There are very few things that could ever convince me to go back to high school, but a kickass, lovely, LGBT-positive video game is one of them.
LongStory is an episodic mobile game developed by a small Toronto-based development team. “Episode 1: Locker 1224” (check out my previous review), released less than a year ago, took players to Weasel High and introduced them to the adorable game’s cast of characters.
In the first episode, the player’s avatar finds a note in their locker and is left to uncover the mystery of the missing student, Em, who everyone at the school remembers but seems hesitant to talk about.
“Episode 2: Hanna’s Notebook,” released on Feb 12, returns the player to Weasel High, building on a fantastic, easy-to-play, progressive game about relationships. I had the good fortune to get a sneak peek at the latest installment, just in time to spread the love for Valentine’s Day.
For starters, the player’s avatar was automatically a girl in Episode 1, which was fantastic — there aren’t enough good video games with female protagonists — but limited the kind of relationships that could be explored in this part-adventure, part-dating game. That limitation has been addressed. With the updates that come with Episode 2, players can now choose from different gender presentations and pronouns. This update applies to both episodes, which gave me an excuse to go back through the first episode as a masculine-presenting, gender-neutral kid (I named my avatar “Mich”).
This inclusion of a gender-neutral option is a humungous deal. I can’t think of another game that’s given players this opportunity. This doesn’t change the thrust of the main story, because the games hinge not on the player’s identity, but on the story of the people in their life and their relationships with them (not just romantic ones, either). LongStory takes place in a David Levithan–like utopia where diverse genders and sexualities are acknowledged and generally accepted.
What matters most in LongStory is the people. Episode 1 introduced a group of antagonistic mean girls and a few friendships, which have the chance of developing further, possibly romantically if the player chooses. In Episode 2, a fallout from interactions with the mean girls has led to a mediation with the school’s principal, and each of the mean girls is introduced individually. Of course, all is not as it seems — they may even have had something to do with Em’s disappearance.
With my masculine-presenting avatar on my second play-through, I decided to romance the charming and surly Emirati Marcel. Like dealing with the mean girls, the friendship and romance mechanics of the game mean you have to make choices, navigating an array of complicated and nuanced characters. Even better, there’s a ton of replay value, especially if you want to see how your interactions with each of the individual characters can differ. You could explore the game as a straight girl, a gay guy who’s just looking for friends, or even as a gender-neutral, feminine-presenting person who has a crush on their online friend.
One of the game’s producers, Miriam Verburg, is a speaker at Queer Love in Games, a talk hosted by LGBT tech organization The Turing Initiative. Spread the love, Miriam . . . and let me know when the next episode’s going to be released!
You can purchase the LongStory app on iOS or Android.