Queer representation has come to media like flowers in springtime: a few fragile blooms at first, and now everywhere you look, new stories are bursting into life. The latest little dandelion is Queen’s Gambit, Voltage Entertainment’s first foray into LGBT storytelling, which, in spite of itself, is a small delight.
Queen’s Gambit is an iOS game (though an Android version is apparently forthcoming), although to call it a “game” doesn’t feel particularly truthful (the company itself calls it a “romantic visual novel”). The app works more like a choose your own adventure book, but the choices are few and far between, and even then they feel pretty incidental to the narrative’s direction.
The game stars a lady spy for a shadowy organization known as Destrier. I let my girlfriend choose mine and she took the opportunity to name it after our dog’s favorite toy.
Which ended up being a great decision because of moments like this.
You can put your agent on one of four romantic pathways: falling in love with one of three boring dude idiots, or one absolutely wonderful woman.
I had intended to play the Emily storyline and then try out one of the dudes just for a comparison, but now that I’ve completed Emily, the thought of switching characters is repugnant for two reasons:
When story opens, Agent Ladybunny is locked in combat with Emily Verma, who was assumed dead for five years and then reappears on the scene working for Destrier’s sworn enemies. How she got there, and whose side she’s really on, is the subject of the remaining story, which Bill investigates with her teammates, Ken Doll and Donald Glover.
The game (or visual novel or what the fuck ever) is, in some ways, laughably awful. The characters are placed over static backgrounds which rarely change, and the characters themselves only have about five emotions each, which leads to some pretty hilarious juxtapositions.
Also, sometimes for no reason at all, characters will briefly appear in their underwear before their costumes appear. It’s disconcerting, as is the artists’ fundamental misunderstanding of the physics of human breasts.
Queen’s Gambit’s saving grace is its story, which is compelling, funny, surprising, and occasionally quite sad. The narrative is well-constructed, the characters charming, and the love story, of two spies navigating their shifting allegiances, is fucking hot. If it were a movie, I would watch it every day. I don’t know who decided that the game’s budget should be shifted entirely from visuals to writing, but that was one gambit that paid off.
Queen’s Gambit will take you about as much time as a novella to race through, and even though you have to pay $1.99 to buy each new act, you’re guaranteed to pony up and suffer through the crashes. The story is just that good. And even though your choices throughout don’t seem very important at the time, they lead you to four very different endings. (I got “rookie” on my first time, which I thought was pretty tragic until I saw what “nightmare” looked like.)
Even though gaming it taking longer to catch up with queer representation than, say, TV, it’s getting to be quite a crowded field out there. But I would still recommend you stop to smell this particular flower.