There’s something super Thurbery about The Yawhg. Hell, you see the name of the game right? We’re very much in Thirteen Clocks territory here. There’s a specific kind of atmosphere all of this has in common. Maybe I just think of the Yawhg’s effects as simply being what happens when a Todal gleeps an entire city. Something incomprehensible and unknowable and mysterious but something hinted at by the awkwardness of the spelling. Whatever a Yawhg is–and we never really find out–it’s really, really fucking bad.

The Yawhg will come in six weeks, the game tells us at the beginning, but while we the players know this, the characters–you choose at least two from a group of four–are going blithely about their lives doing whatever. Each week you pick an activity from a list; you gain points in some fairly broad RPG type stats, you have some skill checks–and after six activities for each character, the Yawhg comes and destroys the city, you get to pick what all of the characters do in the aftermath, and then you get your endings. All told, once you click onto the game’s structure, you can get through a playthrough in about five minutes, give or take.

And so an amount of randomization and causality is employed to give a great deal of variation to the proceedings. Certain events depend on skill checks, and others lead to repercussions down the line. Rat out an alchemist selling illegal potions and you’ll find the alchemist’s body hanging in the woods. Throw a volatile potion in the water supply and a doctor will note that people have been getting very sick lately. The wrong decision can lead to disaster for other people–nothing *truly* bad happens to you (although you can become a vampire or a werewolf), but it certainly happens to the city.

The Yawhg itself happens behind the scenes. Between turns, you get some text foreshadowing The Yawhg; after the sixth, you’re told the Yawhg has come; and then you’re presented with the city in ruins. It never makes it clear whether it’s a natural disaster, some kind of creature, a spell–it doesn’t matter. It’s given the title, but it’s not the focus of the game. And yet the time after the Yawhg comes is the moment that it becomes clear that the previous six turns have simply been backstory. The Yawhg is, ultimately, a one-choice game.

There’s roles for a Leader, a Builder, a Conjurer, a Doctor, even a Town Drunk, a Looter. Your skills, which you’ve been building up, determine your success at the various tasks–give someone with high charisma the Leader job and they’re going to delegate tasks effectively; make someone with a low intelligence score the Doctor and you’ll have a lot of dead patients. Make anyone the Looter and they’ll rob the city.

It is the effectiveness of all of these which determines the city’s eventual fate–put people in useful jobs that they do well and it’ll be rebuilt better than ever, giving characters more-or-less happy endings; fuck up, and you’re staring at a ruin, with many of you dying miserably. Cooperation is kind of the order of the day–everyone needs to be working for the good of the city in a role they excel at in order for the populace to thrive.

There’s an attempted multi-player mode. You have to pick at least two of the four characters–adding a second controller lets you divide characters between yourself and a friend. It’s an odd feature, considering each character has a distinct turn and that actions are mostly a function of selecting from a very simple menu–I suppose it’s handy, although I can’t ever see myself playing this game in a group, but I don’t see why you can’t just pass the controller or have someone driving. Well anyway. Minor complaint.

I do like that the characters are all, gameplay-wise, exactly the same as far as initial stats and any interactions go. They’re more like tokens or pawns than anything else, but there’s two guys and two girls, and they’ve crammed in as many skin tones as they possibly could into four characters. The game goes out of its way to elide gender and sexuality restrictions, as well–in one scenario, you meet your ex Kelly and their new flame Jean, and the game neither shows you a drawing of them nor assigns them pronouns beyond the singular “they”. You read back and forths where people say how fantasy works *can* have limited roles for women because the societies had limited roles for women, but even though The Yawhg is a fairly standard medieval-esque fantasy kingdom, it’s not interested in “realism”. And it is a much, much stronger work for doing so: It makes the game warmer, more comfortable, more inviting. The proceedings develop a much more cosmopolitan and current feel. It’s wonderful to have a game which is aware of traditional oversights in videogame characters and addresses this not by shrilly, narcissistically portraying the Self but by creating a roster of different costumes to put on for a few minutes–I wonder if the fact that the game was written and drawn by Emily Carroll, who seems to be a comic artist who made a videogame rather than a game designer who draws well, has anything to do with it: This is not a Scene Indie by any means.

(For the record: The game’s billed as a collaboration between Carroll and programmer/designer Damian Sommer, with Ryan Roth’s sound design and Halina Heron’s music, but while all of the parts are wonderful and add up to a greater whole, the game is all about its art and writing.)

Funny though: It’s a visual novel, or more accurately an interactive comic. It’s a genre I normally hate. Fuck’s sake: I’m a 30-year-old man. There is no comfortable way for me to play a videogame which focuses on romance, young Japanese girls, or romancing young Japanese girls. It’s creepy as shit. I can’t be blamed for avoiding the genre entirely. And if I miss out on good games like Long Live the Queen, I’m okay with it. After all, I know what reaction I’d get if my roommates ever saw me playing a game which could best be described as, “There’s a bunch of different girls, each with their own unique disability, and you get to pick which one you get to fall in love with.”

Fuck’s sake: I’d call the cops on me for that one.


6 thoughts on “10

    • I have not! I played, enjoyed, and completely forgot almost everything about Digital: A Love Story. Don’t Take It Personally is one of those games I’ve always felt I SHOULD play, but I’ve never seen it on sale and I don’t like paying full price for shit. It’s a principle thing!

      • Ah, I’ve not played Digital though I loved Analogue.

        DTIPB does have some errrr romance/sex moments with its schoolkids which I guess I shouldn’t describe if you want to check the game out, and it’s obv all anime artwork, though I can’t recall where it’s supposed to be set. It is rather cool though and those moments are thematically relevant.

        • Uuuuuuuh. Don’t Take it Personally Babe is free to download and play. It’s 40~ MiB, which is large for such a simple game, but perfectly manageable.

          It takes place in Canada (though it takes a while for you to realize that; it takes a lot of cues from Japanese stuff, even going so far as giving the characters ridiculous hair colors). It’s a near-future setting, around which most of the themes are built.

          I feel the need to defend Visual Novels, for some reason. I completely agree that the inherent basis,“There’s a bunch of different girls, each with their own unique disability, and you get to pick which one you get to fall in love with.” is ludicrous and more than a little disgusting. And yet, I’ve the feel that it’s used the same way that Spec Ops: The Line uses “You and your AI teammates will go into a post-apocalyptic city, and shoot down hundreds of people with your one-liners.”. Fate/Stay Night in particular (I’ve played two visual novels, and finished neither) is vigorous with its high-end thematic elements…interspersed with porn scenes. At any rate, I just like that their games are built around human-ish interaction, which totally defies what we have in the West.

          • Hey dude!

            Sorry about the DTIPB thing – the original comment was a joke though not the most obvious one. :)

            I think the “unique disability” comment is referring to an actual Japanese dating sim game that is out there. I forget the name but it is literally about wooing Japanese schoolgirls with a variety of impairments. It’s probably, like, well-intentioned in some cultural manner I don’t understand, but you know… it sounds… problematic.

            • Maybe it’s Analog: A Hate Story that she charged for? I could have sworn that one of them was a purchase, and then maybe I simply assumed that the other one was–given that Digital left me with much more respect for Love as a designer and programmer than as a writer, I again haven’t had super much interest in her other games.

              The “unique disability” is indeed a real game called Katawa Shoujo. I have been assured that it is done extremely Tastefully.

              However, as I allude to in the original article, there’s literally nothing tasteful about a 30-year-old (gay) man playing a videogame in which he gets to pick which underaged disabled girl he wants to get to know and romance and see a tastefully-drawn erotic image of. It is, in a word, fucking impossible for me to do that without bringing creepiness to myself; it is an inherently creepy genre. I don’t disagree with the school of thought that videogame romances treat the beloved as a lock to which one has to find the key of the right path.

              I should phrase this carefully:

              One of the reasons behind Katawa Shoujo is to humanize young girls with disabilities. Most culture, understandably, attaches limerence to healthy bodies. One sub genre of visual novels–utsuge–does feature less-than-perfect young ladies, often ones who are dying of some tragic disease while you romance them. “Utsuge” means “depressing game”–it is the game that can make you cry.

              The effect this can have on perceptions of the disabled is great: In focusing on the disability, one might ignore that a girl in a wheelchair is just as whatever as anyone else. And so, Katawa Shoujo attempts, possibly nobly, to bring home the message that these girls are people too.

              There are several reasons why, frankly, I don’t need to play a work that discusses that. Partially, it’s because I genuinely will never find myself in a position to be around more than one underage girl–I’m not a teacher and I have no children, and neither of those are likely to change anytime soon. Well, fuck’s sake–it’s more or less INAPPROPRIATE for me to need to humanize young disabled girls beyond the abstract. And, shit, I already *know* that. The entire game comes off condescendingly to me.

              So yes: Visual Novels, as a concept, I have no issue with because, whatever. I played that Save the Date game that was going around the other week, and I enjoyed that very much. I’ve wanted to play Fate/Stay Night, and tried to a couple times in college, but could never get it to work, so I have Moved On With My Life.

              But yes, to sum up: I do not wish to play dating sims because the events which they simulate are ones I do not have any desire to participate in.

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