Unfortunately a little frustrating and lacking in its current state, but I really hope you guys finish it post-jam, it's got a lot of potential and a neat concept, and I'd definitely play a completed version of it!
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Is there anywhere to find information on the individuals who worked on this game, and specifically, whether those who worked on it were individuals with cognitive disability? I don't really have any interest in supporting or uplifting a gawking simulator, whether the claim is that it's made to be educational or not, and whether those who made it are educators or medical professionals or not, and many pieces of "education media" relating to disability, especially cognitive disability, are made by ablebodied people who insist on talking for and over us, so I'm wary, especially given the language used in the description.
I'm gonna ramble a bit. The tl;dr is: I really, really enjoyed this.
The art is gorgeous, the music is gorgeous. The way it's all integrated is immersive, extremely well though out, and balances storytelling with gameplay really well. I've always thought these 'phones-as-an-extension-of-their-user' games are really interesting, but I'm not a fan of how most of them are done. This is an exception to that! I got this game in a bundle, so I hadn't read the description and didn't know what to expect from it beyond the warnings at the beginning. The story was told well, I like that it's kind of an "open world" story, something you discover in the order you choose to look through things to some degree, and as intensely as you choose to. It wasn't all told at once, it was something where you got the vibe of where things were going, but pieced it together without necessarily knowing the end-game, and I definitely think how quickly you parse it out has a lot to do with your experiences. The ending gave a closure I was worried wouldn't be there, and it's an ending that feels fulfilling. I really enjoyed the "puzzle" elements, they were simple enough to not be frustrating (with the exception of one password that had me stuck for a bit), but interesting enough to make you feel immersed and make it feel like a game properly. No part of this game disappoints, and I would absolutely recommend it!
Now, some potentially spoiler-y parts of my perspective on this game, do not read through if you haven't played yet!:
I think the forums were a really interesting and wonderful way to show that part of the story. It gave some education on trans topics to both questioning or newly-discovered trans people as well as cis people who may be playing the game, but there were no objective standpoints. I didn't agree fully with a chunk of the things characters in the forums said, but neither did other characters, and I appreciated the fact that those perspectives and conversations were realistic, they're conversations you'll have in a room full of trans people of different walks of life, and that was acknowledged in the game. There's no absolute, 100% correct answers or an objective trans experience, or LGBT experience in general. I really appreciated how this was done. It wasn't a shoe-horned PSA, it was an accurate perspective of a trans teenager seeking support, and the realistic perspectives of her support group. I liked it a lot.
The trope of "trans kid chooses variant of their birth name" is a little overdone and tired in media, and isn't all that common (though absolutely is the case for some) IRL, but here it makes sense, as it's a story you're figuring out and you wouldn't want to deadname your character in promotional materials or confusingly spoil the game, so I think it was a solid choice to go that route.
Lovely little thing! It's cute, could be super calming and is an absolutely beautiful game. I unfortunately couldn't get far though, and can't in good conscience recommend it to anyone who has migraines, epilepsy, motion sickness, or any similar problems. If there were settings to turn off the blur and turn down mouse sensitivity, this would be a perfect little relaxation simulator, but unfortunately the headache of moving the mouse even a little killed it for me. A really cute little thing regardless though, and if the blur isn't an issue for someone, I'd definitely say this is worth experiencing!
Absolutely meets the expectations set by every other Angela He game. Every single one of these games has hit me right in the gay and it hurts every time. This one isn't what I expected based on the description, and I don't think I was emotionally prepared for what followed, but it's kind of in line with most of Angela's other games, with themes of death and loss and unending love. A little suspension of disbelief is needed, but only on the fact that they stayed in the same house their entire lives without changing the furniture, and the topical nature of including the virus/quarantine was a little jarring and I'm not usually a fan of games that are doing that in this way (it's just a little too current to be using as plot drama, I think, especially with no form of content warning for its inclusion while people are actively facing that loss and fear right now), but neither in any way decreases or negates the quality of the game. Music is beautiful, art is beautiful, story is gut-wrenching. Would recommend.
Also just a specific compliment: The menu screen being a part of the actual game is really amazing, the note that is added to the book after completing the story in full made my heart ache.
I'm looking at this game + this comment again a year on and wanted to leave a note for anyone reading it now. When I wrote this, I was struggling to get sober, less than a month in, and this game hit me hard. Now, I'm 2 months past a year sober, building a life for myself with someone I love. It's worth it, it's more than worth it. There's ways to exist and a world without the abusive relationship that addiction traps you in. It's still hard, and you never stop being an addict. But you stop giving to addiction, you make a decision every day to choose something else, and that something else is yourself, your life, your present, your future. It's worth it.
The entire point of the game is that neither of this cut-and-dry words fit the identity of the person you're playing as. "Nonbinary" isn't one, singular third identity, it's a spectrum of identities and experiences that can't be explained in a way that's easy to consume, or that any cis person would be content with. The point that the entire game is making is that in a cisgender world we're expected to put ourselves in these boxes of male, female, blue, pink, one or the other, something that a cis person understands. The game stating an absence of identity rather than the exact description of the player characters identity is the entire POINT of the game. Because in a binary world, being nonbinary is an absence, it doesn't fit. "You are nonbinary" seeming like a valid fix for this, is a shoe-horned, cisgender way of looking at the point of this game.
I don't think a game called "This Strange, Binary World" really needs a complete introductory paragraph on the protagonist being nonbinary, that's kind of self-evident, and no game with a binary protagonist would need a complete introductory paragraph explaining That...
I don't really think that's a fair criticism, as someone who suffers from suicide ideation and has attempted multiple times: Most people don't want to die. Most people want to be heard. Most of us will grasp at any "sign" that we shouldn't do it that we can. I don't think she opened up too quickly, that's like, fair to how a lot of us handle it. The road to recovery isn't as quick and easy as the good ending made it out to be, but it makes sense for the game that it is.
And as someone who lost a very close friend to suicide, maybe the dialogue is saccharine, maybe it is a bit head-in-the-clouds, but god, did it feel good to play through. Because I wasn't there. And I couldn't stop it. And it was really nice to have the opportunity to.
As someone who's struggled with addiction this is... so intensely accurate to the feeling. And I'm sure that's applicable to other things, mental illness, specifically eating disorders have similar feelings attached. It's such a concise, painful, beautiful, achingly direct representation of how it feels. This toxic relationship with numbness, with escapism, with a pain that you made into a part of you... It's hard to shake. The "good ending," with the friend, that's really important to me. Having support systems is how you get away. Addictions, mental illness, even literal abusive relationships, all convince you they're your only friend, your only support. They work by isolating. Please, if you're suffering, don't let yourself be isolated. People care. If not people you have now, seek some out. Find support. Whether in support groups, online, in a hobby group, school, whatever.