A monster made of wings and eyes hangs in the abyss. It calls you a liar and demands that you prove your worth. This is the world of Boa Retina, a game about gender identity and the pain of feeling incomplete.
Created by Jennifer Raye, Boa Retina is about "messy gender uncertainty". It explores how some transgender individuals feel at the early stages of their personal development, dealing with feelings of anxiety and frustration. It blurs the line between autobiographical and abstract, taking place in a strange dreamscape where the player must prove the validity of their gender expression to a cruel monster.
I'm always a bit hesitant about games that focus on what it's like to be transgender. It's a deeply personal experience that's different for everyone. Boa Retina explores the idea of wanting to be like someone else and aspiring to their gender presentation and confidence, and it acknowledges the role media can play in exploring identity. In one sequence, the player sits down to enjoy an old school Atari game with a character who inspires the protagonist. At another point, the player explores photo albums. After each segment, the player must face the monster in a dialog sequence that eventually builds into a bullet-hell shooter battle.
Boa Retina is only around 30 minutes long, but it does a lot in that short amount of time. It focused specifically on the personal pressure that transwomen face, but the broader angst feels applicable to anyone who has been ignored or marginalised. Boa Retina offers simple gameplay: Collect some hearts, dodge bullets, listen to some audio logs. But those experiences build to a very cathartic release that is well worth the time you'll spend with it.
You can play Boa Retina on PC, Mac and Linux.