For a young LGBT person, coming out can be really, really hard.
Minor spoilers for Coming Out Simulator 2014 ahead
Everyone has a different experience, but inevitably, it changes your life and it changes your relationships. It can also be a horrible nightmare. LGBT youth are routinely bullied, not accepted by their families and even kicked out of their homes for being queer. The statistics are depressing, and the reality of the situation is that it's scary for everyone, whether their parents, loved ones and friends ultimately accept them or not.
But it's also the only way forward for most queer people, since the alternative is to live a lie.
Coming Out Simulator 2014, by indie developer Nicky Case, is a deeply personal adventure game that details precisely that struggle with humor and gut-punching emotional honesty. It allows the player to join them, and in fact, play as them, as they come out to their parents. Case' game is inspired by real-life events, they call it "emotionally authentic, factually inaccurate."
"The main arc of the story, coming out to my parent and it ending in me having to break up with my boyfriend, is true," Case told me in an email. "More or less. A lot of the dialogue [consists of] things my mother actually said, such as 'Don't let the gays recruit you' or 'Which one of you is the woman in the relationship?' My father did punch me, as he does in one ending of the game, but he didn't hit me when I came out, since he left the family long before."
"And his violent tendencies [were] partially why my mother divorced him."
Case made the game partially as an enrichment exercise — they wanted to experiment with a narrative-heavy game, and work on story writing skills. The Nar8 game jam — which Coming Out Simulator 2014 debuted at — gave Case "an excuse and a deadline." But the primary reason was an opportunity to explore a traumatic, life-changing event.
I finally feel secure enough to ... basically ... broadcast my personal story
"Four years after my messy coming out experience, I finally, finally feel secure enough in my emotions and identity to ... basically ... broadcast my personal story to tens of thousands of players worldwide. Y'all get to see my dirty laundry now."
I talked a little bit about my own coming out story last summer, just after I played Gone Home. I identified strongly with Sam in that game — she was a 17-year-old middle class white girl, and so was I, when I came out. Case' story is different from my own in some ways — their's depicts a young Asian-Canadian man, and Coming Out Simulator doesn't shy away from the cultural aspects of coming out in that setting. I welcomed Case' perspective and even where it differed from my own, it brought me right back to that evening in December, 2001, where 17-year-old me came out to my mom, sitting outside of the Tower of Terror at Walt Disney World.
Coming out can be an utterly terrifying experience, especially when you are young, and especially where it concerns family. Playing the game, my heart was racing. My palms were sweating. In selecting the dialogue choices, I hovered over the options, sometimes for long moments, wondering what the best approach would be. I didn't want to screw up. This is a big deal, and it will always feel like a big deal.
Coming out is a big deal, and it will always feel like a big deal
No matter how many pride parades I attend, or how much volunteer work I do, or how long I live in the generally accepting city of San Francisco, a part of me will always be that terrified 17-year-old, worried that her family won't love her any more. Case' game hit me right there.
I'm not the only one who had that reaction.
"When I published Coming Out Sim 2014, I got lots of touching stories from people who came out about all sorts of things," said Case. "Having a forbidden relationship, having a controversial interest, having different religious/political views from one's family or friends. I'm as moved by the fans of my game, as they were by it."
"When I was playtesting my game with a friend, who seems very bro-like ... it turns out he's queer and closeted. I had no idea. Then we emotion'd all over the place."
We've all got a coming out story. They range the gamut from horribly depressing to hilarious to just plain weird. But none of them came easy. Coming Out Simulator 2014 was an incredible reminder for me, and for anyone who has been touched by a coming out story — of just how big, difficult and important coming out really is.