Deep Dark Fantasies is a visual novel about a pornstar who runs a BDSM dungeon. It’s mostly a series of images that have all been pressed through the same lo-fi, pixelated filter, along with some accompanying text to click through. It picked up a good bit of attention because its main character, Van, is a loose amalgam of real-world gay porn actor Van Darkholme and the characters he often plays in his videos. For years, fans of the actor have been making bizarre mash-up videos starring Darkholme on Japanese streaming site Nico Nico Douga. Deep Dark Fantasies is inspired by these videos, but it’s a mess of half-baked ideas and inaccurate views of BDSM.
In Deep Dark Fantasies, protagonist Van is a failed actor looking to make his home into a proper BDSM dungeon (something Van Darkholme actually did). The real-world porn star made a living running his dungeon and charging people for various sexual acts and forms of kink play. In this interview clip, Van Darkholme describes his steady transition from escort work. It was largely economic at first; he could make hundreds fisting someone, for instance. For Darkholme, though, running the dungeon was also a deeply personal experience. Extreme though fisting may be, he says, it doesn’t take away from the emotional connection that forms with such a lengthy and personal act.
“It’s a long process… y’know, to get your whole arm up there. And it’s an intense feeling for the other person… myself too. You go in places, even though it’s physical, it’s emotional too. You get to the same place at the same time,” he said.
In-game Van is a lot like Christian Grey from the 50 Shades books. After Van opens his dungeon, he becomes a brutal dominant with a handful of “no-limits” submissives in his service. He calls them slaves, treats them terribly and keeps them there night and day. Minutes into the game, two of the four men in the harem attempt an escape to “get back to girls,” before Van Darkholme recaptures them in a cutscene and offers players the option to punish them for their disobedience.
It’s one of just two instances where Deep Dark Fantasies gives you an option, the other being whether to kill a rival dominant who has been competing with you for power. There are several endings, but all amount to little more than slightly different text scrolls about Van’s thirst for dominance
Deep Dark Fantasies has warped ideas about what kink and queer sex look like. No professional dungeon would ever hold people against their will, and certainly, none would keep their submissives actively engaging in BDSM night and day. Most Kink.com videos (a porn site for which the real Van Darkholme works) have clips before and after the scene itself, talking about what the plan is, what boundaries are, who the people involved will be, etc. If people are escaping from a dungeon, then unless you’re quite far out of even kink community norms, it’s an alarming sign that something’s going wrong. Furthermore, Deep Dark Fantasies’ Van never feeds or otherwise cares for his slaves, and there’s no mention of how money is made.
This portrayal stands in stark contrast to real BDSM and the real Van, both of which concern themselves with mutual care and respect. Aftercare, for example, is a critical part of BDSM culture. When people get hit a lot, it tends to affect them emotionally. As a result, it’s common to have snacks, blankets, or some other item on hand to help someone bounce back after a scene. The real Van Darkholme has also spoken at length in the same interview about how intimate many of these experiences were for not only himself but the bottoms and submissives he worked with. Deep Dark Fantasies doesn’t explore aftercare or really care at all. The game is devoid of intimacy, portraying BDSM as violent and selfish.
Obviously, there’s room for the fantastical in a sex game. Deep Dark Fantasies is unabashedly inspired by pornography, but its fantasies either don’t make sense or just don’t fit into what BDSM is. A good chunk of the game’s source material, including the videos that Deep Dark Fantasies samples, often include discussions about the importance of care and intimacy with this heavier kind of play—compassion that the game cuts without a thought.
I played Deep Dark Fantasies three times to try out all the endings, and all of those playthroughs lasted fewer than 30 minutes total. What nudity and sex are there are tame enough that the game isn’t likely to get pulled by Valve, but it’s disheartening that a game so boring will likely stick around. There are other games, like Tusks or Hurt Me Plenty, that not only have deeper erotic threads but make significant points and observations about kink and sexuality. It’s insulting to see something that, while probably well-meaning enough, understands so little of what it references. Deep Dark Fantasies will likely only further wrong-headed ideas about kink, queer, and BDSM communities.