Coming Out in Context [NSFW]

How even a gay dating sim can be just like most other video games.

***Warning: This article discusses pornographic content. Proceed accordingly. Also, you can read about the game from two perspectives: Gil Almogi (posted first) and Paul Tamburro (posted second).***

Expanding my horizons ever further, I was curious to play the dating sim, Coming Out on Top. You’ve probably never heard of it, but there are valid reasons for that, first and foremost being that the game is not available on Steam or other digital delivery systems. Going in, I knew the game contained elements of porn games, but an image floating around the internet of the protagonist being mounted by a giant goldfish also spurred my curiosity. I mean, come on.

Like numerous games that grace my PC as of late, this one is the product of a successful Kickstarter campaign, which was funded last January. Both surprising and not, the creator is not a homosexual man but a heterosexual woman. This is unsurprising to me because a large portion of homosexual-themed fan fiction, dubbed “slash,” is written by heterosexual women. I don’t have the statistics to say if the majority is written by them or not, but trust me when I say it’s a known thing in the gay community.

The premise is that you play as a white, male college student in his senior year who has finally decided to come out of the closet. Opening scenes, scored in a happy-go-lucky manner, have you tell your two best friends and roommates, Penny and Ian, the news. They respond initially with a manner of speculative incredulity before offering unwavering support. Then, Penny offers to take you to a gay bar. Subsequently, should you choose to do so, you masturbate in your bedroom, displaying the first of possibly many pornographic images one can enjoy.

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May not be representative of in-game graphics.

Much like other visual novels or text adventures, gameplay is pared down to clicking through significant amounts of dialog, and the story diverts based on a number of decisions made by the player. Under this system, your presumed goal is to find a man to date, fuck, commit to, or all of the above. Your offerings, made known from the website and just by booting the game, are the following: Alex, a blond teacher at your school; Brad, a dumb ginger jock; Jed, your Asian upstairs neighbor; Phil, a black military recruit and Penny’s cousin; and Ian, the aforementioned roommate who fulfills the straight-but-maybe-not archetype very often found in gay porn.

Depending on your choices, you may end up with a number of these guys during the course of a single playthrough, but the way Coming Out on Top is designed, you can only really commit to one man even if you’ve had various levels of flirtation with the others. At some point for a given story arc, the game will basically warn you that pursuing whatever nonsense is happening will close you off to other plotlines. So if you want to see it all, you’ll need to play multiple times, changing your choices along the way. Although the dialogue is rather well-written in terms of entertainment value, you’ll find yourself clicking feverishly to get back to the point where things are different. I encourage you to save before decisions if that all sounds undesirable.

Although I don’t take umbrage with the idea of encouraging multiple playthroughs to see it all—that is a perfectly acceptable system—I found it a little old-fashioned that you can only choose one man to really romance over the course of an entire school year. This isn’t a Persona-length game; rather it feels like Harry Potter films where everything that happens feels remarkably rushed, at least if you’re expected to believe that graduation happens right after the climax of any relationship. But I digress.

Yet I found other systems at play even more old-fashioned, almost Puritan in nature. I found out the hard way a number of times that except for one of the men, you cannot achieve the “good” ending, one that takes place post-graduation, if you are aggressively sexual. That is, Coming Out on Top presents the player with opportunities to take things further in perfectly reasonable and sexy ways. If you do, though, you don’t get the special ending; you don’t fall in love and carry on after college. That’s bullshit, especially because the game doesn’t explicitly tell you that your beau is saving himself for whatever. It just doesn’t happen.

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Right, but if I do it, we’re not destined to last.

Whether or not you achieve the game’s goals of landing a long-term relationship, you’ll have plenty of sex to see. The sex is rather tame, sticking to fellatio, analingus, and anal sex with an extremely light fetish situation involving a blindfold and hand restraints. But it comes with options! Each of the guys can be given a beard and/or body hair, which is custom to them, not cut-and-paste. Also, depending on your pornographic preference, you can turn condom use on or off, which only makes the slightest bit of difference in terms of narrative and imagery.

The player character cannot be changed, so very much like the majority of video games, you can only play as a conventionally attractive, white, cisgender man. Although this was as advertised, it leads to an awkward moment when the player utters, “I’m not racist, but…” Thankfully, this doesn’t segue into terse conversation with either of the men of color in the game, but I couldn’t help but feel this could just not have been a thing. Later, when Jed is thrown a racist remark and physically threatened by a random person, it drives home the idea of the privileges white, gay men experience that their brethren of color do not benefit from. Although homophobia makes itself present in one of the plotlines, it’s extremely comical, poses no danger to anyone, and makes allusions to the homophobic character likely being a homosexual himself.

The sum of all these parts feels like something I would’ve been really excited for in my early 20s but am currently underwhelmed by in my early 30s. This experience also feels like something someone who’s not a gay male would create. Let me explain.

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No, why would you be?

Coming out is indeed a unique experience, and for many gay men, they enter this world with a shallow knowledge and understanding of sex and relationships. When I was in college, the awful show, Queer as Folk came to the US, and its portrayal of the gay community, presented on a mainstream premium cable network, remains very similar to how queer media is still currently branded and targeted. To elaborate, it’s very sex-focused, white, and caters almost exclusively to cisgender gay men, ignoring lesbians, bisexuals, pansexuals, transgender, and gender-queer people to an alarming degree.

But this is the image of queerness that is not only readily accessible to gay men but also to the world at large. It’s extremely easy to gain even second-hand exposure to the idea of the queer community as being thus, and of course, stereotypes float to the top. Therefore, when a “gay” game is created, I’m not surprised when it caters to gay men or those who fetishize or “other” them.

This game fits in that context even if it’s sincerely not the intent of the creator. (I know it is not her intent at all.) And this is yet another opportunity to brand gay men as devilishly attractive, overly horny, and desperately seeking normative relationship pairings. Thankfully, because of the extensive amount of dialogue, the men involved are fully-realized, which is more than I can say to the bag of offensive stereotypes one can find when queer people are portrayed in other games, even ones like Gay Fighter Supreme.

I may be a whiner, but I suppose I desire more from “gay” games at this point in my life. I want games to feature more versions of queerness and tell all those people that they are entitled to love and fucking, too. I want Bill from The Last of Us to inspire others to stop distilling gay men to this regurgitated trope that upholds the status quo. I want Korra from The Legend of Korra to be in a better-made game and let young women and other genders know that being bi/pansexual is not a fad. I want Krem from Dragon Age: Inquisition to undo the damaging story arc of Naoto from Persona 4. Hell, in this game, I wanted Ian not to become a romantic possibility, because I don’t know any other heterosexual characters in video games who openly enjoy being anally penetrated by dildos and vibrators and aren’t emasculated for it. (FYI, that’s not actually a gay-only thing.)

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I like her.

Listen, Coming Out on Top is a cute, entertaining dating sim with some sexy elements. But in many ways, I feel like it is tailored for someone like me to enjoy it, and it is indicative of a large representation issue in queer media. It also exists in the greater context of video games being made for white, cisgender males. Hell, except for Zoe, Ian’s ex-girlfriend (pictured above), most of the women are still fairly one-dimensional and only serve to advance the plots of the men! Of course, no one game can be everything to everybody, which is why we need diverse games, so multiple games fulfill multiple purposes in terms of representation. If anything, this is a self-reflection on the types of media I have consumed and enjoyed, and why I tire of the status quo at my age. I can only hope others begin to desire something similar.

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Paul Tamburro: After hearing word of Coming Out On Top’s premise, Gil and I both fancied our chances at writing an opinion piece on the gay dating sim, him writing from the perspective of a gay man whilst I would write from the perspective of a straight man (because God knows the gaming industry needs to know what more straight white guys think about things).

As a man who has only ever placed his phallus inside vaginas and the palm of his own hand, playing through a dating game in which I assumed the role of a homosexual man embracing the single life intrigued me. My day job over as a Lifestyle editor at CraveOnline.com often sees me writing about sex, though given my own personal experiences I almost solely focus upon the joys, trials and tribulations faced by a heterosexual man. Coming Out On Top, then, was set to offer me a glimpse into the life of someone who wasn’t of my own sexual persuasion, and what I discovered was that if I was a gay man, I’d be a hyper-aggressive one with little regard for anything other than having my penis fiddled with.

Within the first 10 minutes of playing the game I had already made use of a second-hand sex toy that I had shamelessly nabbed from my male roommate’s room without his permission, before going on to accept an invitation to a bukkake party from a strange man with a ponytail. Unlike real life, this encounter didn’t lead to me being murdered, but rather to a very graphic cartoon depicting a sex act that I had never before seen two men engage in, animated or otherwise. This got me thinking: Isn’t it weird that in all my years on this planet, I have never actually seen what gay sex looks like? I mean, sure, I’ve seen thumbnails on porn sites every now and again, but they’ve only served as unwanted distractions to put a dampener on my libido. I’ve never actually thought about gay sex before, and my knowledge of how such sexual relationships are formed is even more limited.

Being ever curious, I’ve always said how I’d love a game to come out (no pun intended) and properly express what a gay relationship is like by placing me in the shoes of a homosexual character. I don’t mean that in the Mass Effect “choose your own sexuality” way, either, though that’s obviously a start; I mean a game that is built from the ground up to guide me, the player, through the world of non-hetero life. While Coming Out On Top isn’t exactly that game, it’s certainly the most eye-opening game featuring a gay player-character I’ve ever played. Not that there’s much competition.

The story is humorous and entertaining (though my character, who I called Poots Myboots because I may be progressive but I’m certainly not mature, had possibly the easiest “coming out” experience of any gay man in history), its characters memorable, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint in terms of nudity, if that’s your reason for wanting to check out the game. I don’t consider myself a prude, but witnessing a cartoon of a man’s face being used as a canvas for another man’s ejaculate was admittedly a shock to the system. The problem I had with Coming Out On Top, though, was that the relationships my character formed with potential lovers weren’t exactly emotional, as they largely consisted of Poots considering how much he wanted to screw them and with dialogue options ranging from “tell him you want to screw him” to “pretend that you don’t want to screw him.”

I’m not exactly accustomed to the dating sim genre in general, so perhaps they all have the same theme of depicting targets of attraction in the nude and not really focusing upon the whole “dating” thing in favor of wanton humping, but it felt more like I was playing through Sakura Spirit with a male cast than a genuine foray into the (presumably) wild world of man-on-man action. There’s one thing for sure, though—I saw more cartoon dicks in my playthrough of Coming Out On Top than I have seen in any other game. And that must count for something.