Saturday, March 2, 2024

Cabernet embraces the queer and controversial nature of vampires

Whether you love or hate them, vampires are here to stay in contemporary culture for the long run. Because they’re hot and sexy, because they embrace a darkness that has become seductive, and most importantly, because they are apt metaphors for all of the anxieties — queer and otherwise — that runs rampant inside us. The vampires in Cabernet are no exception to this rule.

When you think of a cabernet, you imagine a rich wine that’s dripping with black ink and a promise of a hangover. It tastes good and it looks good, and while it may be risky to consume more of it than necessary, you can’t quite help yourself. A fitting comparison for the protagonist of Cabernet, Liza. She is a young noblewoman who has the misfortune of being turned into a vampire, and as such, is thrust into this terrifying, yet exciting world of hierarchies and expectations that are not all that different from what she dealt with when she was alive. Just a tad deadlier.

Through Liza’s inexperience as a vampire and with the backdrop of the game being set in the 19th century Eastern Europe, developer Party for Introverts wanted to touch upon themes of alcohol and addiction — hence the name Cabernet. Blood isn’t just a fancy tipple you have when you want to feel a little naughty at dinner, it’s a life source, but unfortunately, one which can often lead to loss of life. Once Liza gets her first taste of blood, her struggle for control against her newly formed nature begins. And that struggle isn’t even a little pretty.

“A lot of vampire mediums is very glamorized. Sure, you can burn in the sun, but generally speaking, it’s awesome to be a vampire.” Arseniy Klishin, Co-Founder of Party for Introverts, told Gayming Magazine. “We wanted to show [vampirism] a little differently. If you live forever, it means that you also live with the mistakes forever. If you have to feed to survive, it also means that you have to hurt people who you feed from.”

Cabernet vampires

Morality isn’t exactly new in video games, particularly for fans of developers like Telltale Games and BioWare. The delightful pull of making a choice and feeling the impact of it through character actions and narrative changes often pushes us to play the game again and again, just to find out what’s different and how. Of course, when we think of how morality is shown in video games, our minds immediately go to the somewhat cartoonish example of Mass Effect 2’s Commander Shepard and the Paragon/Renegade options. If you did something bad, it would reflect within Shepard’s features becoming more robotic and red, whereas doing something good would heal Shepard’s facial scars and transform them back into a much more human-looking individual. This way of handling morality is fine for the most part, but it lacks the ambiguity that Cabernet thrives on.

Instead of Liza turning red or blue or what have you depending on what decision you make, Cabernet’s morality system focuses on Nihilism and Humanity. However, instead of an ‘evil’ act of Nihilism taking a point away from Humanity, the two sit side-by-side as one. You’re able to have the same amount of points in each category. Klishin describes the system as a way to convey that just because you’ve done something good, it doesn’t negate the bad that you’ve also done, and vice versa. There are layers of ambiguity to your actions, and the characters you meet across the game’s chapters will remember what you’ve done and will react accordingly.

Of course, there is a bar set for limitations. “You always have this bar. And this bar also sets limitations to what you’re going to do, because we wanted to be a little more consistent with players’ playstyle,” Klishin explained. “It wouldn’t make sense to be like a goody-two-shoes character for the whole game and then suddenly just went go on a rampage or something. It’s intentional.”

Not only will Liza have to pick and choose her own morale battles and struggle against her thirst for blood — and the power it can bring, both through in-game abilities and throughout the narrative — but she’ll also have to deal with vampire society alongside that of 18th-century values. As we’ve mentioned before, vampires have often been the conduits used to convey the ethereal outsider, so it goes without saying that queerness will be reflected not just within Liza’s own interests in romance options, but the people she meets too. Some are characters who she can romance (with writer Els White confirming that there is a lesbian romance option for players), but there are other characters who are queer too. They just aren’t that into you. Which characters are queer have not yet been confirmed outside of Peyta.

Cabernet vampires
Image Source: Party for Introverts

How these characters will react to Liza, as well as how Liza can react to others, is dependent on the player. While sexuality within vampiric society is mostly open-minded, co-founder Laura Gray, Klishin, and White did want to address difficult topics that would still be around during that time, such as homophobia, but did not want to make it a main focus. As queer gamers, players already encounter plenty of oppression for just living their life and being who they are and White told us he they didn’t want Cabernet to “add” to that and develop a story that was all “doom and gloom” for queer characters within the game. The characters of Cabernet, vampires and otherwise, are all “just living their lives and trying to make the best of it.”

“The direction on [the subject of queerness] is that Liza, as the main character, is allowed to be curious and is allowed to be ignorant. But she is not allowed to be judgmental, because there is no room or reason for that,” Klishin explained. Cabernet is a game where queerness is present, and the exploration of that is one the dev team hopes players enjoy.

But it isn’t just Cabernet that’s pretty LGBTQ+ inclusive. Party for Introverts informed us that the queer community surrounding the game has received the game extremely positively – particularly via the social media platform TikTok. From asking if there are same-sex romance options to questions about the game’s setting, queer players are itching to dive in. For Party for Introverts part, the team wants LGBTQ+ fans to know that they see them and that they are valued.

As White so aptly put, “I think [LGBTQ+ representation] is something people care about, and they care really strongly. So you just want to handle them with care back and give them something that’s really great because people are so hungry. There’s just not enough out there.”

Cabernet is set to release for PC sometime in 2024.

Aimee Hart

[She/They] Aimee Hart is Editor-in-Chief of Gayming Magazine. She specializes in queer fandom, video games and tabletop, having started her career writing for numerous websites like The Verge, Polygon, Input Magazine and more. Her goal now is to boost LGBTQ+ voices in the video games industry.