Queer Man Peering Into a Rock Pool.jpg already sports a weird name for a walking simulator. The title raises an eyebrow and promises a unique experience. The Australian-made game is just that – unique. I say this without hyperbole: this game is unlike anything I’ve played before, filled with feelings of warm love and a sense of home.
Queer Man has players controlling a, well, queer man. Situated on an islet with interconnecting parts and sometimes-nonsensical structures, it tells a mostly solitary journey. You must explore the place you reside, collecting postcards along with fragmented memories and items in the form of glitchy, vaporware-style blobs. Then you go home and make sense of it all. Then you log onto your old computer and write letters to your separated loved one, explaining how you miss him endlessly. Then you go to sleep and have another day, doing all that all over again.
The items you collect are ones that you previously owned, and your house re-populates with them over time. These vary from general furniture to decor that seems to mean a great deal to you and your partner (known in-game as your ‘Darl’). This loop of making sense of items and concepts (such as even making yourself a cup of coffee) all over again in the absence of your significant other is a heartwarming, a little melancholy but also an authentic idea. As someone quite co-dependent on my own partner, it’s hard not to feel a little lost and flailing without them.
Your residence isn’t all that changes each day. Wake up in the morning and you’ll note the island has shifted due to rising or lowering tides. This leaves some days with less to explore than others and vice versa. Exploring is quite joyous thanks to the jarring but visually pleasing art style. Everything’s a bit… weird. The moving seas will be coloured pink. Coral washed up on shore will resemble human hands. Our hero is polygonal, sporting a cosy heavy blue jumper and yellow gumboots, with red gym shorts underneath. An Australian outfit if I’ve ever seen one.
Being a locally developed game has its own advantages too — rubbish bins you pass on the shorefront will have the iconic red and yellow lids. Big Ibis statues will spontaneously pop up on different days. More distinct is one later game section where you’ll descend a long set of stairs and arrive on a Sydney street. Stretched assets occupy this area – utilising photogrammetry technology to capture and use actual images of the streets of Chippendale. Approach and you’ll discover a café that the Queer Man and Darl regularly occupy. I grew up in Sydney, only moving to Melbourne in the past two years. Still, upon seeing the café I couldn’t help but find it familiar. I researched the provided street signs and sure enough – it’s a cafe across the road from The Chippendale Hotel (or more casually known as The Chippo), a place I’d even been to a few times. I felt a tinge of homesickness at this moment, I’m glad I could experience that in a game so specific but also as niche as this.
Queer Man Peering Into A Rock Pool.jpg isn’t a long game, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t a charming and interpersonal one. A smile couldn’t help but creep its way onto my face as our hero plotted along daintily, commenting on his surroundings with a chipper and garbled grunts and various pitches. This journey was only hindered by at times flimsy camera controls and incidentally getting stuck on objects and needing a reset of a given day. With that being my only negative takeaway in an hour and a half of gameplay, I’d say that’s a win.
From pursuing your Darl through rising waters, silly button-mashing letter writing to quiet moments of self-exploration, Queer Man is so specific it’s worth witnessing for yourself. Postcards of yourself with loved ones, recounting your favourite movies, this specificity you witness leaves you feeling like a fly on the wall between the romance of Queer Man and their Darl. With the exception of a rare pre-existing few, there’s still some ground to cover with explicit romance male-on-male stories in games. Queer Man Peering Into A Rock Pool.jpg joins that very party, triumphantly.
Queer Man Peering Into A Rock Pool.jpg releases on PC via Steam this week. Check it out.