Thursday, April 18, 2024

Not Tonight’s DLC One Love taps into queer post-Brexit anxiety

Not Tonight’s DLC, One Love is the best way to spend your Valentine’s Day this year. That is, if you want to remember the state of the UK at this moment in time.

If you’ve been on the internet this week – and you’re reading this, so you have – you’ll have probably seen this tweet being shared: a Brexit voter complaining about waiting in immigration queues at Schipol airport now that the UK has left the European Union, seemingly ignorant to the consequences of his actions. While the irony couldn’t be more potent, it’s also a bit of life imitating art, echoing PanicBarn’s brilliant dystopian Not Tonight – a queue managing adventure set in a crumbling post-Brexit Britain.

The main game, which landed on Nintendo Switch on the 31st January – the date of the UK’s legal departure from the EU – is set in a slightly alternate timeline where British politics fell apart even faster than they are doing in reality. In this timeline, a far-right party rapidly came to power after the 2016 referendum and immediately began segregating EU citizens, or even anyone of EU heritage – one of the playable character archetypes was born in Birmingham, but loses British citizenship because of a grandparent’s errant paperwork. Forced into a rundown block of flats (shades of Grenfell Tower, one of the game’s many satirical jabs) and monitored by authoritarian, xenophobic police officers, you’re only allowed out to work as a bouncer, scraping together enough cash to pay for a residence permit while facing widespread discrimination.

Not Tonight's DLC

Gameplay consists of checking punters’ ID, turning away underage revellers, weeding out fake IDs, and generally deciding who to let in. It’s all a bit Papers Please, but in the desperate post-Brexit reality of Not Tonight, you’re forced to make tough personal choices to survive, such as whether to take bribes or sell drugs just to scrape together the funds needed to stay in the country. It’s laced through with dark humour, but there’s not much in the game that isn’t being faced by people in reality, whether it’s citizens of EU countries being forced to apply for settled status, or naturalised citizens having their citizenship arbitrarily revoked.

Unsurprisingly, Not Tonight has been divisive since its original release on PC in August 2018, but the Switch release brings its uncompromising political statement, almost rhythmic mechanics of queue management and document checking to a wider audience. Notably, it also comes with its One Love DLC included, which is playable independently. Set in France, One Love is a separate story following bartender Dave – who’s escaped to the continent following the events of the main game, runs a pub called Les Rosbif, and lives in a flat decorated with England flags – and his misadventures in love after being tricked into signing up for dating app FLAMR.

It’s a none-too-subtle riff on the likes of Tinder and Grindr, and it allows you to sculpt Dave’s sexuality to your liking. The first matches you can pitch woohoo to are Mylarna, a woman returning from the core game; DQ-4P, a human-hating robot; and Francois, a handsome artist who hates beige and gamers. There are no judgements made in who you want to date, which is refreshing – even though there perhaps should be in the case of Lassy, a dateable dog. The only significant gameplay change the DLC brings though is the ability to mix drinks for people in the queue (with cocktails called “Hard Brexit”, “The SJW”, and “Snowflake”, of course), earning more of a bonus to spend on crafting your wardrobe and apartment to better attract your chosen suitor.

Not Tonight's DLC

With the penalty for not finding love within 30 days being forced into a “surprisingly expensive” year-long contract for FLAMR – compared to the base game’s threat of deportation by a fascist regime, or the withholding of healthcare because of lack of citizenship – One Love seems like a much lighter-hearted twist on Not Tonight’s formula. However, it’s still set in a post-Brexit hellscape, and the impact of that burns through the satire, especially for queer players. Being able to pursue Francois may paint romantic images of zipping around France with a Bohemian hipster boyfriend, but it’s a fantasy framed by the knowledge of the challenges that LGBTQ+ people could face in real life in the coming years. 

Through a news ticker on Dave’s phone, you’ll encounter disturbingly plausible reports of food shortages and traffic jams, goods unable to enter or leave the UK because of customs checks, and the loss of freedom of movement affecting travellers. Blue passports won’t get you into many countries without a hassle, as the game points out. These are all issues likely to cause real-world disruption, but it’s the occasional hint of deteriorating British politics that hits home.

While many LGBTQ+ rights that stemmed from European legislation have been enshrined in UK law, and in some cases exceeded – marriage equality, for instance, which some EU countries still lack – the EU maintains a baseline of rights that member states cannot lessen. At the end of the transition period, the UK will cease to be bound by the Charter of Fundamental Rights though, which bans discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Not Tonight’s core campaign chillingly highlights how far a right-wing government, chiefly concerned with placating a vocal nationalist base, will go when it’s no longer bound by international accords. That’s hopefully one part of the game that remains satire.

Not Tonight's DLC

The loss of Freedom of Movement could also impact LGBTQ+ people more harshly than heterosexuals. For example, in 2018, the Court of Justice of the European Union extended the right to travel throughout the EU with a same-sex spouse from a third (ie, non-EU) country, even in countries that currently lack marriage equality. As detailed in the University of Bristol report “Brexit: The LGBT Impact Assessment“, that would mean a real-life Francois would be able to bring Dave to live and work with him anywhere in the EU, but Dave wouldn’t necessarily be able to bring Francois back to the UK.

Although many of the darker moments of Not Tonight’s DLC are tucked away, hidden on optional news alerts that detail the deteriorating British state in this adjacent timeline, the parallels and warnings will be eerily prescient for anyone who pays attention to real-world news, and especially so for LGBTQ+ players concerned for how their rights as a minority will be impacted. Maybe One Love’s Dave had the right idea, getting out of the UK while he could – but at least while we await the actual Brexit impact, we can practice picking up a haughty French boyfriend.

Matt Kamen

[He/Him] Matt Kamen is a veteran media writer based in the UK, specialising in video games, film, and comics. If found, return to nearest coffee shop.