An independent Chinese role-playing video game about a young gay man navigating everyday life in Beijing portrays the “harsh realities” of the dating scene, discrimination, family pressures, coming out, and discrimination facing LGBTI people in China, as reported in the South China Morning Post.
Created by 27 year old Huang Gaole and developed with the help of a group of gaming enthusiasts as a hobby, it’s inspired by his own experiences as a gay man growing up in the Shandong province before moving to Beijing, where he is pursuing a doctorate in computer science. It was made available online, and on both Apple and Android mobile platforms.
“I hope through an easy-to-read, immersive, emotional, and interesting interactive story, I’ve created concrete figures to show some of the awkward situations that gay people around me still face in today’s society,” Huang said.
Players of the Chinese-language game must make decisions about the protagonist Ling Hao, a young gay man from a small town, as he comes to terms with his sexuality and faces decisions which can result in nine different endings, not all of them happy.
The aim is to increase the character’s “self-acceptance score” as he becomes more comfortable with who he is, with decisions around certain milestones changing how he internalises his own sexuality, such as in choosing to come out to a woman who asks him out, or accepting the affections of another man rather than isolating himself.
“Self-acceptance and coming out of the closet were planned very early in the development process, because I recognized the causal effect between the level of self-acceptance and the success of coming out to the family,” Huang told told Frankie Huang, in SupChina.
“[This was] based on my own experience [coming out], that of people I know, as well as published research.”
Different choices can see the character going through situations such as coming out to his family, going on dates, speaking to a therapist, visiting gay bars, marrying a woman who is unaware of his sexuality, attending a pride event, entering a happy relationship with a doctor, or even undergoing conversion therapy.
“My goal is to explore different options and their consequences. I encourage people to make informed choices,” said Huang.
Story elements and decisions are accompanies throughout by information and academic material to educate the player and dispel any myths or misinformation that the player may have internalised from less reliable sources.
Talking to Yin Yijun in Sixth Tone, Huang said, “Many people learn about [LGBT issues] from stigmatized reportage or unrealistic danmei [boys’ love] fiction. In fact, these are not complete portraits of our lives. Some are neither true nor objective.”
“I think sociologists have the answers to many of our questions, but people don’t usually have the patience to read through such in-depth academic works. So, I thought of producing something that was lighter, more entertaining, and more popular to get people to study some of these scholarly arguments and opinions.”
Although China decriminalised homosexuality in 1997 and removed it from lists of mental health disorders in 2001, acceptance is far from widespread. Some families still force relatives to undergo conversion therapy procedures such as electroshock treatment, while some LGBTI individuals enter straight marriages due to pressures from their families.
In addition, portrayals of same-sex relationships are banned on television and online, having been categories as “abnormal sexual behaviour”. LGBTI events have also faced interference from authorities, forcing Mr Gay 2019 to relocate from Hong Kong to Cape Town after being warned to stop promoting LGBTI rights.
The game is inspired by the Australian mobile game Florence developed by Mountains, a Melbourne-based studio founded by lead designer Ken Wong, and published by Annapurna Interactive. Florence focused on different events in the life of a 25 year old Chinese-Australian woman, and her burgeoning relationship with a cellist named Krish. He first noted the existence of A Gay’s Life in a tweet on 27 October.
“A Gay’s Life” is a web game that looks inspired by #FlorenceGame but is GAY and CHINESE which is frickin’ awesome! Can someone with better Chinese skills than me check it out and let me know what it’s like? 🇨🇳🏳️🌈 https://t.co/W2kF3MBA3l pic.twitter.com/7C1JkI28b9
— ken wong (@kenwongart) October 28, 2018
“I’m really proud of what we achieved in terms of narrative design on Florence, but we’ve just told one story, about one person,” Wong said, according to SupChina.
“Nothing would make me happier than to see other people use the concepts and techniques we developed to tell their own stories, especially stories from underrepresented voices.”
The growing popularity of the game has raised questions as to whether it may encounter censorship from authorities.
“Now [my team has] some concerns, because the government has never stipulated a clear-cut standard for scrutinizing gay-themed media productions. We aren’t sure how far we should go when self-censoring. Now that the game has gained popularity and [more] attention, I’m worried that it could be banned or taken offline,” told Sixth Tone.
“But even if it’s removed, I can publish it again in a few years when there’s a more open and tolerant environment and when we make more progress in the equal-rights movement.”