When I was a child, my dad took me to see Spider-Man (with Tobey MacGuire of course) for the first time. Watching Peter Parker go from being an underprivileged geek to a noble hero instilled a feeling of hope within me. But as I grew up, I realized that Peter Parker and I did not share similar experiences. Peter never had to worry about leaving his drink alone at a party, or if men would scream catcalls if he walked down the street. I yearned to see positive representation of women (let alone queer women) in sci-fi or action films, but it rarely graced the screen in a positive way. Let me put this in perspective: I saw Spider-Man in 2002. It's 2019 and this year is the first time a woman is headlining a Marvel film. In all my years of watching superhero films, this was one of the first times that I felt "seen" by Hollywood.
Stories like mine are an example of why diversity is important to so many people, and it's why many indie devs want to diversify their games. The upcoming visual novel Love Shore is one promising example that seeks to incorporate diversity within its narrative. Notably, the game features an all-LGBT cast, and is inclusive towards people of color and different backgrounds. I had the opportunity to reach out to writers Son and Emmett, in regards to their project. They too, spoke about the importance of diversity. Emmett believes that the visual novel medium has "room to play and grow" when it comes to the representation of people of color, as well as the LGBTQ community.
"Both Son and I grew up seeing media (not just in the realm of visual novels) that either placed Middle Eastern folks as terrorists, or as backwards foreigners needing to be saved by white folks," said Emmett. "Our leads, Sam and Farah, are both Arab, and Love Shore is a direct response to that lack of positive representation, so it’s an intensely personal venture for us."
The concept for Love Shore is interesting, as well, and is reminiscent of many sci-fi themes and narratives. The story centers on two S.Humans, or cyborgs, named Sam and Farah, and their investigations into the criminal underground of the city Love Shore. Farah's journey focuses on helping her friend Imani through "mysterious stuff," whereas Sam's centers on a revenge story. As you play, the storylines of the two protagonists intersect.
"Both of their storylines are how they deal with those problems and how they figure out themselves in the process," said Emmett. "It’s just that in a city like Love Shore, figuring yourself out sometimes means engaging in copious criminal activity and killing some gods along the way."
There are also approval rating mechanics, so you can check on your relationships with other characters. Additionally, Love Shore contains a ratings system based on strength, intelligence and courage. Your stats can potentially open up new dialogue options, providing a dynamic experience.
Love Shore is derived from a side story within Son's own horror work, TEETHING, which Son wanted to expand upon. Son reached out to Emmett via a phone call to talk about the idea. By the end of the call, Son asked Emmett to co-write and co-produce the game, specifically Farah's route.
"I love cyberpunk and I think there’s a lot of untapped potential in the genre to dive into some really cool themes," said Son. Since its inception, the two have changed a lot of the concepts together. Neither of them had worked on a project of this scale before.
"I’ve never written for games before this, period," said Emmett. "Even with my other fiction projects, this is definitely the most public and the biggest scale project I’ve taken on. I’m just glad I have a dope co-producer to help me out."
Originally, they began work on the demo in August. Son spent the majority of the summer networking and building the team. "It was definitely a learning curve," said Son. "I worked with two programmers before Jason, who fit me the best! But I’m happy with who stuck around with me this long!"
Their dedication to their team and understanding of the importance of paying people for their work is also why they have such a large Kickstarter goal — which sits at a whopping $50,000. In a long Twitter thread, Son delved further into this explanation.
"I believe in paying everyone fairly, and I was blessed to work with people who let me pay in increments, as I only work a minimum wage job during the day!" said Son on Twitter. Son also added, "My point is not for sympathy because I am happy to do it! But that $50,000 comes from wanting to pay everyone and have a beautiful and long game, filled with choices and options and endings."
The demo itself cost $11,000 to make, but was released for free. Although short, it allows you to play through a part of both Farah and Sam's storylines. The majority of the reviews have been positive. In fact, just search "Love Shore" on Twitter and you'll find a plethora of tweets from excited gamers.
"We’ve gotten feedback and critique," said Emmett, "but we’re mainly excited to show people the full scope of the game, since the demo itself doesn’t show off some of the great characters or mechanics we hope to implement in the full version."
Son added, "We’re only a handful of people with our own experiences, so it’s important to listen to others."
Ultimately, Son and Emmett hope that the game can challenge perceptions of LGBT content, and that stories with LGBT characters aren't just relevant to those within the community, but to gamers as a whole. Also, that players will understand that stories with LGBT characters deserve more; that they can be complex, rich in emotional depth, and are capable of addressing dark themes .
"I’m hoping that players take away the fact that queer, non-white leads in games can be interesting and relevant to everyone, not just to folks who occupy those particular marginalizations," said Emmett. "Our experiences are particular, but contain themes of struggle, love, and bravery that are universal."
They have a week to make their Kickstarter goal. To follow the development of the game, check out their Twitter. If you want to learn more about the game or support it, you can check out the Kickstarter here. And of course, if you want to play the demo, it's available for free on itch.io.