Monday, February 29, 2016

Queer Game Analysis: Mattie Brice's Mainichi

[Spoilers for Mainichi ahead]

The first panel I attended at GaymerX2 in 2014 was titled “Gaming and Intersectionality: How Politics and Games Collide.” Among the panelists was games critic, developer, and activist Mattie Brice. Brice talks a little bit in the panel about how she got bored with seeing the same representation in games, seeing the same characters pop up and being forced to play the same unintelligent and emotionally stunted male character propositioning a female character who has no real idea why she is there. Brice talked about this helping inspire her to make a game about herself; this is where I first heard about her game Mainichi. Although I had heard it talked about a lot after that day, it wasn’t until a couple weeks ago that I actually downloaded and played through Mainichi.

How I Played the Game

My character wakes up in her home and comments that she has a few hours to get ready before her coffee date with her friend. Though, my character looks over at the bed and says it’s tempting to just jump into bed and take a nap. My character then thinks, “I should try being more positive today.” As I explore the house, I’m presented with several options to interact with in her home, so I play some video games and eat some food. I attempt to take a shower, but my character thinks she doesn’t have enough time, so I try to put on some make up. Unfortunately, I can’t put on make up since I didn’t have time to take a shower, so I go and take a nap instead. After these three decisions, it’s time to head to my coffee date, so I leave through the front door.

I walk across the street and pass several people, who turn and look toward my character’s direction. I walk around a group of people, when suddenly some text populates at the top of the screen:
“Oh my god, look. Is that a boy or a girl?”
“Shhh! They’ll hear you!”
“But isn’t that gross!?”
I continue walking down the street, when a guy intercepts my path and tries to talk with my character.  However, upon getting close enough to see me, he backs off and says, “Holy shit, YOU’RE A MAN! FUCK!” As I continue to walk across the street and into the coffeehouse, he proceeds to say relatively hurtful things, including “DID YOU SEE IT!? WATCH OUT FOR THAT MAN!”

As I arrive in the coffeehouse, I’m greeted by my friend, who asks if I can pick us up some coffee while she finishes up a call. I walk up to the clerk, who greets me as “Sir” and after ringing me up after I choose to pay with card calls me “Mr. Brice.”  I walk over to the barista and try to “catch his attention” (i.e. flirt with him), but he reads my character as a “dude” while handing me my drinks. After delivering the coffee to my friend, she notices my annoyance and asks if everything is okay. My character says, “It’s just hard to be happy sometimes.” My friend respond, “You shouldn’t care about what people think of you. Your friends love you and that’s all that matters.” The screen goes black, and I am returned to opening scene.

Realizing that I must have not made the right decisions, I play through it again, this time choosing to take a shower, to put on make up, and to dress up fancy for my coffee date. As I leave the house, I realize it’s probably best to avoid people, so I decide to walk across the street where there are far fewer people, even though it’s a bit more of a round about way to the coffee shop. I get to the coffee shop, approach the clerk, and he greets me: “Hello there Miss!” and I pay with cash instead of paying with card. But it’s when I’m successfully flirt with the barista and he asks if I want to hang out during his break that I knew putting more effort into prettying myself up would pay off. I drop the coffee off with my friend, who can tell I’m looking chipper this time. I tell her that I think the cute barista is going to ask me out, and she says, “Does he know? You know? I just don’t want you to get hurt.” A frustrated thought bubble pops over my character’s head, and the screen goes black yet again, only to bring me back to my bedroom with a few hours to spare before the coffee date.

Everyday Affective Lives and Game Design

Mainichi both frustrated and pleased me, all within a short 20 minutes. I wanted a happier ending. I wanted things to turn out better for my character. But that frustration got me to reflect on my experiences and feelings while playing this game.

Firstly, I realize that my emotional responses and affective experiences of the game mimic what I imagine Brice feels on a daily basis. My desire to do better my second time playing through the game gives me a glimpse into the everyday strategic ways in which mundane activities shape the ways my character—as a trans woman of color—interacts with the world. My character and I together experienced those transphobic words, and the passersby staring to figure out my character’s gender, and the constant misgendering and gender policing. The game also gives me a glance into Brice’s everyday affective life, with lines such as “I should try being more positive today” and with both happy thought bubbles when something positive happens (e.g. playing a video game or successfully flirting with the barista) or frustrated thought bubbles when something annoying happens (e.g. being misgendered or overhearing someone calling my character gross for being trans). The game even addresses some of the complexities of allyship, where your friend chides you for getting your hopes up when you flirt with the barista, veiled under the claim that she “do[esn’t] want you to get hurt.”

Secondly, the game design itself, while quite simple, is effective in communicating personal elements of Brice’s life as a black trans woman. On her website, Brice notes that Mainichi “helps communicate daily occurrences that happen in my life, exploring the difficulty in expressing these feelings in words.” She continues that the game “stands as a commentary of how we currently use game design for broad strokes of universal experiences instead of the hyper-personal, and often exclude minority voices.”  The design of the game, making you relive the same day over again shares those experiences of what it means to navigate the world as a trans woman of color and to constantly experiencing microagressions regarding your gender and race. (On a separate playthrough when I prettied myself up but walked through the crowded street, one woman commented on how pretty my character’s hair/afro was and asked if she could touch it.) This “hyper-personal” narrative, rather than disconnecting us from Brice’s character, immerses players into her experiences, allowing for players to identify with her character and connect with her experiences of both pleasure and discrimination. And while it’s kind of depressing to say it, there’s a powerful meaning behind not being able to win this game. You try harder every subsequent playthrough, but you can never quite escape the cyclical nature of not feeling good enough. And that is both frustrating, but enlightening at the same time!


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