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About the Story
Beckj, a Plutonian on earth for beir ornithology degree, has been invited to a fraternity's Halloween party. Can bey stay within humanity's expected gender roles, and navigate beir love for beir best Earth friend Aaron at the same time? Or will bey let the mask slip--and find beautiful results?
16th Place, Le Grand Guignol - English - ECTOCOMP 2022
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Number of Reviews: 2
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So, just to establish where I personally am coming from in this review - I’m a gay cis woman. I don’t consider myself trans or nonbinary, so by necessity this is going to be an “outside looking in” type perspective, but I’m also not entirely a stranger to grappling with gender identity/presentation/etc. issues. Some of this is because the idea of gender and sexuality being different things is fairly recent and there’s still a lot of cultural baggage hanging around the concept that any queer person is going to have to deal with, but also because I have a complicated relationship with femininity. I could spend a while talking about it but I’ll leave it as I prefer to present masc of center but still feminine, and have spent a lot of my life figuring out exactly what that means. (I also work in a male-dominated field, which means I have “how do I present at work” as an additional confusing gender-related issue). So instead of having a fully outside perspective, I guess I have one arm hanging through an open window or something?
Now that I’m done talking about myself and torturing metaphors to death, let’s talk about the game. Euphoria Brighter Than a Comet follows Bekcj, an alien attending the uncomfortably-heteronormative St. Andrew’s College to get an Earthian college degree. Everyone already treats bem like an outsider because of beir alien experience, and also because as a Plutonian bey don’t conceive of gender the same way that we do. The only thing making beir time at St. Andrew’s bearable is their best and only friend Aaron. So when bey receive an invite to the biggest, hottest frat Halloween party (as the guest of honor, no less!) bey’re torn between wanting to fit in and navigate Halloween, “the most gendered of holidays”…
This is the first moment I came up short, since this assertion doesn’t like up with my experience for two reasons. One is mostly down to my personal experience, since most of the college parties I attended were populated mostly with theater kids. (In addition to being a very queer group of people, even the straightest cis theater kids are pretty comfortable with crossdressing). So I’m willing to chalk that one up to luck that I was able to have a college experience very much the opposite of St. Andrew’s, but my second gripe is a little less of a personal opinion. Isn’t the most gendered holiday Valentine’s Day? I think one certainly could make an argument for Halloween being the more-gendered holiday at least in certain contexts, so I was curious to see how the author would spin it, but the spin never came. Apart from some background comments from the party goers about Beckj’s gender presentation (ranging from ignorant to rude to cruel), there’s hardly any exploration of gender and Halloween to be found. Some of the meathead frat bros are described as wearing very masculine costumes, and Aaron’s more gender-ambiguous choice of party wear is good foreshadowing for the rest of their character arc, but that’s about it. (Surely there’s something to be said about female Halloween costumes, even? The game only gives us a look at the masculine side, which seems like a missed opportunity for a game about the gender binary). The frat boys also predictably have not invited Beckj to be their guest of honor for wholesome reasons and subject bem to public humiliation because bey’re a “freak”, but I didn’t get the sense that they found Beckj to be freakish because of beir gender or lack thereof, only because of their alien status. I think the author needed the “alien as metaphor for the nonbinary experience” to be more developed by this stage than it actually was, since this didn’t ring thematically sound for me even though I can see what the story is going for.
The rest of the game follows Beckj and Aaron dealing with the aftermath of the awful thing Beckj has just gone through, and opening up more to each other personally in the process. I found this part sweet but also kind of flat. Part of this is I don’t think the character writing is quite up to snuff - everyone in this story has a very similar narrative voice (minus the cartoonish frat bros) and Aaron’s characterization doesn’t stretch much beyond sweet, supportive of Beckj, and (Spoiler - click to show)nonbinary. The other part is that the ensuing gender discussion frankly doesn’t go much deeper than it has elsewhere in the story. Beckj does give an interesting account of how gender works on Pluto, which I would have loved to hear more about, but then explains how Plutonian pronouns work in a way that doesn’t quite line up. (Spoiler - click to show)(Plutonian gender is constantly reinterpreted throughout their life and depending on context, but Beckj then says the Plutonian pronouns are best translated as versions of English pronouns with the first letter changed to a B - his to bis, hers to bers, theirs to beirs. However, there’s no explanation of how or when a human would know which pronoun to use, which made Aaron’s vow to use Beckj’s correct pronouns in private seem like a Sisyphean task.) That said, the euphoria of thinking you’re alone in the world and finding out there’s someone else exactly like you is deeply relatable, which for me was the best part of this segment. (Full disclosure, I skipped the sex scene, an option for which I am grateful to have but I think needed a bit of extra writing to do a proper fade to back.)
As an addendum, I also found the white text on a light blue background hard to read, and the background image didn’t resize properly to my screen. The author did mention they intend to release a choice-based version of this game later, so I’m putting these out there in the hopes they’ll get tweaked for the next version.
There’s a lot of good ideas here, and quite a few things that rang authentic to my experience (the number of friends I made while closeted that turned out to also be closeted is way higher than it should be by random chance, so I deeply appreciated Aaron and Beckj’s pre-party relationship), but I think it needs stronger thematic cohesion and more attentive character writing to really work for me
This is a prototype Twine game entered in the Ectocomp 2022 Grand Guignol competition. It is kinetic fiction, which means it currently has almost no choices besides going to the next page, where the main choice is pacing. The current stated plan is to expand it to include more choices in the future.
You play as an ornithologist who is also an alien assigned as the only alien in the area of earth you're in. Everyone stares at you, because you're literally from Pluto. You've managed to get some good work done and make friends, but your existence makes others uncomfortable and you just can't fit in with human traditions.
Especially gender, which your planet doesn't have a conception of. Most of the game consists of dealing with good and bad reactions to your conception of gender and self.
I said the game contains almost no choices; one that I appreciated a lot is the ability to skip the sex scene. I honestly wished this became a standard in choice games, as I was able to enjoy the genuinely sweet romantic buildup while avoiding content I'm not comfortable with.
I had a strong emotional reaction to this game for a couple of reasons. [Apologies for the long, unrelated personal story]. One is that I almost didn't play it because I was having stressful flashbacks. I used to be a math professor, but I always struggled. I had done all of my undergraduate and graduate work in the same math department where I had a lot of friends among the professors and staff. I had done well, and people had always supported me.
But once I left to be a 'real' professor, everything changed. My research faltered, and I encountered a lot of pushback from professors in my very narrow field. I was told that I had misunderstood major parts of the research topic or left out key parts of theorems, that my research didn't really have any applications, and the most hurtful, that my writing was just bad and/or sloppy. I started having papers get multiple rejections, and since that's the main 'currency' in the math world, I lost my chance at getting a permanent job, and ended up in limbo for a few years. And my refuge, the school I graduated from and where I liked everyone, had implied they would hire me when I came back, but ended up going with other people, only hiring me for a temp job, out of pity, I thought.
I eventually left academia (which is really looked down on in the field, like complete failure), and I've suppressed those thoughts. But I started fooling around with an old research problem today for fun, and I felt so many bitter, jealous, sad, and stressed thoughts remembering those times.
So I almost cried reading the story of Beckj, because even though the setting and reasons were so different, I recognized the feeling of everyone around you just feeling judgmental or looking down on you, and feeling like everyone just wishes you would be different than you are (I remember my postdoc advisor telling me I should never have become a father, because I took so much time off to be with my disabled ex-wife and newborn.). This story is a very specific story, but I think the author has done a great job of tapping into universal experience.
It also resonated with me because of the experiences I've seen with my trans friends, both Bez emself and also the numerous trans people I've met locally. I've seen how hurt they feel when people misgender them or feel uncomfortable using their chosen name (which is odd, as so many other people have nicknames completely unlike their birth names and no one cares), and the positive scenes between the MC and the love interest seemed completely authentic.
I do think adding the extra choices in could enhance the game, so I'm glad that's in the works.
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