Interview: Todd Harper on Upon Reflection, “3 moments from the history of a fat cis gay body”

As the medium of games continues to expand, there are more opportunities to take the medium into new and interesting direction – none moreso than the creation of personal and autobiographical games, usually authored by one person as opposed to the team model that dominates much of indie and AAA games, which allows for a distinctly more human touch.

We caught up with one such creator, Todd Harper, a game and media studies scholar, to ask him about some of his thoughts and experiences around the creation and conceptualisation of his recently-released Twine game, Upon Reflection.

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(Writer) Mitch Alexander is a Game Design graduate, designer and critic from Glasgow, Scotland. who usually talks about things you get into deep discussions about at 3am, like Silent Hill, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, The Mothman Prophecies, The Invisibles, or how creepy monkeys are. They’re so, so creepy.

NaNoRenO 2015, A Month-Long Visual-Novel Game Jam!

When it comes to games with LGBT content, there’s often very little to choose from, and what’s present isn’t always presented in way that’s free of problems of its own. “If you don’t like it, make your own!” is a common response to LGBT folk talking about the lack of games by, for and about LGBT people, and, while that response isn’t as helpful as it appears to be, making your own game and contributing to the growing body of games by, for and about LGBT people can be a great experience. In fact, even as recently as last month, people have been doing just that thanks to #JamForLeelah, a game jam set up in the memory of Leelah Alcorn, which finished recently.

March 1st, 2015 marks the start of NaNoRenO, a month-long game jam that anyone can take part in, with the aim of making a visual-novel-style game by March 31st – so if you’ve always had an idea for a game and want to help bring it into the world, now’s a great time to get started!

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(Writer) Mitch Alexander is a Game Design graduate, designer and critic from Glasgow, Scotland. who usually talks about things you get into deep discussions about at 3am, like Silent Hill, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, The Mothman Prophecies, The Invisibles, or how creepy monkeys are. They’re so, so creepy.

The endlessly repeating Obéissance

Obéissance, by Merritt Kopas, is a small, concise puzzle-platformer game about Christian Mysticism. Using a single repeated monochrome level made up of floating platforms, the player-character’s ascent upwards through the level and incorporating implicit player choices, Obéissance says a lot with very little.

The endlessly-repeating level in Obéissance incorporates writing by Simone Weil, a French writer, activist and Christian mystic living during the first half of the 20th century; navigating each level requires your character to jump from platform to platform, with text visible at the right-hand side of the screen – as the player vertically ascends through each level, new text becomes visible and can be read by reaching and resting on given platforms in the level.

The text comprises writing by Weil from across her lifetime, and focuses on the relationship between humanity and God, consent and obedience, choice and the exertion of Will — and absence. All of these concepts take on altered meanings when applied to games and how we determine how games “should” be played. In a sense, it’s tempting to look at Obéissance and see just a puzzle-platformer, with all the requisite jump mechanics, floating platforms, flavour text as lore, implicit goals and instructions from an unseen and unknown designer which we assume based on the goals and instructions we’ve seen before.

And that might have been true, were it not for the insights of Weil provided alongside the repeating level, discussing passivity, obedience, and how growth and reward do not necessarily come from physical exertion and one’s will to overcome.
Similarly, considering the focus in Obéissance with consent, obedience and liberty, it can easily be compared alongside Merritt’s other work, including Consensual Torture Simulator and SUPER CONSENT!, but especially the Soft Chambers project.

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Soft Chambers is a radical approach to game design focusing on warmth and emotional connection in games in contrast to the cold, clinical, and mechanical approaches we often find in games today. Soft Chambers asks us questions about how we experience games, what alternative ways we could forge and explore new, complex and engaging connections through games. Much of the writing on Soft Chambers is likely to be of interest to anyone exploring how games can be conceived of not just in terms of raw, apolitical and anaesthetic mechanics rubbing up against each other unfeelingly, but also in terms of care, of warmth, and of contemplation.

Of particular interest to anyone looking for the ending to Obéissance (that the game-screen assures players exists) are the Soft Chambers pieces on “cozy digital spaces” and “waiting/transitional spaces”.

You can play Obéissance for free on your browser at itch.io, http://a-dire-fawn.itch.io/obedience, and find more of merritt’s work at mkopas.net.

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(Writer) Mitch Alexander is a Game Design graduate, designer and critic from Glasgow, Scotland. who usually talks about things you get into deep discussions about at 3am, like Silent Hill, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, The Mothman Prophecies, The Invisibles, or how creepy monkeys are. They’re so, so creepy.

#JamForLeelah, a Trans-Positive Global Game Jam!

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A new month-long trans-positive game jam is currently underway and accepting submissions for games focusing on trans youth issues, in order to spread awareness of the issues faced by transgender people in modern society.

#JamForLeelah was organised by Matthew Boucher and Kara Jayne , in response to the recent suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a 17 year old transgender girl who struggled with her gender identity – especially when it came to her parents, who reacted in an extremely negative way to Leelah’s coming out by refusing to accept her regarding her gender, making her attend therapy sessions with Christian therapists, and placing heavy restrictions on her life; feeling as though she would never be able to get the life she wanted, Leelah took her own life, leaving behind a suicide note on her Tumblr with a final message that the Jam organisers have taken to heart:

“The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say ‘that’s f***ed up’ and fix it. Fix society. Please.”
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(Writer) Mitch Alexander is a Game Design graduate, designer and critic from Glasgow, Scotland. who usually talks about things you get into deep discussions about at 3am, like Silent Hill, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, The Mothman Prophecies, The Invisibles, or how creepy monkeys are. They’re so, so creepy.

A different kind of Sophisticated Gent: a look at Dorian Pavus

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Note: This is the second in a series of articles exploring the diverse cast of BioWare’s Dragon Age: Inquisition. The following contains details from all points of Dorian’s sub-plot in Dragon Age: Inquisition, including his ultimate romance sub-quest.

Characters who are members of marginalised classes often get a raw deal when it comes to personal storylines, narratives and histories. Gay characters, for example, often occupy a very tricky position in media: focusing too heavily on the fact that the character is gay can make them seem trite, stereotyped or farcical; however, downplaying, dismissing or outright ignoring their sexuality and its impact on their lives can be detrimental for wholly other reasons, making them “gay enough” that the character counts for some token diversity, while not being “too gay” to cause any boredom, discomfort or disgust in bigoted audience members, who can then relish the character as one of those character who’s gay, but like, it’s not even a thing, and that’s some real good gay representation there. Or, y’know, maybe not.

Dorian is the first companion in Bioware’s Dragon Age series who was specifically written for, and will only romantically engage with, a male protagonist. Although this may seem like just a cursory piece of programming – a “rainbow” flag, if you like – the inclusion of a gay male character whose sexuality IS totally, like, a thing, is powerful: even moreso when the storylines that focus on their sexuality are impactful and meaningful, but at the same time not a trope-laden rehash of irrelevant, inappropriate or misunderstood aspects of gay identity as we’re so often obliged to be thankful to receive.

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(Writer) Mitch Alexander is a Game Design graduate, designer and critic from Glasgow, Scotland. who usually talks about things you get into deep discussions about at 3am, like Silent Hill, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, The Mothman Prophecies, The Invisibles, or how creepy monkeys are. They’re so, so creepy.