Earlier this year, Midboss, the company behind LGBTQ gaming convention GaymerX, released queer gaming documentary Gaming in Color. As a film about the lives of LGBTQ gamers and game creators and the obstacles they face in the gaming scene, it challenged popular game developers to include queer characters in their games. Inspired by the film’s message and looking to put their money where their mouth was, the company also launched a Kickstarter campaign to create a game of their own. Now, Midboss is releasing Read Only Memories, a classic point-and-click style adventure game bursting at the seams with queer content.
Taking cues from legendary anime film Akira, the game takes place in Neo-San Francisco in the year 2064 AD. In a sort of Janelle Monae approach to diversity, people have begun experimenting with both gene splicing and cybernetic augmentation to push the boundaries of what it means to be human and greater express their true selves. Not everyone is happy about these “hybrids,” of course, and tensions are driven higher by the existence of ROMs, personal assistant robots who are supposed to be bound to their masters. As a young journalist still looking for your big break, opportunity literally knocks at your door when you’re awoken one night by Turing, an independent ROM who may be the very first robot with true free will (and whose namesake is Alan Turing, a gay scientist whose Turing Test is still used to this day to determine when an artificial intelligence has become indistinguishable from a human). It seems his creator, whose dream was to create a robot with true sapience, has gone missing. Turing can’t trust the police and, after digging through his creator’s contacts, has determined that you are the one most likely to help him find his “father.”
The result is a stirring cyberpunk noir that takes you through the weird and wild streets of Neo-San Francisco as you look for your lost friend. Embracing a strong pedigree, the story draws obvious inspirations from Snatcher, another popular game in a similar style, as well as Astro Boy, a pioneering anime which follows a robot boy with the unique ability to feel. Still, Read Only Memories is not afraid to grasp its own unique identity. Along your journey, you’ll meet characters such as Jess Meas, a hybrid rights lawyer, Lexi Rivers, a longtime friend of yours and disenfranchised detective, and Tomcat, a skilled hacker whose past is a mystery. At least one of these characters is almost guaranteed to be queer, but you’ll have to play the game yourself to find out.
On top of that, you’re promised to meet all sorts of people as you traverse the underworld of Neo-San Francisco, LGBTQ or not. The game also allows you room to craft your own character’s identity as it offers a unique system to customize which pronouns it uses to refer to your character while speaking in third person. Adding to the experience is highly detailed pixel art from artist and director JJSignal and a rocking chiptune soundtrack from 2Mello which exudes retro style.
In classic adventure game style, you’ll solve puzzles (many with multiple possible solutions), gather allies, and discover a story with several potential outcomes as you work your way to the heart of the game’s central mystery. Don’t be fooled: this game may have a radical spirit, but it’s looking to build that on top of a strong foundation of well-developed gameplay. “Read Only Memories is the result of our eagerness to highlight that it is possible and easy to celebrate diversity in a realistic way while also endeavoring to create a fun, deep game,” writes Midboss. “There are many unheard voices in video games that are seeking games that feature diverse stories that are relatable, so instead of waiting for AAA [big budget] companies to crusade for progressive themes in their games, we decided to form a team and make the kind of game that we want to see.”