When we talk about sex games, particularly that of gay sex, it’s often seen as ‘taboo’. Hell, let’s not even stop at games. Sex itself is a topic that makes people uncomfortable. But for Robert Yang, the developer behind popular sex games such as The Tearoom and Succulent, it’s the perfect way to explore gay sexuality and culture.
Yang’s games don’t just focus on celebrating queerness either, but how history have damaged the LGBT+ community, particularly gay men, through police brutality and surveillance. The Tearoom, in particular, is most certainly a game that everyone should play if LGBT+ history interests them.
I had the chance to talk to Yang about what inspires him to create these games and their significance in the gaming industry.
What inspired you to create video games, particularly video games about gay subcultures?
In my adolescence, I modded games as a hobby, and also came to terms with my sexuality. Like a lot of young people questioning their identity, I looked to books, film, TV, music, and art to try to make sense of my experience. Then it occurred to me that there were very few games about LGBTQ+ experience. It’s up to us to make these games for each other.
The Tearoom was one of the first games I, personally, played and it taught me a lot about a history I had no idea even existed. How important do you feel it is to allow players to interact with history in your video games?
History is an important part of my games, which almost always refer to some sort of real world phenomenon or event. Everything has a history, even something that seems as profane or under-intellectualized as sex.
[History] is especially important today in 2020, as our community debates topics like the role of police in society — and we have to remember how police have persecuted LGBTQ+ people for centuries.
There’s always a lot of eye contact, or touching in your games. There’s even the legendary ‘dick pics’ that you can send others in Cobra Club. Is there a reason why there is such a focus on intimacy in your games?
For decades, video games have not invested resources into thinking about intimacy and relationships. How do we design sex games? What makes for a strong depiction of interactive intimacy? Increasingly there are more straight cis women and LGBTQ+ people doing that vital work and research, expanding the design space and making history. I think we all focus on intimacy because it helps us learn more about ourselves, but also because, frankly, straight white men weren’t doing the work.
You have stated before that you want to make VR ‘obscenely gay’, which I’m all for. In what ways would you explore doing that in VR?
Well, back then, VR seemed like it could actually happen. Today, VR is either for very specific industrial or medical use, or just for hardcore military sim gamers. I support all the devs and artists who still want to push VR toward its original pluralistic promise, but personally, I can’t really justify putting time into VR at the moment. Hopefully I’ll be proven wrong and VR (or XR?) will soon become relevant. But for now, I guess, I feel that I must reserve obscenity and gayness for greater things.
I’m aware a few of your games are banned on Twitch due to them being ‘sexual’. Do you feel as though Twitch’s guidelines prevent people from spreading the word of your games. Have they affected you in any way?
Twitch is chock full of corporate doublespeak and rainbow washing brand bullshit, and that masks how they routinely police video game culture for the worse. They are the cops at the Pride march, and for now, everyone’s smiling. Fortunately I’m petty as fuck and I have a long memory. Revenge is a marathon.
Do you feel as though video games are improving in how they look convey queer lives outside of representation?
Everyone always asks me this question, and the disappointing answer is not really. It’s still really hard for LGBTQ+ designers to get opportunities and resources to do good work. And LGBTQ+ gamers shouldn’t be satisfied with crumbs from the AAA industry either. “Wow, the shooter protagonist has 5 minutes of a gay cutscene!” Yeah, that’s a nice gesture I guess, but this type of representation doesn’t actually benefit our community.
To you, what makes a game ‘queer’?
I think a queer game reimagines the world and our understanding of gender / sexuality. It might uncover a new history that has been forgotten or neglected, or highlight new practices and processes.
What do you personally feel we should be looking for in games in regards to queer representation?
Queer characters in big budget blockbuster zombie shooters are fine and ok, but will always feel superficial to me no matter how much research a non-queer person does. Genuine queer representation is about supporting queer voices and their actual queer lived experiences.
You mentioned books, games, TV, music, etc inspired you. Was there something in particular that made you feel like ‘yes, this would be a great game’ or something like that?
It’s kinda unpredictable. Hard Lads came from the viral video British Lads Hit Each Other With a Chair, Succulent came from watching the film Inherent Vice where Josh Brolin fellates a popsicle, The Tearoom came out of the sociology study Tearoom Trade. I encourage anyone — when something hooks you, try to follow that desire to the end.
What advice can you give to those who want to get into video games, but are unsure where to start?
Mod your favorite game and join that creative community. Once you’ve worked with one game engine, that will help you learn the next one. Honestly, just make whatever you can live with.