Welcome to another edition of The Casual Gaymer, an occasional column from AIPT Gaming where I share my questions, comments, concerns, and other unsolicited thoughts about gaming and the games industry as a queer player.
September is fast approaching and though it’s a little late for a mid-year check-in, I’ve begun to look back on my year of gayming to see what my Game of the Year list might end up looking like when this god forsaken year finally ends.
I feel like I haven’t played that many games this year? It could be the effects the pandemic has had on my mental health. It could be the lack of budget I’ve had for games, even the smaller, indie games I want to play. It could be that I haven’t been impressed by this year’s AAA offerings even if I had the budget. It could be that every moment of my free gayming time has been spent in Eorzea making my way through Final Fantasy XIV‘s base game content (I just reached Heavensward!).
Whatever the reason, thus far it’s been a year where I dump over a hundred hours into Animal Crossing and FFXIV and not play much else. Both games are ones that offer hundreds of hours of gameplay with minimal mental effort (often accompanied by a podcast), so thematically they fit 2020 just fine.
However, when I look all the way back to January, I actually started the year by playing a game which immediately cemented itself in my personal Top 10 list and remains my Game of the Year today: Heaven Will Be Mine.
Developed by Pillow Fight Games (and Worst Girl Games on mobile), the visual novel follows three queer women fighting to determine what direction humanity’s intergalactic future will take…in mechs. Not just mechs. Mechs named String of Pearls and mechs so large they have a gravitational pull (literally and/or figuratively) and mechs that endlessly bleed from wounds that never heal. I get goosebumps all over again in remembering! Each route of the visual novel offers the reader a view of the story through each of the three women’s perspectives and presents choices that will affect how their stories end. As you play each route, you’ll be introduced to a handful of other characters (some of whom will be named in a route, but only appear in a different one) and no matter which route you choose you will have the privilege and honor of hearing the incredible soundtrack by Alec Lambert.
What made this game immediately important to me is that from start to finish all three of its routes drips in queer expression. Not only queer expression, but such that was made by queer people for queer people and is unapologetic for it. What I mean by that is the writing never takes time to explain queer concepts to the reader, water down its ideas for mass consumption, and even allows room for its characters to be unlikable and its ideas disagreeable.
As I was writing this, Dia Lacina’s (a critic I’ve shouted out here before and continue to insist my readers follow!) excellent review of Tell Me Why went up at Vice Games and her examination of what makes the game feel safe at its own detriment really rings true for me. There’s an ongoing conversation about letting queer art be “messy” and letting queer art be “soft” and “wholesome” (two words I feel require a degree of qualifying). Essentially the issue is the degree to which queer artists can work through their messy traumas by making messy art which may have some jagged edges, which Lacina feels were blunted in Tell Me Why. Jagged edges leave cuts and not everyone wants that in their art if they’re seeking to escape realities which all too often leave scars.
My experience with Heaven Will Be Mine was not one that felt like I left covered in bandages. This is not me issuing a warning about the game being so transgressive and polarizing that it works as a polar opposite to Tell Me Why‘s safeness. However, it is a game about nuanced queer women who at times behave badly towards one another, and at others get along very well. It’s about identity, gender, the body, and how one transitions into, out of, around, and above these things. It’s about hooking up in outer space and reaching out with one’s gravity across oxygen oceans and caressing without ever touching skin. It’s a game that allows for the existence of a polyamorous relationship — like hello?! This game was made for me.
I’ve rung this bell before and I’ll ring it again: play queer games by queer devs! Heaven Will Be Mine was far from ignored when it released in 2018, but it’s a game I know not enough folks have played. I’ll be thinking about the game’s use of the word “gravity” for the rest of my life and though Animal Crossing would be my pick of games that actually released this year, thus far Heaven Will Be Mine has set the bar. A very high bar. Like, it’s in space.
That’s all for this edition! Yes, I did hear about the “classified” gender option in Call of Duty, and yes, I did scream and laugh and scream until I clipped through the walls and needed a full system reboot. Maybe video games were a mistake. Play Heaven Will Be Mine!