Coming Out Simulator 2014 is a semi-autobiographical story about how the author came out to his parents. Interaction takes the form of menu-based conversation — conversation with the narrator in the framing story, and then a series of conversations with his past boyfriend and parents. The whole thing is illustrated in a streamlined, elegant way, and lightly animated, in a way that keeps you aware of the living breathing presence of your interlocutors even though most of what happens happens in text.
There are two things about this piece that particularly struck me. One is a piece of story content: when you’re discussing your sexuality with your mother, there’s a point at which she actually vomits from disgust. This sounds pretty extreme, and some of the subsequent references back to the moment are on the flippant side, but the moment itself did not strike me as totally unrealistic. Indeed, this captured something I have experienced myself in a different context: the sensation that it’s impossible to argue with someone because of the strength of their visceral reactions, together with guilt at making them feel that way (even when I felt that I was in the right). It also reminded me of Jonathan Haidt’s writing on conservative and liberal “moral foundations”, which argues that a strong sense of disgust tends to be associated with conservative values. Where one party feels disgust at something the other party does or thinks or wants, this is a very hard communication gap to bridge, because it is located somewhere other than the head.
While this moment represents the power of the mother’s prejudices and took away any remaining hope that she’d come around to “my” point of view, it also paradoxically made me feel a greater sympathy for her, demonstrating the way her worldview is so deeply part of her that it has this physical manifestation.
The other thing I really liked was the way the game insists on being understood as a half-truthful conversation with the author. Case’s in-game narrator explicitly tells you that the story deviates from reality, that any interactive work would have to include some choices other than the ones he originally made but that there are other falsehoods as well. In Case’s story, the truth (anyway) rests in the choices themselves: there are things in the game that he and his family did not say, selections you can make that he did not make himself, but the important thing is facing this limited menu of options all of which have a cost.
I’m often a little impatient with pieces that break the fourth wall; it’s so often a gimmick, and one that focuses on conveying cleverness rather than any particular truth about the world.
Here, though, I felt the opposite. I have often felt that part of the purpose of creating art is to build something just removed enough from oneself that it can safely be shared with others with whom one doesn’t already have a relationship of trust. And I mean not just “safely for me”, as in “I will fictionalize this a bit so that I feel less vulnerable.” I also mean “safely for the reader”. Really naked autobiographical descriptions of suffering can seem to demand a response, even an intervention, from the reader. Fiction lets us say, “this is more or less what this experience is like, but I’m fine now, really. I don’t need anything from you. I just wanted to tell you this.”
On which note, it’s also worth a look at the author’s own writing about the game.