Secret Little Haven is a game about old computers, community, creativity, fandom, gender, and the internet.
Nostalgia and anime, gender and communication, fandom and community, Secret Little Haven isn’t just a game, it’s a dive into an almost-real other world of innocent passions and growing up trans.
Built around a fictional operating system adorably familiar to 90’s Macintosh SLH is a complete representation of late 1990’s online life, even going so far as to begin with the dreaded dialup modem sounds many of us still grind our teeth hearing to this day.
The creator of Secret Little Haven, Victoria Rose, has gone to impressive lengths to represent the feel of personal computers of the day, even going so far as to provide help documentation for the adorable operating system SLH is based around.
The game itself focuses on the main character, Alex, as they interact with the anime community they are involved with; discussing the series they love, dealing with uncomfortable situations with other fans, and trying to work out who they are with the help of the community.
Starting off lightly the discussions focus on the upcoming movie based around the series Alex loves, which quickly starts hinting at the protagonist’s own feelings towards their gender and gauging the reactions of their friends.
As the game progresses you spend time chatting to other members of the community, some positive, others negative, all affecting the story and the emotion of the game. The music is a gorgeous ongoing almost lounge feeling track that feels right out of the era, keeping the mood chill and with the retro atmosphere creates a setting you can lose yourself in for hours.
Not just a simple chat simulator Secret Little Haven has all sorts of things familiar to those who grew up in the 90’s electronic age. Like paper doll applications…
Fan art of Alex’s favourite show…
And a full on fan site for the show itself.
Secret Little Haven is a wonderful experience from it’s beautifully retro 90’s feel to the emotion and discovery we see through the experiences of Alex. It deals with a lot of the difficult issues that trans folk still deal with to this day, as well as many of the positive ones. And in the end a game with this kind of unique and adorable charm deserves your attention.
As always I just had to ask the creator of Secret Little Haven, Victoria Rose, some questions about this beautiful game.
Jamie: Secret Little Haven is a unique experience, how it handles interaction and fan culture. If you were to describe it to someone who has never heard of it before what would you say?
Victoria: I would say that it’s a story about a young trans girl figuring herself out online through the help of forums, chats, and fandom, all told through the lens of a 1990s computer. It’s an dive back into of the close-knit communities of the old internet, and the promise of novelty, connection, and discovery that they afforded. It’s a love letter to those gender-y feelings we had when we were younger, but weren’t able to understand at the time. It asserts that feminine media and the women who make and remix it are valid and deeply important. It’s a game that asserts that the time we spent connecting with people online – though the texts themselves may be lost to the ages – were still deeply important in shaping and enriching our lives. Those fanfics and forum threads you wrote in middle school were important because they were important to you at the time, and they made you into the person you are today. Finally, Secret Little Haven is about how the internet is important to young trans people in particular, giving us agency over our identities and granting the safe place needed to experiment with them.
Jamie: In making SLH are there any skills or lessons you learned that you could see yourself taking into future projects?
Victoria: SLH taught me a LOT about UX Design and Narrative Design. Creating an entire operating system for the game was a daunting task, but in my opinion, it was absolutely necessary in order to achieve the sense of believability in the game’s setting. The 90s internet was newborn and seemingly boundless – everyone was discovering what it was and what it could do, and beginning to eke out their own presence on the federated digital archipelago. If I didn’t pay homage to that sense of infinite potential, then I might as well have not used this setting at all.
I learned how to create characters with believable goals and motivations, and tie those motivations in with the game’s themes. Narrative Design is something I had never really touched in games up to this point, but I learned it piecemeal with each story goal I set for the game. Discovering ways to pace multiple simultaneous conversations and still managing the overall emotional flow of the story was definitely the most unique skill I learned during this time, as the multiple conversations was a critical feature for the game, and they take a lot of juggling to make them work together.
Really though, the biggest take-away from this project in terms of experience was knowing that most skills can be learned by setting practical goals in development. Even if I didn’t know how to do something when making this game, the desire to see it through motivated me to learn as I went. That’s a really reassuring feeling.
Jamie: Do you think there are any particular representations of the LGBTQIA+ community that deserve more screen time in gaming?
Victoria: The queer community doesn’t get much in the way of quality representation in media, but everyone outside cisgender gays/lesbians are especially starved in the way of positive, relatable figures in art and culture. We usually don’t get inspiring, uplifting stories. We get the tragedies. That’s how cishet culture wants to see us, if they know we exist at all. But we damn well deserve better. If no one else is going to do it, we will be the ones to make stories of empowering visibility and positivity. We will tell our own stories that let other queer people like us feel valid, loved, and seen. Representation is so deeply important to marginalized communities, showing us that no matter what society tells us, we exist, and we matter.
Jamie: What’s next for Victoria Rose? Do you have future projects planned that you’re looking forward to?
Victoria: I’m very excited to start on my next project, a low-poly 3D exploration game in a glitchy, surreal world. It will be called Polygon Tengoku, and it is currently in preproduction. I really love the idea of exploring foreign, abstract places in games – places that should not exist but do for as long as you observe them and instill meaning in them. That fascinates me, and I want to use it to metaphorically explore the dynamics of how we engage with art – that our own perceptions and experiences are just as important in understanding it as the art itself. I can’t begin to say how excited I am to start work on Polygon Tengoku, and I really hope you all enjoy it when it eventually does get released!
Secret Little Haven is available on Itch.io
You can follow Victoria at her Twitter