Hello! Once again Eurogamer is marking Pride Month with a week of features celebrating the intersection of queer culture and gaming. This afternoon, Alex Meehan shares her experiences playing visual novel Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers and how it helped her explore the joy in her bisexuality.
I didn't know I was bisexual until my early twenties, but I did always know that there was something different about me. I remember being called a lesbian by another student at secondary school because she caught me sketching cute women in my notebooks during class - a memory that remains crystal clear in my mind to this day. It was a traumatic moment for me because - at that point in my life, when I was already being horrendously bullied - being labelled queer simply felt like I was getting yet another target painted on my back.
I only realised I might not be straight when I learned about bisexuality. I knew I was attracted to men, but I'd never toyed with the notion I could be also attracted to women until I began meeting queer people who were out. Being around queer people gave me the courage and the clarification I needed to put all the puzzle pieces together and accept I was bisexual.
I've come out since then, openly dating as someone who is attracted to people of all genders, but it hasn't exactly been plain sailing. Accepting my bisexuality has undoutedly been a positive aspect of my life, but it's also led to plenty of moments of anxiety and self-doubt. What if I'm not actually bisexual? What if I've misunderstood the feelings and thoughts I've had?
But in Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers, a recent visual novel by Fiction Factory Games, I'm allowed to be bisexual without any of these thoughts taking root - it's provided me with a safe haven in which I can explore my sexuality without doubts from the outside or inside world. Even though its multitude of wonderfully written characters and its beautifully drawn world are not real, the self-insert nature of The New Challengers makes it the perfect environment for me to express myself. I can make my character look somewhat like myself, choose the story decisions I align with, and pursue romance with the characters I want to, all without fear of what other people might think or if I'm doing this whole queer thing properly.
Despite including plot-lines that do centre around self-doubt and mental illness, queer identities are never the cause of this in The New Challengers. The queerness in the game is purely a source of joy for me: interacting with other queer characters, seeing them confident in their identities, it gives me courage. Courage enough to want to romance a cis male character like Locksley - who is essentially a human golden retriever - and a cis female character like Grace, who is extremely intelligent and non-confrontational. I've done all of this without having my bisexuality called into question - something I've unfortunately encountered in real life thanks to the intermittent biphobia I've experienced since coming out.
The lack of consequences to being bisexual in The New Challengers means I never feel like I'm going to screw things up or not perfom in the way I'm sometimes pressured to in the real world. I can hamfistedly put the moves on Locksley in one playthrough, whilst sweetly flirting with Grace in another, and feel like both of these 'realities' could exist. In both scenarios my characters presented as feminine in a way I've sometimes worried doesn't look conventionally queer enough in my day-to-day life. But when I looked at her chatting up Locksley or Grace on screen, it never felt wrong at all. That I could still very much be myself in every playthrough of The New Challengers - all without the nagging doubts, questions, and judgements that otherwise make me sometimes feel uncomfortable with this part of my identity - feels like a relief. Like I've released a valve and all that pent-up pressure trapped inside is gone.
It certainly helps that the romances in The New Challengers are as joyful as they are meaningful, with dialogue that's bursting with comedy in a way that softens the edges and relaxes me. There were scenes of Loxely's romance that had me laughing hysterically, whilst moments with Grace left me beaming with happiness. The character interactions sway effortlessly from sincere to ridiculous, and here are even some saucier moments to indulge my hornier side, though not as many as I'd like. (A good visual novel sex scene is so much better than the awkward mashing of character models in most video games.)
At its core, The New Challengers is a story of a character struggling to believe they're capable of being someone that could be loved and respected by others. For the player, as written, it's a tale of a burgeoning esports career and the impact it has on their self-esteem. But for me, it's a story of my relationship with my queerness, with listening to my feelings, and believing them. Playing The New Challengers - being in a world where queerness is entirely about joy and nothing else - helps me to cope with the moments, the comments, and the self-doubts that stop me from embracing that part of myself.
In the world of The New Challengers, my bisexuality is a source of happiness and nothing else. It makes me laugh, it makes me smile, it makes me blush and giggle. My messy bisexual self is stumbling and tripping all over the game's arcades, expos, and tournament venues and I don't care. I'm just having the best time with no worries and no cares. Only joy.