Meet the male artist who draws female video game characters struggling in quicksand for the titillation of those who want to see damsels in distress.
The type of woman "A-020" likes to see, helpless in quicksand, will also preferably be wearing something "really sexy." A tight miniskirt, pantyhose, heels, and boots.
A self-styled "Quicksand Artist"—that is, someone who draws women trapped in quicksand for the titillation of those with a predilection for such imagery—A-020's work frequently involves fictional damsels and heroines from video games and anime like Super Mario Bros., Dead or Alive, Metroid, Tomb Raider and Darkstalkers. The social art site Deviant Art is surprisingly full of drawings of women stuck in quicksand.
Some artists don't list a gender on their Deviant Art profile, and I did find a couple female quicksand artists. But my own look into the matter shows that the majority of quicksand artists on the site identify themselves as male.
"I'm open with it online because I'm comfortable under a screenname," wrote A-020, who prefered to communicate with me only through Deviant Art's Note system. "Though when it comes to knowing me in person, it's pretty much a secret! I haven't been in a situation where I had to reveal this fetish."
"I was pretty young, maybe 7 or 8, when I started seeing quicksand scenes in a movie or a TV show," A-020 told me, when asked about the circumstances where he first realized he was into quicksand imagery. "Some of those films I recall seeing were Beastmaster, Neverending Story, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 and Ursus in the Valley of the Lions."
Watching the quicksand clips from those films on YouTube reminded me of a point feminist game critic Anita Sarkeesian had made recently about the representation of women in games. Sarkeesian has spoken at length about the game medium's history of damseling women and in one of her recent talks, "Eight things that devs can do to make games less shitty for women" she called on game developers to eliminate sexualized female voice acting in games, saying, "Start with trying to make pain actually sound painful instead of orgasmic."
Sarkeesian demonstrated this with a soundclip that sounded like a woman having sex, but was actually the battle grunts from a female character in the game League of Legends. Looking at a voyeuristic quicksand scene in the 1961-era Ursus, it appears that there is a very long tradition in other mediums of damsels having spontaneous orgasms when under duress (the YouTube comments below the clip seem hyper-aware of the sexualized undertone of the performance.)
But it seems like it would be hard or impossible to replicate this fetish in real life.
"Once in a while, I'd fantasize about it," wrote A-020, who said he's "a child of the 80s." "But I'm not in a position to do something like that. The closest I got was commissioning a scene with Damsels in Distress Visual Productions. I chose a model and had a bunnygirl suit sent to the producer."
Of course, this isn't the only fetish artists are throwing women from video games into. Gamer-artists also fetishize about returning to the womb—a fetish called "unbirth." Princess Peach's womb will do. Or you have the creatures from Pokémon crawling into the womb of the female Pokémon trainer, or conversely, a man crawling into the womb of the fire-maned horse pokémon named Rapidash, and just chilling out there.
There are gamer-artists like Metalforever, who depicts Princess Zelda, Samus (the heroine of Nintendo's Metroid franchise), and female pokémon trainer with giant bellies (because they've just consumed too much food). There's Axel-Rosered's similar work, featuring women who've suddenly gained weight by means of sci-fi or magic. Then there's depictions of age regression (being turned into baby), giant Lara Croft (and other game girls), and video game women shrinking and sometimes being eaten by other women. There's actually a lot of eating stuff, a fetish known as "vore"—Rule 34, alive and kicking on Deviant Art.
So why take specifically the damsels and heroines of the video game world and place them into these obscure, and often fantastical fetishes? (The fetish group " Giant Video Game Girls" seems to have coined the term "venatophilia" from the Latin venatus, meaning "game," to describe sexual attraction to or fascination with video game characters.)
Dr. Catherine Salmon, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Redlands who wrote a book called Warrior Lovers: Erotic Fiction, Evolution and Female Sexuality, told me she is not surprised that some young men are not simply drawing or writing about any generic attractive woman, but are deliberately incorporating established fictional characters.
"If somebody has attached to a character because they play a game a lot and fantasize about that character," Dr. Salmon said, "it wouldn't be surprising that they take that character and stick it somewhere else. It's not surprising that some of the female characters in video games who are heroines and are portrayed as very sexual characters in terms of the way that they're drawn might end up as the stars of gamers' sexual fantasies."
She also noted that the social aspect of using familiar characters is another reason for using them in quicksand imagery and other fetishes. If you use a known character for a fetish, it gives your work some degree of a built-in audience, a device often used for fanfiction. (Remember, 50 Shades of Grey was originally a Twilight fanfiction.)
"If you're creating art or fiction and you're putting it on the web, you're not just doing it for yourself, it's not just your fantasy that you're jerking off to"
"There is a community of men who are creating and sharing these stories or these images," Dr. Salmon said. "If they share an interest in the original material as well, then using that original material creates an additional commonality of interest. It's one thing to have your sexual fantasies and it's another thing to share your sexual fantasies. If you're creating art or fiction and you're putting it on the web, you're not just doing it for yourself, it's not just your fantasy that you're jerking off to, you're giving that to other people as well. To do that, you find a built-in community if you're using a shared character."
Perhaps not coincidentally, some of these "shared characters" find themselves, even in their source material, in exactly the same situations that these artists fetishize. Being stuck in quicksand, for example, is a common theme in fantasy aimed at children, including in cartoons and video games like Sonic the Hedgehog, Zelda, Super Mario Bros. and many more. Could witnessing human beings stuck in quicksand over and over as a child possibly lead to this unusual fetish?
"It could be something like that," Salmon said. "Whether it's quicksand or tar pits, there's things like that in children's cartoons. It could be something as simple as that. Part of it is the damsel in distress kind of image. Watching Wonder Woman caught in that kind of circumstance when people are younger—[it's] an image that's eroticized, a very sexually drawn, very feminine image. And they might enjoy watching that sort of thing or the struggle, as she's trying to get out of whatever that circumstance is."
There are a lot of unusual circumstances in cartoons and fantasy, Dr. Salmon said, and "you may get aroused while you're watching it and then carry some of that too."
Dr. Elizabeth Larson, co-founder and director of the Seattle Institute for Sex Therapy, Education & Research, calls these associations that come to be associated with an aroused state "accidents of learning." These accidents of learning are most potent in the early sexual learning history, although it's not impossible later.
"They don't have to be exactly like the fantasy that comes," Larson told me. "It just has to resemble it."
She took it a step further, saying that the quicksand fetishists "probably fantasized and got into the feeling that goes with that, not just watching. It could [also] be identifying with it." The kid imagining himself stuck in quicksand in the victim's place, for example, could be part of its erotic appeal. "You could either be observing it or experiencing it," Larson said. "You could be doing both at the same time in a fantasy."
"Some evidence certainly suggests that sexual patterns are already there, for sure in males, by the age of eight," Larson said. They may or may not have begun masturbating to fantasies until adolescence, she added, but something is going on internally at a very young age.
This highly influential period of age eight through adolescence is also probably for many a prime time for the ingestion of the bizarre imagery and situations contained in video games and cartoons, which often also incorporate sexualized heroines.
"You pick stuff up," Larson said. "Of course, the common place now is media but if you go read Grimms' Fairy Tales, there's plenty of images in there. So it isn't just the modern TV viewers. Some of these may resonate with something that just works easily. It looks like what we call fetishes are remarkably easy to install in the early learning experiences. Same thing about fears too."
"Psychologically, it's truly like a stripped-down, pure erotic stimuli. So it's much easier to imprint on that, to fetishize that."
Dr. Ogi Ogas, a computational neuroscientist out of Boston University, told me that many men going through puberty are probably spending a lot of time with sexualized characters like Tomb Raider's Lara Croft.
"They are seeing these characters during their formative time," Ogas said. "They are kind of perfect and ideal—and you don't have to actually interact with them. Psychologically, it's truly like a stripped-down, pure erotic stimuli. So it's much easier to imprint on that, to fetishize that."
In A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the Internet Tells Us About Sexual Relationships, Ogas and Dr. Sai Gaddam, also a computational neuroscientist, analyzed a billion web searches from around the world in an attempt to see what really interested people sexually as opposed to what they said they were interested in.
Part of the fascination, Ogas said, is simply being culturally exposed to characters like Lara Croft. But, of course, Lara Croft's body is designed specifically to engage with the male sexual brain. (As Dr. Salmon had said in her description of the male psyche, it's not surprising that men might fetishize breasts, for example, because "that makes a lot of sense from any kind of standpoint.")
Ogas told me that while uncommon, the notion of being smothered or trapped is universal in the sense that it exists to greater and lesser degrees "all over."
"It's not just one or two people that have it," he said. "It is found in a lot of places. Clearly our normal brain design is not that far removed from [wanting to be] enveloped. It's probably something to do with our tactile system, our touch system of the brain, that's quite naturally wired to our sexual arousal system. The tactile system is also interconnected with sensations like being smothered and being interred, being doused with water. Probably, somehow—and I'm speculating here—that's what got crossed up for whatever reasons."
How someone's brain entangles sexual arousal with the notion of being trapped or smothered might simply be a "perturbation" of the neural system, Ogas said. A quirk in the brain, essentially. It could be some randomness in the seemingly infinite complexity of your DNA. So, from a perspective rooted in computational neuroscience, niche sexual desires needn't be wholly, or at all, explained as the result of social construction or evolutionary adaptation. Ogas compared it to color blindness, a perturbation of the visual system that has no evolutionary advantage, nor is it culturally based. It simply happens.
"As we're learning more about the genetics of brain construction," Ogas told me, "we're coming to understand the genetic expression that leads to different neural wiring is highly variable and dependent on so many things [that] could happen in the womb, things that happen in early life, different environmental things. There's just myriad, myriad factors that can cause unusual neural wiring to arise."
Following this logic, some boy who just happens to have the notion of being smothered or trapped somehow interconnected to his arousal system becomes aroused when he sees an attractive woman struggling in quicksand, and that image burns into his mind.
One thing Ogas has said, summarizing the insights he and Gaddam found in analyzing a billion web searches, is that some of what we think of as fetishes or niche are actually fundamental to the human condition. And there is one in particular that seems to be in the background of many fetishes.
"The most important, underappreciated sexual interest in our species," Ogas said, "is an interest in domination and submission." This interest in manifestations of domination and submission applies to people worldwide, according to Ogas. To men, women, whether they be gay, lesbian, straight, or anything else. "Everybody," he said.
Whether your mindset is to be dominant or submissive sexually, he claims, is fundamental to your sexual identity even though this interest is thought of culturally as an atypical fetish.The concept that one person has power, one person doesn't, runs through all forms of erotica across the world, Ogas told me.
With domination and submission in mind, perhaps the libidinous phantasmagoria of shrinking, giants, age regression, quicksand, or being eaten, as depicted in Deviant Art's expanding collection of paraphilia art, makes more sense, as many of these concepts seem to reference power differentials.
This could also shed light on why, when I asked A-020 if he could explain the origin of his quicksand fetish and why he liked it, he wrote: "I think it could be a distant cousin of fetishes like vore and bondage with a combination of muddy and stuck elements. Those similarities may be why I find it interesting mixed with an attractive female."
"While some of the sequences I draw feature a character's apparent demise, I personally would like the character to survive at the end."
Perhaps these constantly recurring themes across pop-culture fantasy media indicate fetishistic leanings on the part of the artists, writers, and creators of these works. After all, the original Wonder Woman comic book as written by Wonder Woman creator Dr. William Moulton Marston—who also happened to be a psychologist—are full of barely disguised bondage and submission, a subject which interested the man intensely, both personally and professionally. Marston invented the lie detector in real life and in his comic book fiction gave Wonder Woman a lasso that forced people to tell the truth—but there's also a reason Woman Woman's costume is made up of high-heeled boots, a tight corset, and a rope: Marston believed male submission to women was good for the human race.
The urge to procreate fueling the libido, but then non-adaptive, hard-to-pinpoint genetic perturbations perhaps making you predisposed to certain stimuli that are not beneficial to reproduction; youthful events as a young mind engages with the surrounding culture leaving a sexualized imprint, an undercurrent of domination and submission. Like many things, like humanity itself, fetishes are complicated.
Meanwhile, A-020 continues his labors. He takes commissions, putting various video game and anime characters in quicksand to the depth specified by his commissioners. Some of the work A-020 does isn't a single drawing but a sequence of drawings depicting a woman sinking ever further into the mire.
"While some of the sequences I draw feature a character's apparent demise," he wrote me, "I personally would like the character to survive at the end." A-020 also notes on his Deviant Art page that he is "able to do non-quicksand related works."
"As to how frequently I do commissions," A-020 explained, "I guess it depends." He's currently juggling other projects, like freelance advertising work, but said he used to take on a lot of for-hire fetishistic quicksand depictions. "I'm only taking a certain amount. I get to work on commissions during my downtime. Yes, I suppose you could say I'm a full-time artist."
But, perhaps surprisingly, "I don't do nudity."