My latest anthology, Saltwater Sorrows came out earlier this week. I’m going to celebrate that fact over the next couple weeks by sharing a series of blog posts by myself and some of my authoers.
So today, while I’m in Calgary at When Words Collide preparing to ‘officially’ launch this book, I’d like to invite you to spend some time with Natalie Cannon. Natalie wrote “Portrait of a Mermaid as a Young Woman” and today she is sharing her recommendations for a couple video games that might help get you in the mood, not just for her story, but all the stories in this anthology.
By Natalie Cannon
I want to start by thanking Rhonda Parrish and this blog for hosting this post. I’m very excited for Saltwater Sorrows: both to share my mermaid with the world and to read everyone else’s shimmering work. To whet our shark-like appetites, I thought I’d share five interactive fictions. These video games will help get you into the mood for Saltwater Sorrows…and may linger like blood in the water when they’re over.
Bycatch by VOWTogether
“You are the Fisher. Burdened by a curse to find things better left lost, you make the choices you can, and wonder if any of it will make a difference in the end.”
Bycatch is a game to scream, wail, and gnash your teeth to. With a runtime under one hour, this game guts the heart and fully exercises the tear ducts. As a salt-soaked rumination on nostalgia, it fishes out questions with no clear answer and weaves nets of wonders. What should we bring home with us, and into our futures? The muted color palette and inky line work are creepy and beautiful and beautifully creepy. If you’re a dating sim fan of yore, VOWTogether is the same writing team behind the now-defunct Lovestruck app, whose queer-positive stories spearheaded major changes in the USA video game industry. Lovestruck’s queer merfolk love story, My Siren Crush, is being painstakingly rebuilt by fans, if you want to check that out as well. https://beamycomet47.itch.io/my-siren-crush-remix
Choice of Broadsides by Adam Strong-Morse, Heather Albano, and Dan Fabulich at Choice of Games
“A swashbuckling naval adventure, in the spirit of C. S. Forester’s Hornblower or Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin books, with a dash of Jane Austen.”
As the description implies, Choice of Broadsides will have you sailing the fictional—yet quite familiar—waters of definitely-not Atlantic Ocean during the definitely-not Napoleonic Wars. Without sound effects or graphics, this interactive fiction is pure choose-your-own-adventure, with choices throwing you like ocean froth from turbulent seas to dignified ballrooms. As the first Choice of Games I ever played, I wasn’t sure which way the wind blew. Rest assured, I liked it so much that I wrote my own interactive fiction later (Moonrise, about sapphic werewolves). Broadsides will have you fretting over how to best capture a plum prize, solve a shipside murder, suppress a mutiny, and if you truly desire Mr. Darcy’s twin. The results are hilarious and joyous. One of the first choices is if you’d like to flip the patriarchy on its head. That is, women can be “dominant” gender, who must seek their fortunes in the ocean breeze, while men tend the hearth and dress in copious amounts of lace. If you want more high seas fun, Choice of Games published The Daring Mermaid Expedition (wherein you must prove mermaids are real) https://www.choiceofgames.com/daring-mermaid-expedition/ and their sister company Heart’s Choice published A Pirate’s Pleasure (wherein you smooch pirates) https://www.choiceofgames.com/hearts-choice/pirates-pleasure/
Boyfriend Dungeon by Kitfox Games
“Romance your swords! Capture the hearts of weapons (m, f, enby) to level them up in this dating simulator and dungeon crawler mash up. The weapons you use turn into beautiful people—take them on dates to level them up and become more powerful slaying monsters together. This is the “shack-and-slash” the world’s been waiting for!”
Boyfriend Dungeon perfectly captures Southern California’s laid back beach vibes and is honestly the perfect game for summer. Bask in the visual novel segments and let the adrenal waves surge during dungeons literally crawling with your anthropomorphized fears. This game was my first dungeon crawler—you could say I was wet behind the ears—but Boyfriend Dungeon is beginner friendly. To better sharpen my proverbial teeth, I made full use of the crafting system, which uses zines to amp powers and stylish outfits alike. Most of Boyfriend Dungeon is sunnily light-hearted, but the core is a coming-of-age story for twenty-somethings trying to figure out how they want to be in an adult. There’s no compass here, and following one’s heart can lead off the edge of known maps. Kitfox Games took pains to make Boyfriend Dungeon queer-friendly as well. From the mechanics to in writing, friendships are given equal value to romantic relationships. The nonbinary characters are adorable and lore-important. If humans exhaust you, you can focus on befriending a cat! Or be like me and form one huge polycule!
It gets so lonely here by ebi-hime
“You are running through a forest. It is late at night and the sky is as black as pitch. The trees which surround you, jutting out of the earth like eerie monuments to a foreign god, are blotting out most of the moonlight. You do not know where you are going. You have no map; no route; no plan. You have no desire, as you run, save to escape. You cannot let yourself be caught. All you can do is run, on and on and on… But, despite all of your hard work, your best efforts will, invariably, be in vain. It’s already too late for you. After all…
“You’ll never be able to escape from me.”
It gets so lonely here is a lesbian fairy tale-esque visual novel made for Yandere Game Jam 2023. For those not happily drowning in East Asian media, “yandere” is a Japanese storytelling archetype used to describe a character who takes love, admiration, and devotion to extreme, violent levels. They’re possessive, obsessive, unstable, insatiable, and stop at nothing to get what they want. Scuttling away from the more bloody aspects of the archetype, It gets so lonely here buries itself with relish into the trope’s psychological horror. The love interests—one of whom is a mermaid—are deeply traumatized by grief, guilt, death, and, yes, the loneliness of survival at all costs. The heroine isn’t immune either, as insecurities and jealousies stick to her like barnacles, making me think that she might lock these women up, given the power. Murder isn’t the most healthy of love languages, but the twilit dreamy atmosphere, artful melancholy, and eerie soundtrack can lull you into thinking about it.
Romancelvania by Deed End Games
“Play as a lovelorn, brooding Drac who, after a century of moping around post-heartbreak, is thrown into a monster reality-dating show, hosted by the Grim Reaper! Explore Transylvania’s perilous countryside as you slay absurd baddies on your hunt for the most eligible monsters.
“Will Drac find ‘Love at First Bite,’ or will he discover ‘Love Sucks’?”
You read that right. Deep End Games put reality TV dating and monster romance tropes into a blender and hit crush. Part metroidvania, part dating sim, Romancelvania is all laugh-out-loud adventure. The gem-encrusted whip and Blood Tornado were my favorite weapons to explore the seascape with. The tide brings in quite the silly enemy, like a guy from Accounting and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. In the fully voiced cast of colorful lovers, Leira and Robert stand as islands among the ocean. Siren Queen Leira may flash her teeth, but she’s dedicated to her underwater kingdom like no other. Zombie pirate Robert’s story brims with brackish sorrow, to the point I had to quit the game a bit. Like Boyfriend Dungeon before, the endless puns and sexual innuendo are trimmings for a hearty contemplation on love. Drac and other characters mourn what could have been, a past lost, and broken relationships. It’s easy to say “move on,” but much harder to actually take the step. While the shenanigans are fun, one of the most rewarding play moments was Drac announcing they are truly their ex. Plus! Drac has a customizable body type and voice, so pull out those trans, femme, and masc Drac headcanons all you want!
With these five games in your library, you’ll be more than ready to plunge into Saltwater Sorrows when the anthology debuts. Wave back to the mermaids, tip the fishers, polish your sword, and knock on the ship sides for luck. We’ll get through this together.
Deep, mysterious, beautiful . . . dangerous . . .
Women and the sea have been tied together in myth and story from the beginning of time. Tales of women being drawn to the sea or being left on the shore, waiting for their men’s return, have been passed down through the ages.
But what mysteries lie beneath the sparkling placid waters? What power drives the wind and waves crashing against the shore? There is transformation and exaltation—magic—in the ocean and women alike. And both know that while the sea gives, the sea also takes.
Sink into the icy depths of the ocean with these stories by: E.E. King; Natalie Cannon; Morgan Melhuish; Paul A. Hamilton; Laura VanArendonk Baugh; Sarah Van Goethem; Adria Laycraft; Dino Parenti; B. Zelkovich; Lisa Carreiro; Lea Storry; Nikoline Kaiser; Elin Olausson; Chandra Fisher; Hayley Stone; V.F. LeSann; Catherine MacLeod; and Jennifer R. Donohue.