Christine Love. Courtesy of the subject. 

The Developer Making Games About 'Lesbian Dirtbags' and Bisexual Robots

Christine Love's indie video games are bringing much-needed queerness to the industry—and adventure beyond the heartbreak and tragedy that plagues popular LGBTQ narratives.

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Mar 26 2018, 5:57pm

Christine Love. Courtesy of the subject. 

Christine Love’s indie PC games stand out in a sea of games that have, for so long, centered heterosexual male pleasure. Her characters are far from the status quo of eroticized women crafted to appeal to hegemonic male desire: They’re subversive, experimental, and queer. They aim to show us that there are as many different ways of being a human being—specifically a woman—as there are people on this planet (or in space).

The writer and game developer’s newest project is, as she describes it, “a gay road trip RPG [role-playing game]” called Get in the Car, Loser! It features a crack team of queer warriors—a goth, a “queen bitch,” her lover, and a literal giant woman—who embark on a trip to seal away an ancient evil, discover themselves, and hit up every diner they encounter along the way. And in many ways, the game is an apt encapsulation of the unapologetic queerness of Love’s body of work.

For Love, her motivations are pretty straightforward. “I’m gonna be perfectly honest: my intended audience is myself, and if anyone else wants to come along for the ride—awesome!” she says. “I hope it’s not too weird for you.”

Like many children of the internet age, Love is fascinated by a broad range of subjects that may not seem so connected at first. Her first hit game, Digital: A Love Story, which came out in 2010, is a romantic dive into 1980s online bulletin board systems; its spiritual sequel , Analogue: A Hate Story, delves into Korea’s Neo-Confucianist Joseon Dynasty while considering the humanity of artificial intelligence. And her latest erotic visual novel, “Ladykiller in a Bind,” follows a butch lesbian protagonist through a slew of kinky sexual encounters. Though the subject matter of her games seem divergent on the surface, they all have one thing in common: A use of unexpected settings and genres to explore queer identity, relationships, and personhood.

An image from Get in the Car, Loser!

Take Love’s use of AI characters, for instance. In real life as in science fiction, AI carries a great deal of weight in the debate over what constitutes personhood: Is it merely the ability to think for oneself and communicate the result, or is it something beyond pure intelligence? Does the robot made to anticipate your needs—whether they be medical, culinary, or military variety—deserve the same respect as your human coworker?

While it may be somewhat old hat to use the trope of AI to ask the question of, “Who are the real humans?” in Analogue, Love tweaks that approach to take a sideways glance at heteronormativity. The struggles of the game’s AI character to achieve humanity works as an analogy for Love’s real-life struggles situating herself in society as a queer woman, she says.

Plus, the wide-eyed way an AI character might see the world can serve as an echo of the “coming out” narrative, of attempting to integrate yourself into a new world by picking up affects and language through observation.

“I feel like you’d never be able to say, ‘As a human I find it very difficult to engage with other humans!’” says Love. “Whereas when you’re writing an AI character, you can be a little more on-the-nose and just really let them process that out loud.”

“I can’t relate to characters who are the perfect pinnacles of human decency, who never say anything wrong, and are always perfectly nice."

And Love’s character’s aren’t merely queer, they’re refreshingly complex and flawed.
Lily, the protagonist of Ladykiller in a Bind, is a confident and brash “lesbian dirtbag,” for instance. And *Mute, an AI in the Hate series, is an overdramatic, self-hating bisexual. Both refuse to fit into the narrow array of queer archetypes with which we’ve grown familiar.

“I can’t relate to characters who are the perfect pinnacles of human decency, who never say anything wrong, and are always perfectly nice,” says Love. “In real life, we have a lot more difficulty with that. The idea of, you can only relate to perfectly innocent, perfectly nice, just perfect muffins of characters is exhausting.”

Love’s solution to the problem of tokens having to represent their demographic group positively? “Just have multiple queer characters!”

A screenshot from Ladykiller in a Bind.

The characters in Love’s newest RPG each go through a unique set of challenges, conflicts, and voyages of self-discovery, she says. But, although all four protagonists are queer, for none of them does that journey include a coming-out narrative. “I definitely feel like the traumatic coming out story is so exhausting,” Love says. “I don’t need it, I don’t want it, it’s not relevant to me. If the only thing you have available to relate to is this traumatic, perpetual cycle in terms of fiction, that just feels awful. You want to get into queer characters who have moved on from this, who aren’t just in that one single moment of coming out perpetually.”

Love is devoted to crafting characters who went through that formative muck already, who are sussing out their next moves. She wants to look beyond the heartbreak and tragedy that haunts popular LGBTQIA narratives in order to find moments of joy, humor, and love, focusing on fuller depictions of queerness because, as a gamer, she says she’s not really finding it anywhere else.

Though the gaming industry has begun to integrate more queer female characters as viable protagonists, they often come off as a little… samey. “We can talk about how great diversity is, but really, what it comes down to is not, ‘Are these straight, white men making games hitting all the points on the checklist?’ but rather, ‘Are we actually hearing more voices?’” says Love.

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According to a 2015 demographic survey by International Game Developers Association, we’re not. Out of more than 2,000 respondents who worked as game developers, 75% identified as cis male, 22% as cis female, and 3% as trans and/or non-binary. That may be part of the reason why the gaming industry has been so slow to bring meaningful demographic diversity—whether it’s along lines of race, ability, gender, or sexuality—into mainstream titles. And yet, they are trying.

Could it signify a sea change in the gaming industry akin to what we’ve seen in literature and film? “I really hope it’s a shift,” Love offers tentatively. “It’s hard to say—I hope this isn’t just a trend… Homogeneity is exhausting. One wants to see more. I don’t think anyone’s ever going to go, ‘Oh, that’s nice, I’ve played every game about queer women now, let’s just go back to straight men stabbing necks forever.’”