In Technobabylon, characters in the Blade Runner-esque engineered-city-state of Newton speak darkly of “The War”, and the lead protagonist, Dr. Regis, was once pressed into service by one half of a divided America; a theocracy that forced him to bioengineer humans into suicide bombers whose bones make up the explosive. Newton is, you can glean with a little basic geography, located somewhere inland from the East African coast, perhaps Kenya, based on a comment the main character makes in an optional dialogue about it being “so clear you can almost see Mombasa.” In one section of the game, you have to enter a VR simulation of one of many historical wartime city-destroying nuclear blasts to influence some people getting their kicks surviving the VR projection of nuclear holocaust.
Recently ported to iOS, Technobabylon is a 2015 dystopian cyberpunk point-and-click adventure game set in a near future that has notes of William Gibson, Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and Blade Runner, amongst other cyberpunk luminary visions. It’s decidedly thrown back to the era of SVGA adventure titles, in particular the Roberta Williams Quest games in visual aesthetic, and was built using Adventure Game Studio by Technocrat Games and published by Wadjet Eye Games. The puzzles are clever and fairly challenging, and the story has several endings depending on player choices throughout. The ending I got was mostly positive, though I do wonder if I might have gotten something a little more ideal if I’d not lied in order to have a gangster thrown out the window of a high rise.
So it’s a pretty dark game for much of it. Where Technobabylon diverges from its grim dystopian core is its portrayal of gay relationships and transgender cultural acceptance. Early in the game, after Regis reveals personal information to his partner, Dr. Max Lao (I was uncertain if all police investigators held doctorates, or just your particular characters) reveals, tit-for-tat, that she’s a trans woman who underwent genetic therapies to transition. Later in the game, you come across a crime scene where a married couple, both men, have been brutally murdered, but the nature of their relationship is incidental to the story, it just happens to have been their relationship.
Technobabylon presents a world where gay relationships and queer identities are normative. This puts it into a similar status as the recent indie hit dating sim Dream Daddy, and Midboss Games’ more Utopian vision, 2064: Read Only Memories, of games where a person’s sexuality and gender identity have become non-issues. In terms of queer issues, this has advantages and disadvantages, though it’s worth it to examine both.
If there’s one specific advantage to this kind of integration, it’s that normalization of queer identities represents a future of acceptance that is ideal. There’s no case of this being more explicit that Dream Daddy. Your dates with each dad, which generally start out with meet-cutes and friendly neighborhood get-togethers, soon become more intimate as you become closer and relate more thoroughly with each of the daddies. Gender identity is also fairly a non-issue, and you can play as a trans man with a breast-binder, as an option in the body creation setting, and more traditionally femme-looking face options, suggesting that your character is a dad because of what’s between his ears, not his legs or his hormonal makeup.
Dr Lao (Pictured)
While Technobabylon does not have customizable characters, it presents a customizable world. Dr. Max Lao, while being trans, has a high, traditionally cisgender female sexed voice, and is almost glib about her transition. Genetic therapies (called “gengineering” in-game) have allowed her to transition without apparent incident, and one can assume, with a complement of cisgender female sexed physical attributes and reproductive system. In only one section of the game is there the representation of a conflict over this; in one chapter where you control Lao, you can read an email from her brother asking her to return home to their parents, who disapprove of her transition.
All of this represents a world where queer identities have become mainstream. Moreover, they have been completely integrated with mainstream culture. Therein lies the drawback of this approach.
Queer culture erasure in Dream Daddy has already garnered at least one article, and it’s a present issue in Technobabylon as well. Representations of queer identities as mainstream, leading lives that are functionally identical to straight cisgender lives, serves to functionally erase the contemporary social and societal elements of queer culture; a culture that has, often in tandem with marginalized ethnicities, filtered into our popular culture movements due to its unique, almost exclusive perspective that is all too easily appropriated by the mainstream (which is often unaware of the origin). Additionally, the brutal murder of gay character Gier Van Der Wahl, and his husband, in Technobabylon, also can be seen as similar to traditional action or suspense movie tokenism; where a character from a marginalized background is killed to give the cisgender white male lead facile motivation.
Dream Daddy Dad Generator
This is perhaps where 2046: Read Only Memories really shines, with a quirky forward-looking perspective on integrative cultures and identities, using contemporary San Francisco and visions of Tokyo cyberpunk as a model for diverse communities that benefit from the inclusion of multiple perspectives and cultural identities, living and working in close proximity. The positivity of this integrative cultural gestalt presents the idea of valued diversity of experience and contemporary identities; it presents that bigger gestalt idea of many differences creating strength as the norm, rather than integrating into mainstream homogeny as being essential.
This is not to say that Dream Daddy and Technobabylon‘s utopic visions of queer mainstream inclusivity lack value. Queer normalization in mainstream media has an important role to play, even if it may alienate the queer populations it’s describing by flattening their image into “being just like everyone else” to the mainstream media’s primary straight cisgender audiences. Dream Daddy might have done solid business with an all queer niche audience had that been its only market, but it has clearly captured a large mainstream audience that has embraced the opportunity to play cleverly written characters outside of their personal experience, and at least some part of that may be due to its normalization of queer identities, or it’s queering of normal ones.
Similarly, Technobabylon‘s dystopian queer utopia may not be the queer ideal, but it does represent the concept broadly, that queer identities may have such social acceptability in the future that they will just be another facet of common background, like being left-handed, or the color of one’s eyes. In this respect, there is a massive role to be played in these mainstream visions of queerness: providing an ideal vision of the future viewed from the present—as Gene Roddenberry imagined a world of Russian and American cooperation in the height of the cold war, and a black woman officer on a space ship when our nation was even more radically divided on race—these ideal visions may not be perfect, but they present a not-so-radical-looking possibility of a better future.
Technobabylon is worth a look to see that in play, and it’s also a solid entry into the point-and-click adventure game genre.
An iOS code for Technobabylon was provided by the publisher for review purposes.