The Indie Game Decoding the Gay Male Reality

‘A Gay’s Life’ combines entertainment and information to educate and promote tolerance.

Ling Hao is dealing with an often-haunting existential question as he comes to terms with his sexuality: “Am I the only man like this in the world?”

It’s here, after Ling’s inner monologue, that you — a person he’s never met — can take his place and help him decide how he feels about his own sexual orientation.

Ling, a nondescript young man, is the protagonist of “A Gay’s Life,” a first-of-its-kind interactive game and choose-your-own-ending story that highlights the feelings and fears of many gay men — from confronting their sexuality to accepting their identity and revealing it to their family. Since its release in May, the game has attracted nearly 1 million players on Chengguang, a website that publishes user-generated games and interactive novels.

In this role-playing game, the first few chapters are about Ling’s sexual awakening in his small hometown. Players embark on a journey with Ling as he moves to a big city to pursue higher education and later settles down. Users get to know Ling as he becomes aware of his sexual orientation and gains self-acceptance; they witness his romantic exploits and experience the grueling interrogations from his family after he comes out to them.

Players are also faced with multiple options that appear in the form of questions at different stages of the game, all of which will ultimately decide Ling’s fate. How they answer will result in nine different endings, including a happily-ever-after outcome with a handsome doctor, a marriage of deception with a woman, or becoming a monk. The answers can also affect Ling’s “self-acceptance points” and can even see him sent to a “conversion therapy” facility during the game, should the points get too low.

The mastermind behind this game is Huang Gaole, a 27-year-old native of China’s eastern Shandong province, currently in Beijing pursuing a doctorate degree in computer science.

“I aimed to produce a game based on reality to popularize information,” Huang told Sixth Tone in a phone interview. “I didn’t expect the game to draw so much attention.”

A still from the TV series ‘Crystal Boys.’ From the Taiwan Public Television Service Foundation

As a gay man, he said the 2003 Taiwanese television series “Crystal Boys” was revelatory: He could empathize with the struggles of the show’s young protagonist as he watched the character get suspended from school and kicked out of home for being gay. The series inspired Huang to develop a game that could reflect the struggles of hundreds and thousands of gay men like him in China.

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China decriminalized homosexuality in 1997 and removed it from its list of mental disorders four years later. Many Chinese cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu seemingly harbor progressive attitudes and have bustling LGBT scenes: There are gay bars, queer film festivals, and even gay pride events. In a rare-but-encouraging victory for the LGBT community this year, China’s microblogging platform Weibo backtracked plans to censor gay-related comics and videos. However, setbacks have also riddled the community: Online depictions of homosexuality have been banned, gay-themed acts were cut from an international broadcast, and participants at an LGBT awareness event in May were physically assaulted.

In “A Gay’s Life,” Huang said he wanted to document the current realities of life as a gay man in the Chinese mainland. He drew the game’s plot from his own coming-out experience, along with anecdotes he collected from gay-rights organizations. He also sifted through academic journals to provide readers with additional context on LGBT-related issues. The game even addresses other topical themes such as HIV, pink capitalism, open relationships, sham marriages, and gender equality. Read the full INTERVIEW here.


– This article originally appeared on Sixth Tone.