Samuel Poirier-Poulin holds a master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Toronto, Canada, and is currently a master’s student in game studies at Tampereen yliopisto/Tampere University, Finland. His research interests include horror films and horror video games, trauma studies, autoethnography, and sexuality studies. Samuel is vice editor at Press Start, and the founder and director of Pika-Pi!, a reading circle that works toward decentering game studies.
Sexual Humour, Virtual Romance, and Queer Space in Coming Out on Top
FROG 2020 – Short Talk
Despite an increase in the number of video games portraying the life of queer folks (Greer, 2013; Holmes, 2016; Shaw et al., 2019), queer characters in most games continue to be tragically framed. Whereas Sam in Gone Home (The Fullbright Company, 2013) lives a secret love story and must face the homophobic reaction of her parents, Dave in Firewatch (Campo Santo, 2016) has unrequited feelings for Ron and gets badly beaten at a bar for being gay. As Alexandra (2018) puts it: “while games allow us to be many things—space marines, mages, and tenacious heroes—they rarely allow queer people to be happy” (para. 1). In contrast, Coming Out on Top (Obscurasoft, 2014), a gay-themed visual novel and dating simulator, follows the conventions of the comedy genre. The game tells the story of Mark Matthews, a college student who recently made his coming-out, and focuses on his last academic year, his friendship with his roommates, and his romantic and sexual life. The game is a mix of situational, romantic, and gross-out comedy, and contains erotic and pornographic elements. While the game has been criticized for reinforcing the idea of consumable gay male bodies (Harper, 2015), a qualitative analysis of 514 reviews published on Steam (in English, French, and Spanish) reveals that most players enjoyed the game. Players describe the game as funny and fun to play, and as full of love and sexy scenes. Two elements seem to stand out from the game: its humour and its sexual content. With the understanding that humour can create a safe environment (Dormann & Biddle, 2009) and can be a powerful tool to explore sexuality, including that of marginalized folks, this paper analyzes sexual humour in COOT. I use the tools of netnography (Kozinets, 2015) and close reading (Bizzocchi & Tanenbaum, 2011) to create a dialogue between my own gayming experience, the experience of other players, and previous scholarship on humour. Building on the concept of affordance, I ultimately argue that COOT leaves a positive impression on queer players because it offers them something relatively new in the world of video games: the possibility to laugh and imagine their lives in a positive and fun way.