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About the Story
Two women meet in a bar. This is not a love story.
Nominee, Best Story; Nominee, Best Individual NPC; Nominee, Best Individual PC - 2014 XYZZY Awards
13th Place - 20th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2014)
Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling
Venus Meets Venus is a largely linear Twine story about a romantic and sexual relationship (though it is very clear on not being a love story). I read it through to the end.
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These Heterogenous Tasks
‘This is not a love story,’ begins Venus Meets Venus (kaleidofish), continuing this year’s trend of Twine games that start out by unconvincingly defining themselves. I will grant, I suppose, that ‘love story’ might be taken by some people as something more specific than ‘a story centrally involving love’ (I’m obviously committed to similar positions re: ‘interactive fiction’), but I still can’t help reading this as a rhetorical denial.
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The XYZZY Awards
Xyzzymposium 2014: Gabriel Murray on Best Story
Venus Meets Venus is written in second-person present tense, like many games, though it asserts itself to be “a chronicle of all your past fuck-ups.” For the most part, it sticks to conventional spelling and grammar, though sometimes it drops to lowercase to denote drunkenness or emotional desperation. The tense choice is interesting, given this: presumably the story is a pained play-by-play of the narrator’s relationship with Macy, her romantic interest, told in present tense because she experiences her mistakes over and over again in present tense. If you keep this in mind while you read, the experience is even more painful, because what’s going to happen is prefigured. Inhabiting the mind of a person who’s beating themselves up over past mistakes over and over in lifelike detail is very different from inhabiting the mind of a person who’s living their mistakes in the present. The effect is compelling from the get-go.
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Renga in Blue
I find dividing interactive fiction into “choice-based” and “parser-based” a little troublesome, in part because there are other options for an interface (like Ice-Bound or 18 Cadence) but also because point and click games can reflect different gameplay styles: the inventory-and-puzzles of The Contortionist inhabit a different universe than the strategy choices of Begscape. Half-Life 2 and Portal are considered to be in entirely different genres even if they are both first person using the same engine.
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Anya Johanna DeNiro
Building the Player-Character: A Case Study through 4 Interactive Fiction Games
And, right, much of the choice in Venus Meets Venus is taken away from the player. Which makes sense because of her ambivalence towards commitment. What makes this so bracing is that the courtship between a cis woman and a trans woman, with its back and forth — the coupling and later uncoupling — doesn’t have a clear throughline about what Lynn wants. Lynn wants to get on the rollercoaster. She doesn’t like choosing, and we are signaled right from the beginning that this is going to go badly. The linearity of the story, then, is largely a match with Lynn’s own psyche.
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Some Strange Circus
Circus Reviews - Venus Meets Venus
Venus Meets Venus follows a disillusioned college girl named Lynn who struggles through studies and sleeps around at the local bar. One night, she meets a girl named Macy and finds herself oddly drawn to her. Her attraction doesn't go away when Macy reveals that she's transgender, but it does complicate things, as this is a culture with which Lynn has no experience. That plus alcoholism plus standard relationship issues breeds a whole bunch of problems for the new couple. And, after all, the game warns you that this isn't a love story.
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Number of Reviews: 3
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Venus Meets Venus is a linear hypertext story, as is described in the opening passages (see title of review). One of the links in each passage always advances the story, while the other links function as asides or footnotes. It is a story of a relationship between two women, Lynn (the narrator) and Macy, and their struggles through sexuality and politics. Both of them are normal, flawed people (Lynn much more flawed, seemingly). The writing is excellent throughout. The language can be overwrought sometimes, but there are so many memorable lines. While there are no "branches" in the narrative, it feels much more interactive than it actually is. Links function as pacing and a way to explore Lynn's thought processes. She is someone who feels as if she lives on autopilot, and always picks the worst choice at any moment.
This was one of the first twine things I had ever played, and it was one of the reasons I became interested in interactive narrative in the first place. It was really influential for me.
Personal notes: (Spoiler - click to show)I played this game during a time when I was starting to come to the realization that I was trans and queer or something like that. It was one of the first stories I read that featured a literal non-metaphorical trans woman as a main character, and treated her as someone who was basically a normal person, and was someone who could be desirable. For better or for worse I saw bits of myself in both of the main characters. I'm not sure the story would have resonated with me as much if I hadn't been able to personally identify with the experiences described.
By most metrics concerning interactive fiction, this game is very flawed: it is far too linear even for a Twine game, the writing can be overwritten, the metaphors are heavy, etc.
But it might be one of the most incisive, rawest works about LGBTQ+ relationships ever. The major theme of the game is acceptance, but unfortunately that can be complicated for reasons rarely explored even by the most beloved queer media.
The protagonist, Lynn, has a complicated relationship with Macy. Throughout the story, she wonders if Macy is the person she wants to be with. But she keeps finding reasons to not get close to her: she hesitates; she loathes herself for not being a good ally; she doesn't know why she can't accept Macy for who she is, so she keeps finding ways to make Macy someone more comprehensible to her.
This often means categorizing her into a simple stereotype. I am reminded of what the creator of the Caligula Effect series had to say about the young LGBTQ+ people of today:
"When you say 'LGBTQ people have these kinds of problems' in the hopes of getting outsiders to quickly empathize with them, it actually means that you’re categorizing them by seeing them through a uniform perspective. It may not be a huge, drastic mistake, but it’s very different from something like being talked about as a single element of potential knowledge and feeling that you’ve actually been properly understood."
However, this train of small mistakes culminates into a huge fuck up, which the game constantly warns you about since the very beginning. You know Lynn is going to fuck up somehow and the limited choice sets mean you'll see her fuck up very hard. She wants to make amends, but she keeps making mistakes and she knows that. She doesn't know how to accept Macy in a way that works for both of them. It's clear she has feelings for her, but she keeps fucking up for various reasons related to sexuality, gender, and just utter confusion.
The story explores so many interesting aspects about this relationship but also leaves questions unanswered. Why? It's obviously intentional; LGBTQ+ acceptance remains an unsolved mystery, even for queer people and their purported allies. It's difficult to accept that we can't ever understand someone 100%, even if we love and "accept" them. Acceptance is much, much more complicated than waving a flag and marching in some Pride thing. It's psychological, physiological, and everything in-between. We want easy answers, especially when it comes to sexuality. It would be nice if answers like "just accept, man" are fine, but they don't come easy for everyone involved. People don't just accept trans rights, that's a fantasy for people who believe transphobia can be erased with the snap of a finger.
We, even the queer folks, are all suffering because we find it difficult to accept queerness in our lives. After all, we are born under this heteronormative patriarchy hellscape. Accepting the unacceptable is anathema to even the queerest of people.
I see this story not just about relationships but about untangling what it means to be queer even today. I'm shocked this is a 2014 work because it feels like something many queer people today are figuring out themselves. I don't think it's prescient; rather, the game is far more honest than even LGBTQ+ discourses today.
I appreciate its honesty. Venus Meets Venus is a messy work that, in spite of its flaws, melts my heart. I can't really stress how much the characters hurt my soul and yet, they are lovable in their own right. It's queer in a way that isn't lovable by mainstream conventions but what I want to see more.
Without delay, Venus Meets Venus makes it clear: this relationship will not end well, and the blame for it will fall squarely upon the protagonist's shoulders. Knowing this, I instinctively braced myself. How is it going to happen? Will it be related to this detail, or maybe that one? Ah, surely it'll involve this. Is Lynn going to say something thoughtless and stupid? Will there be a big fight of some kind?
I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop — and it is to the writing's credit that it never does. Of course it doesn't; that'd be too simple, too easy. Had Lynn only made a singular big mistake that ruined everything, she could've comforted herself by thinking, ah, if only I hadn't done that one thing. If only I'd made a different choice at that point. Then, everything would've been fine. But what to do when one's failures are instead numerous, yet nearly invisible individually? What comfort can be had if, by the time you notice their accumulation, it's already long been too late?
As someone who's grown rather tired of straightforward, successful romance stories, Venus Meets Venus is energizing. I might've found the narration a little too dramatic or blunt at times, but it's hard for me to complain about that when the characters of Lynn and Macy, as well as their relationship, are all so soberingly real. Yes! Give me not fantasy, but this: the depressing, unsolvable complexity of the real world.
All of the above would have already been enough to make Venus stand out as a queer work, but it is the specifics of its realism that marks it as one of the greats in my mind. I've simply not seen anything else ever acknowledge the particular kind of transphobic violence it details, and honestly, no wonder. It's difficult to even imagine this desire to make things simple, to flatten individual complexities into easily-digestible general narratives, as violence in the first place. Further, these narratives have become so entrenched in society as of late that they've become nearly inescapable — hell, even I succumb to them sometimes, and I'm a trans woman too.
But this is still violence. This is still dehumanization. If there is a core to all of Lynn's failures, then surely it is (Spoiler - click to show)her instinct to see Macy as a "Trans Woman", rather than a person. And how beautiful it is that, unlike what the game claims at the start, I actually can't blame her for it. After all, who is at fault here: her as an individual, or an entire society that has come to care more about Representation than the lives of real human beings?
It truly boggles the mind that Venus Meets Venus is nearly 10 years old, when it feels like it could've been written today. We long have been, and still continue to be, in desperate need of more stories like it.
PC's personality integrated with the story by JasonMel
I would like to be able to recommend to someone many examples of interactive fiction in which the player character is far from a cipher or an everyman or everywoman, but is instead a character with a definite personality within a game...
For Your Consideration: Games from 2014 that should be nominated for the XYZZY Awards by Molly
There were a lot of great games released in the past year, and now that the XYZZYs are coming up, it seems like a very good idea to take a poll of all the games from last year people would like to see nominated. The management has asked...