As a queer woman growing up, interacting with other girls felt like navigating a minefield. They didn’t seem to give it a second thought before reaching out for a hug, grabbing your hand, or touching your hair and exclaiming “How soft!” before the others swarmed in to see for themselves. In the same breath they’d use “gay” as an insult and compliment each other’s bras as if it’d be rude not to. And sleepovers – oh god the sleepovers – were the height of my anxiety. I felt undercover, an unwilling secret agent struggling to follow the unspoken rules of acceptable physical contact the others seemed to know by heart. I spent many nights wide-eyed, reviewing my actions, wondering if I’d left any clues. If they ever figured out that I wasn’t straight, I was certain I’d be kicked out. Branded a pervert. Ostracized.
These themes of anxiety and uncertainty among queer women appeared again and again as I played games from this year’s Yuri Game Jam. Developer Huegor summed it up best in this quote from their light-hearted sleuthing adventure, Gaytective: “Let’s face it – there’s something inherently uncomfortable about womanhood, which all boils down to power dynamics and norms.”
Originally intended for visual novels, the first jam began in 2015 as a call for more games about the relationships between queer women. Fans responded with dozens of creations, and their enthusiasm drew praise from across the queer community, inspiring gaming news site Fem Hype to launch its own queer-themed game jam, Sugar, Sweets, and Jam, the next year. Subsequent years opened up submissions to all genres.
Developers were given two months (September 1 through October 31) to complete their games this year, and over 60 submitted their creations. Entries ran the gambit from walking simulators to shooters to rhythm games.
In one, the previously mentioned Gaytective, you play as a gumshoe for a wealthy patron who tasks you with uncovering her guest’s sexualities at her gala. Infectious electronic music plays in the background as you speak with a diverse range of women, rendered in an adorably simplistic art style, and mark them down as “Gay” or “Nay.” The writing is sharp, with each guest offering their unique brand of dry humor, internet references, or tongue-in-cheek commentary on gender and queer theory. My favorite, Monica, embodied every stereotype of a white, middle-aged soccer mom; she offered me gluten-free cookies and confided in me her love for Fifty Shades of Gray, even though some parts were a bit intense.
In another entry, House, I played as something I never had before: a…well, a house. This visual novel takes place in the future after a revolution for building liberation once people discover buildings are sentient and can talk through computers. The story follows one of the earliest-built smart houses after she welcomes her first guest since the war and slowly falls in love with her – a relationship not unheard of in this universe but one still forging new ground. The developer expresses the home’s realization of these feelings and nervousness in touching ways that resonated with me as someone who’s had to navigate that initial confusion.
Other entries delve into these themes of self-discovery in more traditional settings, such as Can you say my name again (NSFW) and Before they leave, both of which focus on groups of young women coming to terms with their feelings for one another while also struggling with mental illness. Through their interactions, the characters find community, acceptance, and occasionally romance in the company of their friends, and grow stronger as people because of it.
Still others prefer to laugh at these anxieties. Hi no homo pits two players against one another, each playing as a member of the same sex, and challenges them to successfully make small talk and shake hands. Each player controls the upward and forward motions of their hand, but intentionally wonky physics make it easy to accidentally brush against a breast or grab an arm and pull them in for a kiss. Not that the avatars are complaining, necessarily.
“Note: playing this extremely realistic simulation of everyday interaction may cause side effects of smiles, discomfort, and crippling realizations,” reads a warning on the game’s home page.
All Yuri Game Jam entries can be played here, the majority of which are free to play (including all of the titles mentioned above). This year’s jam was hosted by visual novel developers Carrogath and KittyKatStar, a member of the all-female game development team Apple Cider.