Like so many games, A Long Journey to an Uncertain End begins with character creation. But, unlike many games, this one actually gets it right.
Over the years, character creation tools have changed and improved to better reflect the diversity of the tens of millions of people that play games every day. If a game wants us to be ourselves, we need the tools to achieve this. Yet there remain some limitations.
Many games still assign character traits based on gender, for instance. Most recently, Cyberpunk 2077 has offered more extensive options when it comes to allowing us to pick and choose our genitalia, but is still reductive in assigning pronouns based on your choice of male or female voice.
A Long Journey to an Uncertain End shows the future of character creation. A space opera narrative game from indie developer Crispy Creative, it has just hit its Kickstarter goal and is set to be released later this year, with a free demo available to play. The game is indebted to the great sci-fi novels and films of the past, but revels in a more inclusive future.
You play as an A.I. and at the start you have to determine your appearance and pronouns. First referred to as xe/xem, you’re asked to select your pronouns from a list of presets (he/she/they/xe etc.) or you can go even further. If you choose the custom option you can select whatever pronouns you’d like for subject, object, honorific and more.
It’s an impressive addition that allows anyone playing the game to be referred to however they wish in any situation.
Selecting your character’s look, there are no binary options. Instead you simply select the body type you prefer (including one with binders) and then customise face and body attributes and clothing without gender restrictions. Your character can be wherever you like on the gender spectrum.
And those pronoun choices? They extend to your ex-lover too, who presumably will play a big part in the game’s story. It’s through these choices that you’re able to customise your gender identity and sexuality through a few simple options, so you can truly role-play as yourself or whoever you want to be.
“We wanted to show other studios how easy it is to be inclusive,” says Kylan Coats, Creative Director at Crispy Creative. “We were already using variables for characters’ pronouns. With a few keystrokes, players can have whatever pronouns they want. We believe gaming is for everyone and aim for accessibility and inclusivity through everything we create.”
From there, the twenty minute demo gives a great first impression. As a renegade A.I. you lead a crew of rebels through space staying one step ahead of your pursuers. You use up resources to travel to distant planets and space stations where you’ll complete quests to replenish supplies and advance the story. Whether you’re helping local farmers or engaging in shady deals, dialogue choices will affect the outcome and forge a narrative that moulds to your decisions.
The diversity extends to your crewmates, too: an eclectic collection of drag artists, cyber sleuths, technicians and more. Each is introduced with their pronoun choice – something that’s normalised across the demo – and they reflect a variety of body types, ethnicities and sexualities. Even your adorable A.I. companion C.O.R.G.I is referred to as ze/zir, though sadly, being virtual, cannot be pet.
This diversity is a key part of the game. “The characters that make it into our game reflect the diversity we already see in our everyday lives,” says Coats. “That adds a unique authenticity which really resonates with our fans.
“There’s a large presence of queer developers on our team. We’ve all faced resistance to diverse representation and inclusivity at past studios. At Crispy Creative, we’re working to subvert that resistance. Instead of having to defend why a character is gay or trans we ask, ‘Why are they straight and cisgender?'”
Along with its attractive hand-drawn art style, atmospheric music and some excellent writing, A Long Journey to an Uncertain End is shaping up to be not just a great sci-fi story but a significant step in video game LGBTQ+ representation.