A Closed World opens up
When we talk about LGBT issues in gaming, it usually falls into one of two categories: gushing about the same-sex romance options that are just beginning to open up in RPGs, or discussing homophobia in online communities. Very, very rarely do we actually get to discuss a game that’s made specifically about the LGBT experience, but today is our lucky day.
The Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Gamelab has designed a title, aptly named A Closed World that directly tackles issues of sexual identity, using a JRPG format.
This past summer, a group of interns from Singapore were led by project owner Todd Harper in the creation of a game that aims to tackle sexuality and identity issues. The goal was incorporating LGBTQ content in an innovative and effective way, eschewing the often heavy-handed "afterschool special"-style approach that serious games have taken in the past.
The result is A Closed World, a JRPG-style journey taken by an androgynous protagonist who is separated from his or her "sweetheart" because of the strict norms of the character’s hometown. Players must lead the character into an unknown wood in search of a better way of life, confronting the demons of family and friends’ attitudes and expectations along the way and using the weapon triangle of Logic, Passion and Ethics to prevail.
Not only is this a fascinating approach (centered on identity, instead of dating or hooking up), but it was also inspired by real-life tragedy – the suicide of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student who took his own life after being secretly recorded in his dorm room and outed very publicly by his roommate. The game is not intended as a direct statement about Clementi, but instead an exploration of issues that seem to be completely dismissed by the world of mainstream gaming.
Both [Harper and game director Abe Stein] were frustrated by the oft-discussed reasons that the commercial game industry remains so divorced from LGBTQ-friendly content, such as the such content is unmarketable, or that it’s impossible to handle "correctly" in the context of character design.
‘The saw that gets trotted out all the time is that there’s institutionalized homophobia in gaming as a culture, so if we put this content in the game it’s not going to get played, people aren’t going to spend money on it, be interested in it or buy it,’ says Harper. ‘I think that’s the most specious straw man.’
I personally applaud the team for crafting something sensitive, compelling and important – games are the perfect medium for exploring issues of identity from the inside out, and I can only hope that A Closed World inspires other creators to tackle similar subjects in their own work. You can play the game in your browser here.
We’re right in the thick of it, now, gamers. October and November are heavy-hitter season, wherein the publishers bring out their biggest guns in an attempt to eke out the most "holiday season" cash. Here are the biggest, and the little guys with the most potential to shine through as "hidden gems."
PayDay: The Heist may not be on your radar, but it may well deserve to be. This October 4 release for PS3 and PC showed beautifully at E3. It’s a squad shooter wherein you play the part of a seasoned criminal with a number of seriously badass heists to pull off. It’s an intriguing concept and well worth a look before October kills us all with massive games.
Car fiends, take note: Forza Motorsport 4 will arrive on the 360 on October 11, the latest in the series that is arguably the most gorgeous and hardcore of all now-gen racers. Despite the fact that my racing game experience basically begins and ends with Mario Kart, I played the living hell out of the third edition, and I’ll almost certainly be kicking these virtual tires next week as well.
Dark Souls, the sequel to ultra-hardcore (and grammar-challenged) PS3 action title Demon’s Souls, is out for Sony’s System on October 4, as is Id Software’s intense new FPS Rage. Rage is multi-platform and ugly-gorgeous in that fluid, muddy "AAA shooter" way, and Dark Souls will probably be so big and tough that it will steal your lunch money. It’s definitely a "hurts so good" challenge, and hey, some people are into that.
Releases for October 18 should technically be included in the next column, but I want to prepare you now. Strategy players have Tropico 4 on the PC, real-life guitar enthusiasts have the multiplatform Rock Smith, Partiers have Everybody Dance on PS3, and everyone with a pulse has Batman: Arkham City on the PS3 and 360. If you played Arkham Asylum two years ago, you’ll know that it was probably the best superhero game of all time, with a mix of exploration, stealth, puzzle-solving, crime-fighting and absolutely flawless brawling action. The new game looks just as good – and now it’s set in a sprawling city. Ladies, Catwoman is now part of the mix – so start saving your pennies now.
Check back next time for the thrilling second half of October, which will bring Battlefield 3, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land and yes, everything we just mentioned on the 18th.