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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Closed World Review

by James Cohen

An IndieCade 2012 nominee, A Closed World comes to us via the Singapore-MIT Gambit Game Lab. It's a research project, "created to be a digital game that deals with queer issues," and completed in eight weeks, according to an interview with the game designers on IndieCade's YouTube channel. It's an interesting idea, since homosexuality is poorly represented in video games.

The story has the main character searching the forest for his or her same-sex love interest, who has ventured into danger to escape the judgmental people of their town.

Players are asked their gender and then thrust into a JRPG-type world, though one without any items, equipment or experience points. When faced with an enemy you combat them not with a sword but with arguments based on Aristotle's rhetoric: ethics, passion and logic. This boils down to a rock-paper-scissors system where passion beats logic, which beats ethics, which beats passion. This should sound familiar to any Pokemon Master, but it's definitely less intuitive. In Pokemon you can make an educated guess that a fire-horse will be weak against water, but here there are no visual cues as to whether ethics will be good against a newly encountered demon.

Chances are you already know whether you want to play A Closed World or not. If you're really on the fence, keep in mind it's readily available and will only cost you 20 - 30 minutes of your life. This isn't like deciding whether or not to order a game on Amazon now that we have to pay sales tax on it in California. Go play this game if you plan to, because I'm about to get spoilery.

We shouldn't expect much from a school project, so I'll just say I don't recommend it unless you can prove you really love the genre by whipping out your copy of Rhapsody, the one and only musical JRPG to blight American shores. A Closed World probably wouldn't get any attention if it weren't for the subject matter. Is it of particular interest to LGBT folk? Well, my boyfriend, a casual gamer, was interested in trying it out but didn't like the gameplay at all and when I explained how the plot went he didn't like that either. Rather than ask him why, I'm going to speculate that it's because this is a total downer.

The demons you face are representations of your own family and your love interest's family. Because they oppose you. And in the end your love interest, the one you faced danger to save, leaves you to go get straight-married instead. The only bright spot is that you decide to be true to yourself, even though that doesn't bode well considering everyone in town hates gay people. I'm not saying this is an unrealistic scenario -- it's all too real, but untempered. Heavy handed. The one scene with the love interest is still all about how difficult it is to be gay and therefore the relationship that the story revolves around feels hollow to me.

Ultimately I think this is by straight people and aimed at straight people, perhaps to put them in the shoes of a minority -- or perhaps just the product of an aimless research project prompt. Either way, actual gay people don't need to be hit over the head with a "the more you know" message about themselves.

Dad's fashion sense goes completely unaDRESSed
but he still doesn't approve of that friend of yours.