By Sloane Cee
At the end of December in 2014, the transgender community suffered the loss of Leelah Alcorn, a young trans woman who ended her life after, according to a note posted on her Tumblr, a lack of acceptance by her parents. It was, and is, an absolutely heartbreaking loss due to bigotry and hatred. Early on in 2015, there was a game jam put together called Jam For Leelah, dedicated to Leelah Alcorn and her love of game development, to make games based on trans experiences.
Before that game jam, and aside from trying to create things and generally failing in GameMaker: Studio, I had made a single Twine. It was an account of my own realization that I’m trans and what had happened in my life the past year and a half since. So seeing what had happened, and then seeing this game jam pop up, I wanted to participate. I wanted to do my best to create something that could honor Leelah, as well as to be able to represent something that really, truly helped me when I was discovering myself.
So that’s where the idea of Safety Net came in.
The internet has always been a monumentally important part of my life. Before I came out to my best friend or my family, I came out to a few people online, who I knew from forums or Twitter, who I knew were trans. I felt I could trust them the most—they were in a similar situation, so maybe they knew what I was going through, and could help out and relieve any fears or answer any questions I might have had. This formed the basis for my submission, which I called Safety Net.
From the get-go, I had a lot of ideas for Safety Net, but the core idea behind it was that it would be a game where you play a young trans woman, and you come out to your friends online because you feel comfortable and ready to do so. Or you can choose not to, if you don’t think you’re ready. That’s what I thought of in regards to the term “safety net” even if you didn't say anything, you had that safety net there—your friends—to support you no matter what.
That was the core behind what I wanted to make. In the finished, first version of the game, I labeled Safety Net as a “coming out safely simulator.” Whether you came out or not, everything would be fine. You had support from your friends and you could take as long as you wanted to come out. I didn’t say anything to anyone until I had read up and felt relatively sure about the fact that I could be trans, and I wanted that same thing to be represented in the game. If you weren’t ready to come out to someone, you didn’t have to, and that was okay.
The initial idea I had for Safety Net was far more ambitious than what it ended up being. The game takes place on Twitter, and was originally just supposed to be a part of it, with players also having the option to also instant message friends. Play was a split between making fun or serious tweets, which could either lead to people potentially approaching you to make sure you were okay, or allow you to approach others. Maybe they’ll wonder what’s up, maybe they won’t understand everything, but they’ll be respectful. They’ll ask if anything’s wrong, but they won’t push it when they realize it’s not something to know about right now. Again, it was all about coming out on your own terms, if and when you felt comfortable enough.
Coming out on your own terms in an accepting environment was the main thing I made sure to keep in the game. I wanted the game to be positive no matter what.
Being able to come out online to people who know you but don’t have a preconceived notion about what you were like in real life made that process easier, at least in how I experienced it. I’ve met people through Twitter who never knew me as a guy, and meeting them in person has made things so much more comfortable because they see me as how I want to be seen.
That was stuff I had experienced in my life in my own slow processes of coming out to people. I chose certain people I felt closest to, and due to my nervous nature, ended up beating around the bush, making sure I wouldn’t be judged, that they would still want to be friends with me. I tried to represent a lot of my own personal anxiety in Safety Net, mostly because the act of coming out was a big deal for me—as it is for many others.
The process of making Safety Net
The art of the game, including this shot of the core screen during the initial release, was done by my friend Arue. The game “takes place” on Twitter, as it was the place where I talked to most people I knew. I also wanted to use a magical girl aesthetic. Magical girls have meant a lot to me ever since I began to realize who I was and I wanted to be able to reflect that. I wanted to convey a mixture of cute and powerful, sweet and unyielding, similar to what you would see on *Sailor Moon*. It was something I hung onto as an aesthetic, now that I was starting to appreciate cuteness, so I wanted a sweet Twitter page for a young trans woman who is appreciating that same cuteness.
In both the design for the Twitter page and the main screens for the game, I wanted to use a color scheme of pink, blue, and white to go with the colors of the transgender flag.
The logo art was done by my good friend Serah, who thought up the .net part herself. I had initially just thought of the phrase “Safety Net” as a literal safety net. Serah had thought up this particular idea of representing “safety net” as “safety.net” to go along with the online basis for the game. It’s something that still amazes me. When I originally asked for help with the art, I had never thought of this idea, and what she thought up brought the game together.
Jam for Leelah was the first game jam I participated in, and I’m glad I was able to do, and get something out of it by the end. I wanted to create something positive for people who have come out to others, people who will eventually come out, and people who might be the ones who someone comes out to. Even as an amateur game developer, I wanted to be able to create something that could potentially speak to people.
Leelah Alcorn will be missed, and I can only hope that *Safety Net* not only did a good job honoring her, but also helped to educate people, or make them better and more open-minded.
Safety Net is available for free on itch.io on my profile here: http://sloanerisette.itch.io/safety-net.
But, Safety Net is also available for a $1 minimum, pay what you want pricing, where the money will go to trans-specific charities here: http://jamforleelah-fc.itch.io/safety-net.
Sloane Cee is a designer, developer, and writer who focuses on queerness and emotional experiences. As a writer for FemHype, she has written some of her best work, including talking about Life is Strange as a queer coming of age story and an interview with voice actress Ashly Burch. Follow Sloane on Twitter @SloaneCee or visit waifhipster.club.