A week ago, I moved away from my hometown for the first time in my life. I drove eight hours through snow and ice, looking to find a new community where I could safely explore my gender identity and sexuality, ideally without threat of judgment or violence. As I type this review from my new home, GENDERWRECKED hits incredibly close to home.
A lot of indie developers revere certain genres, but they don’t always understand what makes these stories tick. They want the post-apocalypse, but they don’t want to explore possible new societies, humanity learning from its cataclysmic mistakes, or the evolution of nature. They want V8 engines, irradiated monsters, and endless deserts. They say they love cyberpunk, but they don’t want to examine the innate terrors of a late capitalist future, or to explore human identity or nature through the genre; they want neon ATARI signs, nano-augmentation, and tears in the rain.
The team behind GENDERWRECKED don’t fall into these categories. It truly understands both genres undergirding the game’s self-described “Post-Apocalyptic Genderpunk.”
GENDERWRECKED uses monstrous, robotic, and abstract forms to present the player with an innately genderless visual construct, allowing the narrative to easily explore gender identity and definition without assigning the character a preconceived sex or gender. The designs are fascinatingly creative, and above all else, shocking. The team does a wonderful job at giving each character a unique, colorful personality that ties in with their abstract design. Similarly, the music achieves a chilling, unsettling tone that keeps the player on edge. This, tied in with the sometimes-grotesque imagery, the ASCII backgrounds, and the occasionally lighthearted dialogue, allows the player to exist in a near constant state of unsettlement.
As its title implies, GENDERWRECKED is about having a conversation about the idea of gender. Some characters in the game are happy with a binary-aligned gender, such as Mark, a robot dad with 159 meat children. You also have characters like Paul, who don’t give a fuck about identifying as anything at all. Some characters choose to identify with different genders based on how they’re feeling on a particular day, and some feel that their gender is like the howling of the wind.
The game moves away from a gender binary, or even a trinary, in favor of a completely abstract notion of what gender is. All of GENDERWRECKED’s characters interpret it differently. Sometimes it’s fluid and flowing, growing and waning like the moon, or constantly burning like the sun in a single fixed point. There are a lot of different lessons or meanings about gender that the player can take away here, but ultimately, there is message that I feel that applies to everyone: “Gender is about feeling right. Gender is about feeling at peace with yourself.” You can be the happiest person in the world on the outside, but dysphoria and self-hatred will ruin anyone. True peace comes from within the self.
At some points, GENDERWRECKED does feel a bit more like the player is being shown a story, rather than interacting with one. The same set of three options seem to appear frequently, making some encounters feel formulaic. Additionally, there are some instances where, despite apparent multiple choices, only one actually moves the plot forward. This has the unfortunate effect of reminding the player that they’re still playing a video game, and momentarily takes them out of the story. Like everything else in the game, GENDERWRECKED ameliorates this greatly with its third set of character interactions, periodically allowing the player to type in their own responses. These little bits of communication do a fabulous job of tying the player to the story.
There are only a few qualms I have with GENDERWRECKED, but they’re minor nitpicks. Different fonts, text colors, perhaps a change in the dialogue boxes; these would all help to make the player forget they’re playing a Ren’py visual novel. However, your mileage may vary, and none of this ruins the game.
GENDERWRECKED assumes a veneer of juvenility and humor in its opening segments. The first set of characters you meet do feel a bit one dimensional, but this is the game simply warming itself up for what’s to come. By the tail end of GENDERWRECKED, the game has ripped out your heart with a fist made of maggots while it warmly holds your hand. The characters evolve, you learn more about them, and you start to see yourself in some of them, and your friends in others.
It’s clear GENDERWRECKED won’t appeal to everyone. It was made for the monsters, the ones who are just trying to live. We’re all monsters, gay cousins, and we deserve more games like this.