What exactly is a gay game?
When I first spoke with Up Multimedia’s Luke Miller back in 2013, My Ex-Boyfriend the Space Tyrant was already out – and proud – on PC. Miller touted the title as “Gayest Game Ever Made”, eventually taking it to Steam via its Greenlight service. Despite his game’s success, Miller’s answer to that relatively simple question wasn’t that clear-cut back in the day.
“I tried to make a game where everything was openly gay, from the characters to the vegetables to the aliens. And not just gay but un-apologetically gay,” Miller said.
Despite his creation being gayer than a dozen rainbows, Miller thought the real question was whether or not he’d actually made a homoesexual title.
“The aesthetics alone don’t make it gay, but I think Tycho, the main character, and his interactions with other people in the game make it gay,” he decided. “It’s hard to describe but as an example I think people intuitively get that the title is homosexual.”
Two and a half years later and hard at work on a follow-up called Escape from Pleasure Planet, Miller is now full of a newfound confidence.
“I’m just finishing it up,” he tells me as we sit down to discuss his new project.
“It’s a 2D point-and-click adventure game – gay adventure game,” he says, correcting himself. I can’t help but notice that he’s placed a huge emphasis on that small, yet incredibly important word: gay.
Embracing the concept of a queer title, Miller also has a firm grasp on what it means this time around.
“Gay games are games with some combination of LGBTIQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer] characters, visuals, worldview, gameplay and experiences at their core,” he says, matter-of-factly.
Straight away, there’s a strong sense that Miller’s game-making has matured just much as he has since we last spoke. Though Escape from Pleasure Planet continues the story of spunky hero Tycho Minogue, it’s approaching homosexuality in a completely different way.
“Looking back, there was way too much on a superficial level with [Space Tyrant],” Miller confesses. “Too much stuff that was superficially gay. Everything was gay in it. If I ever had any doubt, I just designed the gay version.
“This time around, I want it to make [Escape from Pleasure Planet] play gay, with gay mechanics and things like that. I try to tease that out a lot more. This time it’ll be gayer than ever, but it’ll also have more science-fiction and more adventure than ever. Its pace will be a lot faster too,” he affirms.
“In the last ten years, same-sex attraction has been divorced from gay culture a bit, and mainstreamed,” he says, expanding. “This time around I think I’ve got that knack that there is gay culture and ideas and movements and aesthetics, and there’s same-sex attraction. They don’t always overlap. You can be same-sex attracted, but not interested in gay culture. So, in some ways, when I talk gay games, a big part of it is how we can modernise gay culture and keep it relevant.”
Whether he wanted to be or not, Miller’s work on My Ex-Boyfriend the Space Tyrant made him a pioneer in the still ambiguous genre that is the gay game. He seems far more comfortable with this notion than when we last spoke. Calm and collected, he’s approaching game design in a carefully calculated manner.
“I’m taking things back to basics,” he tells me. “[With Space Tyrant] I wanted to make a gay, science-fiction adventure, and I didn’t know what any of those things were, really, doing it for the first time,” he confesses, laughing.
Now, Miller’s designing a title that infuses gay culture into the classic notion of the pleasure planet. Everyone has their favourite – mine both come from Star Trek. The Next Generation’s Las Vegas-like Risa plays a close second to The Original Series’ unnamed, yet White Rabbit-laden planet in the Omicron Delta system (that episode is called “Shore Leave”, by the way, and you should definitely watch it.).
Miller’s favourite comes from the original Battlestar Galactica in the form of Carillon, an opulent planet used by insect-like creatures. The Carillon used the planet to attract unsuspecting humans, then fatten them up for an eventual harvest.
“It’s a classic science-fiction staple,” Miller says. “Everything’s perfect on the surface, but there’s a dark heart underneath.”
And with a gay twist, I can’t help but add. Miller nods in agreement.
“I wanted things to mesh a bit better. To present something gay but also science fiction, or at least something science-fiction complimented by gay culture,” he says.
Miller also wants gay games to be more than just straight-up erotic offerings or B plots.
“One of the main reasons in doing a sequel is to crack the scene open for gay games,” he says. “Right now, there are only pornographic games – which are fine in their own right – or mainstream games with optional gay content that you can avoid unless you’re looking for it.
“This time, my focus is to make a challenge to other developers,” he says, laughing. “I would love to have a little trophy — ‘Gayest Game Ever Made’ — and be able to hand it over to someone new.”
Featuring artwork from Joe Phillips, Escape from Pleasure Planet will be released in the first half of 2016 on Windows PC, Mac and Linux. My Ex-Boyfriend the Space Tyrant is currently available on Windows PC, Mac, Linux and on Steam.