“Fragments of Him is a nearly flawless gaming experience that manages to simultaneously bring tears to your eyes and warm your heart. I highly recommend Fragments of Him if you’re interested in a heartwarming and equally heartbreaking game that touches on LGBT topics but also covers the subjects of family, loss, and love.”
Last week we released a new trailer and announced that Fragments of Him is coming to PC and Xbox One:
The trailer has since been viewed 14,999 times (at time of writing) in the last seven days, and the announcement has been covered by websites from all over the world, including major sites such as Polygon and Kill Screen:
Also last week, we showed the trailer and demo of the game’s prologue at the Develop: Brighton conference. Players had their first opportunity to try the experience we will be delivering in 2016.
The most common reactions were, ‘I’ve never played anything like this before’ and ‘we need more games like this’. Those two phrases were said to us dozens of times in the two days we were showing the prologue to the full experience.
We were delighted by the hugely positive responses from the visitors. Many thanks to everyone who spoke to us!
SassyBot Studio and I are very excited about the experience that we will be bringing to PC and Xbox One early next year, and look forward to sharing more about our game in the months leading up to release.
Fragments of Him was on show at GaymerX, Casual Connect, & GamesCom this year, and it had very positive responses from everyone who played it. This is a small collection of what people have been writing about our game:
‘One friend [at GaymerX] tells me he felt comfortable enough to openly cry a little while playing Fragments of Him, a brief narrative game about a man coping with the sudden death of his husband. Feelings overwhelmed him, but he didn’t need to hide.
“I honestly don’t think I could’ve done that at any other convention,” he says. “But here it just felt… OK. Like I wouldn’t be judged.”
Myself and SassyBot Studio are working hard to make this emotional journey live up to the promise of what we have already shown. Lessons from what I’ve been learning along this path will be going back into the curriculum when I teach and develop projects for NHTV University, where I am a lecturer/researcher in games & narrative design.
The faith and support of our players and journalists in Fragments of Him is much appreciated. Thank you everyone who played!
If you missed the trailer before, you can see it again below:
This weekend I have been in the company of a couple of thousand wonderful, creative, supportive gamers and developers. These people also happen to be ‘gaymers’.
The GaymerX conference happened for the second and final time in San Francisco this week, and won’t be happening again… But something will be taking its place. The term ‘gaymer’ was coined as a banner for uniting a group of gay geeks who didn’t fit the mainstream discourse of gaming, but it became something much more broad. This weekend saw people with many expressions of non-mainstream diversity coming together to show the games world that they exist, they matter, they want to see themselves in the games that they play, and that they are happy to put their money behind events and games that recognise them.
That last part is important – GaymerX is a statement that a whole market exists that many games are rarely addressing, or that are being spoken to in ways that are not recognising the real issues faced by the players.
The weekend raised some deep issues of diversity representation in games, such as the subtle balance of the pros and cons of fantasy games where homosexual relationships are available; these games were recognised for being positive for including these options, but there was discussion about whether the absolute in-world acceptance from other characters is a help, or a hindrance, towards the understanding of challenges faced by people in real-world gay relationships. Is it more valuable to have an escapist fantasy or an educational reflection of life? These kinds of discussion provided food for thought, and were good-willed on all sides, which encapsulates the mood of the weekend where the ‘safe space’ attitude was largely undisturbed.
Not only ‘gaymers’
The visitors to the conference were mostly gay, bisexual, lesbian, and transgender. These are the main groups that you would expect, but the GaymerX conference also welcomed a crowd that embraced diversity in many more respects than sexuality: people with different physical shapes or capabilities, people of colour, genderqueer people, people with social or mental health difficulties, kinky people, and it should not be forgotten that straight people were there and welcomed too.
Straight, white men were absolutely not an ‘enemy’ at the conference; it simply was not focussed on their stories. The stories being told were of queer developers and players expressing their lives through games, or of celebrating the WWE professional wrestler Derren Young (@DarrenYoungWWE the first openly gay pro wrestler in WWE) who was there to talk about his work and meet fans, or about being a gay parent who games, or games dev entrepreneurship when you are non-mainstream in your lifestyle or content, and many other stories that do not regularly make it into mainstream games culture.
The conference featured talks about queer lifestyles, diversity, and equality, but also experimental Oculus Rift projects and defying design conventions in your gameplay mechanics. The mix of content for attendees ranged between feminist discussions with Anita Sarkeesian (@femfreq) to practical games development experience from Bioware’s David Gaider (@davidgaider).
Recognition from major sponsors
The sponsors contributed some very high quality stands to the show: 2K Games showed the first ever playable demo of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. IndieCade and Cards Against Humanity had a strong presence, and League Of Legends helped out cosplayers with a sponsored changing room. Non-gaming sponsors Logo TV and Mailchimp also put their support in financially, but didn’t exhibit.
Ubisoft were a major sponsor of the event, showing that there is a lot of goodwill in the company towards becoming more diversity-sensitive. The staff on their stand talked passionately about their efforts to make Ubisoft a leader in this field. In the light of the recent Assassin’s Creed male-only playable cast controversy, it was heartening to be reassured that the error was not indicative of the whole company, and that genuine efforts are being made elsewhere.
Ubisoft’s presence was a marker of the tone of a lot of the conference: there was a general feeling that improvements are coming in the games industry, but also that mistakes are going to be made. A production judgement call is going to remove representation for women when it shouldn’t: these things are still going to happen, but a growing number of people from the games industry are listening and trying to foment change. The tone recognised a general goodwill towards developers as long as mistakes are recognised and responsibility is taken to try harder in the future. Everyone would rather mistakes were never made, but the feeling at the conference seemed to be one of positivity about progress and not dwelling on errors apart from to learn lessons.
There is a stereotype of feminist/diversity activists that they are always angry and demanding changes. The anger wasn’t there this weekend and those demands were polite. Yes, the attendees and exhibitors all passionately desire change, but the number of voices speaking is changing the tone: instead of demanding change, those voices were saying ‘if you want to get a bigger market, talk to more people in meaningful ways’, and the feeling from the weekend was that games developers are beginning to listen.
There were some notable big publishers absent from the event. In the mode of Nintendo talking about not having gay characters in Tomodachi Life, there was a feeling those other publishers do not want to make ‘a political statement’ by attending. As Matt Conn (@mattconn), one of the key organisers of the event, said in the opening speech: ‘it’s not comfortable to have my identity described as a “political statement”’. Despite some very vocal commenters on the internet, it is increasingly difficult to believe that other publishers will hold off from supporting these kinds of events in future.
Queer lifestyles and awareness in games development and education
For my part, I spoke at a panel on how LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) developers are creating games that in some ways reflect their lifestyles. The panel was headed by Gordon Bellamy (@GordonBellamy), former head of the IGDA, who is both openly gay and a person of colour, and featured a mix of gay, bisexual, and transsexual games developers. We talked about how tropes for gamers are going to be expanded as non-mainstream lifestyles become more recognised.
I also ran a panel on how queer lifestyles and diversity awareness can be included into games development education. I am a senior lecturer at NHTV University in the Netherlands, where I teach games design at IGAD (the games development department). It is a Bachelors-level programme that is highly rated in Europe, and part of the training given to the students is in ethics. Alongside concepts of understanding the possible links between violence and video games, responsibility for gamer addiction, and other serious topics of social importance, I teach about diversity awareness and sensitivity towards queer lifestyles.
The term ‘queer’ scares a lot of people, but it is being reclaimed. It is a term that has long been used as an insult, and still is sometimes, but many people who do not comfortably fit the stereotype of a mainstream gamer are also not gay: they may be heterosexual but also transgender; they may be heterosexual but they are also polyamorous (they can love and have supportive meaningful relationships with multiple people); they may be bisexual; they may be cross-dressers, or furries, or kinky, or many other expressions of humanity that are not precisely encapsulated by the term ‘gay’. Rather than a person saying ‘I am a kinky heterosexual cross-dresser in a polyamorous triad’ sometimes the term ‘queer’ is enough!
In my panel, like in my classes, I talked about how awareness of simple modern feminist critical tools can make games development and content much more diversity-aware, using four main topics: privilege, micro-aggressions, victim-blaming, and tone policing.
Also in my panel, I talked about some of the challenges that can be brought on by these subjects for students, teachers, and educational institutions. I am very lucky that my colleagues and my university are supportive of the overall drive towards diversity-awareness. Of course, there are always going to be areas where students and colleagues occasionally feel some discomfort as their boundaries are pushed, but with consideration and conversation on both sides, NHTV is proving that games programmes can make progress towards very good consideration of diversity issues. Like Ubisoft, NHTV is making progress: we are all going to make mistakes sometimes (including myself, I’m sure!), but the general drive is for better treatment of everyone, and there is a genuine goodwill towards making this happen.
Fragments of Him at GaymerX
For the other part of my time at GaymerX, I was showing Fragments of Him. I am the game and narrative designer for the game, collaborating with the NHTV alumni games development team SassyBot Studio (@SassyBotStudio), and this weekend truly showed me that we are making something very special. We premiered the first ever trailer for the full game, and we also had a polished version of the prototype available to play for the visitors.
To say that this was an emotional weekend for us would be an understatement: the outpouring of positivity from players was overwhelming. We always warned people that the prototype deals with the grieving process but, even with this, almost every player was visibly moved by the experience. We kept a pile of tissues on standby, just in case, and nearly finished the whole pile by the end of the weekend! A huge thank you to everyone who visited our stall, don’t forget to pre-order soon! http://www.fragmentsofhim.com
Conclusion – the future of the GaymerX movement
Although this was the final GaymerX, Matt Conn, Toni Rocca, and the other organisers all made it increasingly clear that there would be a rebirth of the conference. In Matt Conn’s closing speech he said that ‘the term “gaymer” was useful but it doesn’t reflect the diversity of people that I see in this room’. The speech was a moving and passionate statement of his belief that the future is very bright for diversity-awareness in games content and games development. The conference was incredibly positive in its tone: it wasn’t about negging straight lifestyles, it was about saying ‘and this is also cool and interesting too’. It was about telling stories outside of the usual topics, and by doing that finding new inspiration for games’ stories and gameplay mechanics.
There was a political tone at times, with a shared hope that queer content in games might lead to more tolerance in the real world for people whose lives turn out to not be in the mainstream, but this did not feel like the push of the event. Instead it felt like a celebration of what diversity can bring to games to make them even better for everyone, whether they are straight or queer, regardless of skin colour, mental health, or body shape. It was about embracing love and acceptance, and adding more awesome content to games.
GaymerX burned brightly for two years, but the changes it heralded are continuing. Matt Conn was clear that this was not the end of the GaymerX movement, only the name. There will be more events in the future, in some form, and they will celebrate and recognise even more people’s stories, and they will keep on saying ‘we are here, we are your audience too, and together we will make everyone’s games even better’.
About Dr. Mata Haggis:
I am not affiliated with the GaymerX organisation. All views are personal impressions from the event.
I am a senior lecturer and games & narrative designer with over ten years of experience of making both indie and AAA games, and writing for games, television, webcomics, and print. I occasionally blog about games on my own website (http://games.matazone.co.uk/) and reblog onto Gamastura here.
Since 2010, I have been teaching the next generation of games developers on the IGAD (International Games Architecture & Design) programme at NHTV University in Breda, The Netherlands. It is a very highly rated course, taught entirely in English. If you are interested in learning more about games development then I highly recommend it: http://made.nhtv.nl/
When not teaching, I am the consultant games & narrative designer on Fragments of Him, collaborating with the alumni company SassyBot Studios.
This post looks at how games in the field of diversity are viewed as having strong cultural and political agendas based on the cultural space that they occupy rather than the intentions of the developers.
Last weekend, at the same time as PAX was corralling indie developers into a ‘diversity lounge’, I had the pleasure of showing Fragments of Him at the Different Games conference at New York University. A few hundred people gathered there to talk about gender, sex, sexuality, representation for people of colour, queer lifestyles, and diversity in games and the gaming industry.
It was quite an emotional weekend for me: I’ve only watched ‘Let’s Play’ videos of people playing Fragments of Him, and this was the first time that I had seen it being played live. It was a very powerful experience, watching as they paused, their shoulders dropping, the mouse perfectly still as the situation in the game revealed itself. Like I say, I’ve seen this in videos, but it was a very different sensation to watch in person. Some people had to stop and walk away, muttering a ‘thank you, it was very good’ quietly as they left. I’m sorry to the people that the game upset; I hope that you find the time to experience the rest of the story and that the resolution is some consolation to you.
Direct and indirect diversity
There were a lot of discussions on diversity, and it was great to see the range of ways in which different developers were addressing these issues in their games. Many were very direct, such as the way in which Perfect Woman combines difficulty settings with a parable about the impact of today’s choices on our later situations: if you choose to be a terrorist as a twenty year old then it’s going to be tough to be a professor at thirty! It was simple, explicit (in more than one sense), and delivered an easy to understand message.
Next to this, the Fragments of Him prototype that I was showing at the conference felt extremely reserved – it’s not a game about a gay relationship: it’s a story about grieving and moving on, which also happens to feature people who were in a gay relationship. I feel that this is a strength of the current prototype, not because being overtly about a gay relationship would automatically make it weaker as a narrative, but because it shows the universality of emotions that people go through in times of crisis, regardless of their sexuality.
However, avoiding dealing directly with sexuality isn’t something that would work in the larger Fragments of Him game that we are now developing after the success of the prototype: looking back at some of the significant relationship events of the lives of the characters, the incidents that their sexuality have provoked will almost inevitably be a point of attention.
I have mixed feelings about this. I have no fear of representing the normal lives of adults who are not heterosexual, but I also feel a little sad that it is unavoidable that some kind of forced sexual or political agenda is going to be read into all of this.
Diversity or reality?
Is there a diversity agenda to Fragments of Him? Not by intention. I want to treat my characters as normal people living in the modern world, and I hope that I can make all of the characters recognisable and believable. By treating non-heterosexual people as absolutely normal human beings (because what else would you want to do?), the story is conveying a message of compassion and empathy for all people, regardless of their identity (not just gay/bisexual men seen in the Fragments of Him prototype, but also other sexes, genders, sexualities, ages, races, and other people who may differ from ourselves in their bodies or lifestyles – some of which will feature in the expanded version that we are now developing). I am making no effort at all to force diversity into Fragments of Him, but a range of realistic characters will automatically contain people with a variety of attributes.
It strikes me as odd that this will likely be received as a political statement about diversity, when my intention is to tell an everyday story of love, loss, and hope. I do believe in the value of diversity in society, and naturally the things that I create are going to reflect those opinions. I would be happy if the game makes people appreciate the commonality of experiences between people with otherwise distinct lives, but the primary intention is to create an enjoyable drama (in the way that a tragedy can be enjoyable through a cathartic release of emotions).
I would welcome social improvements as the result of a game, but I have no intention of preaching my views through Fragments of Him and wouldn’t be egotistical enough to expect that an indie game with a good heart is going to change the world. I hope it will comfort a few people in sad situations, help a some appreciate the lives of others, or assist in thinking a little more about the people that they love… That would be a wonderful result, but that hope is not at all unique to games: it is also what very many storytellers want, I believe, and just because Fragments of Him is a game, I don’t believe that hoping for this result can be called a sexual or political ‘agenda’.
Storytelling and empathy in games
Games are a communication medium, and we must not be afraid of representing the world as we see it, or how we would like it to be. To me, a message of treating all others as humans worthy of respect shouldn’t be considered an ‘agenda’, as if this were a subversive intention: respect and civility should be the default state of all people. If, with the story in our game, we can do a little to help build a society of empathy and compassion, then I’m just fine with that. If this helps games development to mature and find sources of inspiration from outside of the common sci-fi/horror/fantasy tropes, then I would be happy with that too.
I love games, everything from zombie slaying through to blowing petals in the breeze, and I hope that the full version of Fragments of Him will be a valuable addition to the growing number of games that are interested in telling stories outside of the current mainstream. Perhaps, if anything, there is a deliberate agenda in that: expanding the language of our creative field.
The heteronormative agenda of Halo
It is interesting that a game such as Halo is not commonly talked about for its agenda. In many ways it supports the dominant patriarchal paradigm of heroic masculinity. For example, the lead character Master Chief:
is a tall, muscular man
is suited permanently in full armour so no fleshy weakness is ever exposed
speaks with a gruff voice
has a face that never shows emotion (because it is never seen)
recovers almost instantly from injury
can single-handedly turn the tide of a battle
has a girlfriend who is a hologram so they never have to do anything as emasculating as kissing or hugging, or squishily organic as having sex
spends his time penetrating organic-looking alien ships
… And so on.
It would be easy to read this as adamant support for a hyper-masculine ideal, devoid of feelings and mental or physical intimacy, where the primary goal is domination of anything seen as organic, uncontrollable, insane, and other attributes that western society has historically associated with femininity. I don’t for a second believe that Bungie set out with that as their agenda, but it can easily be read into Halo.
It is possible to see an agenda there, if we wish to look for it, just as it is possible to see an agenda in Fragments ofHim, but I know which game is more likely to be discussed in terms of having a sexual/political agenda.
It is a sign that our industry needs to mature, that the presence of any character outside of a standard heteronormative binary system (people who do not fit a modern stereotype of youthful, aggressively heterosexual vigour) is read as an ‘agenda’. Master Chief fits the system, so he is not viewed as a political statement, but a gay protagonist is outside the norms of gaming lead characters, and so the game is likely to be assumed to be intentionally making a statement.
I’m content that a diversity-aware reading fits Fragments of Him, but this is neither something that I have forced to be present or something that I would ever dream of avoiding. It is a natural result of trying to represent loving and open people both fairly and honestly.
Every game has an agenda
Perhaps I am saying this the wrong way: it’s not that Fragments of Him doesn’t have a sexual/political agenda: instead it is that every game has one. These agendas are usually only identified in games that feature characters that are perceived as being outside of mainstream society. Like all cultural artefacts, all games have a societal message, but in games those messages only appear to be called an ‘agenda’ when they do not fit into a very narrow range of cultural models.
My thanks to the organisers of Different Games for a wonderful and inspiring conference, to all the lovely people that I spoke to, and everyone who played Fragments of Him. I look forward to next year!
If you haven’t played Fragments of Him yet then you might want to try it here. It takes around 15 minutes, and headphones are essential for the experience.
We look forward to sharing the progress of our game with you as we continue to build it over the next few months. Thank you for reading!
I’m a games & narrative designer with over ten years of experience of making both indie and AAA games, and writing for games, television, webcomics, and print. I occasionally blog about games on my own website (http://games.matazone.co.uk/) and reblog onto Gamastura here.
Since 2010, I have been teaching the next generation of games developers on the IGAD (International Games Architecture & Design) programme at NHTV University in Breda, The Netherlands. It’s a very highly rated course, taught entirely in English, and if you’re interested in learning more about games development then I highly recommend it: http://made.nhtv.nl/
When not teaching, I am the consultant games & narrative designer on Fragments of Him.
A prominent YouTube video game blogger has reviewed Fragments of Him. It’s nice that his entire coverage of the gay relationship is ‘So… You’ve got a male couple’, and that’s it, exactly as it should be. Thanks CinnamonToastKen!
Also, a very amusing namecheck for Fragments of Him in a video he posted a week later:
“I played Fragments of Him, which was about a homosexual couple, and it really didn’t have anything homosexual about it other than it said ‘him’ in the story, and that seemed to have bothered a lot of people… So I figured I’d just go and find the gayest game that I could since you’re a bunch of homophobes.”
This is one of the rare games where very few of the players are far off from tears — or, at the very least, most players seem to easily understand that inclination. That’s no small accomplishment for any artist, nevermind four European developers tinkering with a new style.
That reviewer also posted a really nice playthrough video in which he nails many of the ideas that I was trying to communicate in the game. It’s very fulfilling to see someone understand so many of the ideas that we were trying to convey. It contains the whole game, so if you haven’t played yet you really should check it out before watching: