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Perception, parodies and Goodbye Volcano High

Goodbye Volcano High, video game, box art, featured, dinosaurs
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This year’s LudoNarraCon line-up featured some interesting demos.

Around 40 titles were exhibited from Thursday, 04 to Sunday 08 May 2023, with developers streaming gameplay, panel discussions and fireside chats throughout the event. The only minor disappointment for me was the limited number of point-and-clicks this time.

However, this had an unexpected benefit. It encouraged me to broaden my gaming horizons and try some adventures that were slightly different from those I usually buy. While many of the 16 demos I managed to play were too much like visual novels for me personally, I was impressed by the quality of visuals and voice-acting in the showcased projects.

One such demo was Goodbye Volcano High. In this cinematic narrative adventure by KO_OP, players shape protagonist Fang and their friends as they navigate their final year of school and the impending destruction of the world. Will they reveal their feelings to their crush, resolve their dysfunctional family issues, write the best song ever, or try to accomplish it all before time runs out?

Unfortunately, the storyline and gameplay just didn’t appeal to me. I came away from the demo with the impression that the final release might be too focused on romantic relationships for my tastes, and I missed the challenge of puzzles to keep me engrossed. The rhythm-game sections also didn’t sit too well with my lack of coordination. Regardless, I could appreciate the voice-acting and thought the music was lovely, and the visuals gave me a nostalgic 1990s-cartoon vibe.

That’s why most of the comments left on my recording of the demo after it was uploaded to YouTube surprised me. Viewers had picked on various elements including the animation, which was apparently ‘poorly done and very rigid’. There were also damaging remarks about the voice-acting, such as ‘The voices are lifeless.’ There were a handful of vague comments which didn’t go into detail, like ‘It clearly needs more time’ and ‘I’m going to play the game but there’s a lot to criticise in the demo.’

I was confused: why couldn’t I see the negatives these people were pointing out? Was I missing something? Goodbye Volcano High might not be a game I’d purchase or play but it seemed a pretty solid experience to me. It looked like something fans of the genre would enjoy from the content I saw in the demo. And despite not being a member of that particular group, I genuinely liked the presentation and thought the featured song was lovely (although I haven’t been able to find out what this is).

I made a note to investigate further at a later date and here I am, writing this post today. It was originally going to be about how video games can be received differently by individual gamers, and how we should consider being kinder with our criticisms since a project can potentially reflect a creator’s dreams. I started off how I normally would with a bit of background research, and this was when I realised that there were several mentions of another release in those YouTube comments: ‘Play Snoot Game instead.’

I initially thought this was a reference to a previous title and that Goodbye Volcano High was a sequel. It’s understandable why I made this assumption since the screenshots I found through an internet search looked remarkably similar. Can you tell that the images above and below are from different games? The first is from KO_OP’s upcoming release, while the second is from Snoot Game. They appear to be the same because, according to a Kotaku article, the latter used ‘modified and repurposed art assets’ from the former.

It turns out that Snoot Game is the creation of an anonymous group of developers who describe their November 2022 release as ‘a fair use protected parody of another game’. Their website states that it was ‘developed as a critique of Goodbye Volcano High’s characters’. Although I haven’t played it myself and won’t be doing so, I’ve read enough today to realise it contains alt-right themes and is an attack on KO_OP’s pro-LGBTQ values and representation of nonbinary and queer identities.

In Snoot Game, genderqueer protagonist Fang is depicted as a confused teenager. Depending on the player’s choices throughout the gameplay, it’s possible to convince them to stop identifying as nonbinary by the end of the game and start a relationship. In the two endings where this doesn’t happen, Fang either commits a violent mass shooting at school before taking their own life or becomes a drug-addicted wreck several years later. As the Kotaku article explains, the game lacks any kind of subtlety.

It’s worth noting here that Goodbye Volcano High’s writer Kate Gray previously worked for Kotaku as a journalist from 2018 to 2019. Their final article in September 2019 caused some controversy as it was said to originally contain images of virtual child pornography. Part of me wonders why on earth the editors approved this for publication. The other part shakes their head in exasperation, because such situations make discussions about games like Goodbye Volcano High and video game journalism far messier than they should be.

You may have noticed that I haven’t named Snoot Game’s developer or provided a link to their website. You can find those details out for yourself if you’re interested, but it feels like they’ve already received enough publicity and I don’t want to contribute to it further. Later Levels is a safe space where everyone is welcome, regardless of their background or situation, and all are encouraged to engage in sensible discussion. But as per my code of conduct, I reserve the right to block anyone who behaves like a douchebag.

I’ve now disabled the comments on my demo recording, and apologise to KO_OP and readers for my lack of previous awareness. If you’d like to discuss your opinion of a game fairly based on its narrative, mechanics, presentation and themes, feel free to reach out to me. However, if you’re going to judge a release solely on how its protagonist identifies, please don’t bother. If Goodbye Volcano High bothers you that much, simply don’t buy or play it, and perhaps find something more productive to do with your time than trolling people on the internet.

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