Originally set for a September release, Cheat(er) Code is a new original graphic novel from Oni Press about navigating a breakup and rediscovering one’s confidence through sex and self-discovery. Written by Steve Foxe with art by Daz, this erotic graphic novel is an empowering story that reveals even at our lowest point we can find a way back to being healthy and happy. For some, the sex may be too graphic, but for adults looking for a story that taps into the gamer lifestyle and the hard road to recovery from a cheating partner, this book is well worth a look.
Cheat(er) Code opens with a man named Seth getting physical with an unknown guy in his small apartment. Soon Seth’s boyfriend Ken returns catching them in the act and he’s standing there in shock. Seth not-so-kindly tells Ken it’s over and it has gone down this path for some time. Ken, meanwhile, had no idea it was so bad. Ken is not surprisingly sent down a spiral of depression and can barely manage to move, let alone sleep or eat. This leads to Ken attempting to move on using a dating app, finding himself recalling how he caught Seth, and via masturbation and a lightning strike he’s transported into his video game console. Literally.
It’s a slightly zany idea reminiscent of body-swap movies, but it works thanks to Ken’s close ties to his video games. Foxe and Daz implement a few familiar looking video game characters for Ken to interact with, including a Super Mario-type cheetah, two orcs from a fantasy game, an older man from what could be The Last of Us, and a few other surprises that gamers will relate to. Ken is of course shocked at first but naturally goes with it as he meets new and interesting characters who prop up his confidence and make him feel better about himself. There is also plenty of humor in each video game scenario with a clever bit that may make Mass Effect 2 fans smile big. One could imagine all of this is taking place in his imagination, or people have actually imagined such an adventure themselves, which further makes the story relatable.
Daz’s art in Cheat(er) Code has a perfect cartoony style for the silly and outlandish adventure Ken goes on, which allows a talking cheetah man to make some sense. It’s easier to believe Ken is in a video game world when rendered in this way. The sex is graphic, but also informative, which adds another layer to the value of the book. The sex can be gratuitous in its depiction, but it never loses sight of the kindness in the characters’ faces and the care they have. It’s also consensual and very mature. This isn’t some crass porno, but moments of lovemaking that are caring and heartfelt. Daz’s art helps convey that, which also aids in detailing how Ken’s emotional journey develops over the narrative.
What makes Cheat(er) Code work so well is how Ken truly feels boxed in and insecure. Not only about his body, but his ability to attract others. Each character he interacts with takes a liking to him, they have sex in new and different ways, and he “levels up” so to speak, and moves on stronger and happier. By the end of the adventure Ken has gone through trials that have tested himself which results in a feel-good sort of tale by the end many who have been cheated on, or simply dumped, can relate to. After losing someone you truly love–and worse, finding out they don’t love you back–there’s a hard road to come from that and Foxe and Daz capture that well.
Letters by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou shine through in some incredible ways. Weight and bolding are particularly noticeable to show Ken’s wavering voice or emphasis in a heated conversation in the opening scene. The clearly hand-drawn lettering goes a long way to adding a layer of personality and acting in each character’s word balloon.
If I were to find any faults in Cheat(er) Code, it’s how it seems to have multiple endings in that it reads like it has found its ending, but then carries on. Later in the book, Ken seems to have vanquished his demons, but instead of exiting the game goes on a fun adventure with one of his favorite video game mascots. It allows him to live out the dream of doing whatever you want in a video game but almost seems like an extra chapter added in for the sake of it. One could argue having some fun and escaping from thinking about an ex is a healthy thing to do, but narratively speaking the book seems to have wrapped things up for Ken up to this point. This is followed by a nice epilogue of sorts in the real world that helps add context to Ken’s journey, though.
Cheat(er) Code is a great erotic story about recovering from heartbreak through video games. There’s a lesson in Cheat(er) Code about self-love, confidence, and moving on from the pain of losing someone many will find relatable and helpful in their own journeys. Plus, if you’re a gamer you’ll find quite a clever concept buried underneath the sex and self-discovery.
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