Visual novels are an art form, and when done right, they are an amazing storytelling tool. We've seen a lot of good, queer visual novels in the past years - or games that are about as close to visual novels as you can get. Just last year, we had two instant classics: Butterfly Soup and Dream Daddy, take the world by storm. Not only did they showcase incredible queer stories, but they managed to do it without any ounce of mockery or depressing melodrama.
So, I got curious.
What makes these kinds of games so incredible? And why are there so many? On Queerly Represent Me - a large back log of games with some sort of queer representation within them- 215 games are listed as visual novels. That's the largest genre of games on the list, clocking in at 20%. It doesn't sound like a lot, but it is - and that's significant. What draws queer gamers and developers to these specific type of game? I think that visual novels not only provide a simple, fun escape from the harshness of modern queer depiction, but they are also accessible, and cheaper than most other video games on the market.
In my last article, I wrote about a game called Butterfly Soup - a beautiful visual novel that covered the lives of four queer, Asian woman going through high school during Prop 8-era California. I gushed about it, and talked about how it's unabashed happiness just made me smile. And that's not something that happens in a lot of major games or successful indie games. Even a beautiful game like Gone Home, is mired with intense drama, reminding the audience about how much it can suck to be a queer person. That doesn't exist in games like Butterfly Soup.
As much as I love Gone Home - it's not incredibly positive when it comes to endings. media.giphy.com
There's an inherent layer of sexuality that exists in a lot of these kinds of games.
A huge example is a gay dating sim, Coming Out on Top, a very NSFW visual novel about a young, freshly out, college senior who is looking for love and sex. This game has a huge selection of guys you can seduce, and even goes the extra mile to have you come out to your friends and actively maintain your friendships. All the while, you are treated to some saucy pics and scenes of your gay character actually having/enjoying sex.
It's liberating, because even when queer people are depicted having sex - it's never correct. There's always that one scene where the guy doesn't use lube - and then you cringe, cause you know they got hurt. The visual novels I've played don't have that problem - because they're made by queer developers.
I think queer visual novels exist in such volumes because they can be easier to make than other games like RPGs of even exploration sims.
I can't say I'm an expert on game development, and visual novels definitely have their own set of challenges, but they can be made easily thanks to user friendly game engines. This accessibility allows young, queer game devs the opportunity to start making their own queer stories - and in an industry where people are starving for queer characters, they're bound to find an audience!
Visual novels are also cheaper for queer gamers to buy. Even a game like Dream Daddy, produced by the incredibly popular Game Grumps, went up for only 14.99. And Butterfly Soup is still free. This is worlds cheaper than most AAA games that include very basic forms of queer representation. So, there's a level of financial accessibility available for these types of games that don't exist in other places in the market.
In the end, visual novels make queer characters more accessible to a starving audience by being cheap - and they can empower their audience by giving them an escape from the misrepresentation they receive from mainstream media. These games are about queer characters, and made for queer people - and I only hope that the rest of the industry can follow suit. Until they do though, I'm just going to go and replay Dream Daddy for millionth time and cry about how beautiful Robert is.
Shann Smith is a lover of video games and writer of plays and screenplays, based in NYC. Do you guys have a game that you think is significant to the LGBTQ+ community? Email me, and I'll give it a look!
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