Hey Hey Blerdy Tribe, it’s been awhile since I did a Behind the Games post—but I figured it was high time I revived this oft forgotten series. For those of you just joining the party, Behind the Games is a segment where I interview the folks ‘behind the games’ I review. Giving you guys a chance to get to know the developers that spend so much time carefully crafting the games you enjoy.
Last time, I spoke with Chu-3, the founder of the indie game studio, RoseVeRte Games—the developer of the Eroolia and Cafe 0 series. This time around, I had the chance to chat with the team behind the upcoming LGBT+ positive romance visual novel, ValiDate: Struggling Singles in Your Area.
ValiDate is a romantic visual novel about 12 adults in Jersey City navigating new relationships and the harsh realities that come alongside them.
Anywhere can be the city of love if you’re willing to try hard enough, and some of these folks from Jercy City are desperate. ValiDate presents a smorgasbord of relationships to bear witness to— but the dating scene is difficult even when you aren’t marginalized in six different ways, so happiness continues to fly just out of reach for these unlucky lovers.
The team working on ValiDate consists entirely of people of color and they each bring their own experiences and unique voice to the project. What makes this game so exciting for me is that, like the development team, the main cast of ValiDate is very diverse featuring characters from a wide range of backgrounds, sexual orientation, and gender identity. And with 12 playable characters and over 30 routes, this game promises to shake up the indie gaming scene when it is released Q1 2021. In the meantime, four of the members of the ValiDate team—Dani, Alexis, Lisa, Percy, and Kevin—let me pick their brain about the upcoming project! So, let’s turn things over to them…
Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me, I’m really excited about your upcoming project ValiDate! Since you guys are pretty new to the game development scene, I want to give my readers a better feel about who you are as a team. Could you tell me a bit about yourselves?
Dani: My name is Dani Lalonders, I created ValiDate with a few friends in August of 2019. When I created this concept I wanted it to be a visual novel that is different from the rest.
Alexis: I’m Alexis “Sword” TheSwordWizard, a graphic designer, illustrator, and Concept aficionado.
Lisa: I’m Lisa “Pomelope,” a boring adult who happened to stumble upon a really cool game that needed a coder.
Percy: I’m Percy Caiedscratch, an author-turned-editor breaking away from traditional novels to try my hand at video game narratives.
Kevin: I’m Kevin “PianoVillain,” a computer science student and part-time musician, both of which I started learning for use in game design. And now I’m making a game! Life’s crazy like that.
ValiDate is your first project as a team and it’s quite distinctive among other projects for its diverse cast—it’s rare to come across a game that features an entire cast of Black and brown characters, especially in romance themed games. Could you tell me a bit more about the project and how your team came up with the concept?
We created a cast of characters that were like me: a young LGBT adult of color attempting to get through the hardships of life while trying to pursue love. When I created ValiDate I wanted it to stand out from other dating sims. My team and I wanted to flip the script and make a game that shows characters of color as the main characters, not just side characters or caricatures. We want players of color to see that they can star in games if the people behind those games care.
The ValiDate team is comprised entirely of POC creators and I even see that you describe ValiDate as a #OwnVoices narrative. What is the meaning behind the concept of an “#OwnVoices narrative”? Where did that term originate?
The point of an #OwnVoices narrative is not only to tell the stories of real, genuine communities largely underrepresented in media as a whole, but to allow writers and artists from those communities themselves to spearhead the creation of those narratives. Here at ValiDate, we are dedicated to providing representation for marginalized communities both within fictional casts and within our development team. Rather than handing over the stories of POC and LGBT+ individuals to white/cishet authors respectively, we push for authenticity and genuine narratives by granting our team the ability to use their own voices in order to tell their own stories.
After reading through some of the promotional material for ValiDate, it seems that the game is more grounded in reality than most dating sims. How much of the story of ValiDate is based on your own stories and experiences?
There’s a lot of content in our game, split pretty evenly between the personal experiences of the writing team (or friends/family that share their stories) and the types of stories we as POC and LGBT+ individuals want to see represented more often in fiction. Especially in the world of visual novels, there’s such an overwhelming quantity of stories about white, cishet, and/or abled characters that just aren’t relatable enough to players that don’t fit that very narrow demographic. With ValiDate, we’re hoping to give those players – and ourselves – the stories that we’ve been wanting to see, while using just enough of our own experiences as 20-somethings in love (or not) to make those stories genuine and realistic.
Now, let’s talk representation. ValiDate is being created by an all POC team and the game itself features an all POC cast—something you don’t see often in games like this—but, what I really like is that the representation doesn’t just stop at race. Many of the characters in ValiDate also identify themselves as members of the LGBT+ community. How important is it for you to have characters like that come from such diverse backgrounds in a game?
There’s a really telling lack of diversity within video games as a whole, and even more so in the visual novel genre. By creating an avenue for characters of color with diverse backgrounds to be featured in games, our hope is that other game developers see that these narratives can be done right and received well, and hopefully follow us down that path. We created ValiDate because we want to see characters of color as three dimensional beings in gaming and our hope is that the work we do inspires change in a community that is overwhelmingly white to this day.
Kevin: Actually, one of our Kickstarter stretch goals is to throw in One white character (he’s Italian). So the all-POC cast thing might be short-lived, assuming we get that much support. It was fun while it lasted, though!
Alexis: Italians are okay we asked one and he said we were being respectful of his heritage.
ValiDate is very much a modern dating sim, stepping away from the traditionally rose colored shoujo-esque style of romance themed media and focusing on some of the more real experiences people face when navigating the dating scene. You even mention that there are opportunities to make “horrible decisions”. Why take this approach with the game? Do you think audiences would be more receptive to this more modern take on the romance narrative?
The simple and honest answer is that romance in your 20s is stupid, and messy, and even the best choices you make are questionable at best. It’s such a weird time, with every person in dramatically different parts of their careers, but with the one unifying fact is that no matter how well a person’s doing, they’re still trying to find their place in the world. The sentiment, to say the least, is relatable, and while people obviously enjoy more romanticized concepts of… romance, we also think that there’s room in the genre for something as confusing and complicated as real-life dating is known to be.
And besides, difficulty just makes the victory that much sweeter. Real loving ain’t easy, but boy howdy, is it worth it. (We assume.)
Lastly, what are some things we can expect to see in ValiDate when it is released in 2021?
Alexis: Terrible meme game.
Kevin: Beautiful meme game.
Lisa: A fishing game.
Percy: [softly, with feeling] Arihi..
Dani: A game that is good.
Some struggling singles and, HOPEFULLY, some struggling not-so-singles. 😉
Bonus Question: What is the most ridiculous date you’ve been on?
Alexis: I had one girlfriend for two years but in high school a friend of mine once went on a date where she was driven to a movie theater by her beard’s grandparents, where she had to pay for tickets and popcorn because he said he forgot his wallet, and then afterwards walked 30 minutes in a dark tunnel to go to a bookstore, where he then bought manga with said forgotten wallet. She had already known she was a lesbian by then but I’m sure it didn’t hurt her case.
Dani: When I was in high school I went on a date with a guy to the movies and it was going all great and all until he tried to kiss me and his breath smelled so bad I threw up on the theater floor and on his new shoes. He still tried to hang out with me afterwards but I really was not feeling it lol.
Kevin: Once I watched a self-proclaimed boyfriend chug an entire bottle of cough syrup and proceed to lay face-down in his bathtub while I stood there and played Tetris on my phone for a few hours. What he did in that tub is between me and God, because lord knows he was too far gone to remember. But know that I’ll never unsee it.
Percy: Went on a date once where the plan was to buy some crackers and feed the local ducks at a park by my significant other’s house, except when we got to the park it turned out to be full of wild geese in the middle of mating season. We tried feeding them anyway since we already had the food, but it…didn’t go well. Did you know geese have teeth? I didn’t.
Lisa: I had a boyfriend for ~6 months in high school that I was really embarrassed of so never told any of my friends while we were dating. Anyway on our last date I asked him what he liked about me and I forgot what he said but then he asked me what I liked about him and I said I didn’t know. He thought that meant I was breaking up with him, so he broke up with me.
I want to give a huge THANK YOU to the ValiDate team for taking the time to do this Q&A with me! I am super excited for this project and 2021 cannot come soon enough! So, if you’re looking for a modern romance game, that celebrates the good, the bad, and the ugly of dating in your 20’s definitely give ValiDate: Struggling Singles in Your Area a try when it is released! In the meantime, keep an eye out for updates from the team on their social media channels!
Below are some links to the ValiDate team’s social media pages and game related sites. I highly recommend subscribing to their pages for the most up to date news on their current and future projects.