Sasse has recently come home after a year in France.
Now that she’s back, she’ll experience being the new kid again at her high school.
It’s a fictional story playing out in a video game world, but the sorts of things teenage Sasse might face — bullying, romance, learning about boundaries and consent, coming to terms with one’s sexuality — are rooted in reality.
LongStory is a dating/adventure game that deals with sexuality. Sasse, controlled by the gamer, interacts with a number of people. It’s up to the gamer through Sasse who to befriend and even who to pursue as something more.
The game is meant to be a sort of sandbox for human interaction, said Miriam Verburg, LongStory’s producer.
“The game mechanic encourages people to experiment with different kinds of behaviours, that shows them what some of the outcomes might be,” she said.
It’s fun and playful, Verburg said, but it comes from a place more serious than it lets on.
“It started out as a health initiative. But then while we were doing the development and research building the game we realized it was obviously a health game, and teens probably wouldn’t take it seriously,” Verburg said. “If they knew it was a health game, they would just try to mess with it the whole time. It would become the biggest joke on the Internet, which would be interesting but not what I wanted.”
In most games, progress is tracked either by points or levels. It’s a bit harder to do keep score in a game based on relationships, said Renee Vrantsidis, LongStory’s lead writer.
“You want to be able to tell how much a given person likes you,” she said. “However, representing that as 90 out of 100 love encourages the player to play for points, which is not what we want to do.”
So the LongStory team looked to other games for inspiration. One of those was the critically acclaimed Gone Home.
“All over Gone Home you find physical artifacts of people’s lives and their growing relationships with one another, and that’s a really natural way to incorporate the idea of a progressive relationship,” said Vrantsidis.
Gone Home was also hailed for its story, which dealt with with sexuality in a sensitive way. It’s a topic only a handful of games touch on.
“I do feel like there’s this fear among a lot of game developers that, ‘I’m going to do it wrong so I just won’t do it at all,’ which is a terrible way to approach it,” said Kate Craig, Gone Home’s environment artist.
To Vrantsidis, creating LongStory is more than simply wanting to make a good game.
“I feel it’s a social imperative,” she said. “I have a 16-year-old sister who’s going through some tough times.
“I just believe in the mission statement of trying to create a game that speaks to (all the things) that I think most of us went through and weren’t equipped to deal with yet, even outside of the queer aspect.”
LongStory is free to play on PC, Android, Mac and iOS platforms. A second episode is slated for an August release.
“My hope for the game is that people have fun with it,” Vrantsidis said. “It should be fun and enjoyable.
“People should have the opportunity to try some (stuff) out, and to have a safe space to play around with relationships.”