Being openly gay means you can’t win in A Russian Valentine

“Love. The beauty of it, the joy of it, and yes, even the pain of it, is the most incredible gift to give and to receive as a human being. We deserve to experience love fully, equally, without shame, and without compromise.”

Those words from Ellen Page’s speech at HRCF’s Time To Thrive Conference on Valentine’s Day were a celebration of the positive change in societal attitudes towards LGBT people. Ellen came out as gay at the conference, and did so to end the suffering she experienced for keeping it bottled up, which she did out of fear of the consequences society might throw at her when knowing her homosexuality.

uses its systemical framework to bring an effective understanding of Russia‘s prejudice 

On the same day that Ellen gave this emotional speech, a small game called A Russian Valentine came out, and I played it after absorbing Ellen’s words. Whereas Ellen’s message was positive and celebratory, A Russian Valentine reminds us that coming out as non-heterosexual isn’t such a joyous release for everyone. If you’ve been keeping up with the news, you’ll know that Russia‘s increasing homophobia—shaped by public opinion, legislation, and hate crimes—means that not everyone in the world could celebrate their love openly without consequence on February 14th.

A Russian Valentine sees you controlling two gay males (Alexei and Vitaly) who want to kiss in public for Valentine’s Day. A small town is depicted in basic pixel art through the six houses, which can be used like cover to hide from the gaze of the cops that stand around with clubs in their hands. If the cops see the couple kissing, they march over at speed and beat them up.

The goal of the game: have the partners kiss as many times as you can.

The problem is that it’s impossible to hide from the cops and kiss. That’s the point of the game, really. This loving relationship comes with the risk of physical pain due to Russian society’s perception and mistreatment of their “non-traditional” sexuality. As the couple is beaten, their movement becomes slower, and the next blow will probably trigger the ending sequence.

The ending is always the same. Alexei and Vitaly go on trial for “propagating homosexual propaganda” after the Winter Olympics is finished and the foreign press has left the country. Alexei escapes to Sweden after a relative pays a hefty fine for him. Vitaly is beaten to death by inmates at a Siberian labor camp. Police constable Boris, who presumably detained the couple, is given a medal for risking his life in the line of duty.

The game is a depressing reminder of the prejudices that still affect a lot of people in the world. The game is simple, but uses its systemical framework to bring an effective understanding of Russia‘s prejudice, and the consequences it can have. Importantly, there is no win condition within the rules of the game, a chilling reflection of the reality for LGBT people in Russia. 

You can play A Russian Valentine for free here.