Contains index.html
Play this game in your Web browser. (Compressed with ZIP. Free Unzip tools are available for most systems at
Play in browser or download

Have you played this game?

You can rate this game, record that you've played it, or put it on your wish list after you log in.

Playlists and Wishlists

RSS Feeds

New member reviews
Updates to downloadable files
All updates to this page


by Autumn Chen profile

Part of Pageantverse
Slice of life

Web Site

(based on 11 ratings)
3 reviews

About the Story

Your name is Karen Zhao, and you’ve just been signed up by your parents for a beauty pageant. You’re not ready, not even close, but you don’t have a choice. But perhaps you can make the best of it. Maybe it’s the one opportunity to make a “hook” for your college application. Maybe you can reinvent yourself, get rid your anxiety and become someone new. Or maybe you can find true love (or some approximation thereof).

Game Details

Language: English (en)
First Publication Date: November 24, 2020
Current Version: 1.0
License: MIT
Development System: dendry
Forgiveness Rating: Merciful
IFID: Unknown
TUID: ba66ifmij7bolse


- View the most common tags (What's a tag?)

(Log in to add your own tags)

Member Reviews

5 star:
4 star:
3 star:
2 star:
1 star:
Average Rating:
Number of Reviews: 3
Write a review

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
The Suffering Queer Chinese Diaspora Experience, April 14, 2023

It's been a while since I played a title that made me go "Yep, I've been there."

Pageant by Autumn Chen is one of the most authentic descriptions of what it feels to be a closeted queer Chinese person. You roleplay as Karen Zhao whose parents came from China and immigrated to the United States. And they asked you to do a simple thing: attend a pageant.

While it seems ridiculous of a premise, I honestly feel like it isn't too far off from the stories I've heard during Chinese New Year. And the game commits to this "what does it mean to be Chinese" quite well, ranging from sexuality to "the need" to translate Chinese to simply taking a million AP classes and doing homework.

The game is very much a "raising" sim. I've played Chen's recreation of Bee with the support of Emily Short and I was pleased to see the familiar interface here. In the context of Bee, the mechanics are used to restrict the player and make them think on what they should do next. The free time in homeschooling can disappear so quickly. But here, it's freer: Karen is simply preparing for a pageant and she can look up Wikipedia or ask some friends to help her out. You are raising her stats while perhaps having a fling or two with her friends.

But Karen isn't brave. She may be smart, but her self-deprecation can turn into self-loathing quickly. Karen's a closeted queer Chinese woman whose only stressors in life are exams, classes, and Bible study. Her interactions with the girls she can date really bring out her awkwardness: she's genuine, but she doesn't know how to react. When the player gets deeper into Emily's route for example and learns (Spoiler - click to show)that Emily is trans, her choice of responses is -- let's just say -- not the best to choose from. I had to think on what to say without worsening the situation.

And that's precisely what I like about this game: Karen feels like a real person I could have met on one cumbersome Chinese banquet. She reflects a lot of the frustration and self-hatred young Chinese diaspora feel. Her actions, lines, and thoughts are things I think about too. She gets criticized by her parents, even when she follows orders. She does Science Olympiads and labwork because she has the "opportunity" her parents gave her, but she doesn't know what she wants to do. The "family dinner" section , in particular, really resonated with me: (Spoiler - click to show)I have heard all these stories about the atrocities that happened in China and, just like Karen, started to belittle myself for feeling isolated. There's no way my pain would be able to compare to the pain experienced by survivors of mass murders. It's hard to feel like you matter in a family dinner. I get why Karen's closeted and hates herself because I'm kinda the same too.

It's very hard for me to not write about Karen, which is funny since the title is supposed to be a dating sim. I should be writing about how Emily is cute for example, but the real star is the protagonist here. I enjoy the writing a lot and how truthful it is. I look forward to the sequel when I get to it.

P.S. I laughed at the mention of the mahjong anime mention. It's actually a favorite anime of mine, though I definitely agree it could have been more explicit with the lesbian characters.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Winning the pageant is not everything, but the journey is worth the anxiety., May 27, 2023

Pageant follows Qiuyi (Karen) Zhao (mentioned as Karen below), a Chinese teenager living in the US, as she navigates through school and extra-curriculars, relationships and identity, family expectations and community, and the pageant her parents signed up for. Through limited storylets choice, you can carve Karen's priorities and relationships.

Pageant was created with Dendry, a storylet narrative program, where the player get to experience linear side-stories in fragmented way. Every week, the player can pick up to three options from the storylet lists to start or continue a path. As the list is often longer than three options, the player is forced to make choices and prioritise a certain path (a recurring gameplay type in Autumn's games). This makes for great and interesting replayability!

The story start with Karen being summoned by her parents, revealing that they signed her up for a pageant, happening in three months. There is no bargaining no quitting (it's good for college apps!). In three months, Karen will be on that podium*. During that prep period, she still needs to balance school (a full AP curriculum), the Science Olympiad, doing an understudy with a college professor (also set up by your parents), having dinner with your family, going to bible study on the weekend, and etc... Doesn't this sound like too much for a high school student? And was it yet mentioned that Karen is a socially awkward mess, who has trouble making relationships, is full of anxiety and self-loathing, struggling with her identity as a Chinese teenager in the US (her used name not being her birthname, and having the option to butcher your name's pronunciation) and a closeted lesbian (or something like that says the game).
*well, there is a way.

Along the way you are introduced to a handful of characters: Emily, a trans woman still in the closet, Aubrey, a girl Karen had a crush on also part of the Science Olympiad team, and Miri, Karen's only friend. There is also Karen's parents and her little brother, Kevin; Professor Chen and his grad student; the rest of the Science Olympiad Team; and the other families attending the Church. Through out the game (and your choices) you get to learn more about these characters, like how Emily deals with her family's trans/homophobia, or Miri's feelings towards you, your family's history...* The storylets really shine here, giving you crumbles here and there, forcing you to piece those back together (and forces you down a certain path to learn everything).
*Even after playing multiple times, I have yet to found all variations.

And at the centre of it all, Karen, the very flawed teenager. Yet, even with her self-deprecation and anxious spirals, with the awkward way she interacts with other people, with dealing with different cultural values and expectations about her life, or with her inability to stand up to herself (partly because of her guilt of "having it easy" compared to older generations), Karen stays a character you want to root for. You want to help her win that pageant and be more sure of herself. You want her to be more confident in her identity (and get a girlfriend). You want her to find her passions (in science?) and win accolades. You want to pluck her from her stressful world, wrap her in a blanket, kiss her on her forehead, and tell her that everything will be ok.

The whole game is filled with such genuine interactions, with teenagers blurting out their deepest secrets to strangers, declaring their love to one another even after but a few meetings, being self-loathing with a self they don't recognise or don't want to be anymore but unable to leave that shell, trying to handle the stress and anxiety of the expectations of others and not being able to reach those. And those are made all the more vibrant through Karen's inability to react "properly". Faced with bad and worse choices, you get to experience that anxiety of what would happen if I say or do the wrong thing. It feels genuine, because it feels real and lived through.

As the ending came around, and you get the rundown of Karen's actions, it felt like, while winning the pageant is definitely one/the goal, the journey was much sweeter than the destination. And that's what keeps making me want to come back to it...

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A unique take on a beauty pageant with a complex protagonist, September 2, 2022

Our protagonist is Karen Zhao, a high school junior from Massachusetts. Her full name is Qiuyi (Karen*) Zhao, but she goes by Karen. One day Karen’s mom informs her that she has been signed up for a beauty pageant, with the argument that it would diversify her extracurriculars for college. Karen, knowing that she cannot refuse, has no choice but to add pageant preparation to her long list of responsibilities.

This is a story about being forced to step out of your comfort zone while life adds extra surprises into the mix. As the player you must manage her hectic life and hopefully win the pageant.

*The player can actually choose her English name, but I always found myself sticking to Karen since it is the default. I will refer to her as Karen in this review.

Each week the player has three time slots that they can use on a list of activities including preparing for the pageant or attending Science Olympiad study sessions. There are additional activities on the weekend although those usually deviate from school. This management of responsibilities involves some strategy and provides incentives for replay. The gameplay will have “Introspection” segments where you can check your progress in preparing for the pageant and other goals.

There are no individual (Spoiler - click to show) stand-alone endings. No “Ending 1” or “Ending 2.” Instead, the game assesses the player in different categories such as their performance in Science Olympiad or their final relationship status with one of the characters. The pageant, being the focus of the game, is the closest thing to an overarching ending. You either win it or lose it (although losing it comes in a few different flavors). Based on your performance you may unlock achievements at the end of the game. I liked this format because it feels more flexible in its assessment of the player’s choices.

I only have two technical issues. The first is that if you (Spoiler - click to show) win a slot as co-captain the achievement remains locked on the achievements page. The second issue is that I have been unable to (Spoiler - click to show) win anything other than a bronze medal with Audrey for Science Olympiad. I looked at the source code and saw that it is possible to win a gold metal if you study enough with her. However, even when I spent every study session with her, I would always get bronze. The player has a limited amount of study sessions with Science Olympiad partners. Study sessions are once a week but stop long before the weekend of the competition. This means you need to choose which teammates get more interaction.

Story + Characters
Three main themes kept surfacing: the clash of perspectives between Karen and her parents, the stress of preparing for collage, and her identity as a gay young woman. Anxiety is a major theme. There is anxiety with school and parental expectations, the stress of wondering if you are good enough for your dream collage topped off with being acutely aware that your peers all seem to have the same ambitions as you. But for this review I am going to focus on the other two themes.

Karen was born in China and traveled to the US with her parents. The intersection of parental traditions and her experience as a modern teen are themes that are heavily explored in this game. Sharing family stories is a common activity. (Spoiler - click to show) For Karen, this sometimes cultivates feelings of guilt about the severity of her parents’ upbringing in comparison to her own. Her parents had to worry about things that she takes for granted and yet her struggles are unique to her own experience. Daily life also involves regular interactions with the local Chinese community. Potlucks and get-togethers are typical weekend activities. (Spoiler - click to show) During this the parents chat about their children’s grades and social activities. In these conversations is a traditional sense of what roles children should take. But for young people like Karen, Emily, and Audrey these norms may feel dated. That is not to say that they reject their heritage. One of my favorite parts in the game is when (Spoiler - click to show) Karen and Audrey are encouraged to sing with the adults during Bible study.

There is one loose string that caught my attention. If the player (Spoiler - click to show) interacts with Karen's family enough, they reach an encounter where Karen's father learns that she is gay by noticing the books that she checked out from the library. He tries to talk to her about it, but the situation is so overwhelming that she runs into her room, locking her door. The scene is short and intense enough that you would expect to see a follow up later in the game, but it never happens. Not even at the end of the game where it summarizes her relationship with her family. Given that these topics are a prominent theme in the story I was surprised that the game did not build on the encounter.

Karen is gay but hides it from her parents and most people. The game conveys the frustration of having her parents talk casually about marriage and grandchildren when a core aspect of herself completely goes against it. She also interacts with Emily, who is (Spoiler - click to show) transgender and struggles with not being able to be her true self around her parents and their expectations. Emily’s parents know bits and pieces but ultimately, she has not yet come out to them. Emily was one of my favorite characters because she introduces Karen to big questions. Throughout the game Karen and Emily may choose to counsel each other or simply chat. Emily is also one out of three characters that the player can pursue a romantic relationship with.

A defining plot point is if the player makes it to the (Spoiler - click to show) research event called “Emily and the Professor.” Karen participates with research in a lab managed by Professor Chan who is also Emily’s father. In this scene, he brings Emily to watch Karen give a presentation, referring to Emily as his son and asking Karen to teach “him” about science. The player can choose to proceed with the presentation or step down and say that they are not ready. With the latter choice the player chooses not to be a part of Professor Chen’s attempt to force an identity on Emily. Choosing this option is clearly a risk for Karen but it feels empowering. We see the culmination of their friendship in the face of uncomfortable situation. It is an eye-opening moment not just for Karen but for the player as well.

The game has a crisp look, almost like the text is written on a piece of stationary or index card. The textbox area is set in a white box sent against a cream background and accented with grey lines and red links. Together it creates a simple but polished appearance. I liked how the game incorporates more than one language. It uses Mandarin characters with italicized translations. This game is made with Dendry which adds some variety to the development systems that I have encountered.

Final thoughts
This was the first game I played by Autumn Chen who is an incredible author. Everything is well-written, concise yet meaningful. Karen is a memorable character who is relatable and unique. Because of this, (Spoiler - click to show) winning the pageant feels more like a victory. I highly recommend the game, especially if you are interested in the slice-of-life genre.

Also: There is also a sequel game called New Year’s Eve, 2019. It features Karen in her senior year. (CORRECTION: Senior year of collage)

If you enjoyed Pageant...

Related Games

People who like Pageant also gave high ratings to these games:

More than 25 Million Poems about the Midwest, by B.J. Best
Average member rating: (2 ratings)
You will be writing one of 25,660,800 possible poems about the American Midwest. Simply click on the line of poetry that is most appealing to you. You will continue to choose lines for a total of six. At the end, the entire poem will be...

What Heart Heard Of, Ghost Guessed, by Amanda Walker
Average member rating: (32 ratings)
Margaret, are you grieving Over Goldengrove unleaving… Come home to Goldengrove, a beautiful old house haunted by a lost soul. Uncover the secrets of your tormented past in a tale of unrequited love, jealousy, violence, betrayal, and...

Grooverland, by Mathbrush
Average member rating: (17 ratings)
"Magic comes with a price. But on your birthday, all your expenses are paid. Welcome to Grooverland." Grooverland is a large parser game that takes over two hours to complete. It is based on the works of author and programmer Chandler...

Suggest a game

Recommended Lists

Pageant appears in the following Recommended Lists:

Individual teen PCs by Kinetic Mouse Car
This list is not for games that are simply about teens. It is for games starring an individual teen PC (you know, 13-19). I made this list because it is interesting to interact with a story through the perspective of teenagers,...


The following polls include votes for Pageant:

IF about human beings by namekuseijin
I'm looking for IF about human beings and human struggles in a more or less common setting. No zombies, vampires, orcs, demons, robots, slimy aliens, gods or monsters of any kind; just plain human beings please. Yes, I know many works...

Games that could use more reviews by MathBrush
I love to review games. Let me know if you've made a game that needs more reviews, or can suggest someone else's! I might not be personally able to review every game due to time, content, or platform, but I'll try!

Mother-Daugher Relations by matt w (Matt Weiner)
What are some IF works that involve a relationship between a mother and a daughter? Not necessarily as the center of the work, but as something that impinges on it at all.

This is version 2 of this page, edited by autumnc on 7 April 2022 at 4:34am. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item