Welcome to a brand new aspect of The Tree House, something somewhat inspired in part by the tradition of personal letters, blameful post-mortems and newsletters. News from the Tin Can Telephone is going to be something of a weekly or every-other-week blog post, filled with local and not-so-local tidbits about going-ons in the artistic universe (or sometimes other universes) that intrepid ambassadors from the Tree House (or sometimes just myself) want to bring attention to. As with everything from The Tree House, it is highly experimental and likely to morph whenever we need it to.
This week’s inaugural post on Tin Can Telephone features a beautiful illustration by Tara Ogaick. Thank you so much Tara! It’s a beauty.
Pronouns, sexual attraction, bodies, parental acceptance, privilege and passing, these are some of the topics in the conversation between Quark and Lex in the videogameConversations We Have In My Head by Squinky. Quark and Lex are former lovers, who broke up over ten years ago, but Lex is also a figment of Quark’s imagination.
The first time I played Conversations I forgot about even checking if the game accepted user input. I had recently played Squinky’s game Interruption Junction at Princess of Arcade, and that game’s primary player mechanic is to allow the player to abruptly interrupt the ongoing dialogue. But unlike Interruption Junction, where the text of the game is too convoluted to really keep track of (think Simspeak), Conversations pulls the focus from the interruption mechanic to the content of the text itself.
It’s speaks to the quality of the writing and the concept that the game is greatly worth listening to at least once without trying to affect the outcome of the conversation. What really made the monologues and the back-and-forths compelling during my playthroughs was the intimacy of the conversation. The emotional closure available (and simultaneously unavailable) throughout the introspection of Conversations is paradoxical but also immensely desirable. That closure, which Quark finds in their conversation with Lex, can either feel like it is giving Quark a deeper understanding, and closeness, to Lex and Quark’s past (and present) selves, or it can feel distancing, the distance that becomes undeniable after ten years of silence post-breakup.
Squinky’s Interruption Junction and Conversations We Have In My Head rely on the player deciding to interrupt or not interrupt. Both games contain a character who gradually fades away, and both those characters are the self (or aspects of the self). Junction is a game about alienation while trying to participate in a social situation that may not have space for you, or what you have to say. Conversations takes that loneliness even further, exploring our need for closeness and closure within ourselves. With the same mechanic, Squinky is able to explore different emotional landscapes, as well as intimacy, loneliness and social interactions from two very different perspectives.
To find out more about Squinky and their games:
- Conversations We Have In My Head on itch.io
- Interruption Junction
- Squinky’s website
- Squinky’s Patreon
Bloom by Caelyn Sandel is a serial fiction about a transwoman named Cordelia who comes to terms with her identity. Featuring illustrations by Kiva Bay and soft melodies on the piano (a few written by Caelyn herself), Bloom is striking, not only as an example of how beautiful Twine games can be, but also because of the sheer quality of the writing. Writing for Twine (and interactive fiction in general) is as unique a writing methodology as writing for the stage or for national radio – and Bloom delivers one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had with videogames writing.
Spoilers, and perhaps rampant speculation, ahead. If you have not playedBloom I highly recommend you go play it right now first.
This apartment space becomes really familiar over the course of the prologue and five episodes. A large part of Bloom is played by investigating Cordelia’s most intimate and personal spaces – her apartment, her work – though we also follow Cordy to meet her family and on the metro.
I have to admit that last sentence on the page featured on the screenshot above – “The front door is intact and currently closed.” fills me with dread. The sentence is counterbalanced by the state of the kitchen door, but I look at that intact front door and still wonder what lies ahead.
Cordelia’s story, as Caelyn Sandel explains, is a “realistic depiction of midlife gender transition” and is extremely moving even if often distressing. I can’t wait for Episode 5.
To find out more about Caelyn Sandel and her work:
Some really good writing from Mattie Brice was published right at the end of July. I’ve always found Mattie Brice to be an incredibly thoughtful writer, and Passing and Self-Identification: Managing the Power and Visibility of the Closet is a very interesting piece on the difficulties of self-identification, power, and relationships, and some of the problems inherent in queer identitification.
I don’t think many people were ready for the messiness of queerness as a political identity. In effect, most people involved in the LGBT are fighting to be ‘normal,’ to be treated exactly as straight people are and to have those two groups live harmoniously with their owned houses, 2.5 children, and laberdoodle [sic]. Yet the pervasive adoption of queerness instead of LGBT is completely at odds with that vision, instead trying to move beyond straight vs gay, where straightness inherently contains queerness by the very virtue of defining them against each other. Heteronormativity is prevalent in LGBT communities, with straight- and cis-passing people being valued as inherently more attractive and sought-after. Queerness can’t hold a straight vs gay paradigm, but it will definitely let you get off to it.
Queerness is a concept in revolt – it always seeks to position itself as the “other” to any standard of normalcy. Queer itself is a word that was formed in retaliation (to a perceived, but some would argue very real) conservatism developing in gay communities, but for something that always defines itself as subverting heteronormativity, it can sure be easy to fall back into the pitfalls of the binary. Ideas like queerness are built to work as solutions – but we’re often unequipped to deal with the problems that these solutions create.
Embracing the messiness that queerness is means embracing what can go wrong, what has gone wrong, and taking responsibility for that. That’s part of the reason it’s messy.