Review: Beyond Eyes

The minute I saw Beyond Eyes on Steam, I was interested. A female protagonist with a disability, gorgeous art, and a mechanic that aims to put the player in the shoes of the blind protagonist were obvious selling points for me. Of course, it’s far too frequent that the playable character(s) in a computer game is/are white, male, able-bodied, and violent, so this was a refreshing change of pace. The game is a short story-driven adventure with gentle music, art reminiscent of watercolor painting, and text narration. You navigate the world as Rae, a blind ten-year-old girl who lost her sight as a toddler. The game’s creator, who is not blind but consulted with multiple blind folks to get a sense of blind perspective when working on the game, describes Beyond Eyes as “a video game about loss.” It is certainly that, in a way you don’t expect. But it’s also a game about sight, sensation, perception, and one’s own internal sense of the world.

A young girl and a cat with the text "Rae had never been this far from home, but she imagined Nani would have come here."
Textual cues expand upon the story and Rae’s inner world.
Unlike some indie games about vision loss, Beyond Eyes doesn’t fully take away the player’s visual cues and force you to rely on sound to navigate. I appreciate this as a hard-of-hearing person—for a game that’s about putting the player in the shoes of someone with a visual disability, it’s nice that it’s accessible to pretty much everyone except those who have that specific disability. Instead of taking away visual cues, the game limits visual cues and uses those limitations to approximate the blind experience for a player with vision. As Rae, you only see on the screen what she can perceive, so you find the world in bits and pieces as she walks around it. As an exploration game and as a walking simulator, this mechanic definitely makes it a bit different. The visual field beyond what Rae has already discovered is white, and so you can’t rely on sight at a distance to decide where to go.

Beyond the disorientation of this basic mechanic, there are also more subtle elements that give you a sense of Rae’s perspective. Early on in the game, you realize that a cool thing is happening. What you’re seeing is not limited to what Rae perceives with other senses exactly, as I’d originally assumed (and been a bit skeptical of, since you actually see a fair bit as soon as she touches one thing), but what she imagines based on that perception. Since she doesn’t always imagine what’s actually there, it’s useful to touch and get closer to the things you can see as a player, as they may change when she experiences them further. You also get (sound and smell) cues from more of a distance sometimes, which can be helpful for making your way.

A young girl stands near a drainage pipe and a ditch.
What at first sounds like a running brook turns out to just be a drainage pipe.
There is actual sound (as well as music) in the game, but Deaf and HH folks will be fine, as there’s no spoken narration and any sounds that are useful for navigation are echoed with visual cues (a crowing bird pulses on the screen, for example). In a practical sense, the game does also guide you somewhat by putting obstacles down when you’re getting way off track. There’s sparse text narration and occasional cuts from one “scene” to another to give a sense of pacing. I did get a bit lost at a couple of points, so the playthrough took 2.6 hours for me, but it didn’t get so frustrating that I ever wanted to stop playing the game.

Beyond the specifics of mechanics, I really like this game for mood and atmosphere. The visual style, music, text, and the story itself all give this game a lovely and distinct feel. It’s calm, but melancholy, and really evokes emotions in the player. You can feel for the girl you’re playing as, but she’s not presented as a victim or someone you need to “save” as the player, which I appreciate. I would recommend playing in a single sitting for an immersive experience—it’s also not super clear if there’s a way to pause or save, so I wouldn’t risk quitting the game. If you’re familiar with other indie adventure games, I’d say it’s similar in mood and feels factor to Gone Home, though it’s not point-and-click and you do have to get used to the fact that your interaction with the world as a player is entirely about walking exploration — there are no resources to grab or journals to read.

You can get Beyond Eyes for less than $15 on Steam, depending on the sale price of the moment, for Mac/OS/Linux, or for either of the current-gen consoles.

Review: The Right Side of History

cover of The Right Side of HIstoryAs I read The Right Side of History: 100 Years of LGBTQI Activism (Adrian Brooks, ed., published by Cleis Press) I vacillated between feeling like this collection is an important addition to the queer U.S. history canon and wishing that it could be just a little bit more. I found the pre-Stonewall chapters quite refreshing, something different from a lot of the histories I’ve read that tend to be either highly academic and theoretical in discussing gendered behavior and queer urban geographies, or tightly centered around the specifics of the 1950s-1970s gay and lesbian movements. Several of those books have a place in my heart, Martin Duberman’s Stonewall in particular, but I’m always in favor of a new twist, and the opening chapters of this book deliver.

The Right Side of History falls in between anthology and single-author work, with about a third of the chapters written by Brooks and other authors taking up one or two chapters each. The topics coalesce around the theme of 20th century queer activism in the U.S., but also vary quite a bit, discussing people as much as movements and wandering between major historical figures and the more obscure. I particularly liked how the pre-Stonewall section of the book focuses on topics you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find in a history of queer or gay activism: Isadora Duncan, Josephine Baker, the 1934 Longshoremen’s Strike. There are some great threads picked up here around how anarchism, socialism, labor movements, and racial justice movements contributed to the development not just of queer activism in the U.S. but of a culture in which queer activism takes place.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find that those threads were consistently followed through to modern history in this collection. The mishmash of personal stories, interviews, and more removed histories is enjoyable, and there were certainly chapters I appreciated about movements post-Stonewall—Merle Woo’s chapter was a highlight, as was the inclusion of a piece by intersex activist Tiger Howard Devore—but the later chapters for the most part fail to deliver on the radical promise of the book’s introduction. While I appreciated the framing of actions in the 1950s and 1960s as radical for their time, I don’t love the way the book sets up an arc from truly radical movements to the 1990s and 2000s gay nonprofit-industrial complex as if interviews with Barney Frank and Evan Wolfson are a natural conclusion to this activist story. While inclusion of authors of color and trans authors is certainly a welcome relief in such a collection, I found myself bothered by the fact that Miss Major Griffin-Gacy’s account of Stonewall is the only chapter that gets a sort of disclaimer and is followed by other witnesses’ memories of the event. Certainly, there are a lot of debates around the facts Stonewall, but was this really necessary?

Overall, I think the book is a worthwhile addition to the canon, and I love the way it ties together political and social history with cultural and artistic history, jumping among perspectives, but it could have gone further. I’d have loved to see interviews with Reina Gossett or CeCe McDonald, for example, rather than so many snippets from Brooks’ personal history.

Review: Show Yourself to Me

show yourself to me by xan west coverI can honestly say that I’ve never read an erotica collection like this before. To me, this book is to other pieces of BDSM erotica as the full, messy, grown-up experience of BDSM play and practice is to the overblown kinky erotica fairytales I read at thirteen in the early days of the Internet, about ravishment as romance and mysterious silent doms who could somehow know everything about their submissives without asking and effortlessly make them fly. As Annabeth Leong writes in the book’s introduction, “[Show Yourself to Me] is about knowing that BDSM really can make you fly, but remembering how sore your muscles may be afterward from the effort of pumping your wings.”

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The Kinky Side of Twine

I was first introduced to Twine games only last year, when I sat down to review Merritt Kopas’s Consensual Torture Simulator. While this is that review, I’ve also in the long time between playing that game and getting a chance to write this come upon several other games in the fairly specific genre of kinky interactive fiction. Interactive fiction games, generally written using a platform called Twine, fall into a niche that seems to appeal especially to queer audiences and others exploring “alternative” modes of sexuality through writing games. This is a genre that plenty of us nerdy queers are hungry for, but it takes a moment to get used to the conventions of Twine and understand what you’re doing, exactly, when you play a Twine game.

On the plus side, Twine games are typically under $5 and easy to play on any computer. They’re also (or at least seem, from a consumer point-of-view) fairly simple to create in a technical sense, which makes them accessible to those looking to tell a story outside the mainstream without a ton of resources to do so. If you’re looking for more on Twine in general, Kopas has curated a book on the subject, Videogames for Humans. The basic idea, though, is that the game itself is a series of screens with text, hyperlinks, and sometimes images. Like a choose your own adventure novel, you follow the often-branching path the author has created for you by clicking on the links and seeing where the creator’s imagination takes you. Here, I’m particularly interested in how game creators are helping their readers to engage with kink through the medium.

[talk of NSFW content behind the cut]

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Seeking Resources on Healing from Emotional Abuse

I recently had a revelation that hit me pretty hard, in the process of doing some really good productive poly stuff and learning how to evaluate my relationships at face value (rather than wondering if I’m somehow “failing” in comparison to my metamours). I realized that I have some hangups I’ve never really fully formed in my conscious mind about the concept of “love” in a romantic relationship, and they come in part from a relationship about four years ago that I, at least, experienced as emotionally abusive.
Now that I’m starting to fully grasp what’s going on in my brain here, I’m craving some kind of support, but also not sure what that looks like. Therapy is one option I might pursue, but I also would love some peer support around this, and it’s murky because the fact is that my experience was not black and white. I don’t think my former partner will ever see her actions as abusive or manipulative, and when I think of them as such I sometimes feel guilty. What I perceived as using against me my need to emphasize that “I love you” isn’t a conditional thing that goes away when there’s a fight, she may have experienced as just not saying those words when she wasn’t feeling them.
There’s a lot of stuff like that that could easily go two ways, but I feel a need to talk it out with others who might have insights on healing from emotional trauma, because I do think that either way there’s a healing process I haven’t exactly completed by just letting time pass. I’m doing better, but I would like to develop stronger skills around self-esteem, and viewing the “love” words as less emotionally loaded — more like a gift or a neutral emotion that people can express than a tool or a weapon. Does anyone happen to have resources that might be helpful, or some sort of support group information (that would be appropriate for someone who hasn’t experienced physical or sexual abuse)? Alternatively, if this just resonates with you and you’d like to talk 1-on-1, let me know how I can get in touch. Thanks in advance!

Using Technology to Go the Fuck to Sleep

screenshot of the Ambiance app on an iPhoneAs I near my thirtieth birthday, I’m becoming more and more familiar with intermittent bouts of insomnia. Sometimes I’ll sleep great for a week or two, but other times I have difficulty falling asleep or (more new for me) staying asleep. I’m even writing this post at 2:30 in the morning after five hours of sleep. In other words, my life has turned into one of those sleeping pill commercials. But I’m not particularly keen on pharmaceutical remedies, other than the occasional dose of valerian root when I have something really important in the morning, so I’ve turned to whatever my iPhone can offer to seek assistance in turning my brain off and catching some zzzs. This post isn’t a comprehensive review of all the apps and podcasts out there in this genre, but it’s a sampling of some of the things I’ve tried. Let me know about your strategies in the comments!

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Review: The Submissive Playground

For a change from all the book reviews in the Sex & Relationships section here at Queer & Now, I decided last year that I wanted to find more of a sexual experience to review for you lovely readers, something that’s offered regularly and available for you to try yourselves. Since most kink events don’t welcome press coverage, I had to do some digging, but I eventually stumbled upon something called the Submissive Playground, facilitated by writer and educator Sinclair Sexsmith. Having worked with Sinclair previously at a queer erotic bodywork workshop, I thought this would be an awesome opportunity, and so I participated in the Playground for an eight-week course in the summer of 2014.  If this review interests you, the course is running again right now, but stay tuned to the website for the next round, and in the meantime dominant folks have a couple of weeks left to register for Mastering Dominance, a half-day online workshop from Sinclair that takes place on February 22nd. If it’s anything like my experience in the Submissive Playground, I’d highly recommend it!

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Review: Blackmail, My Love

I’ll admit to some initial skepticism when Cleis Press asked me to review a murder mystery, Katie Gilmartin’s Blackmail, My Love. Mystery is far from my favorite genre, but I was intrigued by Gilmartin’s background as an artist and former cultural studies professor, as well as advanced press promising a deep understanding of post-war queer San Francisco. A well researched piece of fiction, to me, is often as alluring as my preferred non-fiction social histories, and this book was no exception.

I was particularly relieved to find a lack of anachronism in the book’s treatment of gender roles in lesbian as well as gay male subcultures, and further interested in the way Gilmartin treats a broad cast of gender non-conforming characters across the spectrum. Within the foreboding noir tone that frames a plot around blackmail and a murdered brother, there are surprisingly coherent philosophical discussions around trans identity versus drag performance, gender identity over the lifespan, and the relationships between queer community members that might otherwise never meet. I had trouble following all the characters at times, but I really enjoyed the way Gilmartin blends historical accuracy and realistic anti-queer sentiment with a perspective on queer culture that includes racial diversity and more nuance than some accounts of 1950s queer communities might suggest. Gilmartin’s narrative brings alive the voices of very real San Francisco queers forgotten to history in the form of her fictional characters.

Gilmartin will be reading from Blackmail, My Love this Thursday at Good Vibrations in Berkley, 6:30 pm.

Review: The Big Book of Submission

Released this summer from Cleis Press and edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel, one of my favorites, it admittedly took me a while to read and review The Big Book of Submission. Why? Well, it’s not really a book made for reading all in one sitting. With a mishmash of genders, D/s dynamics, and points of view, these 69 stories are perhaps best for grabbing on the go one at a time, skipping those that hit your triggers and flipping through for the stories that hit your own submissive buttons.

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Review: Gaysia

gaysia cover

[crossposted from Radically Queer]

When I recently received a copy of Benjamin Law’s Gaysia to review, I admit I was a bit skeptical, given the title. I needn’t have been worried, however. Law blends an accessible journalistic style familiar to fans of travel writing with solid research and investigation into various queer cultures in the countries he visits. Each chapter focuses on a country, and I was happy to find that despite the cheeky title, the coverage is quite comprehensive when it comes to queer identities and communities. Law focuses quite a bit on transfeminine folks of various identities, as well as queer people involved in sex work, silenced lesbians, and even the often-abused wives of MSM in a repressive society, showing a refreshing willingness to consider queer life from all angles. The account is honest, as Law admits his own ignorance going into some situations, and thus particularly accessible to the reader who is interested in but not particularly familiar with queer Asian cultures.  I was eager to ask Law some questions about his process and what he learned in his travels.

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