Content Warning: The below interview contains sexual & kink references, imagery and pixel art nudity. As such only continue if you are of adult age.
Preface: I’ve been wanting to review the below game, Hardcoded, for a while now but haven’t been able to adequately put into words how I feel about how the games industry (and the world in general) treats matters like marginalisation, trans issues and sex work & entertainment.
These things are far too often “taboo” subjects and swept under the rug, leaving many folk compromised, ignored, or more often than not ridiculed and harassed publicly. I believe this needs to stop. As a society we need to accept others and fight against bigotry and obfuscation. The final push to interview the creator came from seeing a popular games magazine referencing this game and the vitriol in the comments that followed, we can do better.
Thankfully my guest today is far more eloquent than I on these subjects…
Jamie: On Digital Diversity today I’m talking to Fortunae Virgo, creator of Hardcoded, a dating sim with a lot of differences. It’s a real pleasure getting to talk to you today, Fortunae. I love Hardcoded and I’ve wanted to talk to you about it for ages. So please, tell me about yourself, and what Hardcoded is in your own words.
Fortunae: Hey, I’m Kenzie Stargrifter, aka Fortunae Virgo, an nb trans girl game dev art programmy person, & I’m making Hardcoded with my cool friends, Trix Royale & S R Holiwell. I’ve been working on it for a while and I still don’t really know how to describe it well, but I’ll give it a shot: Hardcoded is an erotic cyberpunk visual novel / dating sim-type-thing, but with a bunch of cute mechanics, like dress up, decorating your apartment, & exploration, which is the cutest mechanic of all.
It’s about a trans droid girl tryna make friends & fit in with humans and everything is very gay. It was supposed to be a porn game that featured trans people without being transphobic, filled with slurs, et cetera; a game that would make trans people feel comfortable and safe. Plus, with this kind of game comes a sizeable cis audience, so maybe we can show them, like, trans people are real.
Jamie: It has been great to play a game where the conflict does not come from being trans, that’s for sure.
Do you think that it’s important for game developers to create works that don’t have being part of a marginalised group as the main source of conflict? To show that you can live as someone who is trans, or a person of colour or disabled and not have it not all be about struggle?
Fortunae: Yeah but not in the way where I wanna shit on devs for doing that, I don’t think? Like, make the things that are important to you, make games about your struggle. That’s awesome and important. Humanizing characters is good, but not staying in your lane is bad. Reaching for what you can’t achieve because you don’t know enough, stepping on toes… I wonder if it just feels like there’s a shortage of games that characterize some groups of marginalized people with depth beyond their struggle because I’m an outsider to those groups.
Also, I prob’ly just don’t play enough games. Just like how I assume that the trans games that are important to me probl’y don’t reach too big of a cis audience, there’s probably tons of stuff that isn’t reaching me. A lotta good work out there must go unnoticed. If we wanna talk mainstream games, then i think there’s a whole bigger problem, but I know even less about that scene.
Jamie: That’s totally fair, it’s a big ol’ industry out there. It would be a pretty sad world if all the games ended up the same, even if it was all about acceptance.
Back onto more Hardcoded matters though, you say from the start you wanted to make a porn game, when you started did you expect that it would gain this kind of positive reception or grow so large in such a short period of time?
Fortunae: Oh my gosh, no, I had no idea it would go this well, and I’m super thankful to all my amazing supporters! I started this cause i was desperate and burnt out on commissions and I thought if I made some shitty porn game for cis people, I might be able to maybe hopefully make enough money to escape a shitty dangerous situation, but its hard. Like, everything is hard, and I couldn’t stick with development without making it very personal, which I was kinda worried about. I didn’t know the game would evolve into what it has, and I had no idea that people would care so much about it. It’s still super hard to believe, tbh.
Jamie: And you got people excited about a porn game with trans folk without making it full of slurs or fetishising trans people. I mean the game has a lot of kink stuff going on, but the characters themselves are never put in a position where they are the kink. That puts you above a few other projects I’ve seen out there.
On that line, were there any particular story elements or kinks that you knew you wanted to have in the game from the start? Or that you really wanted to put in along the development path?
Fortunae: Yeah, totally. I had really wanted do to that whole ‘HC gets taken apart’ thing for a long time, and I think it came out pretty good, so I’m probly gonna do a little more of that. I also wanted to have a character who can’t socialize the way everyone else does due to trauma reasons, and I have that in Mags, but I feel like I still haven’t explored it as much as I want to?
I also always wanted HC to feel kinda alienated by trans people cause she’s a droid, and cause being nervous to be around other trans people is part of The Trans Experience, but I kinda fucked that up I’m pretty sure. There’s more kink stuff I’m hoping to include too, but I don’t wanna say in case people hold me to it aha.
Jamie: That taken apart scene has been one of my favourites since the early alphas. That mixture of trust and vulnerability plays on a lot of both emotion and fantasy I think a lot of people have. Having sexuality and relationships approached with such positivity really helps make the game special.
How much content do you think there’s still left to go in Hardcoded? A lot of the content at the moment is only available via Patreon membership. Do you see it being a game your team works on long term, or do you have another project that you’d all like to get to so you’ll wrap it up as soon as it feels right?
Fortunae: Aha, thanks :3 There’s still quite a bit of content we want to add, but also, we’re for sure not trying to keep Hardcoded in development longer than it needs to be. I’m a little anxious about what happens when it’s finished, cause my idea for a next game is pretty different. Game dev is always gonna feel like a gamble though. It’s a lot of work before you find out if it was a good idea. I’m excited though!
Jamie: Sounds like a exciting future to look forward to. I can’t wait to see the final Hardcoded and what comes next. I don’t want to keep you from your work any longer so we’ve time for one last question.
Adult games are an important way for us to discuss and learn about sexuality and gender, our own and those of other people, how do you think that the industry as a whole can do a better job of fighting the taboo of sex in games?
Fortunae: This taboo surprises me. I was reading comments on a pcgamer article listing good porn games ’cause Hardcoded was on it, and, like, 95% of the comments were just people shaming the author for writing about the topic. Even the title of the article was a lowkey self-deprecating jab about the perception of porn games. I don’t want to speculate why, but I’m curious about how much of it comes from the porn games scene being kind of a shit-show when it comes to things like… general quality. I don’t think it’s ever cool to shit on someone’s hard work; there’s tons of good art, programming, design and music in porn games out there, but these games have suuuuuuch an opportunity to be informative and affirmative without being diminished in the process.
I do have to admit the porn games I play almost always end up being, like, pleasantly one-dimensional at best, and actively harmful at worst. There’s so much porn that relies on trans women’s mystique and mythos: it makes them completely mythical, unattainable. Unreal. It has to be worsening the repression of someone, somewhere. Things were different when I was figuring myself out, but, like, I totally learned what trans people were from porn, and that’s kinda messed up. I still see people watch trans porn and be like, ‘I wish [transphobic slur] were real.’ The advice I always hear to make less offensive trans porn games is, like, Hire Trans People! Which is definitely a damn good place to start: you can’t fake an honest experience without losing something vital and having it show to those in the know. Hiring trans people is important for, like, mainstream games, but I get that people are just trying do what they can in this scene in most cases.
But some things I’d like to see in trans-representative games more often are just… characters saying the word ‘trans’ more. Writers writing trans people like they’re people. I don’t know if helping to stop the spread of prejudice and misinformation about trans people would correlate to helping ease the stigma against porn games, but… it would be cool.
Jamie: You’ve definitely given us a lot to think about. There’s a lot of change left for the world to go through and every little bit helps the cause.
Thank you so much for your time, Fortunae. I’m really looking forward to seeing Hardcoded finished and watching the characters grow in many lewd and cute ways along with the story. It really is a unique and beautiful game that deserves all the attention and support it can get.
Any last words you’d like to share with the world?
Fortunae: Thank you!!! Uh, thanks everyone, have fun, bye!!