“Computers are magical,” says Victoria Dominowski, developer of Secret Little Haven, a sport of personal discovery thru chat rooms, the net, and running structures.
“Computers and the internet have continually been a crucial a part of my existence, in addition to the lives of masses of other transhumans. In the absence of a means of expressing ourselves how we love in real lifestyles, we take to social areas online, in which we pick avatars that constitute us better than our real bodies can. Forums and fansites are social areas that can be participated in out of doors of the judgemental eye of dad and mom, and provide many youngsters’ first sense of real social freedom – something which is, in particular, vital for transhumans.”
Secret Little Haven follows Alex Cole, a younger trans lady best simply beginning to discover herself thru the character she creates on-line, as well as her interactions and moves on her computer and in the digital landscape.
It’s a super tale about Cole gaining knowledge of who she is through use of her computer, and to inform one of this tale, Dominowski got down to seize a real feel of the use of a pc and the net in the game.
To achieve this Dominowski got here up with Sanctuary OS, an operating system full of applications, browsers, websites, text editors, doll makers, and different gear for gamers to play around with and take part in. In doing so, Dominowski created a place for the participant to find out the character, going along on Alex’s adventure of self-discovery using these tools at the identical time. The participant and Alex are each studying Alex’s true self thru their online conduct.
“This freedom is empowering in a way that few different things are at that age,” says Dominwoski. “The promise of an impossibly-substantial net to explore is breathtaking, mainly at an age in which the arena already feels brimming with opportunity. This is why I felt the sport’s SanctuaryOS was the correct way by way of which to inform the tale of my sport.”
Learning about ourselves via our computers
Dominowski sought to tell Alex’s story via an operating system and the diverse applications and chat rooms that got here alongside it, mirroring the self-discovery she’d visible through online interactions and virtual areas in the trans community. Not best this, however part of it turned into born out of facing her beyond self.
“I chose to design SanctuaryOS after Mac OS nine – due to the fact to me, it represents a time of recovery, empowering femininity, and acceptance.”
“Getting into the specifics of sanctuary’s’ Mac OS 9-stimulated layout, after I was a lot more youthful, nevertheless closeted, still blind to myself, and nonetheless associating with pals who had been deeply ensconced in poisonous masculinity as a cowl for my actual emotions, my friend used to make amusing of Macintoshes for his or her extra female look,” says Dominwoski. “I constantly half of-heartedly joked in go back approximately it, playing along.”
“Years later, after I had moved on, confronted my feelings, and got here out, I determined an old bright purple iMac G3 in a thrift shop jogging OS 9,” she maintains. “Upon exploring the gadget once more, it felt clean and new – uncharted territory all over again. I used that pc to explore quite a few the feminine media that I became too afraid to bask in after I became a whole lot younger. I adored it from head to toe with lovable, girly matters, and expressed myself through the use of the computer.”
“I experience like coming again with an open mind, no closeted and burdened insecurities, and without the noxious pall of poisonous masculinity looming overhead, I turned into sooner or later capable of making peace with my vintage self. This is why I chose to layout SanctuaryOS after Mac OS 9 – due to the fact to me, it represents a time of recovery, empowering femininity, and attractiveness.”
This strength, which had a super restoration and self-reflective impact on Dominowski, might be captured within the sanctuary’s she created for Secret Little Haven. Like her own studies, this mock pc might be a place where players could get to realize themselves as Alex, a character that, like someone locating their real selves for the primary time, we would come to satisfy, and really receive, for the primary time as nicely.
“By developing a space where the participant is free to explore the pc and have interaction with others as they prefer, it permits them the equal independence that the protagonist Alex feels,” says Dominowski. “We don’t understand something about Alex proper up the front – no longer what she looks like, where she lives, or what her existence was like up till now. The simplest matters you realize approximately this person that you roleplay is what you may acquire via speak picks, current chat logs, and what you discover on her pc. This instills a herbal curiosity in the player and receives them to study extra about her through the social actions that the game presents. Thus, players can empathize greater strongly along with her reports by means of reflecting them on their very own ones.”
Telling testimonies thru a running machine
Still, how does one tell a story via an OS? How does a person get to recognize a man or woman via their movements on a laptop or via chat rooms and packages? How does one seize all of that via a created running device? This becomes all a daunting challenge for Dominowski, but one which changed into fundamental to giving the participant that feeling of self-discovery, with the OS being simply as a great deal an individual as every other man or woman in Secret Little Haven’s narrative.
“I desired players to connect to SanctuaryOS like they would any of the sport’s principal characters, and which means putting in simply as tons attempt into fleshing it out as a real issue as everybody else. I desired players to feel that equal sense of marvel that I felt once I turned into first discovering computers and the net,” she says. “I desired them to feel like anything is feasible in this new space, as long as they had been willing to put within the attempt to explore. I desired this to tie into the characters’ arcs of self-discovery and independence. I wanted SanctuaryOS to be magical.”
“It is innately amusing to discover things. I aimed to carry that enjoy to every person, and to lead them to feel that equal experience of laptop magic I first felt so long ago.”
Luckily, setting up a computer interface to engage with creates a herbal beginning floor for most gamers. After all, in the event that they’re gambling Secret Little Haven in any respect, they’re already sitting at a laptop.
“Computer interfaces are sufficient of a well-understood paradigm that human beings can jump properly in and get a very good sense of the way to perform their goals. They use their actual computer on a day to day basis, and hence, it is less difficult for them to create a bond with sanctuaries. If you manage to preserve the illusion of a cohesive world, then you definitely already achieved a massive a part of the work of having players emotionally invested.”
However, not everything about the OS landscape Dominowski created became without delay comprehensible to its players. Drawing from older Macintosh OS’ supposed that some aspects won’t had been at once clear to players, something Dominowski found through playtesting.
“I spent infinite hours looking testers do not anything other than discovering sanctuary’s and seeing how they interacted with the machine’s UX ideas. Often, I could locate UX paradigms that didn’t make sense to customers, and required me to make miniature tutorials, or make some UI elements fit extra in step with present-day paradigms,” says Dominowski.
These exams could show her a handful of problems with Secret Little haven, assisting her to clean out a few elements gamers won’t apprehend, assisting make the transition from their own OS to that of the sanctuary’s that an awful lot smoother, allowing the player to sense extra like they’ve inhabited the person. After all, what’s the difference between participant and individual when each is sharing a space the usage of the pc?
“The System Menu Bar mainly was a big trouble to many customers who’ve best ever visible or used a Windows gadget – many customers didn’t even be aware it till the sport points out its presence as it’s far relevant to a puzzle. I needed to crossways out of my way to call it out as a vital UI detail early on in the sport,” says Dominowski. “For a smaller instance, I used to model each windows’ limit/close buttons after those of Mac OS 9, upon which SanctuaryOS is heavily based totally. But as those symbols were out of the greater laptop customers’ recognition for so long, they became inscrutable to gamers. I needed to alternate them to mirror the extra fashionable X/- notation of Windows systems.”
Players, in playing around on sanctuary’s, could come to study more about the individual through their personal curiosity and their explorations of the pc itself. This become helped alongside by using Dominowski’s simplest entertainment for growing virtual playgrounds, for what’s a computer if not an array of factors to engage with and discover?
“People have informed me that as a dressmaker, I am the sort to make playgrounds. This way that in place of slim in on a single mechanic and flesh it out into a whole recreation,” says Dominowski. “I favor making spaces of opportunity for players to peruse at their enjoyment. The games which have stimulated me the most through the years had been pleasant, yet incredibly mysterious places to explore full of plenty of fascinating distractions and the tantalizing promise of the unknown.”
A screencap from the Nintendo 64DD recreation Mario Artist: Polygon Studio, released in 2000 in Japan
“Games like Nintendo’s unsung N64DD conventional, Polygon Studio, which distilled this precept down to its center in its open-world side-recreation mode, made me comprehend just how important this form of experience is to me and why it resonates with gamers,” she keeps. “This is why I filled SanctuaryOS with toys and gizmos and utilities – because it’s far innately amusing to discover matters. I aimed to bring that enjoy to everybody, and to lead them to feel that same sense of pc magic I first felt see you later ago.”
Through developing and trying out a virtual playground – in creating an OS where players could study the individual thru using her laptop and applications, Dominowski used player interest and the matters they are able to have interaction with to reveal the mystical capacity for self-discovery that a computer can extend. This wasn’t the best element that helped players get to recognize Alex and stay through her story, even though.
Building narratives with chat rooms
Conversation is regularly the lifeblood of storytelling and man or woman improvement – Dominowksi was simply going to have to do a LOT of it to create a plausible global of chat rooms and online interactions. This would seize the feel of discovering oneself via online interactions, chatting and posting with strangers throughout the globe all at once.
This meant a great deal of labor in growing chat rooms, plausible people replying, websites, and far, some distance extra content that the player may most effective graze in passing. It might require tons and tons of content material, which, while challenging, Dominowski took to.
“I was constantly going to be sure by the limitations of content,” says Dominowski. “My selection to make an online network that felt real could most effectively be achieved as a long way as I become inclined to put in the effort to make threads, boards, and users on it. While I might have cherished to feature greater content material to the PGFans discussion board, I’m still best one lady, and I simplest have a lot of time.”
“The enjoyment of seeing others sense the same manner which you felt while you had been younger – to eventually placed phrases and validation to those feelings – is deeply empowering and enlightening.”
“Forums and chats are busy, energetic webs of personal interplay – making every verbal exchange in Millennium Net Chat and each thread on PGFans tie into a cohesive complete is a frightening undertaking of narrative design,” she maintains.
“The fact that players juggle more than one simultaneous conversations made syncing every one up became an actual gaining knowledge of revel in on pacing, occasion flag management, and testing. No communication will be an island, however, had to tie into the occasions taking place around it, taking care no longer to step over its tonal boundaries for whatever factor within the tale the participant may be.” she keeps. “But it changed into definitely really worth it to create an enjoy that does not compromise the feeling and capability of a real chat patron. Believability and immersion changed into usually the intention.”
The assignment would be to create an over-arching person narrative via the diverse chats, which meant growing limitless quantities of online chats. These could all should tie into one another to present players a feel of who Alex is, which intended an exceptional deal of labor for Dominowski in ensuring gamers ought to follow all of those conversations and draw an experience of her character through these interactions.
The discussion board, as it would turn out, might be a helpful device in linking those conversations together as nicely.
“Over time, the discussion board became a better device for tonal pacing than I to begin with expected,” says Dominowski. “As it gets up to date every in-game day, I learned to use those new topics to match the tone of that day’s chat content. Once I realized this, I started making new topics and posts reflect the protagonist’s emotional country. This simply bolstered the tale, and allowed me to further intertwine the browser and chat.”
Chats would offer a terrific deal of capability to study Alex, but it would additionally be vital that Alex is speaking in an area that might provide her the protection and comfort she could want to be sincere with herself. With a story about Alex turning into cozy in her real self, Dominowski needed to create an area in which she could experience safe in having the one’s feelings.
“Making Millennium Net Chat and PGFans experience like secure, welcoming places was a large goal of mine, so a good sized amount of rewriting and thematic tuning went properly into world constructing,” Dominowski says. “Having each of these locations be an outlet for the protagonist to freely specific creativity and femininity changed into very important to set up early on. RPG fans is a place you could put up your newbie fanfiction of transport your two favorite magical ladies, and a disturbing boy won’t creep up and make amusing of you for it.”
“It’s an area for femininity to be expressed freely, and in mediums that are often dismissed as trivial by way of the patriarchy (fanfiction, fanart, and many others),” she keeps. “Young girls want locations wherein they can freely specific themselves in the midst of our sexist tradition. They want a mystery little haven.”
Dominowski created this believable, cozy area for Alex to discover herself in, and had worked to assist the player research extra approximately this adventure of self-discovery via plausible chats among her and her online buddies. It had taken a wonderful deal of work and time, however, the consequences have been nicely well worth it, displaying gamers a story of self-discovery, one she hopes allows other trans people.
“Especially for trans human beings, the experience of seeing others feel the equal way which you felt whilst you have been younger – to subsequently placed phrases and validation to those feelings – is deeply empowering and enlightening,” she adds.
“Speaking for myself, all I had to receive the concept that I become trans become someone telling me that they believed me. That my feelings have been legitimate, and that masses of other human beings have them, too. That you don’t ought to worry about being ‘now not trans sufficiently’. That you may simply be a woman.”
“Really, that become my essential aim for this recreation as an entire: To make the sport that said what I needed to hear once I become more youthful,” Dominowski concludes. “I want this game to reach other younger trans ladies who haven’t figured matters out yet and have it give them those equal empowering revelations. There are a number of humans accessible who need to hear those words, and I wanted to do my component to make matters simpler for them.”