As a firm lover of short and sharp experimental indie video games, especially anything produced somewhat locally, Queer Man Peering Into A Rock Pool.jpg had my interest from the moment I first saw it during this year’s LudoNarracon digital convention. Helmed by baes Pete and Scott (Fuzzy Ghost) out of Sydney it’s the product of 14 months of love and care and it’s exactly as weird and queer as I could have hoped.
Queer Man (there’s a nice and short way to refer to it) puts you into the tall, yellow boots of its namesake man as he attempts to piece together his situation following an apocalypse event that sees the world, or at least this portion of it, completely covered in water. Separated from his “Darl” and sharing his living space with a mysterious hole which he refers to as Admin and that speaks in garbled digital nonsense that usually ends in a .mp3, the game opens with our protagonist well-acquainted with his new way of life and doing what he can to keep himself busy while figuring out how to reacquaint with his Darl.
The bulk of what you’ll doing thenin Queer Man is wandering around your little slice of this candy pink climate disaster and picking up “chunkies”, little bits of weird, glitchy garbage mostly found in rock pools dotted around the place. Find ’em, smack your little gay thighs to beckon them to you like you’re at a Potts Point dog park and then take them to the steadily-growing cosmic hole to be turned into new furnishings. Just the usual stuff, really.
Of course, being a wanky, experiential indie joint (which I say with the utmost reverence) there’s no danger of a challenge here and it’s really all about selling the character journey. You’ll occasionally do other things, like smashing out “emails” to your Darl that you hilariously print in lieu of actually sending, but mostly it’s just plodding about the place while the tide shifts and recedes day-by-day to reveal even more places to plod.
If it wasn’t already clear, Queer Man is a kooky little game. Visually it’s a lo-fi, vaporwave-esque treat for the eyes with an incredibly pleasing colour palette and a steady slew of nods to the development team’s home in Sydney – Gadigal Land. There’s even a particular area textured using what I assume are photos of real-life suburban streets (including what I’m told is a proper recreation of an actual coffee shop). It’s a gorgeous mix, the vernacular of an inner-city femme bloke narrating a tale of loss and longing set inside one giant, paste-soaked visual metaphor. It’s all the camp and Australianism of Kath & Kim cut with the absurdity-wrapped philosophising of Adventure Time.
It’s also, and this may come as a shock, very gay. The titular Man’s queer-ness is largely inconsequential to the overall narrative here, but it’s absolutely integral to the vibe. The lanky and effeminate middle-aged gay man is the complete antithesis to the kind of video game protagonists we’re used to. From his sashaying gait to the bubble and excitement in his voice when he makes a new discovery and the way his walk cycle changes to a pouty stomp when it’s past bedtime and there are still chunkies to collect, there’s an inherently positive energy that’s utterly refreshing even in this space of contemplative indie experiences.
It asks for just an hour or two of your time, but like the best indie or arthouse films, Queer Man fills that feature-length run with the perfect rhythm and pace to leave you knocked in the guts and reaching for a cheeky ciggie as soon as the credits begin to roll. It’s odd, garish and gleefully camp in all the best ways and I can’t recommend it enough. It’ll only cost you less than a tenner, too.