In 2010, indie developer Nicky Case participated in the most difficult conversation of his life. Four years later, for the itch.io narrative game jam “Nar8”, Case made a game about it. That game is Coming Out Simulator 2014.
The game takes about 15 minutes to get through, so go play it right here if you haven’t.
Successes: As with a lot of games that focus on connecting players to emotional experiences, Coming Out Simulator 2014 succeeds in telling the story of someone who struggles with the same problems as the developer. Your choices in the game don’t always have the effect you want them to, and some of the choices you’re given won’t be what you really want to say. While the former succeeds in the frustration and fatigue that people face when coming out, the latter is harder to judge. From the perspective of a narrative game, barring a player from making a choice they identify with is wrong, but in the scenario of a difficult conversation, one where you might tell the truth, the half-truth, or nothing but a lie, you might not say exactly what you want to say, or what you’re thinking.
With the player limited to three choices, it makes sense that things won’t always pan out the right way. Combine that with the minimalist art and somber animations (especially the phone conversations), and the mood of the game is successfully set in a bleak, nervous atmosphere that’s perfect for what the author is trying to convey. The only constant sound effect is the ticking clock at the dinner table, while around you, your parents are breaking down, fighting, and denying their son, right in front of their son. If the game rolled with these elements, I wouldn’t have much to complain about. However, there’s some serious tone and framework issues.
Failures: The game’s humor is my biggest complaint with this game. It opens and closes with the developer talking to you, as a character, in the game. He explains what the game is about in a fourth-wall shattering intro that feels jarring. It takes you out of the experience and frames it in this weird conversation that doesn’t feel natural. The in-game character as the developer sits in a coffee shop and tells you the prelude to how he came out to his family, and at the end of the game, you have to listen to three alternate endings.
By the way, these endings are told to you, which is a clear breach of writing’s first rule: show, don’t tell. These monologues feel really out of place and very jarring against the stark reality of coming out. Many of the choices you’re given for dialogue are clearly just jokes, things that few would actually say given the situation. I understand the importance of comic relief when dealing with something serious like this, but it’s not done effectively here, and it really brings the game down with it.
Overall, I’m glad the game exists. It is giving people a perspective on a difficult subject, one that not everyone will deal with in their life, and one that must be handled with care. The game was made with the intention of helping people sympathize with those who have had to come out to their families. This is done by brave people, people under threats of heartbreak, abuse, and abandonment. Maybe Coming Out Simulator 2014 will shed some light on what they go through, but next time, let’s take it a little more seriously, eh?