Power Up: Zine Fair Lady

Broken Pencil - - Table Of Contents - by Al Donato

Start­ing this is­sue, we’re in­tro­duc­ing a new col­umn by the Hand Eye So­ci­ety’s Al Donato about in­die games and the ways they can teach and en­lighten. To be­gin, we’re turn­ing the vir­tual pages of “Zine Fair Lady,” a Choose-your-own-mi­croag­gres­sion by Mor­gan Sea.

Zine fairs are gen­er­ally havens for open-minded weirdos, but like any pub­lic art event, it's pos­si­ble to en­counter one's fair share of jerks and thought­less types. It's enough to make any­one skip the squashed aisles. Mor­gan Sea's Zine Fair Lady makes good use of these anx­i­eties in her video game that func­tions as a dig­i­tal “Choose-your-own-mi­croag­gres­sion”.

In Zine Fair Lady you are a trans woman brav­ing what's been billed as the most rad­i­cal queer zine fair in town, dart­ing from ta­ble to ta­ble with $20 and high hopes. Built in Twine, an in­ter­ac­tive fic­tion en­gine, Sea uses an on­screen zine aesthetic. Text is styl­ized to look like it was cut-and-pasted — lit­er­ally, not CTRL-XED + CTRL-VED — on Xeroxed scraps, pop­u­lated with hand-drawn or crudely pix­e­lated peo­ple.

Sea makes great use of the medium as a con­sen­sual sto­ry­telling tool. You de­cide how you re­spond to mis­gen­der­ing, what you spend your money on, and how long you stay at the fair. You can visit the one de­cent tabler at the fair mul­ti­ple times just to see a kind face or spend every last dol­lar on fart-in­duc­ing dump­ster bur­ri­tos.

The sit­u­a­tions, while pre­sented hu­mor­ously, are pretty ter­ri­ble when piled on top of each other. Be­ing trans at a zine fair means lousy cus­tomer ser­vice gets per­sonal, like when a tabler mis­gen­ders you as a boy as soon as they see you in an at­tempt to make you buy their cross­dress­ing zine. One par­tic­u­larly gross in­ci­dent in the game hap­pens when two ladies laugh over you us­ing a uri­nal. Gee, thanks for that +1 stress stat!

En­gag­ing with scum­bags who com­ment on your body will leave you feel­ing more drained than proudly de­fi­ant. For any­one who is look­ing for a painfully real win­dow into the trans zine cul­ture ex­pe­ri­ence, Zine Fair Lady is a great en­try point.

An artist, ra­dio host, and self-de­scribed “schemester,” Sea grew up in Saskatchewan with a DIY fix­a­tion. She made Zine Fair Lady while par­tic­i­pat­ing in Pix­elles, a game-mak­ing in­cu­ba­tor for women held in Mon­treal last year.

“Writ­ing it felt like ex­or­cis­ing a lot of stuff… it was dif­fi­cult turn­ing into funny anec­dotes,” Sea says. “[It's got­ten] lots of groans from friends, but in a pos­i­tive way. I hope that any trans women get a cathar­tic kick outta it in­stead of ‘Oh no, this brings up all the things.'”

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