With a name like "Coming Out Simulator 2014" one would expect indie developer Nicky Case's autobiographical text-based browser adventure to be a pretty one-note affair. You expect to get outraged over homophobic parents, yelling will ensue, then crying, then ultimately acceptance. It's a story we've heard a million times before, but rarely in as excruciating detail as what Case has wrought here.
Taking after Telltale's The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, Coming Out Simulator 2014 thrusts players into a tense situation which they have to carefully navigate with their wits. Like Telltale's recent adventures, there's no right, wrong, moral, or immoral answers and every deviation feels tempting in its own way.
But perhaps the most hand-wringingly awful thing about Coming Out Simulator 2014 is that Case's mom isn't a raging homophobe. That would be too easy. Instead, she means well, but is just completely disinterested in his mental well-being, ignorant about sexual identities, and takes her abysmally wrong-headed interpretation of their teenage son for granted. (Case's dad, however, is a more conventional villain.)
My variant of Case tried to talk to his mother in private to confide his sexuality to her, but she kept bringing every conversation back to his academic studies. It's hard to come out to someone who can't even stay on the same subject as you for more than two sentences. Like any intense conversation, you always think you know what you're going to say, but then the other person derails your planned speech at every turn. She would occasionally say horribly ignorant things about her concern that Case's "best friend" is gay and could "convert" him, but then she'd immediately start chastising him for his grades. Can't you see I'm trying to tell you something! Maybe this isn't a good time to bring it up, I thought. Then again, there's never a good time.
How do you make a choose-your-own-adventure based on real events, you ask? Well Case has described Coming Out Simulator 2014 as "a half-true game about half-truths" - something cleverly hinted at in its opening scene where Case chats with his boyfriend Jack about the ending of Inception, which they just saw on a date. It operates on the "two lies and a truth" principle where the false realities are every bit as believable as what actually transpired and it's not immediately clear which bits of conversation Case actually had and which are fabricated.
This authenticity is to its credit as Coming Out Simulator 2014 is about more than just being gay: It's about frustrating attempts to connect with one's parents who don't even come close to understanding you. That's a near universal issue and Case captures that cultural and generational clash at its apex in his Nar8 Game Jam entry.
The one arguable misstep is a fourth-wall breaking denouement where Case sums up the actual version of events, as this takes away from the player-created fiction and seems like it should be a separate "behind the scenes" bonus option ala a DVD extra. But the reenactment that takes up the bulk of Coming Out Simulator's running time is still worth experiencing.
Go on, give Coming Out Simulator 2014 a go in your browser. You might want to sit down.