CONTENT WARNING: THE BELOW INTERVIEW CONTAINS SEXUAL & KINK REFERENCES AND IMAGERY. AS SUCH ONLY CONTINUE IF YOU ARE OF ADULT AGE
Rarely does a game come along that excites me on as many levels as the game we are about to talk about. Knife Sisters combines elements of romance, kink, identity, sexuality, spirituality and the awkwardness of social interaction in such a way as to drive me forward, yearning for more and replaying over and over until I’ve tried every possible choice.
Successfully funding via Kickstarter at the end of 2018 Transcenders Media has created something not often seen in a gaming market saturated with violence and bland hedonism.
Today we strip away the taboos often placed on such things and talk to the creator of Knife Sisters about their game…
Jamie: Welcoming in 2019 Digital Diversity is honoured to be talking to Bobbi A Sand from Transcenders Media about their upcoming visual novel, Knife Sisters. A game about love, BDSM, the occult, and so many other things.
Welcome to Digital Diversity, Bobbi. Please tell us a little about yourself and about Knife Sisters.
Bobbi: Thanks a lot! I’m a Swedish writer and indie developer, who has been working with games for quite some time, previously in a company called Ozma Games which I had together with a friend, and now in Transcenders Media.
In Ozma we worked with many strange projects, that were sort of about exploring what games are and could be. For example we made a poetry game called Words of Oz, in which players create poetry together. On the side, I’ve also written four fiction novels about relationships, identity and sexuality. In Transcenders Media, I try to combine developing strange games with the character based storytelling from the novels, and that’s how Knife Sisters came about.
It’s a story about 19-year old Leo, who wakes up one day with no recollection of what happened the night before, but with a feeling that something really bad might have happened. The player then has to go back in time and find out what really happened, and through their choices affect the outcome. It’s sort of a slice of life story, almost a high school drama, about friendship, power, sex and love, and the focus is on people and relationships outside of the gender and monogamy norms.
Jamie: So much to unpack already and so many questions I want to ask.
First off I want to know what was your inspiration to make this game? Was it something spawned from elements you’d written about in your novels, or something you felt you needed to express differently, or maybe just a random idea in the middle of the night?
Bobbi: It was kind of a long way from the first spark until I knew it was going to be a game. It all started with me seeing a person at the Pride Parade in Malmö in 2015. The person didn’t look happy as most of the others who were celebrating, instead they stood alone wearing broken angel wings..! I got very intrigued and immediately wanted to do a story based on them as a character.
First I thought it might become a novel, then I toyed with the idea of making it a script for a web tv-series. But then Pixie, who is the programmer of the project, said they thought the story could work well as a game. And the more I thought about that, the more right is seemed. So from around autumn 2016 I worked on the design of it as a game, and successfully applied for funding from the Swedish art fund Kulturbryggan.
Jamie: Wow, that’s a hell of an origin story, I’m glad Pixie convinced you to turn it into a game. The content of Kinfe Sisters is quite confronting at times, from the focus on BDSM, to the occult themes, to how it deals with individual interaction. Were there any elements you knew you wanted to incorporate from the start? Anything you thought was vital to telling the story or making it a game you would want to play?
Bobbi: I think the topic of power was what what interested me, and what I wanted to explore in different ways through the story, themes and gameplay. I wanted to contrast the conscious use of power such as in BDSM with the more elusive expressions of power that comes to play within relationships.
Jamie: Do you think that we should be using games more to discuss power themes such as BDSM more? Should we be trying to get away from this idea of it as a “taboo” subject and approach it as something familiar and safe (Safe being a word in the context of risk aware and consensual) if done right and for the right reasons?
Bobbi: I definitely do. Games are a suitable medium for discussing power, I think, and can be used as a safe space. I think that dominance and submission (in various forms) are part of sexual play for many human beings, and to make such things taboo therefore seems a bit strange… There are many misconceptions about what BDSM is, but that only makes it more important to have it out in the open and to discuss it.
Jamie: Heavy agree there from someone with about a decade worth of experience. Tell me more about some of the characters of Knife Sisters; do you have a favourite, someone you identify with more than the others or whom you might have put a elements of yourself into?
Bobbi: That’s a hard question to answer, because in a way I think I’ve put fragments of myself into many of the characters… I really love the main character Leo, and we’re similar in some respects (f eg being non-binary, poly and pansexual), but definitely not in others (I’m very emotional and Leo’s not). I like all of the dateable characters a lot, but the shy trans girl Vicki was the one who was easiest to write about … I think I definitely had a soft spot for her.
Jamie: Are there any challenges you’ve faced so far in the creation of Knife Sisters? The Kickstarter successfully funded, has that given you the financial breathing room you needed to complete the game to the level you want?
Bobbi: Funding is always a challenge, and finding a scope that will fit the economical conditions… I had planned for significantly less graphic assets than I ended up creating. The Kickstarter has given me room to fund some of those unplanned things, which is good! More could always be done, but I need to ship the game at some point too…
Jamie: Definitely. After a couple of playthroughs of the demo I know it’s not close to enough for me yet. I need more time as Leo.
Let’s have a fun hypothetical one: if you had the resources to make anything you wanted in a game what would it be? If time and money or technical ability were no option?
Bobbi: I’m very interested in human psychology, so I’d probably want to explore that deeper, using stats and AI modeled on human behaviour, to affect the development and stories of the characters. A topic that fascinates me a lot is subconscious processes of the brain, and how we develop our personalities and survival strategies. I’d like to explore telling the stories of a larger number of characters in one game, sort of like a chronicle that spans over a significant amount of time, where you follow and affect the destiny of the characters, by making their choices … umm, now this actually starts to sound like a game I’ve already been working on before, but that never shipped.
Jamie: Haha, something to think about for the future maybe? It sounds like you’ve already got a starting point for it. Hearing non-binary voices in games is rare, especially from a non-binary creator, can you think of initiatives that might help more gender non-conforming writers and developers to get their stories and ideas out there in the games industry?
Bobbi: If I think back upon how I found the courage to enter this heavily male dominated field, it was through teaming up with a female friend who shared my interests and values. Therefore I think it’s important to support spaces where people from marginalized groups can find each other and form alliances, and also spaces where those creators can get their works noticed.
I think separatist spaces definitely have a place, but also mixed spaces that encourage the participation of people from marginalized groups. It’s important to lower entry barriers and get away from the common perception of what games are – games can be so much more than that for sure, and everyone can create games. But in the end, getting more voices to be heard requires work at all levels of society, and also that people with power actually give some of that power away.
Jamie: It’s been awesome getting to chat with you, Bobbi. Knife Sisters is an incredible game and I can’t wait to see it finished and out there in the world. Any last words you’d like to share or a shout out you’d like to make?
Bobbi: Thanks for those words, it’s been great speaking to you as well! I’m definitely looking forward to let Knife Sisters out in the world in a couple of months time. I just got a version of the ending score from the musician, and am writing on the final scene, so it’s starting to get very close. Exciting times ahead!