This weekend, I had the opportunity to check out the games made at GXDev, a game jam event hosted by the same folks who run GX, or GaymerX. [Disclosure: Both Matt Conn and Toni Rocca, the CEO and president of the organization, respectively, are personal acquaintances of mine, and I spoke briefly at the event.] It was a queer-friendly event where participants of all skill levels were invited to make a game in 24 hours. Some folks formed teams while others went it alone, and everyone was invited to present their game for a brief award ceremony after the jam proper.
One game that caught my eye during the presentation was Cosmic Endeerment, an "endless gardener" where the only limited resource is the player's own attention. Players control cute deer sprites and make new garden homes for their creatures, using their eyes (Tobii's eye-tracking technology was used in development). It's a game about polyamory, the practice of having romantic relationships with more than two partners — a topic rarely, if ever, seen in traditional games.
"The idea actually came to me Thursday morning prior to the jam's kickoff," Wyn Rush, the project's designer, told Polygon by email. "I was mulling over the lack of poly representation in games, specifically in visual novels and RPGs like Dragon Age in which pairing off with an NPC is a huge component to player investment. Rarely do you encounter an alternative relationship in popular media, but I could think of zero times I'd engaged with one in a video game," they said.
"The concepts behind polyamory can be a little difficult to digest, so I wanted to abstract them in a way that would be accessible to everyone. In polyamory, love is treated as an infinite resource, something that isn't lessened when it's given, but instead grows."
Cosmic Endeerment is a really sweet, cute game. All you need to do to play it is look at your deer as they frolic and make new friends. You pay attention to play well. But that simple concept is deeply symbolic here.
"In most resource management games like FarmVille, you can tap, harvest, tap, plant and forget. It's all set to a timer, so it's easy to disengage," said Rush. "With Cosmic Endeerment, your attention is the resource, so you can't really afford to 'set it and forget it.' You have to keep actively engaged with all your gardens to ensure they stay healthy and prosperous."
Rush hopes that Cosmic Endeerment expresses a healthy depiction of poly relationships, and shows them for what they are — just another way for people to express love and connect to one another. "They require a lot of attention, but are also very rewarding," Rush said. "Sometimes people get into polyamory to try and fix a broken relationship, but that rarely works. Attending to the needs of one lover is challenging on its own."
"Add to that a second," they continued. "Maybe a third, or maybe one of your lovers has a lover — it takes time, strength, patience, and trust. If you're willing to open yourself to that kind of love, and let go of traditional limitations, there's this boundless world of reciprocal joy that only grows — like an infinite space garden!"
A game was the perfect format to explore the idea.
"I can't be the only player who wanted to woo Garrus and Thane, can I?"
"Games are a great medium for inserting oneself into another person's life experience, and gamers are already acquainted with balancing multiple components. Think of RTS games like StarCraft. If games can challenge higher-level logic, why not also push the boundaries of higher-level emotion?"
"Plus," they added, "I can't be the only player who wanted to woo Garrus and Thane, can I?"
You can play Cosmic Endeerment for free on the game's itch.io page.