What two Queer games came out this week that you should be playing?
Did you really think I’d answer that question where you can see it without clicking on the article? I read Huffington Post, I know what’s up. Plus, I’d really Hate it if you didn’t click on this article. I will have Gone Home today to look at my viewership stats and there’d be like nothing, because I answered what I was going to talk about in the title. Isn’t that what New Media is all about, really, making the Inverted Pyramid just a pyramid?
There’s been a burgeoning scene of queer indie game developers doing really cool things the last couple of years, as tools to make games have become more accessible and available to small studios and individuals and expectations that games have to be a grand, high-budget affair have been tempered. One of my favorites of the last couple years is the freely-available dys4ia by Anna Anthropy, which I’ll likely expound upon in a future article, but it’s notable that in the last week, two commercial indie games have been released by, for, and about queer people.
“By and large the most successful Western visual novel developer is Christine Love, a blatantly homosexual young woman” and this week she released a sequel to last year’s Analogue: A Hate Story titled Hate Plus.
In Analogue, you play the role of an investigator in the year 4989 that is sent to uncover the mysteries of the Mugunghwa, a South Korean generational ship launched some 600 years earlier but had disappeared and lost all contact with Earth, and was discovered with no life aboard. With the aid of a friendly AI you meet, you quickly find that the ship had degenerated into a misogynistic, homophobic hellscape similar to Korea’s Neo-Confucian Jeoseon era. Analogue is about uncovering the mystery of why there is no longer any life on the ship, but leaves you wondering how conditions on the Mugunghwa deteriorated so severely.
Hate Plus picks up immediately after the end of Analogue and has you investigating the cause of the social and political breakdown that led to the awful conditions aboard the Mugunghwa.
While the Mugunghwa is a fictional craft set in the far future, the cautionary tale it tells couldn’t be more relevant. The Joseon era of Korean history was a result of a series of political and military coups in a war-torn, over-extended state leading to reactionary, conservative idealogues seizing power. The moral of the story, both for Hate Plus and the Joseon era, is that no, it doesn’t just get better. Maintaining a healthy and free society and expelling bigoted, poisonous cultural norms requires a concentrated, sustained effort, and there is nothing automatic or guaranteed about the emergence or existence of a progressive and productive state.
While the plot and morals are dark and heavy, the story is punctuated by light-hearted and fun elements. Along the way you develop a relationship with the AIs you meet, the nature of which is decided by how you interact with them. There are some wonderful side segments exploring transhumanism and questioning where the line will be between sufficiently advanced AI and other conscious beings. The theme song It’s Not Ero has been stuck in my head for over a month now, with Love breaking records in lyrical genius by rhyming “feels” and “dialogue wheels”.
My only criticism of the game is that it doesn’t capture the deep emotional gutpunch you get from certain climatic events in Analogue, however it’s understandable given that the decline of a society is rarely dramatic and sudden, and takes place during and after a long series of microaggressions, macroaggressions, and the festering of a regressive emphasis on purity and arbitrary hierarchy that severely limits the potential of its citizens.
The other noteworthy release this week is Gone Home, an adventure game that resembles something of a cross between Myst and Lucasarts adventure games. While I disagree with other reviews around the web-net that consider the gameplay itself groundbreaking, the setting and subject matter is definitely new and refreshing and so long-awaited that I can excuse the breathless excitement.
In Gone Home you play a young woman in the late 1990s that just returned from a year in Europe to your family’s empty house, and are investigating why nobody is home to greet you. This is about as much as I can say without spoiling this investigation, other than that it has a Riot Grrl soundtrack and is predominantly about queer people and queer experiences. The investigative element that is introduced through gameplay tells a story that couldn’t be told the same way via other medium, a refreshing change in an industry where sometimes it feels like gameplay segments are the rude interruption to the movie a game’s creators wanted to be making instead.
Part of the reason games like these are starting to appear is that faster computers and excellent middleware and creation tools have allowed for game creators to be able to realize their vision without making game systems from scratch. Although heavily modified in order to make way for some of its advanced features, Analogue and Hate Plus are based on Ren’py, a Python programming language library that enables a would-be visual novel creator to tell their story without needing to go through the time and expense of writing an entire visual novel game engine from scratch. Gone Home uses a full 3D environment and physics to tell its story, and would have been impossibly expensive to produce if it wasn’t based on the Unity Engine which does all the heavy lifting of 3D rendering and physics calculations leaving its creators able to focus exclusively on content for the game itself such as creating 3D models for the environment and voiced dialog segments, and writing high-level scripts to create the gameplay.
This is an exciting time for those of us who love games but are tired of the overwhelming and disgusting degree that the video game industry panders to the white, male, cisgender and heterosexual audience it imagines are the only fans to the exclusion of everyone else, as these sorts of tools are making it economical for independent, niche games to be produced. Of course, a large part of this equation is demand, so if you have the disposable income, show your support!
Analogue: A Hate Story on Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/app/209370/
Hate Plus on Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/app/239700/
Gone Home on Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/app/232430/