by Jed Pressgrove
Sometimes art conceals understanding or best intentions. Talks With My Mom avoids this pitfall: without a hint of pretense, the game condenses one girl’s struggle of growing up gay in a traditional household. This honest gem, an entry in Gender Jam, shares and inspires as the protagonist speaks to her bigoted mother. As a storyteller, developer Vaida seems willing to talk to anyone — just one individual communicating to the universe.
A lot can be said about gender and sexuality with stick figures. This style is not an abstraction but rather allows us to fill in the gaps through the context of the dialogue. With its frank approach and sequencing, Talks With My Mom is reminiscent of hyperpersonal autobiographical comic books like Maus and American Splendor. Within the funny book frame, phrases like “It was a tiring day” work both as empathy devices and punchlines.
From a player’s perspective, some might criticize the lack of interactivity and options. But as anyone who has played a dreary Twine or an engaging Twine knows, clicking itself can be a grind or feel as fluid as a game with good combat mechanics. Talks With My Mom’s clicking is very agreeable, as you don’t have to click anything in particular to advance — click the mother, click the daughter, click dark space, click the text, whatever. With this freedom, the story’s rhythm and mood are yours to influence. It is entirely possible that the player’s clicking style can make the talks in the game more or less awkward or humorous (or perhaps clicking isn’t a style so much as a reflection of our own personal reactions).
The protagonist’s strained relationship with her mother is presented with maturity to spare. Although the game pulls no punches in showing the mother’s anti-gay, anti-genderqueer, anti-trans, and anti-individual statements, Vaida illustrates her mother’s ignorance and badgering with care and humor, not hate (“We went shopping. Again. She’s very persistent.”). Talks With My Mom also shows how looking back can reveal new perspective. “I thought you were done with this eccentricity” hurts coming from any parent, but its utter naivety is laughable coming from a taller stick figure. Parenting can be a joke.
An implicit message of Talks With My Mom is looking back at moments, however painful, and reaping lessons from obvious and unlikely places. The complexity of the mother’s bigoted beliefs comes to a head when she offers a valid point of parental worry: “The majority of people will judge you.” The protagonist’s answer to this concern defines the game. Talks With My Mom stars a gay girl but has the potential to entertain or enlighten anyone. The game’s comments on family debate and individuality reach across all aisles — Vaida’s purpose is unquestionable, her young life on clear display.