A lot of times gaming is about escapism. From Animal Crossing to Stardew Valley, people want to engage in kinder, more colorful worlds. But where do queer narratives fit into this “cozy gaming” bubble that’s been gaining steam recently? Well, games are becoming more inclusive when it comes to romance options. For example, I grew up playing Harvest Moon games where you could only romance characters of the opposite gender. But re-releases of Harvest Moon games (under their new title Story of Seasons) let you romance characters of any gender.
It’s definitely nice to be included in this way but what if you want more? Maybe you’re hoping for a game that does more than allow you to play a romance route designed to be heterosexual as the opposite gender, something that goes the extra mile to portray queer characters and experiences. Well, in that case, I want to talk about a game that does inclusivity right all while offering the video game equivalent of being wrapped in a soft fluffy towel on the drive home from the beach: Our Life.
Our Life: Beginning and Always is a visual novel about growing up in a small seaside town with your neighbor, Cove, a sensitive boy who loves the ocean. I stumbled on this game on social media and figured I would give it a shot. I’m glad I did because this is one of the best romance games I’ve ever played and I don’t say that lightly. It’s due in large part to the stellar writing and characters. Cove is just so darn loveable, and the game perfectly captures the childhood nostalgia of summer vacation beach trips mixed with the pains that come when you’re just trying to grow up.
Our Life begins by letting you customize your own player character and picking what set of pronouns they use. I think this is an important feature because growing up a lot of the options for romance games felt limited and cisheteronormative with almost every game I tried only letting you play as a girl romancing boys. I still remember one of my favorite romance games as a teenager, Mystic Messenger, repeatedly gendering me as a girl if I selected an option to say I wasn’t one. I’m happy to report that there are now many romance games out there that allow you to at the very least pick your own pronouns. Our Life actually goes much further beyond that, allowing you to customize aspects of your player character’s appearance, sexuality, and gender identity.
There are also multiple queer characters including the player characters' moms, and (spoiler) Cove, who comes out to the player as demisexual and panromantic in one scene. And even though I called it a romance game, you can choose to be uninterested in romance and only engage with Cove as a friend. Love in Our Life isn’t always romantic but also builds on the love shared within the families and communities that you find yourself in. In Our Life, queerness is never taboo, it instead imagines a soft and loving world for all of its queer players.
You’re even allowed to change your sexuality and gender identity as time goes on, something that most queer people have to do as they grow up, and the game handles it beautifully. There is a moment when you can talk to Cove about your body image as a young adult and how he feels about you changing. The options for player input are incredibly inclusive, touching on gender dysphoria and insecurities a lot of kids have growing up. No matter what Cove ends up being affirmative and says that he wants to be with you even as you change. And this kind of inclusion doesn’t just come from the love interest, the game makes sure that your family and friends respect your pronouns and gender presentation as well.
This said something really important to me. Trans people are lovable; trans people can be loved even while you’re changing or while your identity is in flux. And the thing is I didn’t realize how much I needed to hear this until then. I didn’t start questioning gender identity until I was an adult and even that brought so many questions to my mind when it came to dating. Would people find me desirable if I didn’t fit into a neat gender box? Was I asking too much of someone to love me if I changed the way I presented myself or altered my body? There were so many questions, but there it was: the answer. And it came from a video game I played on a whim!
It all ties in so well to Our Life’s theme of growing up. Things change and so do people and circumstances. But people can also choose to love you through everything. The idea is so universal that, if Our Life was purely just a cis heteronormative love story, it still would have been a really good story-based game. But it makes an effort to include queer people not just as characters but in the way the player is allowed to express themselves.
What I think I really love about Our Life is that it’s earnest. It isn’t a world free of conflict but even if trouble arises it always reminds you and the player character that you are surrounded by people who love you at the end of the day. If I could engrain the message, “You are wonderful. You will always be wonderful. It’s written in the universe that you will always be wonderful”, into every trans youth's mind I would. But since I can’t, I recommend instead that you play this game, so a little green-haired guy on your computer can say it to you instead.
Our Life: Beginning and Always is available for free on Steam and itch.io. But I also recommend buying the DLCs that add more content and allow you to romance other characters. Trust me, they’re worth it! The developer, GB Patch, also has a Kickstarter page set up for a new standalone Our Life game called Our Life: Now and Forever.
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Harriette is a cheesecake enthusiast, video game lover, and disgruntled college student. When they grow up they want to be a writer, or an archaeologist, or a barista. Whatever, they'll figure it out. They are currently working towards their BFA in Creative Writing.