Kindred Spirits on the Roof is a game that, on the surface, seems like it wouldn’t be allowed on Steam. From what I can gather, the game revolves around two ghosts who can only find peace the way others find pleasure – by sleeping with one another. Now, normally I’d have nothing against these types of themes – I’m guilty myself of using them in Roleplaying Games – but with Steam being accessible by people of all ages, I’m not sure if it’s even going to be allowed to be on there. That of course depends on how ‘in your face’ they are with it, if they show nudity or not, and generally if they can make it family-friendly enough to be let on the platform. Steam have taken lots of games off that crossed this line, so it’ll be interesting if it actually makes it.
Far apart from the sex issue, the games’ protagonists are both female. As it’s a game in a Japanese style by a Japanese developer, and it’s erotic, that makes it Yuri. Again, I have nothing against Yuri, Yaoi or anything else of this type, but I don’t think Steam is the best place for it. It does, however, raise one key issue: is the game going to portray Lesbian relationships in a light that shows two ordinary people in love who also happen to both be female, or is it going to take the alternative route of pandering to certain social demographics that are most easily summed up with the phrase “I love lesbians but hate lesbianism”? I hope it’s the first, however it’s all too easy to fall into the second, especially with games on Steam.
One thing that indicates the second of these two extremes is the way I’ve read about how the game actually intends to go about getting the two spirits’ grooves on: the player seems to have to make Yuri couples all over a school so the ghosts can learn. This immediately raises a red flag for me- you can’t change people’s sexuality and it seems odd that there’d be so many girls who like girls in a school environment, considering the statistics. Then again, this is fantasy land, so wilful suspension of disbelief means I guess I can let that slide – this is a world where ghosts are real.
Looking at other examples of controversial themes in games, we can see that there are times when including them has given the game the ability to tackle the issues of society – and we can also see examples where the theme has been completely ignored, played for laughs, or just plainly missed the mark. The examples that jump to my mind are the Fable series, Danganronpa 2, and Hatred (Spoiler warning for all three). Fable takes the route of allowing the player to romance with any gender – male or female (there’s no transgenderism, but still) – and even takes it so far as to portray this as perfectly natural. Growing up, Fable was one of the games that, as an LGBT* person myself, made me feel like I shouldn’t be ashamed of who I am.
On the other hand, however, you have the recent game Hatred. This was, I feel, meant to bring up the issues surrounding violence, especially in the light of recent events, in a way deliberately intended to shock. But the game totally missed its mark, failed miserably and only had a few cheap laughs at a sensitive subject’s expense. It tried to be the next Postal but completely fell flat; it tried to bring up serious issues but didn’t even try to thread them into a story. I’m confident that Kindred Spirits won’t be this bad – it does seem to have a plotline, after all – but all that demonstrates that there are serious pitfalls to avoid.
Another game where societal issues closely related to the plotline is Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair. During the course of the game, a female student, Mikan Tsumiki, kills two of her fellow students to appease her Beloved, who is strongly implied to be somebody of the same gender as herself. As well as this, in his last free time event, it is strongly implied that Nagito Komaeda, another student, has feelings for the main character, Hajime Hinata, who is also male. This theme isn’t explored much after its necessary use as a key plot point, but it is played off as being completely normal and natural.
Overall, games tackling societal issues is important, especially as they’re an interactive medium. However, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of making their representation farcical, and I fear that Kindred Spirits might do just that.
That is, if it even gets to be on Steam in the first place.