When I began work on my video game, Coming Out on Top, nearly three years ago, I didn't expect that there would be much interest in it. First of all, few people in the West play dating sim-type games. Even in Japan, where these games are more popular, they're still a niche product. I imagined that, if anything, the same women who are into gay porn or gay romance literature would be my audience, if an audience for my game even existed.
In any case, the story of the main character you play, a college senior who recently came out of the closet to his two goofy but loving roommates, seemed extremely compelling to me. There was so much potential to make something endearing, comical, and erotic, like a Leisure Suit Larry but with a greater emphasis on character development. After making a prototype, I released it to a small audience.
While several women enjoyed playing the early version, the most interested players, I quickly found, were gay guys. I started to get emails from many of them who'd stumbled across my project, emails that told me how much they identified with the main character. "This is the game I've been looking for all my life" and "Thank you so much for making this" were two statements I'd hear over and over again.
I decided to crowdfund my project to gauge further interest and expand the game with revamped art and more characters. Once again, I expected most of my support to come from women who enjoy this kind of thing. However, as it turned out, gay men were overwhelmingly the majority of my backers.
For the two years that followed, I spent my time developing the game while getting input from a group of these men in my Kickstarter forum.
Topics of discussion, which included things like circumcision, pubes, body types, and safe sex, often left me wondering if any game prior to this one had involved such frank and intimate subjects being discussed between a group of players and the developer. The whole exchange sometimes seemed unusual, even oddly surreal. But it also seemed necessary if I was going to make something that rang true to most of my players.
To give an example of how the forum's input shaped the game: In the original version of the game, the main character comes out of the closet to his friends, but his coming out is never revisited. Originally, I wrote something serious involving his parents but then shelved it in order to keep the game's tone light and fun. When a member of the forum voiced his concern that the parental issue is never addressed, I realized I needed to reintroduce the subject but somehow do so in such a way that wasn't heavy-handed and fit the game's tone.
This year I'm adding more content to include things I didn't include the first time around: more guys with different body types, additional dates, another storyline -- much of which will be suggested and voted on by the backers in my forum.
Now that the game is out, I'm in an interesting place as a creator. I get emails and comments thanking me for creating relatable, fully realized characters. At the same time, I've received criticisms that I have no right to do this because I am a woman and am obviously fetishizing gay men.
I don't know. While I think these claims are well-intentioned, I feel the issue is a bit more complex. Throughout my life, I've most closely identified with male characters in fiction, porn, and erotica, and I write most comfortably using the voice of a male character, regardless of sexual orientation. As a comedy writer, I enjoy writing about hapless guys struggling with issues of sex, love, and relationships. (But I suppose this is a personal topic for a whole other blog post.)
I can only say I wrote and created my game with love and care, and my characters are more real to me than the characters I find in most video games. I find sex fun and funny, and I hope this came through in my writing. I feel that the themes of love and acceptance and the painful misery of dating are universal to the overwhelming majority of us, whatever our orientation, and that it's best to approach the subject with sincerity and good humor.