Everything in A House of Many Doors is Bizarre, Except Queerness

A House of Many Doors is a recent exploration RPG where everything is fantastical and bizarre, yet queerness is treated as entirely normal.

Somewhere among the bandits and eldritch abominations that lurk in the dark, my brave explorer fell in love. She did have a previous relationship with the craft’s navigator, an older woman, full of spirituality, who treated her with care and respect. But the one for her is Genevieve Caul, a bright, wry woman – who also happens to be a vampire.

It’s a bizarre relationship – but not because it’s between two women.

Yet these wonderful partnerships have only been between two women because of my personal decision to treat my adventurer as female. She is never referred to as such in the game; the text refers to “you” and the other characters use gender-neutral terms of address like “boss.” Instead of enforcing anything, the game simply offers up a set of portraits to use as the face of your character and makes no assumptions based upon your decision.

No gender here, only style.

Staying Focused

It makes sense that a society preoccupied with occult horrors and intense political machinations wouldn’t particularly care who loves whom or have the time to uphold the gender binary, yet this doesn’t always follow. Major releases such as The Witcher 3 and Fallout: New Vegas portray societies that must deal with both monsters and power struggles and yet for some reason instead spend time and energy persecuting LGBTQIA+ people such as Mislav the hunter and Veronica Santangelo respectively.

Carrying this real world bigotry wholesale into fictional worlds alienates queer fans. Conversely, developers who interrogate their underlying assumptions during world building can create an escapist fantasy that is inclusive of everyone, including LGBTQIA+ players looking for a break from having to deal with traditional power structures. Moreover, it is important for demonstrating that inequality is not a de facto state and that a setting can feel threatening or oppressive without copying the all-too-real stressors of marginalised people.

A House of Many Doors is just one game that has avoided doing this.; interactive fiction often has great queer representation. In particular, this game is funded in large part by Fundbetter, a wing of Failbetter, which produces many games that follow a similar line tonally, mechanically, and in terms of diversity and representation. One of these, Fallen London, is even free and available to play in browser or as an app, so it’s certainly something worth looking into for those searching  for representation or simply something a little different in a catalogue of straight and cis characters.

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Jay Castello

Jay is a freelance games writer specialising in intersectional feminist critique, how to improve games and use them to improve the world, and cute dogs. She loves inhabiting digital spaces in all their forms, and being constantly surprised by just how weird and wonderful games can be.


One response to “Everything in A House of Many Doors is Bizarre, Except Queerness”

  1. The game that this is based off, Sunless Sea, does this as well- it even asks how you would like your captain to be addressed.

    I find some of your points bizarre. Yes it is cool that this setting doesn’t have anti-LBGT elements, and it’s fairly unusual for games to do this neatly (without blowing a trumpet about the inclusion of the possibility of same-sex relationships for example) but why should other settings not include them? Should games not be allowed to tackle topics like transphobia, homophobia, sexism or racism? What is it about games compared to other forms of media that make them unsuitable for tackling these kinds of topics?

    Not aware of the example in Fallout, so I can’t comment, but I have played the Witcher 3. I find it strange that you assume the persecution faced by the hunter alienates queer fans. Did you think his story was written because the writers were bigots? I don’t see how you could. The point of him is to show the societal problems in the Witcher 3 universe- that they’ll treat a person who is homosexual like they’re a monster. I don’t think this is a case of them carrying over bigotry into games and I don’t think it’s the problem you make it out to be.

    But perhaps I’m misreading what you’re implying. Anyway, I agree with the overall gist of the article- variety is nice and it’s refreshing for a dark setting not to have the same types of inequalities found in the real life present and past.

    I wonder if you could have a dark game-world without class based inequalities/persecution.

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