I’d like to bring a game to the general attention of anyone who’s still checking this board. Because, a) we need the activity!, and b) I just have to say this, and might as well say it here.
You’ll find the game at IFDB: http://ifdb.tads.org/viewgame?id=ix4lts5i4g7r8rn5. It is a CYOA, by the good folks at ClickVenture. I have played very little of their games - I can’t download them, so I don’t bother - but I like the little I’ve seen. It’s silly in the right places, the humour tickles my fancy, and the pacing is quite tight.
The one thing that I’ve found distinguishes this game from others is that it tackles an issue that others have for a long time tried to tackle without, IMO, much success - the relevance of a character’s sexual orientation, or lack thereof.
Some games and gamemakers, chief amongst them “Choice Of”, delight in providing us with a myriad of choices regarding the player character. Male? Female? Trans? Genderqueer? Straight? Bi? Homosexual? I find this all quite silly, because I wouldn’t mind if I were playing an autistic african-american Chinese hermaphroditic midget from France. While those things are valuable in characterization, I find they are not more valuable than, say, a more detailed backstory. In fact, all these labels immediately start characterising the PC in stereotypes - aha, I’m playing a pre-op black trans, so I can immediately glean these traits from their personality. In an attempt to diversify, I find these multiple choices are artificial at best, and when they try to actually define the character they become the demeaning stereotypes they’re trying so hard to avoid.
“Glory of Rome” takes an amusing stab at this issue, one that I find much more effective than anything those other guys have made. It states, quite clearly, that your sexuality is totally irrelevant to the story. Then proceeds, without warning, to throw you into the arms of your gay lover. You have the chance to act surprised and indulge in a little dialog with the game at this point.
I think it’s normal to be surprised. There are norms and expectations that anyone has entering a work of fiction. One of those expectations is that, for instance, the character is neurotypical and heterosexual unless stated otherwise.
This game, not too subtly, brings up the question: why?
Why would I be so taken aback when it turned out my character was homosexual? Because I wasn’t expecting it. That’s valid - but should I have been quite so surprised? It’s not a shocking revelation. Except that it rather is; it’s a little insight about the character that I had been completely unaware of. I would have been just as surprised if the game had suddenly revealed that my character had magical powers, or a wooden leg, or was really the Emperor in disguise.
It very successfully made me think about the norms and expectations I usually take with me when I start a new book, or game, or film. Of course, it’s also a bit unfair of the game; one can’t be seriously expected to start a work of fiction without some expectations. Based on little clues I’m given, I flesh out the character I’m reading about, and fill in the blanks from my empirical experience. I can’t read an entire book wondering if the character is a closet homosexual, or a post-op trans, unless the book gives me some clues to that effect. I hate being made to feel guilty because I’m heterosexual, neurotypical and not disabled, like the vast majority of the earth’s population. Yes, I bring those expectations in with me when I start a new game or book; it’s what I know about. That is normal.
So, the game actually cheats to provoke this reaction. It says your sexuality isn’t revelant, then takes great glee in giving you a sexuality that defies your expectations and watches your reaction.
It goes one step further. To save the game, you must kiss your lover, and are treated to an image of two very male mouths kissing. Homophobes beware. Is it any different, though, from the image of a male and a female mouth kissing?
So this game makes me re-evaluate my expectations, it point-blank shows me an alternative that is no better nor worse, and doesn’t trick me into feeling guilty. Kudos.
The game itself is funny, cute, and light-hearted. It’s worth checking out at least once. But what really made it memorable to me (I didn’t get far, mind - I quickly lost interest in the battle scene) was that one moment that, I think, is really the raison d’être for this game. It’s very much a game not about sexual orientation. Then it forces you into one - like pretty much all games do when sexuality is not an issue - and asks “Have you got a problem with that?”.
Of course, if this really were a game where sexual orientation isn’t important, it’d play like Blue Lacuna, where Progue can be a friend, an enemy, a father figure, a lover - it just depends on your interactions.
I enjoyed the splash of cold water. It was much, much, much more effecient to me than many other games and works that various people have been churning out on the matter. Because this game cuts to the crux of the issue: “It’s not relevant to the story.” I’m not forced to dwell on this in detail. I’m not treated to a socio-political statement about sexuality representation in games. I’m presented point-blank with a situation not in the least unlike any other game - except that, in this case, the PC happens to be homosexual. And if I don’t like it, I’m made to question that feeling in a most revealing way.