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.
At this year’s Tokyo Game Show Square Enix blessed us with a presentation full of information about the Nier franchise appropriately titled, “We Have a Decent Amount of Information.” I watched the presentation with baited breath and my fingers crossed, excited for any trailers they might show and with high hopes for a release date for the remaster of Nier Replicant. My emotions were already stirring as they aired a teaser trailer featuring a lovely a cappella cover of Kainé’s theme. I was not prepared for the release date that was shown at the end.
It’s my birthday. In Japan, Nier Replicant ver. 1.22474487139… will be released on April 22, 2021 with a western release the following day. This date was chosen to coincide with the 11th anniversary of the original game’s release. The first game in my favorite series, which produced my favorite game ever made, Nier: Automata, came out on my birthday and I didn’t even know. I will neither confirm nor deny that I broke into tears.
Reflecting on that moment, I had to wonder: besides being overwhelmed with excitement, what was it about this coincidence that struck me so intensely? I find that one element at play is finding a new connection to a series I already love; one more piece of evidence that this series feels made for me. Not only do the themes of persisting in the face of meaninglessness, looking to found family for survival, and fighting for someone you don’t know deeply resonate with me, but Nier Gestalt and Replicant literally came out on the anniversary of my birth.
This feeling of establishing an unexpected connection with a work from the past echoes the feeling I’ve had when stumbling onto a new bit of queer history. I’d wager many queer people can relate to, at one point or another, googling around for “queer writers” or “gay actors” or “trans musicians.”
The same practice emerges in video games. I remember when I first got back into gaming after years away from the medium (besides a stint in World of Warcraft) in college. I looked through a long Wikipedia list of queer video game characters which led me to some queer coded villains and romance options in BioWare games. However, this feeling of pleasant surprise more closely echoes the feeling of finding out an author, singer, whomever is queer completely by surprise. It’s an indulgent feeling of confirmation bias.
“I had a feeling this was made by a queer person.”
“I knew she was into girls.”
“Aha! This could’ve only been written by a gay man.”
While there is no essential quality that makes art made by queer people feel queer, most of the time their perspective permeates into the work in such a way that you can’t help but get the vibe. The rest of the time, we’re just indulging in that feeling of connection to a work or creator, reaching across time and linking arms with a fellow queer person in solidarity.
While I don’t know if Yoko Taro or anyone on the development team for Replicant or Automata are queer, I had the pleasure of indulging in this confirmation bias when I learned Emil—a key character in Replicant whom I first encountered in Automata as a shopkeeper with an affecting side quest—is gay.
“Of course!” I thought. These games resonated with me enough as it is, of course one of the leads of Replicant is queer. It’s fun to indulge in this kind of ascribed significance and connection. It’s also an indulgence that emerges out of necessity. Queer history has been erased for hundreds of years, which is how we end up with the idea that queerness is a “modern” idea invented in the late 20th century when Will & Grace started airing. Queer people have existed for time immemorial, but because that history has actively been erased in an effort to demonize and marginalize queer people, it makes it all the more special to discover a commonality with a historical figure, author, or tragically naive skeleton mage. Seeing yourself in history—be that in the history of film, literature, or video games—affirms your existence in the present.
A major theme of Nier and Nier: Automata is discovering an erased history and learning about your identity and how it has been validated or contradicted by that history. It can be a discovery that reifies your existence, but for both queer people and the characters of the Nier games, it can also be one that unveils the ways your people have been murdered, oppressed, or left to die. It can be one that reveals that, for better or worse, you are not who or what you thought you were. The potential for despair is only further compounded by the fact that these injustices have been erased to fulfill the agendas of the powers that be.
However, as with Emil, 2B, or Kainé, learning this history, celebrating these discoveries, or confronting these injustices may affect how I feel about my identity, but it cannot essentially change it.
Had I been alive in the ’80s during the AIDS epidemic, my government would have considered me as disposable as a malfunctioning YoRHa unit with no one to clean up the parts of my broken body. Time and again, I learn of another example in history in which living outside of the gender binary was an accepted way of life with its own vocabulary to match. Neither this cruelty nor this validation affect my sense of self, pay my credit card debt, or assuage my mental health issues. Like Nier and 2B, even when I learn about my history, it doesn’t change the fact that I have to move forward as I am, neither held back by its consequences nor whisked away by its affirmations.
Regardless, it’s cool as hell that the video game is coming out on my birthday.