My mother is blind, which means it’s difficult to share my favorite hobbies with her. We’ve never been close, but now as an adult-child of a blind woman I’m constantly on the lookout for ways to share the things I love. Audiobooks are not quite the same as reading, but come fairly close. We listened to a few crime novels together (I only slept through a couple of chapters). But gaming is tougher. Some board games are almost doable, but it involves a lot of extra work on my part. Unfortunately she thinks role-playing games are “goofy,” so those aren’t an option.
I began to search for games she could play on her own, hoping she’d enjoy gaming enough that it could be a new topic to discuss. Someone in a blind accessibility chat room suggested text-based games to me. Most of these aren’t written with the blind community in mind, but text-readers can be set up to narrate the choices to the player. I went on the hunt for great text-based games. That’s when I found the “Choice of” game series by developer Choice of Games, LLC.
Choice of Games is a California-based developer that’s churning out some pretty great visual novels. They started with Choice of Dragons and Choice of Broadsides. Many of their games work from phones as well as computers, and a few of their games are hosted online for free. Also, they’ve made their programming language, ChoiceScript, available to the public so that everyone can make a Choice of game. In fact, they’ll pay you for it.
Steam happened to be having a sale on Choice of Robots when I was checking out the company. This 300,000 word “interactive sci-fi novel,” written by Kevin Gold, allows you to live out thirty years of your life as a robot designer. The game develops your character by asking your gender (unfortunately only “guy” or “girl”), your reactions to certain stimuli, and your desires for the future. It then sets you up to build your first robot in the lab of your jerk boss. What kind of robot you create (wood? plastic? humanoid? spider-like? legs? wheels?) informs a bit of your future potential robot army, or robot love.
I’ve played through this game a few times now. My mother doesn’t seem ready to commit to a game this long yet, but at the end of each of my playthroughs I was ready to start again. There are so many possibilities, I haven’t come close to uncovering them all. In my first run I married my very humanoid robot companion, who was robot-sexed female, as was my character. My second time around I treated my robots as unpaid labor and loved a female human scientist. My third playthrough found me as a military robot overlord married to a male human journalist.
Which brings me to my favorite part of Choice of Robots: Queerness is normal and present in the game. I didn’t need to pretend my character was queer, I wasn’t forced to avoid romance as the only way to avoid heterosexuality. There isn’t a singular lesbian that you either make it with, or be left in a sea of available heterosexual men like in many other games. There are humans that you can date and robots that you can (build and then) date, and it doesn’t ever feel like the token gay character. One of the first characters you can meet is a woman named Elly, and one of your choices in regards to your background with this new character is that you had feelings for her in college, but never any time to date. You can choose to rekindle that romance now that you’re working toward your Ph.D. In my most recent playthrough Elly left me because I obviously had feelings for my sexy robot (sorry, Elly, I grossly built the perfect women).
The game doesn’t question your sexuality, but it may raise questions for you. If robots could love, should you love them back? Is there something disturbing in building your own companion? If your robot leaves you for another robot, can you really blame her? If these aren’t the kinds of questions you want to think about, don’t worry, you have the choice to never engage in romance throughout the novel. You could be an a-romantic businesswoman, or a warlord who just never found the time for dating.
For those gamers new to interactive fiction, this game is far away from the typical console experience. There are absolutely no images and the gaming window is devoid of any embellishments. It’s all about the words, and your choices. Throughout the story you can view your stats, which list things like your age, your “humanity” percentage, your robot’s empathy, and your relationships with the other characters. I found this to be the least interesting aspect of the novel, but there are achievements to be unlocked based on these statistics.
Choice of Robots is beloved by many text-based game lovers, and has a solid 8.5 score on MetaCritic because it is an excellent example of a visual novel. The writing is cohesive and entertaining, at times outright funny. The story allows you to imagine your life, actually several lives, and I believe that accessible gay characters are definitely a part of this success. If you enjoyed Choose Your Own Adventure novels, you have to try out the Choice of Games series. Choice of Robots is available online (and for Steam, iOS, Android, and Kindle) for $4.99, and you can even play the first two chapters for free!