As a content creator I’m often approached by developers and publishers who want me to cover their game or product on my various social media platforms. They’ll send me a game with the understanding that I’ll play it and cover it as Blerdy Otome. Most of the time, these are publishers or developers that are familiar with me and my content, so they are approaching me because they feel that I am a good fit to promote their game or product.
Occasionally, I’ll get a publisher that has clearly not done their homework who will send me a game that is very much outside of my wheelhouse. Just last month I had a publisher reach out to me about promoting their porn game, and while I do play a lot of 18+ visual novels, something like PornStar Harem is just not something I’d cover on this site (or anywhere else for that matter). I’ll try just about anything once, but even I have my limits, because at the end of the day, Blerdy Otome is a space for uplifting creators and media that spotlight diversity and for me to talk about my interests.
As a Black woman and gamer I tend to especially take notice of media and teams that feature characters of color and their stories. I genuinely get excited when I come across media with characters that look like me and people that I know, and while the gaming industry has made strides towards being more diverse, there’s still more work to be done. Though, when compared with more mainstream publishers, indie game developers have always been ahead of the curve, offering characters and stories that are much more representative. Since starting Blerdy Otome, I have had the chance to discover so many great publishers and developers that are passionate about creating media that uplifts traditionally underrepresented groups.
So it’s frustrating when I come across a developer that does not seem to be invested in creating meaningful representation with their work. And this is where I found myself back in December when Ertal Games sent me a review copy of their most recent boys love visual novel Night and Day.
I’d played several of their previous titles and despite a few questionable story elements, I actually enjoyed playing their games. I had been closely following the development of Night and Day and I was excited to give it a play. Set in 1950’s Paris, the game follows Paul, an aspiring painter who leaves his home in the Parisian countryside in hopes of making a name for himself as an artist in Paris. Throughout the story he navigates his new life in the big city while also getting to know other creatives pursuing their own dreams.
But, what initially caught my attention about the game was the inclusion of both Haitian and Romani love interests. Two groups that are not commonly featured in romance media. But, when I sat down to play the game I noticed some story elements early on that just didn’t jive with me involving Gilles and Ferdinand.
An early date scene includes a conversation between Paul and Ferdinand, where the two discuss their pasts and how they ended up in Paris. Ferdinand, a Haitian immigrant remarks that he came to Paris with his sister in hopes of helping her break into the music industry, despite desiring a less glamorous life for himself. This prompts Paul to remark “How the hell did you end up in Paris, then? Did the ship from Haiti get lost?”
I fully acknowledge that the line is not meant to be malicious in-context, but given the history of the slave trade, especially in the Caribbean the line came off very tone deaf on my read. Enough so that I actually paused while playing the game, but as a Black American, I get that my read might not be the same as someone from Haiti. So, I called a friend of mine from Howard who is a Haitian man, explained the scene, sent screenshots and he got the same read as me. Just a pro tip, having someone not of the African diaspora joke about a ship getting lost to someone from the African diaspora is kind of not the move you want to make in your game. The inclusion of the “ship” was unnecessary and I’m sure that a good sensitivity reader, might have recommended a rewrite, but that doesn’t seem to have been the case.
Of course I did what anyone would do and I tweeted about it, and the internet did what it does with “controversy” and the tweet blew up overnight. I woke up to a ton of comments and quote retweets which ranged the gambit from “🤔” to “It seems Emily is not the only racist in Paris” (that one was kind of funny). Many wanted to vilify the dev for the faux pas, but, I was still of the mind that this was just a matter of the writers needing to consider hiring sensitivity readers and not something that would completely put me off playing the game.
Ertal Games is clearly not a stranger to controversy with their games; some found issue with underaged sex depicted in their title A Hand in the Darkness and many players were not a fan of the unequal power dynamic between the protagonist of Chasing the Stars and his professor which led to a sexual relationship. Then there was My Burning Heart which features sexual/romantic(?) relationships between a master and his harem slaves. While I was not a fan of the fetishization of the master/slave relationship, I did like the overall story and characters (for the most part).
After playing a bit more of Night and Day, Paul meets Gilles a Romani street performer as he is swindling one of his patrons out of money. During his very first on-screen appearance, he loudly accuses a bystander of not paying for a performance, publicly shaming the man into giving him money for the “slight”. Only to reveal shortly after that it was all an act to scam the unsuspecting man out of extra cash.
Given the pervasiveness of Romani people being depicted in media as thieves and criminals and the history of discrimination and prejudice against Roma people, introducing a character like Gilles by leaning into a harmful negative stereotype, just feels like a misstep. Not to mention the continued use of an ethnic slur, historical accuracy notwithstanding left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. But, since I’m not as familiar with the Romani people, I did have to do a bit of research on my end and the unjust treatment of Romani people is something that is an issue to this day. Again I tweeted about it, which got the attention of the dev.
Ertal Games reached out to me via DM to explain about the issues I had pointed out and the whole conversation was pretty chill. They explained the reasons behind their narrative choices and urged me to keep an open mind as I continued playing the game. Ertal even let me know they would be issuing an official apology post to address the concerns publicly.
I figured everything was settled and was ready to move on… and then I read the “apology”.
Let me be clear, this is not an apology. This could have and should have been an opportunity for an open dialogue with the community, but instead the entirety of “Apology & Reflexion” doubles down on bigotry and completely dismisses legitimate criticism of Ertal Games’s works. Rather than using this as a chance to get genuine feedback, Ertal dismisses detractors as “uninformed, shallow people”. They even refer to a desire for more meaningful representation as “readers who only want shallow “good rep” characters for the sake of it…”. Most damning of all, Ertal condemns critique of their works and their depiction of characters like Gilles and Ferdinand as a “censorship” of artistic creativity. When they began receiving negative comments on the post, they actively deleted comments and finally removed the ability to leave comments altogether.
The dev even attempts to explain that their close proximity to Romani people (at no point do they claim to be Romani) makes them more knowledgeable about them. Which implies that this tangential relationship gives Ertal license to speak on their behalf when it come to their depiction in Night & Day. Which, reeks of privilege and brings to light an issue that is inherent in discussions of harmful ally behavior. Allies are meant to use their privilege to uplift and elevate the voices of marginalized people and groups, to help create a space for their needs, wants, and desires, not to speak for or over them.
So, it seemed odd that this bit was included in the “apology”, it’s the equivalent of someone dismissing claims of racisms because they “have Black friends.” The essay goes on to give a brief history of prejudice Romani people experienced in WWII and how that relates to Gilles as a character, which doesn’t really add much to their argument and detracts from the “apology”.
Ertal then claims that their characters “aren’t representation”, but exist solely within the context of the story they are trying to tell. Now, I find issue with this statement because contrary to what Ertal says, by their very existence in the game, both Gilles and Ferdinand are in fact representation. Ferdinand is a fictional representation of a Haitian immigrant and their experiences in Paris in 1950. Gilles is a fictional representation of a Romani man and their experiences in Paris in 1950. Even the game’s setting is a representation of Paris, France in 1950 and the issues that existed during that time. By their existence in this fictional world they are representation.
If Gilles and Ferdinand are not meant to be representation then why include their ethnicity? Why is Ferdinand Haitian? Why is Gilles Romani? Why not just make them White French men? Why is it important to include these ethnic heavy narratives in Night & Day if you’re claiming they aren’t meant to represent the stories of these very real groups of people? It’s surface level character representation like this that creates the most harm. This is the self same “representation for the sake of it” that Ertal cautions against in their “apology”. Because it appears based on the author’s own words in their ‘Apology & Reflexion’ the ethnicity of both Gilles and Ferdinand is inconsequential to the narratives they are trying to tell.
But, the most difficult part of the “apology” to swallow is that Ertal seems less concerned with how their characters are perceived and more concerned with blaming critics for stifling their creative freedom. They regress into their own victimhood in the face of legitimate criticism instead of using the feedback as a chance to grow as a creator. In a time when fans are being more critical of authors and creators, as seen by the backlash against JK Rowling and Harry Potter in the face of the author’s bigoted stance towards transgender individuals, it’s difficult to excuse messages like this from creators.
Because this game was created for public consumption that opens up Night & Day‘s story and characters to critique from others. This game does not exist within a bubble, it was created to be enjoyed by others, and as such these characters and how they are depicted in the game are open to the thoughts and feelings of others, including individuals who identify with these characters. Ertal’s inability to understand that completely undercuts any goodwill they hoped to foster with this missive. Rather it alienates would be fans looking for a meaningful, representative story.
This ‘Apology & Reflexion’ is everything but an apology and after reading it I’m not sure I can in good conscience continue to support this developer. Rather than using this as a way to address the concerns and actually reflect on the issues brought up, they double down on harmful behavior and that is something I cannot stand by here on Blerdy Otome. So, I won’t be finishing that game. They need to do better.