Gambit’s A Closed World is an eloquent and beautiful flash game that deserves our attention for doing something no other game has. First, it’s a game that uses gay issues as its premise. Second, its Pokemon-ish battle system promotes using reason, instead of just obliterating an opponent with bullets or blades. However, it still manages to maintain an intensity that makes violence seem a simpler path.
This tiny game has many pockets; right from the start it challenges ideas on gender and love. A Closed World contains no gender tags or markers, beyond names like “sister” or “mother.” Your character model is the same whether you choose a male or female protagonist, and the monsters you fight are stylized, monstrous and lovely, none bearing any resemblance to a male or female form that has been modified.
Meeting these monsters takes you into a verbal battle with your foe. These foes are not physical, though, since these conflicts take place in your mind, as you struggle to deal with the fallout of accepting your sexuality and coming out. The conversations with these monsters’ real world counterparts have already taken place, so what you have left are the echoes and reverberations in your head. You struggle to keep your composure and get your mind around and through the prejudices, guilt, shame, ignorance and fear they have tried to tattoo on your brain.
They make a statement, and you meet it with a passionate plea, a logical one, or an ethical one. Arguments on both sides read simply, “Why can’t you just let me be who I am?” or, “You’re not mom, so stop trying to take her place,” while your opponent tries to break you with bigotry or guilt. While simple, the dialogue is brilliantly chosen to mirror any number of conversations that might spawn from the situation, making the game feel personal and bringing a very visceral reaction and stream of memories from my own experience coming out and coming to terms.
A Closed World is a smart little game that uses social awareness to help young gays feel less alone and shows the universal emotions and struggles involved in coming out to yourself and to others. It is also a way for straight folks to gain some sort of empathy for the experience, a laudable goal to be sure. Its art style is lyrical, simple and lovely, and its words are poetry, but it is not without problems.
It isn’t very game-y in the traditional sense. It’s setup is to teach or show, rather than to play, so there doesn’t seem to be any real risk of losing. But winning or losing doesn’t seem to be the intent of this game; the intent is to experience it, to allow it in, to join in its journey.
A Closed World hopes to open the world up to understanding what it takes to really look at yourself and the world and claw your way into it. Within the game are some really potent messages, like true love doesn’t lead the way and not all loves survive. Love is not a Band-Aid, and no matter who is with us or against us, our journey is internal and alone, and that is frightening and enlightening, crippling and transcendent. The game offers no guarantees or simple solutions. While simplistic in design and execution, A Closed World is rich and multi-layered, and I look forward to analyzing it in future segments.
Meanwhile, give it a try, savor it and allow yourself to really experience it…and celebrate that a team of folks created it. You can play A Closed World for free at the official website.
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Frag Dean is a podcaster on Silly Frags, available on iTunes, Sticher and sillyfrags.com.