Cis Gaze (Review)

Right. I’ve been talking for a while about how I think this is a great game, and I think it’s time to write a review about it to say why.

Spoilers abound, though. Please play the game before reading. I think it’s worth it.

You can (and indeed I think you should) play it here. This is a Twine game about, and I’ll quote from its content warnings, “transphobia, transmisogyny, slurs, depression, scabs and blood”. So on the outset you know it’ll be meaningful in some level, but of course the question is: meaningful for whom?. For the author, always, obviously. Maybe also for a few of their friends. You also note they are potentially heavy subjects, so you don’t really know how it’ll be handled; with things like this, it’s too easy to screw it up.

Let me end the suspense. Inurashii, the author, has made this meaningul for everyone, especially people who never really thought about it much. They handle it elegantly; the prose and use of the medium are used as needles craftily utilised, as opposed to the blunt chisel and hammer you might expect from a less talented, less accomplished but equally sincere author.

The beauty about Cis Gaze is that it centers on something that everyone everywhere can relate to. The greatest challenge some people have in communicating the difficulties and daily struggles of not having a clear gender identity (or having gender disphoria) that a large swatch of society can easily identify and, ultimately, accept, is that:

Either they’re talking to people who have the same problem, which is preaching to the choir - it relieves some pressure, makes you feel better, but the rest of the world remains unaware of your problem;


They’re trying to explain it to people who just haven’t a clue (raise hand). People to whom the issue is so far removed from their world that they can’t even begin to comprehend what the big deal is; I used to think.that the important thing was for people to be who they are, and screw whoever can’t deal with it.

Games like Cis Gaze opened my eyes to the fact that it’s just not that simple. I am indebted to Inurashii (and cvaneseltine, in a previous discussion elsewhere) for having made me more aware towards some issues. So I can say from the outset that Cis Gaze had a serious impact in how I view the world. I seriously believe it made me a better person.

Not bad for a Twine “game”, heh?

As I said, it does this by making the centre of the story something that everyone can relate to. In this case, the Cis Gaze is a single glance that the PC gets from a Cis person, a glance full of hatred and intolerance; guilty of the crime of being different and not easily catalogued by society, the PC is the receiving end of a look that has “judge, jury and executioner” all over it and sentences them to the fiery pits of hell (and who knows what really is at the heart of this; who knows if the Gazer is furious because he himself wishes he could do what the PC is doing so openly?).

It’s a small incident, over in a second or two. But the confidence of the PC is crushed; they are emotionally crippled; everywhere now they see the gaze, or feel it, and the simplest task becomes a nightmare.

Here’s the thing: we all know about this. I’m sure we’ve all experienced it. All it takes sometimes is for someone to do the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, or just look at you funny, and your confidence is shattered. The wrong remark before you go on stage, or into the recording studio; the wrong look at your latest report, or your latest composition; the wrong body language during a date that was otherwise going so well; and we are crushed, we get disoriented, we get confused, we get useless.

We do allow little things like this to get to us, because we are human, and in the wrong time, when we are vulnerable, the damage they can do is intense.

So - and here’s the important thing, so important I’ll put it in a quote box:

Cis Gaze clearly shows, to a cis person unaware of many of the problems facing a transgender, what it can be like by providing them with an experience they can relate to.

It’s no longer someone else’s problem. We’ve all felt what it’s like, and we can personally relate to the PC. Every time some of us (raises hand) said “Well, they need thicker skin. The world isn’t going to change on account of them, the world can accept them but pampering to them is something else” comes back to haunt us; imagine what it’s like to feel the Cis Gaze every day of your life?

There’s also a bit of technical wizardry and ingenuity which makes all the difference. The majority of the text is in the usual black font, but there’s also a little red font that represents that little nagging voice in the back of your head, the one you have to listen to but sometimes wish you could just rip out of your skull.

At first, the little voice will appear, mid-text, expounding on sentences or creating parenthesis, as a result of some of your clicks. Then it will start appearing on its own, unstoppable, relentless. Never in big sentences at once; small direct sentences, one appearing after the other, each one more hurtful than the previous one. Just like in real life, really.

I cannot reccommend this game enough. Bravo, Inurashii.

EDIT - Corrected pronouns. Thanks, Hanon.


Nice review. I played this when it was released and was challenged. Being a former theatre nerd, and having experienced and enjoyed a typical period of college experimentation like many people do, I thought I was open-minded and understood what was up. This was very eye-opening in that regard.

One of my best friends is trans and generous enough to openly discuss some of the emotions he experiences on a regular basis. It can be surprising what innocent-seeming comments can inadvertently offend. We were having a stereotypical “guy discussion” of female behavior once, and I said something along the lines of “Well, you of all people can probably understand…” and his response was “No! I don’t! That’s the point!” and that made a light go on in my brain.

(Not as a review critique, but informationally - I believe Inurashii’s prefers to identify as “multiple” and therefore you’d use plural pronouns when referring to them. It’s similar to grammar one would use when referring to a group of people: “Everyone needs to get their vehicle ready.” (Instead of “his vehicle” or “his or her vehicle”.) “Inurashii wrote their game last year…” It avoids a specific gender label at all. Some non-cis people identify as alternate gender, some identify as non-gender, and some identify as both genders.)

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Wow. Ok, duly noted, I didn’t know that and honestly thought the female pronoun was the correct one.

Language doesn’t seem to be on their side, does it?.. When referring to people it’s gender-based and binary by nature, and using a plural pronoun to refer to a single person is just awkward. I mean, it goes against the most basic concepts we have of the world and how we perceive it and interact with it. It also creates ambiguous and hard to read sentences. Also, in a foreign latin language like Portuguese or Spanish, the plural also has gender - “eles e elas”, “he-them and she-them”, and no middle ground, how does that work in those languages? I would imagine very many people get it very wrong all the time through no fault of their own.

Which is why I used to think all those things I said about “the world can’t be expected to change its language to pamper to a minority”. I don’t think that anymore, because turns out - who knew? - that’s what progress and evolution are all about, but it still makes be uneasy. Language is supposed to be for communication; for some people it’s a minefield, as you experienced with your friend.

Hmmm, that’s true of a number of different people, and not necessarily minorities or people with any disability or anything. Food for thought.

Maybe language needs to evolve some more? Currently we’ve done away with “spokesman” in favour of “spokesperson” et al, which I personally find rather silly as I always thought the “man” stood for “human” and happens to be the common common ground between the words man and wo_man, but it’s done and dusted (and some people just go ahead and ignore it). Maybe instead of that sort of reductionism there should be an expansion…

I mean, I’m thinking aloud here, but these difficulties in even referring to a trans person by virtue of accidently saying the wrong things (I guess your comment was because, despite you knowing some things about your friend full well, your brain was still geared to look at him in a specific gender due to physical reasons and our internal wiring and the way we look at a person and recognise facial features, state of mind, and yeah, gender. That’s though on your friend, but rewiring everyone else’s brain? It would be a good thing, but oh boy what a struggle. One worth fighting, I guess, in the end, but it’s epic) are part of the whole reason, I’m sure, that some parts of society have a hard time accepting non-cis people. If you don’t even know how to refer to them, it becomes very hard to let them into your world view; where will they fit?

It’s a hairy problem, and one that generates a lot of passion from everyone involved, and that makes it tricky to talk about; someone’ll get hurt or offended. I suppose that’s why these games exist; in their own way, they get people to realise something fundamental about other people. And they get people to stop and think about this in a new light. Then a guy or two reviews the game, and some people comment on it, and they’re seriously giving the issue some thought.

So, hey. IF can change the world, and in this case it’s Twine doing it. One person at a time. That’s enough, isn’t it? All it takes is for two people to educate their child properly, to teach respect and tolerance and to teach how big and how varied the world is and how there’s space - there should be, at least - for everyone under the sun. And maybe those two people, educating their child, got to be that way because they played a little game or two that taught them something they never even thought about much.

My philosophy (because I’m crazy for metaphors): Everyone deserves a place at the table. If the existing meal doesn’t suit someone, they should make their preferences known for future reference, but not take offense that the chef did not pre-divine their personal tastes. Nobody has the right to demand a public table be completely rebuilt to suit them.

I think some people would just be happy that their dish is on the menu, or that they have an alternative available for them. I guess some restaurants have steep policies about what they serve.

Of course, the best thing to do then is go to another restaurant. I suppose our job is to ensure there are enough restaurants that will be able to accomodate them.

(because I really enjoy extending a metaphor)

I just wanted to say thanks for mentioning this game. I started playing it a couple days ago and haven’t had a chance to finish, but once I do I’ll read the rest of your review and have something to say about it.

So, this is a linear story about a person’s experience, told through a medium that uses interactivity to make the story more engaging; it’s not so much a game as an experience delivery system. The “inner voice” text popping up in the middle of paragraphs conveys a feeling of nagging distraction in a way that’s hard to do in static fiction or even parser IF.

I’m pretty familiar and sympathetic with the issues at the center of this piece already, so I wouldn’t say it changed my outlook on anything, but I was surprised by the bit about how the author likes going to restaurants because she can always count on waitstaff being friendly – it never would’ve occurred to me, but it makes perfect sense.

You know, this often happens - I go on for words and paragraphs and pages, then someone comes along and goes straight to the crux of it, and I think “Huh. I kinda got lost and forgot to address what this person said in such a succint way”. :wink:

I suppose, though, that your analysis makes this game nice fodder for the recent “What is IF?” (or even, if I understand right, “What makes it interactive?”) discussion.