Coming out simulator
A game about a coming out gone horribly wrong. Coming Out Sim is an interactive fiction short story that’s based on developer Nicky Case’s own coming out. The game starts with main character Nicky addressing the player directly, asking them what they think will happen.
The concept of truth is toyed with abundantly, them claiming it’s a true story full of lies. This allows them to offer players various dialogue options, to which the other characters will respond differently. The seriousness of the subject matter is juxtaposed by witty writing that tones down the harsher parts of the story, or makes some situations totally unbelievable.
The game captures the feelings people struggle with when trying to come out and aims to help LGBTQ+ youth better understand their sexuality, and how not everyone will be appreciative of it.
About the developer
Nicky Case is a Canadian indie game developer. While they’re best known for Coming Out Sim, they’ve also created popular explorable explanations like Parable of the Polygons. Personally, they feel most proud of Adventures with Anxiety, an interactive story for people struggling from anxiety disorder.
Interview with Nicky Case
This is a funny game about serious subject matter. Why did you write in that way?
I tell people jokingly this is how I deal with most bullshit in my life, but it’s actually true. It’s a way for me to look honestly at my past, with a bit of humor. When you need to give your dog some medicine, you hide it in some tasty food. It’s kind of like that. I know that I have to reflect and figure myself out, but I also know that I taste like bitter medicine so I’m gonna hide it in humor.
And how do you make sure people notice the bitter medicine and not just the sweetness it’s sugarcoated in?
You’re asking me to think back (counts) seven years ago - oh my god, this game came out seven years ago! I created this for a game jam, so there wasn’t a ton of time to think things through. Maybe it’s just a lucky accident that it turned out okay?
But seriously, a lot of my inspirations for storytelling do hit that tragicomic feeling. At the time my favorite author was Kurt Vonnegut, who does a lot of comedic but also tragic stories.
You have since transitioned and had to come out again as transgender. Was that a different experience?
The second time I came out was actually much more pleasant, because I was around people who were friendly and understood. So I don’t have a tragic story to turn into a game this time. There’s this song lyric I really like: good lives make bad stories. So the better my mental health and the better my social group is, the fewer stories I have to tell. At least that means I have to switch from making my games autobiographical to making my character suffer instead.
As the game clearly shows, people weren’t appreciative of who you were the first time around. Were the events in the game very dramatised?
What’s interesting is I intentionally toned down the mother character to make her more sympathetic and still a lot of people thought she was a cartoon villain. So that either tells something about me or something about her.
So what really happened - and I guess this is spoilers for anyone who’s reading this interview - is I was in the closet and involved with this guy. In the game she finds out through reading my texts and emails and then shit goes south.
In reality she did read those, but that was not how she found out. For some reason I just told her. I don’t know why.
Because you felt the need to, I suppose?
Well, it didn’t work out. In response she sends me to a psychologist to convince me that I’m not gay. That’s even worse than the game’s story. I left that out because I thought that would be too unbelievable. Like I said, I was trying to tone it down.
Next, the psychologist asks her to leave the room so he can talk to me privately. So she leaves and he goes: “yeah, don’t worry kid, I get this shit all the time”. It was such a relief to hear that you’re okay.
But your mom never found her peace with it?
Well, it got both better and worse. After I moved to San Francisco shortly after the events of the game, I didn’t hear from her again until four or five years later, when out of the blue she sends me a picture of her at a pride parade. After going “what the fuck” I gave her a second chance and so I ask why she had a change of heart about me being gay. She answers: “what are you talking about, I’ve always been supportive of LGBTQ people.”... So suddenly she’s super proud to have raised a confident queer son. To me, that’s even more frustrating. I would respect her more if she just stayed homophobic out of principle.
Another thing worth mentioning is being gay in Asian communities has a kind of different flavour to it. While in America it’s mainly a religious thing to be opposed to it, in Asia - and of course I’m stereotyping an entire continent here - it has more to do with social status and bringing disgrace to your family.
You created Coming Out Sim four years after the events that inspired it. Why did you feel the time right to create it at that time?
I don’t think my motive is particularly poetic. I was inspired at the time by other autobiographical games, such as Dys4ia, so I decided to give it a shot. That’s basically it. Also, I made this for a game jam. I didn’t expect it to go big or anything.
Another reason I wanted to do this was a lot of coming out stories I was seeing in public had a happy ending. There were things like National Coming Out Day and stuff. Come to think of it, when I said I didn’t know why I told my mom I was gay, all these happy ending stories out there might have been one of the reasons. Turns out there’s a little bit of selection bias in stories that go public.
I wanted to show a coming out story where it didn’t go well as a counteract. But I also wanted to have it a bit both ways. It went terribly at the time, but by the end of the story you see this person being okay.
Appreciation of LGBTQ movements and people has gotten better in the past seven years. Do you think Coming Out Sim is as necessary now as it was then?
I keep getting a fan letter every month saying Coming Out Simulator was very much like my experience, so at least it still relates to one person per month. It’s still too much, but it’s a good problem to have if my story is becoming less and less relatable.
What would have changed if you never created Coming Out Sim?
I was extremely productive in 2014, to the point I feel a bit bad about never having been as productive since. It wasn’t just Coming Out Sim, I also made an explorable explainer called Parable of the Polygons. But what would have changed? I probably wouldn’t have made as many friends in the queer games community, wouldn’t have made Adventures With Anxiety which is the project I’m most proud of. All in all, it was a very formative year for me.
What would you like people to take away from playing Coming Out Sim at the exhibition?
The message I put at the end of the story - a bit cheesy, I know - is that it does get better. So if a queer person is playing the game I really hope they get that. And make sure that the people you’re coming out to would be accepting of who you are.
Don’t leap into your coming out, but also, it does get better.
It’s also a game about family values. I’ve had fan letters from people in South America who outed themselves as atheists, after which their parents kicked them out of the house, who were relating to Coming Out Sim. It can go beyond the queer message in that way, it speaks to all young people who feel like they have to hide something from their family.
Interview by Christophe De Bont
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