The Challenges of Smooch Month Game Piles

Smooch Month draws to a close, and with it I find myself, once again, asking questions about this month and its themes and what about I find so difficult.

I do like giving the month the theme it has; I think it’s good to watch some movies that are out of my type, and it gives me a chance to talk about things that I normally keep pretty close to my chest. I can talk about movies in this space with a lot of fun, high-level ‘oh isn’t this interesting’ or ‘you deserve better’ kind of tut-tuttery, especially because making fun of mediocre movies is easy and enjoyable.

Games are the place things get tricky, because despite what you may think, there aren’t a lot of smoochy games that I have anything interesting to say about.

First there’s your Visual Novel/Dating Sim. They’re a rich field and that field is mostly split between two basic groups; sincere games building on the history in the genre, and ironic games using the genre as an excuse to avoid scrutiny or to make jokes. I’m really not here for irony poisoning, and the sincere games tend to involve the tropes and standards of a media form that is way too okay with garbage men. There are a lot of gay ones, but I feel frozen out there too, for reasons that are more about my relationship to queerness.

When you set aside commercial products, or even ‘complete videogames’ like jam games and the like, there’s an intense intimacy to a lot of extremely-small market itch games. Criticising the work or content or choices there would be a lot more like directly criticising the person making it, and since they’re not businesses with marketing departments, that makes me feel like an asshole. Not to mention it’s just not the kind of attention they want. Itch has an online marketplace full of people trying something experimental that want to see eyes on it, they don’t want to be judged like they’re part of a greater project the way I do.

If I like a microcreator’s work and don’t want to treat it to a critical examination like it’s part of ‘the gaming landscape,’ I’d much rather just share it on a tweet and say something like ‘check it out’ or if I really liked it, point it out in Decemberween. Especially when I don’t know how a creator is going to take a comment on their work. I’ve seen creators violently upset when I praise their work, because they dislike me personally, so I’d really rather not do anything that’s going to make anyone’s day being thoughtless.

There’s also an element with all those visualĀ  novels that I, once, thought would be great fodder for this: I don’t enjoy them at all. Playing through Hustle Cat last year was agonising, for example, because the protagonist who was meant to be me could never act like me and did not resonate with me. It’s amazing how much the limited control of a visual novel upsets me if the character is meant to be me, as opposed to someone whose story I’m watching.

Visual novels are often a lot like a very gentle ghost train where you push some indescribable setting and get ferried along to a destination and the lack of control means your character winds up being a sort of feckless douche at best. Often for the sake of drama they have to just have no ideas in their head or nothing they care about and I mean, I get the jokey stereotype of a Millenial is they like naps and want to die and that’s it, but speaking for myself, I always find being asked to inhabit this persona and enjoy being them for a while really unpleasant.

Meanwhile when we look to videogame relationships in a broader sense, a dude being reasonably inoffensive or demonstrating a momentary capacity to not be an asshole is seen as a gift. Characters in videogames regularly and routinely represent Homer Simpson’s ideal of ‘complete dependence’ as a romantic positive, unironically. Women are obsessively patient and dogged because that’s the only way to make contact with a lot of emotionally unavailable dingholes.

And then, boy, I’m super alienated from lesbian content. Not because I can’t empathise with or enjoy the protagonists or anything like that, but because I feel it’s inherently risky for me to comment on anything that may be someone’s Problematic Fave either positively or negatively. I don’t feel I can just do Girl Hot positive analysis (and I kinda have a disdain for it) because I haven’t actually built this place around you understanding things like what I find hot about women. I still remember how when I expressed distress about how so few games, media, books or stories gave me decent hetero romances where the guy was anything but garbage, and that I was looking for that, the number of people who volunteered that I should watch lesbian stuff instead.

It’s hard. I get it.

And it’s something games do dreadfully.

And it’s something where my particular skillset just hasn’t got anything going on. My parameters kick out a lot of smooch games that might have otherwise been seen as great, because I just don’t have anything to say about Hatoful Boyfriend that hasn’t been said by people who know birds and the genre and the ability to laughingly make fun of the idea of enjoying a visual novel game about falling in love better than I.

I like Smooch month.

But I hate having to write about games for Smooch Month.

The aim going forward – with a full year ahead of me – is to save some games up throughout the year that might fit it. The problem is, I did that last year too, and in that whole process, I got my hands on one game that fit: Tussie-Mussie.

This shouldn’t be this hard.