A Video Game That Really Gets What It Means To Come Out

A Video Game That Really Gets What It Means To Come Out

"I'm bisexual," Nicky says to his mother. "Sexually attracted to both men and women." "You can't be both," his mother snaps back. "You have to pick one." "That's... not how it works," Nicky responds. "At all."

His mother does not understand. As you continue to have this conversation, gliding your cursor over increasingly painful dialogue prompts, you begin to wonder if she can understand, even if she wanted to.

But there's no time to ponder these questions when you're stuck in the fraught, emotional moment with Nicky's mother at the dinner table. Shortly after the two start to butt heads, Nicky's father gets home from work. Once he's in the picture, things go from bad to worse.

A Video Game That Really Gets What It Means To Come Out

This scene is one you might find yourself playing through in the difficult, moving experience that is Coming Out Simulator 2014, an autobiographical game Nicky Case made for a recent game jam and has put online for free. It is not a lived moment. But it feels like one, which is more than I can say for many of the other tenuous passages when modern video games try to broach the topic of human sexuality.

Case, a 19-year-old indie game developer currently living in the Bay Area, described Coming Out Simulator in an email as being "like The Walking Dead meets Text Messages."

"Your every choice influences the story, and you've got to carefully navigate between lies, truths, and half-truths," Case wrote. Like many a classic adventure game, the "action" in Coming Out Simulator is thus driven by choosing between different dialogue options when Nicky is texting with his boyfriend, speaking to his parents, or occasionally addressing the player directly.

There's one key difference between Coming Out Simulator and other, more robust adventure games I've played, however. The problems Nicky faces in this game aren't presented as puzzles that can be solved in a single, clear way. And the choices Nicky can make seem far more pressing than the ones I selected in The Walking Dead, even though the ones in that game often determined who made it out of a zombie attack alive.

A Video Game That Really Gets What It Means To Come Out

There's no easy answer in Coming Out Simulator, no optimal ending to be achieved if you collect the requisite amount of points. Case based the game off a pivotal moment in his own life as a teenager. And just like in real life, the moment of "coming out" in this game is traumatic no matter which way the player chooses to approach it.

Ultimately, it's liberating as well. But that's not what the brunt of the experience playing Coming Out Simulator is actually like. The bittersweet message of hope only comes at the very end after Case (SPOILER ALERT) explains to the player that he -- the real-life version of Nicky -- made it through this fateful night and went on to live happily as a man comfortable with his own sexuality.

Now, Coming Out Simulator is a free browser-based game. Case made it in HTML5 in two weeks as part of the Nar8 Game Jam that took place last month. The final game takes maybe 15 or 20 minutes to complete, and only then if you're being as thorough as I usually am when I play dialogue-heavy games. So don't go into Coming Out Simulator expecting a fully-realised world on the scale of most top-tier video games.

The smallness of Coming Out Simulator gives it an intimately personal, homespun quality that allows it to do something important and daring in comparison, however. Earlier this month, I wrote about how much I appreciated the fact that Mass Effect 3 was the first big-budget video game that let me play as a gay man. But there was something odd about the experience of playing as a gay male Commander Shephard as well: nobody seemed to have a problem with it. Hell, nobody even mentioned it.

I'm not saying that people should have a problem with any of their friends, family, and colleagues being gay. But I also think that artists should feel like they're able to make work that actually strikes at the heart of the uncomfortable, even painful experiences that real queer people have faced in their lives.

There's power in exploring a fantasy like the one in Mass Effect 3, in other words. But there's also power in being reminded that "coming out" the way one does in that game is a fantasy, and a pretty far-fetched one for many people who faced far more difficult challenges when they actually came out.

Coming Out Simulator is a game about that second experience. It's a painful one. But it's also a necessary one, that I think more people who've never had to struggle with their own sexual identity should see for themselves. I wish more game developers were willing and able to be this honest, this nakedly vulnerable, in their work.

You can play Coming Out Simulator 2014 right here.


Comments

    But there was something odd about the experience of playing as a gay male Commander Shephard as well: nobody seemed to have a problem with it. Hell, nobody even mentioned it.

    I find the reason to be the same reason why Captain Picard is still bald despite the fact that people in the future would have invented a "cure" for it. By that time in the future nobody will give a shit.

      One can only hope that within a relatively short period of time, this will be the case. That any attitudes otherwise belong to a "primitive" era. I don't expect to see it in my time, but the general shift in that direction lends some hope.

        I see it happening in the next two decades or so. Once all the "old" people currently in control of the government and economy either die or retire (allowing Australia to get fast internet) we'll stop hearing most of their crap.

          You are way too optimistic there.

          Last edited 15/07/14 2:56 pm

            In terms of equal rights and general acceptance. There will always be stupid rednecks shouting about gun control but by then everybody will be ignoring them.

            We've already moved on to journalists ignoring climate deniers.

            Last edited 15/07/14 3:01 pm

            Better to be optimistic and hope for change than to be pessimistic and accept defeat?

            Personally I'd like to think once the old guard have retired the younger generations will be free to make greater strides in human rights and equality. Though watching one of the more recent segments of Last Week Tonight where they cover the fairly new laws in Ghana against homosexuality makes me think as a race we haven't really evolved at all.

              Better to be optimistic and hope for change than to be pessimistic and accept defeat?

              I view it as more along the lines of it's better to be realistic and attempt to find a realistic resolution than to sit here and hope that in two decades assholes will suddenly not exist. People grow up and they change. These people aren't that way because they're old they're that way because they've grown to the point where their priorities change and the way they view the world is different.
              They feel insecure. They fear change because they had it good and don't want to see that stop or they're worried they'll be left behind. They get jealous that kids have so many choices while they're stuck living with the decisions they made years ago. Hell, for some reason when a lot of people no longer view themselves as kids/teenagers they instantly become scared shitless of teenagers. The biggest one is they have kids. Our generation isn't immune to any of that.
              I never really thought anybody I knew would fall in for all this 'boat people' bullshit but I've got friends who got roped into it the second they had kids or started paying taxes. Their priorities shifted from 'this has nothing to do with me so I'm not against it' to 'I don't understand people who don't fit into my definition of Australian, so I don't want them around my kids, so keep them out of my country!'. Suddenly they believe that these people are taking money out of their pockets, as if taxes would magically be lower if nobody tried to enter the country.
              I know people who were proud (overly so) of their bisexuality as teenagers/young adults who are now perfectly comfortable admitting they'd be furious if their kids were gay. They certainly weren't jerks when I knew them. I remember a lot of good times with them. They're not even homophobic or over compensating they just want what's best for their kids and in their minds getting married and having kids the 'right' way are non-negotiable on the path to happiness.

              Not that I'm perfect. I'm pretty critical of the educational system, it's relevance post graduation and role in overall happiness but if I have kids I'll definitely be pushing them into studying hard. We all fall into these sorts of traps. Still, we've all got to oppose this sort of dickery when it comes up. We can't just sit back and wait for it to blow over. It'd be great if it did but as long as people are people it's just not going to happen.

    Man... that was quite the powerful game. I'm glad I took the time to check it out. Thanks for the link Yannick.

    As someone who has had those conversations with different people with similar situations I'm very happy to see games like this out there. Very proud to see it out there, and very happy I took the time to play it :)

    This is one of those games that could truly be considered art. Every person that plays it has their own experience with it and draws their own conclusion.

    Cases like this game depicts are far too common but thankfully are becoming rarer as society moves towards a greater acceptance of people for who they really are, not for the masks they wear

    Yeah, as someone who hasn't really come out to their family, that first paragraph really put my anxiety through the roof just reading it. I don't need a simulator, I have the joy ("joy") of real life.

    That being said, I am glad games like this exist.

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