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“Dads are such a universal, emotional thing for people, whether you have a good or bad relationship with your father, or no father in your life,” Gray says.
It’s about these relationships.”When you create your own character, you also have the option to make him a trans dad if you wish, complete with the ability to choose chest binders.They simply follow their hearts, and any obstacles they face are a result of emotional and personal complications, not struggles with their identities.“We were determined to not make any of the dads' individual paths their sexuality or have their sexuality be their defining trait," Gray says.One of the dads, Damien, is transgender as well, though you can easily play through the game without realizing it; there's no neon sign pointing at his gender identity, only subtle hints as you get to know him better.Like the rest of the dads, he is who he is—and he is allowed to be, without controversy.“I know so many people who play those games not because they’re interested in the combat but because they want the romance and the relationships,” she says.
“Younger women, women who are queer like me, and younger people in general are interested in more complex narrative experience from a videogame.”Nor does putting queer characters and experiences center stage mean that a general audience can’t embrace them as well.
Leighton Gray, a 19-year-old student at the Savannah College of Art and Design who created, cowrote, and art-directed , is queer herself; when she and cowriter Vernon Shaw sat down to develop the game, she says, defying stereotypes was at the forefront of their minds: “We wanted to set up expectations and knock them down.”Those complex characterizations not only make the story far more interesting, they render obsolete the usual rules of dating sims.
For all of the genre's seeming emphasis on romance, dating sims often contain a reductively transactional notion of love and sex, relying on a mechanic that independent game developer Arden once described as “kindness coins”: Put enough compliments or gifts into the object of your affection and receive sex in return.
But Gray sees something very different in the passionate response from fans: an audience that has gone dismally underserved by an industry that has failed to either see it or acknowledge it, and one that is ready to show up in force when offered a full-course meal rather than just scraps.
She points to game franchises like , both of which have amassed huge followings in part because of the in-depth (and gender-inclusive) romances they offer in between their battles.
is an unabashedly queer game, but not performatively so; it's far more interested in being than announcing.