1156: Winner of IDFA DocLab Digital Storytelling Award “He Fucked the Girl Out of Me” Explores Trauma in 2D Retro Game Walking Simulator

Taylor McCue’s He Fucked the Girl Out of Me (play for free on itch.io) won the IDFA DocLab Digital Storytelling Award at DocLab 2022. It is a deeply personal story and powerful exploration of shame and trauma that uses a unique blend of retro 2D Game Boy aesthetics, graphic novel, narrative game walking simulator, with structural inspirations from Bagenzo’s Madotsuki’s Closet, which a fan fiction game of Yume Nikki.

I found it to be a deeply moving piece and unlike any other interactive narrative piece I’ve ever experienced before, and so I naturally wanted to interview McCue in Amsterdam unpacking their journey and process in creating this. The game has a lot of different content warnings, and I’ll include a subset of those warnings that apply to our conversation here: Trauma, Gender Dysphoria, Suicidal Ideation, Blood, and Themes of Sex Work. Here’s another excerpt from the trigger warning page: “Trauma is a part of life. Everyone has trauma. Trauma is common in trans people. This game is made of memories. Those memories are about sex work. I’ve fictionalized them. That is the only way that I can get close to the truth without getting messy.”

Here is the IDFA DocLab jury statement for this experience: ““He Fucked the Girl Out of Me by Taylor McCue is a personal account of a horrific experience, as it is supposed to be. The writing of the story is phenomenal, emotional, and intimate. The experience is a unique approach to conveying a complicated personal history in the artist’s own terms. They wanted to tell their story on their terms, and you feel this in the pacing and in the gravity of the storytelling. The use of a retro computer game as the medium for the story was well chosen, so lo-fi and yet so dense. The gameplay itself is an often effective symbol for the powerlessness of the protagonist, as we’re given the suggestion of choice, but ultimately, there is none. It is an experience we will not soon forget; at times, we wanted to escape the game and the painful story, but we just couldn’t. The jury kept on talking about it, and therefore we are convinced this is the winner of the 2022 IDFA DocLab Competition for Digital Storytelling,” 

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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. It's a podcast that's looking at the structures and forms of immersive storytelling and the future of spatial computing. And you can support me on Patreon at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Continuing on in my series of looking at different experiences that if a doc lab today's episode is with the piece called He fucked the girl out of me and it's a piece that really stuck with me. It's not a virtual reality piece, but it's actually a 2d retro game walking simulator experience that actually won the if a doc lab award for digital storytelling so if I was able to do the experience before I actually went to DocLab. Actually, I highly recommend going to the link that's in the description, or you can go to taylormcue.itch.io. You can play through this experience. Just a trigger warning, it's got themes of trauma, gender dysphoria, suicidal ideation, blood, themes of sex work. In this conversation, we're also going to be talking about some of those themes. And part of the trigger warnings, there's this little disclaimer that says trauma is a part of life. Everyone has trauma. Trauma is common in trans people. This game is made of memories. Those memories are about sex work. I fictionalize them. That's the only way that I can get close to the truth without getting messy. So I'm just going to read the IFADOCLAB Award for Digital Storytelling Jury Statement. He Fucked the Girl Out of Me by Taylor McHugh is a personal account of a horrific experience, as it's supposed to be. The writing of the story is phenomenal, emotional, and intimate. The experience is a unique approach to conveying a complicated personal history in the artist's own terms. They wanted to tell their story on their own terms, and you feel this in the pacing and the gravity of the storytelling. The use of a retro game as the medium for the story was well chosen, so lo-fi and yet so dense. The gameplay itself is an often effective symbol for the powerlessness of the protagonist as we're given the suggestion of choice, but ultimately there is none. It is an experience we will not soon forget. At times we wanted to escape the game and painful story, but we just couldn't. The jury kept on talking about it, and therefore we're convinced that this is the winner of the 2022 IFA DocLab competition for digital storytelling. So it's using like a retro game aesthetic, a walking simulator and elements of a graphic novel. And so I wanted to sit down with Taylor and get a little bit more the backstory for how this project came about. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Taylor happened on Sunday, November 13th, 2022 at the IFA doc lab in Amsterdam, Netherlands. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:44.040] Taylor McCue: Hi, my name is Taylor McHugh. I make games at taylormchugh.itch.io. I make games occasionally. And then for the past two years, I've been the co-organizer with Nielsen Carroll of the Queer Games Bundle. And that's about it. Yeah.

[00:03:10.816] Kent Bye: Maybe give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into doing this type of work.

[00:03:17.739] Taylor McCue: I started out in college as one of those weird fucked up people who were like super traumatized but sort of idealistic. I did a lot of organizing for a while and then I went to like Sarah Lawrence College to get a degree in health advocacy. I did some healthcare related stuff there for a few years, organizing that sort of stuff. And then I had a lot of trauma, I guess. And then I went to like college, tried to turn my life around, did like outpatient mental health stuff, but like intensive outpatient. Because I got New York health insurance, and so I was finally able to like see a therapist and shit And they were like whoa you're really fucked up, and I was like yeah, that's me So I did outpatient mental health care with them Intensively for two years while also doing grad school at the same time and that was pretty much my life for a while was organizing grad school and outpatient mental health care and I got really good at using health insurance and being transgender, I was like, okay, the thing I super, super need to do is like get my fucking surgery because everything's going to get fucked soon. So like now or never. So I did organizing a lot. Then I saw a lot of fucked up things in organizing. Originally, really just wanted to do research in Medicaid expansion really badly. And that was like my dream, is I just wanted Medicaid to be expanded for uninsured people so that everybody in the US could have health care. And then the Florida Democratic Party, during Hillary Clinton's campaign, I'd been working on like a research proposal for like over a year. And then people in the Florida Democratic Party were like, this makes the Affordable Care Act look bad because it talks about the people who aren't covered by it and makes it look like it's not any good. So they pulled it behind the scenes and then stonewalled me from like getting my research done. And that really, really fucked me up a lot, because that was a lot of work destroyed. I had to go into designing anti-bullying programs instead as a quick turnaround, but... it ended up just being like fucked up and I'd see stuff like organizers living in their cars and I thought they were homeless and they were like no we're the organizers for XYZ like social justice movement and they'd be living in like a car and wouldn't have health insurance or any sort of health care or anything and that sort of life makes you bad like it makes you a mean person so I'd see them just do shit that was kind of horrible and so I just kind of gradually sort of broke down because I went to New York at that time and I thought finally I've lived in like the south and seen all these fucked up things I finally finally finally discovered like the liberal utopia where everything's gonna be okay. And instead, like my first five minutes there, I see people searching through garbage cans for food to eat, and everybody acting like it's normal. And I was like, oh my god, this place is insane. So I guess I just gradually got alienated, and then I struggled really hard to get health insurance coverage. I got it, got a lot of therapy, it helped. And then I, uh, had vaginoplasty and it went really, really wrong, like super fucked up. And I was like, holy shit, I'm going to fucking die. Like you've never really lived until you've seen like the inside of your body and really, really get that you are like fucking flesh and bone and like, thought I was going to die pretty badly. I bled for three years in a row. And after that, I was like, I can't go back to social justice organizing. And as embarrassing as this is to say, my mom was like, if you just quit trying to commit suicide all the time, you can just stay and, like, get your shit together. I tried to get a job pretty hard, but, like, those social justice jobs are all super low pay. Like, everything that my degree is, the whole concept is you're supposed to work because it's good and enriching, so they don't really pay enough for a livable wage. it's either super high-cost cities with like low-paying stuff or like whatever so I just gradually started to fall out of society while being like really really sick and then eventually I stopped bleeding so much but while I was bleeding and also Doing a lot of stuff to cope with horrible pain. I was like Shit, like what am I gonna do? do and this was before covid and i'd always thought like our society was kind of fucked and we're all gonna die pretty horribly which isn't really the nicest thing to say and you might think i'm crazy and i hope that i am But we've crossed a lot of boundaries that aren't just like climate change. Like we're super fucked and we're like the Romans who used lead for everything with plastics. We've like destroyed a lot of the environment and our organizing movements are kind of pretty rough. So I was just like, I'm gonna just fucking stay inside, and if there were like an ideal world, what would I do? And when I thought I was gonna die, I really took time to reflect on what I wish I'd done. And it wasn't all the organizing shit. It was, I really wish that I had made some like fucking cringe-worthy video games. like, the most cringeworthy shit that you have ever seen. Like, embarrassing shit. Like fucking, like, Pokemon ROM hacks or something. Like, anything cringeworthy, but instead I tried to live my life as an idealist, and I was like, what the fuck. and so i made a bunch of super cringe-worthy games that no one remembers anymore that are so bad that like they suck so much and also before i started making games and got sick used to write fan fiction so i did all of that and then eventually after working on like super cringe-worthy games that people would probably make fun of me people would definitely make fun of me for on the internet i started just making other games and i made Saving You From Yourself, which was like my first real game that wasn't super cringy. I released it and I got like extremely negative feedback on it. Even like all the negative people were like, both liberals and Republicans hate you. Like how do you do it? Like universal hatred. And I was like, that's cool, I guess. And I cried a bit. But then after I cried, I was like, okay, I have now experienced sucking to like the highest degree. And I was just like, okay, I don't want to die. And that's really nice to not want to die. and to actually, I wouldn't call it happiness, but I'd call it, like, meaning. So I was just like, I'm not suicidal, I'm enjoying what I'm doing, and this is not really a sustainable way to live. In fact, this is probably a doomed way to live. Though I think that we're all underestimating how fucked we are. So I was just like, okay, if we're all fucked, if everything's terrible, if I have no future, I'm just gonna make some fucking games until, like, stuff runs out and I die homeless on the streets or whatever. And that's how I ended up making video games.

[00:12:37.809] Kent Bye: We were talking a little bit the other day, and you had mentioned that there was a game that you took some inspiration from in terms of understanding how you could look at your life experience in a certain structure or ways of unpacking the trauma that you had been through. there seems to be a theme of exploring different aspects of trauma within the work that you're doing, especially here, the piece that you're showing at the IFA doc lab. And so maybe you could talk a bit about the inspirations that you took from some of these other games and how that unlocked some ideas for how you wanted to explore your own story.

[00:13:12.473] Taylor McCue: uh okay so to go way back one game that i always really wanted to do was my trauma around uh the you know stuff i did in my game so i started with like saving you from yourself was a game where you play as a therapist and you determine if a trans woman gets hormones or shit. Cause I had a lot of trouble getting hormones and they were pretty harsh on me getting hormones, which I mean, that's just how they roll in Florida. I mean, this is back like a long time ago. Like I'm older than I look and sound. And so I like transitioned back during like George Bush years. So it was a very, very different time to transition. And I transitioned young. Not that it did me much good, but I tried. So anyways, you play as a therapist. They like, decide if somebody gets to transition or not. And eventually this girl fucking meets up with a prototype of sally named denise who's actually a prototype of a couple of real people like to be honest like four people mushed together and goes like hey i have a solution to transitioning you can get like estradiol for like horses at the farm market and like injection stuff but you can't really get testosterone blockers so have you considered castration bans and shit which I presented it as 100% fiction it's actually a pretty distorted reality The reality is parts of that really did happen. Not like that, where like, oh my god, a therapist is a bad guy who caused all of this to happen. As much as, like, I had two friends who used castration bands. One of them really stuck with me because they wanted me to, like, do it with them. And I was like, I'm pretty crazy, but I do manage to get what I need, so I'd already figured out how to solve that problem, like, on my own. So I was like, I'm good on that, but she, like, was upset I wouldn't do that with her, and then, like, another girl did it, and she was just like, yeah, I did it, and all I did was do it, and then I laid down in the bathtub for, like, two hours, and then afterwards it was over with and I was like dang we're like fucking animals here like we're not really fucking people and then I had some friends who I used to like I'm pretty fucking boring like I'm an anime nerd and shit so like I don't live that hardcore of a life but some of my friends would like get their injectables for like various things transitioning and otherwise and if you drove out far enough you could get to these farm supply stores where they'd have everything and I was super young had gone through some super fucked up stuff already and we were like going through the checkout line and this lady stops us with like all of these injectables and hormones and shit. And she was like, oh, you've got all of that. And I was like, oh, shit, we're fucking caught. Like, we don't belong here. Like, she knows what we fucking are. And then she was like, you're cat breeders. And I was just like, yep, we're cat breeders. That's why we got like the tiniest needles you can get. And we're going to fucking breed cats. That is our job, career, cat breeders. And as I was leaving, I was relieved, but I was like, holy shit, we're fucking subhuman. Like, we are not people. Like, people get to go to doctors, people get, like, healthcare. We're just fucking animals. And every single trans person could disappear and society would just keep running completely fine. So we're just worthless extras. And nobody would care or notice if we vanished. And so I was like, Oh, God. And that's probably like the deepest core of what it means to be like trans to me isn't like the gender stuff but just understanding that and there's a lot of trans people who are like i'm an animal or like a dragon or a demon or whatever like a lot of fantasy play and stuff in those spaces I think what I've wanted the most is just to actually be thought of as a human being in the way that real human rights are thought of. Like, human rights are bullshit. Like, there is no magical thing that if I start violating somebody's human rights, they're gonna get stopped. Like, you could go violate a ton of people's human rights and until, like, some outside force stops you, there's nothing enforcing those. And so you have to fight really hard to make those rights real. But I think what I've wanted the most is just to be seen as human not like some cool magical thingy or transition to like fucking beautiful model or whatever. I just would really like to be seen as a person. So, uh, that's the core thing. And anyways, how that led to my game, which I know is a long and trailing story, but I do actually remember your question. I am not just rambling. I put a lot of shit into Mush Together, but I also was like, this is all fucking fake. Like 100% fake fiction fantasy. And a lot of people were like, this isn't good authentic trans representation, and trans people need to be properly represented with uplifting stories that don't stigmatize them and make them look really good. And you're just making trans people look bad and fake ways. And I'm just like, that's cool, whatever. But the core of it is, I hid behind it. So when I was like, making another game i was like okay maybe i'll just take the characters from that and put them into a game and have them go do sex work or something because like they can't afford therapy and can't afford health care so i'll go like give them that and it'll be like a story and i'll go put stuff in And that wasn't the first time I actually wrote out the game story. The first time in the most contemporary time, and this is kind of secret, but I'm gonna say it anyways, because people don't really super care that much, but the first time I ever wrote about, like, the trauma stuff from the, like, whole sex work stuff, is like I wrote it in fan fiction and then was like what if your favorite anime characters went and did terrible sex work and it was actually a really popular fan fiction series and I hope no one ever finds it on the internet because my worst fear is somebody's going to be like these scenes are directly ripped off from fan fiction that you stole from an innocent fanfiction writer. And then I'd have to be like, no, I didn't plagiarize that fanfiction writer. I am that fanfiction writer. And I'm not gonna say what anime it's from because then somebody might find it. And I hope nobody combs, like, fanfiction sites reading all the fanfictions about sex work because that would kill me inside if anybody knew. but anyways that was my first attempt at covering the trauma stuff was fanfiction my second attempt was like trying this fictional draft but no matter what i did the issue was gameplay and has to be you're doing something. That's what separates it from a story is games are about verbs, whereas stories are about stories, I guess? When you have like memories and shit, how do you take memories that only go one way and make them into a verb? Like you sit down at a counter yesterday and you remember you peeled an orange and then you ate it. and you want to make an accurate recreation of you sitting down at the counter peeling that orange and eating it. If you make a video game where you can wander around your whole kitchen flipping over tables, your player might not actually eat the orange. Or they might eat the orange, but the way that they eat it is they first wandered around the hallway looking at every single wall like it's their first time seeing it rather than your 100th morning. And then they ate the orange, then the credits played. And so I was like, how do I take something that already happened, that has a concrete way that it's gonna go, and run them through it, and make the player see what I want to see, and understand what I want to understand. and at first i was doing it through like totally fiction with like all these characters and i was just gonna be like this is a game that is supposed to do advocacy for this group and got nothing to do with it and this is just the thing you do and Then I tried that and it just made me feel like more and more shit because I was like, I'm fucking hiding, like just hiding. And I have no fucking future. I have no like great career. I can't get a job. I've tried to be hired a million times. Nobody wants to hire me. So what the fuck am I doing? Like it doesn't matter. I could, like, be drawing furry porn or something, and I'd have more of a better future. In fact, I should probably try doing that because I hear they get paid well, so if anybody wants to pay me to do furry porn, please, like, I wouldn't be offended. Or anything really but not saying like that, but whatever anyways putting that aside I Was just like what the fuck am I doing? I have no future. I'm just gonna do what I fucking want because if we're all screwed and the truth is even if like I am crazy about like all the stuff wrong and being like oh my god society is fucked I it doesn't matter because every single human being has programmed cell death so we are all fucked and we're all gonna die so what you do with your life is something you should probably be like okay so i'm like i'm gonna make cringy stuff and if this is the most embarrassing thing i can think of and i am like wanting to kill myself over shame i've overcome it in therapy but like explaining to people and being like, oh God, like, this is what I'm ashamed of. It just doesn't work. unless you go up to a bunch of people and say what you're ashamed of. For example, if you're like, I'm really ashamed because, like, I have six fingers, and then you show people your hand, and then they go, oh shit, you have six fingers, then if they're cool with it, then you don't have to be, like, upset anymore. I also don't have six fingers. I just picked a neutral example. But, uh, I guess the core of it is, it's hard to have those conversations. So I was like, I want to take the lazy route and make a machine that does it, which is what I did with Saving You From Yourself, where my issue was people go, of course getting denied hormones for like years is cool, because what's the problem? And so I had to make something in five minutes so that I didn't have to have the same conversation over and over again, because there's like a lot of trans people, but it's probably like a million or two in the world. But there's like billions of cisgender people. You cannot explain it. And if you have to start everybody at square one, like you'll spend your whole life explaining yourself. So the cheapest way to cheat at life is to automate those conversations. Like that's what makes humans humans is we automate shit. We're lazy. And I am extremely lazy. So I made that game for that conversation, and I was like, okay, what am I trying to get out with this game? The shame. So I have to make it non-fiction-ish. I mean, you've seen it probably if you're listening to this. It's semi-fiction. I'm not actually a ghost, and I don't look nearly as cute as the drawings. So I was like, how do I get this orange eating scene into something that the player's gonna do? and I'm gonna seek into something that seems completely off topic, but there was a game called Yume Nikki, and in the game, you're this girl who refuses to leave her bedroom, and it was a hugely impactful game, probably because I refused to leave my bedroom, and probably made me a worse person for playing it, because I was like, that's the life. I'm not jealous or I am jealous of that person so she refuses to leave her bedroom and the only thing you can do is lay in bed and dream and There's no dialogue. You just wander around these dreamscapes looking for stuff and eventually you find these effects that turn you into like poop or give you a bicycle or a witch hat and eventually you find a knife and as you gather the effects together in the nexus she finally changes to the point that she's willing to go on to her back porch on the high rise she is and then she leaves by jumping off and dies. And Madotsuki's Closet by Genzo was a game that took place after this, so it's like fanfiction. It's a game that is fanfiction of a game. So it's like Inception, and also like fanfiction is very important to me. So in that, you're the dream world creatures and you want to investigate why would she commit suicide. And so everything that's already happened has happened. And so I was like, holy shit, but Genzo, you solved the orange problem right there. That is how you do it. And so at that point I was like, this is the greatest shit I have ever seen. This is the best game developer I've ever seen. Everyone's the best game developer I've ever seen because every game developer has a unique thing. But Big N says really good. How it was done was you're investigating and you got to figure out why did this girl jump? And so the Dreamworld people are it's because she's traumatized because she's got transgender and that's why she wouldn't go outside. And so they took the approach of You know Disney World. Disney World, you go through the ride and they put you on it and they show you stuff. So you see like Pirates of the Caribbean and you see the pirates. I don't know. I've never been on it, but I imagine it goes like they're on a ship. They spot a town. They go, let's pillage this town. And then, like, you see the pillaging, and then afterwards you see them executing everybody, and then they, like, take their treasure, bury it, and then the ride restarts. And then the pirate's going, let's go out. And at every stage, you take your little cart, and then they stop you at these things, and then you see the little set piece that they have. And so I was like, I can narratively string along people, but then put set pieces that help them understand stuff and then the set pieces I insert the verb in. So like the sample collecting was something that really left an impression on me when I was younger when I was like super insecure and bad at like taking stuff. So my friend at the time was like, okay, if you're gonna do this terrible shit, you need to learn to take from people really aggressively. And so she did take me around to collect samples, which As you can tell from this interview, I'm a very awkward person. So me going up to these sample people and taking their fucking cups and then demanding more until they finally broke down and were like, please leave was a deeply traumatic experience that the game probably didn't get like accurately, but kind of accurately. Like it was horrifying. Like I had to just keep taking samples. And it was like one of those, like, jackass things for, like, trauma. And so it doesn't matter if the player wanders around the cafeteria first. or takes three samples or six samples, they're still doing a verb. And so that is why I could finally separate it from comics or movies and go into the medium of video games, because I could have them do the verbs for those particular things. And so that's how I solved the problem. So I ditched a lot of work, a whole year of game development, Like it was finished, but I wasn't releasing it because it wasn't what I wanted. And I was like, I only have one shot to get this right. I was like the structure run through Pirates of the Caribbean, except for I'm building a Disney ride around my trauma. And that is how I got to building the structure out of the game.

[00:32:58.375] Kent Bye: Yeah, and there's other parts of this experience where you have to make choices and dialogue and it seems like a theme amongst all these choices is that either you can be completely transparent and tell the full truth or you have to occlude or hide something that is a part of this larger complex of shame or things that are stigmatized within the culture or if you're talking to your mother things that you have to hide from her or there's ways in which that as you're having these conversations you're in these situations and you're taking us into this world, but some of these dialogue choices, they seem to always go back to this, am I going to be completely transparent with what I actually feel or do I have to hide? And by making those choices, I think it slowly reveals this complex of shame that you're dealing with. And so I felt like the medium of the video game, there are these verbs, but there's also this choice as to whether you're going to directly confront the stigma or run away from the stigma.

[00:33:54.345] Taylor McCue: OK, that's really simple. Basically, this is going to sound like a cheat, but let's say I went into your backpack and ate your chips and you were turned around and then you turn back around and all your Doritos are gone and you're sobbing and you're like, how could this happen to me? Someone ate my Doritos and I'm like, yeah, that's fucked up. I feel for you. But inside my heart, I have guilt. But my first moment is to lie. But then, after a few minutes of the guilt, and watching you like cry your heart out, in this cafe, I'm like, I did it. I ate your Doritos. I'll buy you a bag. I'm sorry. But both choices did happen. So I can keep going through a memory because I have both the lying and the truth, and both happened. And so it's just how far in the future are you going or not. and so that's how i could keep like that core going through and other parts like do you hide behind sally and let her get kissed or not even though only one of those things did actually happen and the other kind of didn't ish whatever that one's a little bit of a bad example but kissing did eventually happen but that doesn't matter You had to make that choice and it was the knowledge that you had to make that choice that mattered in setting up the player. And so in order to be transparent, there's this guy. Andrei Tarkovsky, who I am a fucking ripoff of. I'm a ripoff of a lot of people. But he had a structure that was like, if you want to make a movie, and I've told you this one, and I made it sound like my own words, but it's really Andrei Tarkovsky's, and I'm not going to make it sound like I'm plagiarizing him in an interview. He was like, you have to set up everything. So for him, it was you hear a dog howling as you're walking home and it leaves you a chilling feeling. You see cars pass by and you've just broken up and you're lonely. And then like suddenly a car pulls up with headlights and there's a huge party going on inside of it. And you just feel so alone. Well, you have to make the breakup happen in-game or in your movie. You have to make the dog howl. And then as you lead the person through those steps, then they have that moment of empathy. And so I was like, yes, I must rip you off, Andrei Tarkovsky. I idolize you even though, like, I don't know much about you other than watching your movies and reading your books, and we probably wouldn't get along. We definitely wouldn't get along, but I still like his works. So that, combined with Bagenzo's insights, is how I started to just cobble together these structures. Yeah, does that expand on it?

[00:37:07.909] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah, and as I think about the piece, there seems to be the prologue, the main arc of your experience, and then the epilogue where you're unpacking different aspects. As I was just thinking about it, there's different ways that you're exploring the economic reasons, the medical reasons, the relationship with your mother and the family, and then you have your friend Sally and then you're kind of going into this whole world that it feels like we're being introduced to this world that we may not know anything about this experience of sex work and there's different ways that you're being introduced to this world by Sally who's your guide in that sense, but then Once you get through it, then you're unpacking all the economic impacts, the relationships to your mother, and all these other echoes of that experience, you know, have different economic transactions and how it is connected to that. So I found that because I had the interactive experience in the video game, I was able to be immersed into going along with that ride with you. And it's a lot different than if I had just watched a movie, because if it was just a movie, I don't know if I would have been able to be as immersed as a character. Because there is quite a lot of cutscenes where you're giving this text, and there's nothing more than, say, like, moving through a space, and there's the dialogue pairs, and then there's other parts where you are making choices, but I'd love to hear how you decided to go with the video game route rather than just creating, like, a short animated film. Um...

[00:38:34.455] Taylor McCue: I am not a hyper-talented person, so I don't know how to do movies, and movies take friends. Like, you have to be able to have enough social skills to rope in an actor or two, and then a filming space and cameras, and so I'm like, oh god, I can't do that. Like, I can't make a million friends and be like, hey guys, do you want to reenact my trauma for me in like a small group? It'll be fun. I'll buy you pizza. Like nobody, nobody wants to do that in the whole world. Like you'd have to be fucking crazy. And where the hell am I going to meet that sort of person in Florida? So I couldn't really do that. animation that's like drawing so many panels like i've done small animations but my animations tend to be really wonky like jerky teleporting ragdolls that can barely move like i can animate Enough to keep myself from like dying like I could do it to save my life, but I couldn't do it to like make a ton of films and also that's a lot of work and writing like I already did it through fanfiction and I it wasn't really fully, actually it was kind of good, I shouldn't say my own fan fiction was good, but it was okay. It was more popular than this game was in its day, like it has still been read like significantly more than this game has ever been played and had significantly more positive feedback, which is probably terrible to say since I'm sitting here at this festival thingy, but like it did well. But writing just isn't really my proper genre, so the only thing I know how to do is make video games. Like, you don't go to a woodcutter and say, you carve these wood statues, have you considered doing dance? Like, they're not gonna be able to do dance, like, no matter how talented an artist they are. like a painter isn't going to be able to go and switch from being a painter to like doing the medium of like filmmaking well actually Akira Kurosawa did but The point is, unless you're like super talented in a bunch of things, you can't really do that. And so I have limited talents, so I have to work within the skill set that I've been building out rather than dropping it. So I make games. That is like the core of my skill set that I have as an artist. And so I have to use my strengths and use the medium that I am familiar with, that I like. and also I'm a nerd so the only way I really can express myself is through like nerd shit and so nerdy people make games therefore I must do as my people like command

[00:41:41.551] Kent Bye: Yeah, I guess as I hear you reflect on the different media, there is a lot of writing in your reading, and so it is almost like an interactive novel or interactive fanfiction in that way that it doesn't have acting and all these other things, so I'm wondering if you could maybe expand on, you know, how you make sense of fanfiction as a reaction to these other media, because it is something that is a niche genre, but you're kind of taking existing intellectual property, and then you're having it exist in context, and then given those characters, you're then able to, I guess, use your imagination to explore other domains that existing IP is not exploring. But since you are a fan of fanfiction, kind of reflect on that as a medium of expression.

[00:42:22.017] Taylor McCue: Well, first I'm going to say the unfortunate truth that have you ever watched a movie or read a book or anything and you're like, this is shit. I could do better. And you could. You know it. Everyone knows it. Fan fiction writers. do that except they actually sit down and do it better or different and so what you do then is you have a cast and Let's say you have a character like oh god. I'm trying to think of a popular anime without saying the fan fictions I wrote in Okay, like, Dorohedoro. None of you know what that is, and that's okay. But you've got Kaiman. He's like an alligator guy who likes to put wizards in his mouth because he's searching for who the dude in the back of his throat is. You've got his best friend, Mikado, and she's like a kung fu lady. who makes delicious food. And then you've got his enemies, the dude who wears a human heart on his head, who likes to hit people with a hammer and steal food. And then you've got his best friend, like the really buff lady, who they're not in a relationship together. They're just genuinely platonic friends. I mean, she's super buff and likes killing people. And these people go through the world and do a ton of things. But you have a set personality, like buff lady or a guy who wears a human heart on their head. and hits people with hammers. So then you start to ask, what would they look like in academia? And so you might be like, all right, buff lady is an academic who writes 10 million research papers, and that's what being buff is. Or like, alligator guy is searching for the person who plagiarized his paper and published it before. And he's with his buddy, Nikaido, who is an academic and they're trying to uncover plagiarism. Or like, zombie universe. What if the world were all zombies? and somehow he's got a tiny zombie in the back of his throat or something. I am completely butchering these fan fictions. But the point is, you ask yourself, what would you do? And so for the medium of like trauma, I don't have the capacity to be like, Yeah, that's totally 100% me right there. Or like also exposing a ton of people who don't really want to be exposed for that. Like that's not my fucking place to expose other people's shit. Like if you see somebody doing like some fucked up crime, you don't go like, I'm going to write an autobiography of you, the guy who just jumped through that gate to the subway without paying. Like, it doesn't matter. So you can take core characters, quote-unquote, with like quotation thingies, and then adapt them to new sittings or like retellings of the same story. So like what if Harry Potter, I guess because I haven't written for that one. What if They were wizards, but their magical wands were also lightsabers or something How would that change Harry Potter? And so you can take core people this is the gist of fanfiction is you can take core people and put them into new worlds or different worlds and and explore those worlds and those people deeply. So fan fiction is not just like you take a media property that you love, it's you take characters who you love and then remix their situations to get deep to what the core of what they are is. So what is Captain America like as a lawyer? What is Captain America like as a zombie fighter? What is Captain America like as a transgender woman going through transitioning in the South, but still being Captain America. And so you get a really deep sense of who is Captain America. And that is the core of fan fiction, is you're obsessed with your character and get a deep sense of who they are, so that if you plop them into that different world, they would function. And so what I did was taking a clockwork world, where you're going through this Pirates of the Caribbean exhibition, And being like, who are the people in my life, including me, if you plop them in this clockwork world? And explored that, like, at their core. Like, who are they? What are they? And what do they need to say? And that's kind of how fanfiction relates to how I make games.

[00:47:17.161] Kent Bye: Yeah, and the thing you said earlier that the core theme of wanting to be seen as to who you are and to be seen as human, and I'm curious as you have created this piece of art of your video game that's showing here, you fuck the girl out of me, as you put this out into the world, what has that been like in terms of feeling like you're able to share a part of yourself and the reaction that you've received? And, you know, what's it like to be here at this documentary festival and to be showing it within this context?

[00:47:46.945] Taylor McCue: Hmm. When I first got their message, I was like, I know what's going on. I have seen this before. This is a bunch of 4chaners pulling some fucking prank on me. Like, these fucking pieces of shit. I know that this is some mean prank, but I'm gonna fucking play along with their prank. And it was just after I'd released or something, and they were like, can you submit to our festival thingy or something? And I was like, this is totally a prank. This is a fucking mean-spirited prank, and they're fucking with me. I know it, but I can't prove it. So I, like, looked at the website and was like, this looks like kind of legit, but I could totally see, like, some really devoted 4chan-er making up something like this. Like, who the hell goes to somebody and goes like, hey, you had this super trauma, like, thumbs up, we wanna, like, support you. Like, that's fucking weird. So I thought it was a mean prank, but I filled out their form. And then I have a role as a game developer, which a lot of game developers don't do this. And it's knowing your place financially. and not, like, overextending yourself, because a lot of these developers, like, they'll go and be like, I'm gonna buy a million dollars in equipment, and, like, I'm going to pay to go to all of these festivals and pay for all this promotional material, and then they end up bankrupt. And I'm, like, super poor, so I'm like, never pay anything more than you can afford, which is not much. Like, I don't have really any source of income. Like, I have some, but like, that's other side sketchy stuff that I don't need to get into. So I was just like, I can't afford this, like, application fee. I can send you my tax return so you can see how poor I am. Then they were like, okay, here's your code. Now enter. And then I was like, oh, the deadline's passed already. It passed yesterday when I got my code. So now I guess the prank's over and I can get out of this. And then they were like, no, we'll open it for like 24 extra hours just for you. Just finish your application and submit already. And then I was like, oh, shit. and I kept waiting for them to announce that it was a prank. I am still waiting for them to announce it's a prank. Like today I'm supposed to present for some group thing in the afternoon and I still have a cord in my heart that I'm going to step onto that stage and then they're all going to have the like 4chan or face masks on and be like haha we pranked you. Like I don't know how it would work as a prank, but I still believe in my heart it's sort of maybe a prank, but I can't tell. As far as how the festival's been, I've lived most of my life as a shut-in now, in Florida specifically, for the past couple years. So I'm like, okay, I'm back in humanity again. This is kind of weird. One of my top dreams has been to never die in Florida. like I'd love to die anywhere other than Florida but like I don't want to die and have like souls probably aren't real and life after death probably isn't real but it would fuck with me to have my dead body in florida and to have never gotten out so i was like man this would be a really good place to die but instead everybody's really nice to me and i'm like dang i'm probably not gonna die on this trip And that sort of sucks, because it would be the perfect time. And people have been really nice to me. And I'm not actually really good at accepting compliments or nice things. It's been a weird thing. But when I got a ton of comments on the internet that were like, hey, it's really cool that you did all that traumatic stuff, and I accept you. It clicked, but didn't really click. But now, after meeting with a bunch of people in real life who are just cool, it's kind of just clicked that I'm actually just a normal human being who has value. Like it's actually really clicked in my heart that I am a person who has value and who actually can be accepted and valued and that's kind of surreal to go from like Spending a billion years being like I'm subhuman and I'm like a fucking animal from Florida who can't get like health care except from farm stores meant for animals to like there are people like real people who view me as a human being. And knowing that there's people, like knowing in your heart and actually meeting them who view you as people, like physically meeting people who view you as people. I don't know how to explain it. I usually spend two years when I'm trying to explain something, putting it into a video game. But meeting people who think I'm a person, like really think I'm a person and accept me, is very, very weird. I probably needed this a lot. So I'm super grateful for it. Not for like the awards or even the trip, but just meeting people who think I'm a person. That's probably what I wanted more than anything. And they gave that to me. So, yeah. Yeah.

[00:54:08.557] Kent Bye: Well, I don't think it's a prank. I think, you know, he made a really amazing video game that I think is telling a real deep and personal story that I was really moved and I really wanted to sit down with you and unpack your process and hear more about it. So thank you so much for joining me today on the podcast. And I just want to offer you, is there any other thing left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?

[00:54:31.393] Taylor McCue: No, I'm good. Okay. Thank you for like interviewing me. So yeah. Yeah.

[00:54:38.988] Kent Bye: Cool. So that was Taylor McHugh of He Fucked the Girl Out of Me, which was the IFA DocLab Award for Digital Storytelling of the 2022 edition of IFA DocLab. So I have a number of takeaways about this experience is that, first of all, well, this is just a really well-told story and really appreciated how Taylor is using the medium of an interactive game to be able to tell the story. When asked why not use a film, then, you know, it's sort of like, well, instead they're going to bring together a bunch of friends to reenact all these different aspects of trauma. So yeah, it's really the journey of wanting to just create these cringe video games, but at some point went beyond the point of being cringe and are actually just these really intimate, dense, and well-told stories. And yeah, just trying to understand the elements of interactivity and verbs and how to translate these memories into these interactive experiences. And so, in some ways, you can think of a memory of something that's unfolding over time, and maybe there's multiple iterations of choices that were made, and based upon the choices you make, you're jumping in the timeline as to showing different elements of that experience. So yeah, going back to that idea from John Grierson, that documentary is the creative work of nonfiction or the creative treatment of actuality. So here we are at the International Documentary Film Fest of Amsterdam, and the doc lab is kind of like this experimental prototype area to explore new modes of storytelling. And so this piece is definitely on the bleeding edge of using these different structures and forms, taking lots of inspiration from fan fiction, taking different aspects of the retro game aesthetic, a walking simulator and graphic novel, all blended together in a way that gives this unique interactive experience that you're reading a lot of this stuff, but it's able to really give you this immersive quality as you're going and walking through these spaces and understanding the journey that Taylor has been through. So a lot of inspiration from a couple of pieces, Yamanuki, and then creative fan fiction by Begenzo called Matasaki's Closet that starts to explore something that already happened in Yamanuki, which was the suicide. So that's taking this idea of a fixed event that already happened and then being able to go back and explore different elements of that experience through this interactive exploration and gave Taylor a lot of inspiration for how to do this kind of walking similar or the dark ride metaphor, which is like this theme park ride as you're going through and it's It's not like you have a lot of agency of this linear path that you're on, but there's different choice points that are kind of flavoring the experience, and a lot of those are dealing with shame and dealing with things that maybe Taylor has gone through in terms of multiple choices. In the interactive experience, it's converging back into a singular linear narrative at the end of it. Yeah, I just thought it was able to cover a lot of really complicated topics in a way that was really quite compelling and really did stick with me. And so really appreciated hearing a lot of the backstory for how this project came about. And this fusion of different modalities from fan fiction and graphic novel, which, you know, has this comic book aspect, but it's a walking simulator and there's different interactive components and just the whole retro art aesthetic and the interactive dialogue pairs and so yeah it's just kind of a very unique experience that I highly recommend hopefully if you Haven't experienced it by now, you'll go check it out and then see for yourself. You can check it out at taylormcue.itch.io slash trauma. And yeah, really enjoyed this experience and thought it was quite powerful and is one of those experiences that really stuck with me, which is why I really wanted to sit down with Taylor and get a little bit more of the story and process and context in its creation. So, that's all I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoyed the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

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