This App Turns Coming Out Into a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Experience
You may not long to relive those awkward days of high school when you would scramble to come up with excuses like studying at the library to cover for the time you spent at your boyfriend's house—or worse, the time when you had to have one of those painful teenage talks with your parents.
With the Coming Out Simulator, 19-year-old game developer Nicky Case takes another crack at some of the hardest conversations he's ever had. The Coming Out Simulator tells a fictionalized story inspired by Case's own experience coming out to his mother as bisexual four years ago. Case is the designer of a popular game, Nothing to Hide, in which an anxious girl named Poppy tries to follow the rules of her surveillance-obsessed world. As a narrative-based game, the Simulator is a departure from his past projects, though Case points out that it's still concerned with a "social cause."
The game's structure and narrative are simple. The main character, Nicky, a waifish and wry college student with a shock of black hair, is getting pressure from his boyfriend, Jack, to tell his parents about their relationship. After texting with Jack, Nicky promises to try to break the news to his mother and heads downstairs for dinner.
The simulator gives players three options for handling each situation. There's no competition and no correct answers, but players may find themselves choosing more conciliatory, stubborn, or unpredictable responses to see how characters will respond.
The ambivalent protagonist, his abusive father, his pushy ex-boyfriend, and his controlling mom chat in text-message bubbles, and along the way the player gets to choose what Nicky does next.
At dinner when Nicky's mother starts getting on his case about spending too much time with Jack, Nicky can either tell her he and Jack are dating, say they're just friends, or vehemently deny their relationship ("We're. Not. Boyfriends").
The player must decide when and if Nicky should be honest with his loved ones. In almost every instance, Nicky can choose to lie, tell the truth, or tell a "half-truth."
The whole premise of the game is something of a half-truth. Case had wanted for a while to tell his coming-out story, but he realized that he had to make it "semifictionalized" because "I could let terrible things happen to my past self in this game if I'm not actually writing about me in the past." For example, Case's father actually left the family years before he came out and wasn't around when he told his mother.
Though there's no way to win or lose at the Coming Out Simulator game, there are scenarios with some pretty punishing outcomes. Depending on how Nicky responds to his parents' questions, he can end up having to transfer schools, running away from home, or getting punched in the face.
Case says his game is different from others because "what matters is not the consequence but the decision itself."
This take on coming out is unusual and ambiguous. Unlike many discussions of gay visibility, the Coming Out Simulator doesn't take for granted that life immediately gets better for people who tell their loved ones and family the truth about their sexuality.
Case says he wanted to remind enthusiastic advocates that coming out has risks.
"If anything, the game really says that it really, really depends on figuring out how your parents will actually react," Case says.
For all Case's talk of half-truths and lies, the notion that coming out isn't always easy is a refreshingly candid idea that could nudge more people to choose to open up.
Many of the more than 30,000 people who have played the game so far have responded to his candor. "Because the game was sort of sad and depressing, it was able to reach people who didn't relate to the happy, optimistic stories," Case says.
When he was testing it with his friends, one very masculine guy who "acts kind of like a brogrammer" ended up coming out to him.
"I would not have suspected a damn thing," Case says. He "reassured" his friend, he says, that "you can take your time coming out to other people if you want. You don't have to feel any pressure."