-culture) of Anime, Games, and Manga. It is not our intent to trivialize molestation or rape and the strong use of that language has already produced real damages to our funding effort.” – if it is not your intent, why make a cutesy game about the subject? To at least some extent that is trivialization.

JC: Back to our previous response, it is something that “is.” The project was an interesting premise, and we test marketed that premise with our target audience with great feedback, we overcame whatever our personal misgivings were and gave it a shot. We felt we dealt with the subject in a funny way to play up the relational iconic images of aliens snatching up humans for nefarious purposes, if those purposes were for eating them up… we wouldn’t be having this conversation, the natural inclination of sexualized imagery in some Japanese manga and anime lends to a more lascivious bend, and in the culture, it simply “is.”

BS: The toughest thing for me to reconcile from that discussion is the following. You stated: “I am also of the mind that any sort of violence against women would be a horror of a product and would go to greater lengths than just writing a blog post.” – what is happening to these girls if not violence? I mean this earnestly – what is your interpretation of what is happening?

JC: I’m not sure what you are driving at? I am providing a narrative about aliens grabbing up school girls. Notice the large sucker covered tentacles for “grabbing things.” I do have a card with a girl being tickled, and another baking a cake… the perceived notion became the narrative here, and that is the problem. We do not address or imply what happens when you are capturing the students. We opted to leave this open and not censor the player’s imagination in our belief that the vast majority of people do not define “nefarious” purposes as rape as this article did.

BS: Now that the kickstarter is canceled, what would you like to say to me and those that supported my viewpoint? What would you like to say to your fans?

JC: To you and yours, I am not asking everyone to like or purchase our products, we treat these subject matters in what we view as a responsible and interpretive manner regarding the sometimes dark subject matter they spawn from. We recognize the association would be there for a few of our target customers. But, they are also part of the canon of anime and manga culture, they are recognized, and like many things, they are taboo. As for my fans, they have spoken, we love their support, and they have helped us heal a few cuts and bruises we were not anticipating.

BS: Did you receive any official word from Kickstarter regarding why your game was taken down?

JC: An official response to my repeated emails concerning the slow strangling of and then cancellation of our funding project was simply “suspension,” then “cancellation.” The reasoning, was derived from a narrative shared on this website and another, and no attempt to contact us or clarify was expressed or tried. Lights off.

BS: I have seen both you and your fans (on the Kickstarter page) call my article, as well as the one on Kotaku misguided, but you also said they gave you a fair shake. How do you feel the original article missed the mark?

JC: As a marketing and product manager in another life, the use of language is an important and persuasive tool, how you flow and present information guides the readers response and leads them down a logical path. The constant battery of sexual terminology (where there is not one instance in our product) and lines like “The style is a cute, lighthearted, pastel-colored look at the wonderful world of forcing your way inside a female against her will,” is your assertion and not fact, and colored the whole conversation. What “is” fair is the general response to trivializing something as horrible as sex crimes and violence against anyone for that matter. It is a worthy discussion and needs to be at the front of conversations in our culture. This is not a product derivative of our culture. To quote one of our supporters, “ is a wink at a culture that we westerners find ineffably bizarre, and in turn, we are fascinated by it.” And thus, a product was born.

BS: A top reply on the Kotaku forums said: “It worries me that Soda Pop Minis is doing this. They always went for the Anime Girl sex appeal before, but I never expected them to do this.” What is your reaction to that?

JC: We will do many things, We explore Japanese culture in popular culture with games and gaming.

BS: Any closing words?

JC: I am deeply sympathetic to the arguments presented, and intend no harm with our product, being deeply sorry for any hurt perceived or experienced.

I also very upset by the language used to brand my products, customers and supporters as something they are clearly not. A clear jump to conclusion was made without proper research, and in effect, have done more to drag people down a dark path than any we could possibly create.

We do not depict, peddle, or push sexual subjugation in ANY of our products. No more than the millions of (Insert Popular First Person Shooter) players should be relegated to slander for trivializing controversial military engagements, killing of unarmed civilians, terrorism, propagation of a “gun culture,” or something..something…military industrial complex…something…

My closing words
Cadice unfortunately does an unsatisfactory job of describing the game as satire. Tentacle Bento seems to be playing with the cliches, but in a direct manner, not in a satirical one. The idea that tentacle rape in anime is something that simply “is,” does not satisfy. He says they don’t push sexual subjugation, but to buy that you first have to buy that what the tentacle monster is doing to these girls is non-sexual, and second that they are happy to receive the attention.

I don’t buy either of those, and I’ll use his own words to prove it. In the context of a game that is based on the tentacle rape genre, satirical or not, read this sentence from the original Kickstarter page: “Girls, Locations, and Snatches are broken down into essence types or ‘suits,’ representing the particular girlish essence the aliens are after, and the locations and traps best suited to catch their quarry.” How does that read to you? Why quarry? Or this line about the “sporty” female students; “no matter how mouth watering the thought, these girls are in peak physical condition, and quite capable of holding their own.” Why would these girls be interested in fighting you off if you weren’t doing something bad to them? Why use the word mouth watering? He says rape and molestation are in no way the intent – and he says that nothing is implied about what happens to the girls after they’re grabbed. But to me, the language used in the pitch infers what happens quite strongly.

Maybe you’re not convinced. Please then, watch this play demo of the game from Cadice himself.

Here are a couple of interesting quotes from his demo that seem to negate the clean image of the game he is trying to propose. At the 1:15 mark, he says, “”In this case we grab poor sidney, drag her to the classroom, and we have ourselves a ‘cram session.'” After saying this, he suggestively bites his lip. At 1:53, he says you can “take a sexy student to the headmaster’s office, and then get slippery when wet.” Does this not imply sexual contact, in his own words? He calls the tentacle monster’s position “envious” and its traps “nefarious,” in spite of directly saying it is not nefarious in this interview. Combining the sexual nature he himself infers, with the word nefarious, what conclusions do you draw? I really don’t think I’m stretching here.

Ultimately the attempts in this interview to classify Tentacle Bento as something other than a game about tentacle rape fall flat. If you’re going to make a game about this, for the sorts of people who would like to play a game about this, own it. Don’t pretend to do something you’re not doing. In the scene from Modern Warfare 2 where you shoot (or don’t shoot) civilians in an airport, referenced in Cadice’s final comment above, the developers never once said “these people aren’t innocents,” or “this isn’t what you’re really doing.” They owned what it was, and spoke about it clearly. To pretend this game is about giving girls cakes and tickling them instead of the larger inference of tentacle rape, is to deny all the evidence presented by Cadice himself.

People will continue to say this is blown out of proportion, and is just humor, and isn’t a big deal. But I have already addressed my thoughts on that matter. It is a big deal to trivialize rape, and it’s up to you to decide whether you think Tentacle Bento does that.