I had the pleasure to interview Robert Rollins from ektomarch about Aerannis which will be released on September 15, 2015 on Steam for the PC and MAC.
Aerannis is an open-ended mission-based action platformer with stealth elements. It is set in the future in Plovdiv which is ruled by radical feminists. The protagonist, a 27-year old transgender woman who is a professional assassin, uncovers a conspiracy run by an ancient society. She most choose if she should save a world who barely considers her a full person.
Katie Walter: First off I’d like to congratulate you on a successful Kickstarter and for getting Greenlit by the Steam Community for your upcoming game Aerannis. How did you come up with the title for the game?
Ronald Rollins: Well, the game is a semi-sequel to Subbania. Since Subbania was all set deep, deep in the ocean (hence ‘sub’) and Aerannis was originally going to be about a floating city, I pretty much just swapped out the “sub” for “aer(ial)”
Aerrania sounded weird to me, so I used a double ‘n’ and put an ‘s’ at the end and that was it.
KW: Does Aerannis take place within the same universe as Subbania? In Subbania during the open trailer we see the Eye of Providence. We also see a very similar symbol in the logo for Aerannis. Was this intentional? How related are the two story lines?
RR: Yeah, it’s the same general universe. The ending of Subbania could be seen as having a timeline split, and Aerannis takes place about a hundred years after one of those paths.
And yep, definitely intentional. Three characters from Subbania recur in Aerannis.
And the stories are pretty tightly tied together. It’s entirely possible to play Aerannis without ever playing Subbania since they both stand on their own, but the happenings in Aerannis are more obvious if you’ve already played Subbania.
KW: In an interview you did with The Escapist you stated that the game will show the divide between trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) and trans-inclusionary feminists. How will this divide between these two feminist ideologies be presented to the player in the game play?
RR: It’ll be pretty obvious in terms of general attitudes of NPCs towards the player, as well as actual boundaries within the city. Those who more closely align with the government’s message will be residing in more well-off regions of town, while others are pushed to the fringes of society.
KW: What would you say to feminist gamers who are unsure that they want to play Aerannis because they read on social media that the game is anti-feminist?
RR: I’ve gotten quite a few messages from people who think the game is completely anti-feminist and it’s pretty confusing to me. One thing that really seems to anger people is that women are villains in the game. It’s strange, but I’ve honestly had people say, “Well, you should have some villains be men, too.” When I explain that it’s a society where men don’t exist. People say it’s still sexist that women are villains. To me, that’s a Victorian ideal of women – to think that they can’t be true villains and that they need to have a man to influence them to do bad things.
The characters vary from good, to neutral, to bad –the fact that some people who claim to be feminists think women can only be good or neutral just bewilders me. It seems to reduce the status of women to being nothing but pure and innocent objects.
KW: As a feminist myself, I do share your confusion. It doesn’t seem to be anti-feminist at all.
RR: I’d hope it wouldn’t be seen that way. Most of the controversy seemed to come from the TERF side. A few people have sent me some “Wow, violence against women. Super progressive. This is nothing but a transgender revenge fantasy.” messages. Which isn’t the point at all.
KW: Why did you develop a game with the theme of a future society based on radical feminism, and the player controlling a transgender woman within this type of society? You did mention that you were interested in a story about radicalism, but what about TERF was interesting over other radical political groups? Why did you choose to have a transgender woman as the game’s protagonist?
RR: As a whole, I think politics are becoming increasingly radical today. The biggest problem I see is that people focus less on the issues, and more about upholding a label. I often encounter people who say, “I’m a liberal/conservative/moderate, but I don’t agree with anything about ___ policy and think it should be ____.” If a person struggles to conform with a certain political identity, it’s best just to go their own way. Not fight back and say, “No, I’m a TRUE (political identity here). THEY aren’t!” And in feminism is where I’m really seeing this divide. The whole inclusionary/TERF conflict in feminism goes back a long way, but there seems to be another subdivision. It’s a fairly small, but incredibly vocal minority. Ones who say, “If you don’t agree with X, that means you are COMPLETELY against women’s rights.” Meanwhile there’s another person who also claims to be just as much of a feminist saying, “If you support X and not Y, you’re COMPLETELY against women’s rights.”
Of course, the whole TERF divide has always been one of these issues–with some saying recognizing trans women is anti-feminist, and others saying not recognizing them is anti-feminist. Neither side will ever acknowledge the other.
I just thought having two conflicting political ideals, each of which are absolutely certain of themselves, up against each other in one society would be interesting.
KW: Was the character Ceyda influenced by any fictional characters or actual people? Did you reach out to any transgender women in developing the character?
RR: Yeah, I had a transgender friend directly contribute to much of the plot. The biggest influence, though, was the general lack of complex LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] characters in games.
All too often I see developers represent minority characters of all sorts as nothing but perfect angels in games, and honestly, it bothers me quite a bit. It’s not providing a role model to anybody–it’s just an unattainable standard of perfection. Ceyda’s kind of crude, and she doesn’t always do the right thing, but in general, she’s not a bad person. Having her not be a shining beacon of light in a corrupt society makes her more relatable. And from transgender friends who’ve seen/played the game, they’ve enjoyed her as a character
KW: Could you share with us some of Ceyda’s historical background? How did she become an assassin? What is her relationship like with the government and citizens of Plovdiv? Does she have any friends or family?
RR: She didn’t grow up too well off. Her early life was fairly rough, so she had to learn to be tough to survive. Services are mostly provided by the government based on the district citizens live in, and since Ceyda isn’t exactly living in the best part of town, she has to take up odd jobs to support herself. One thing that’s always been in demand is paying people to silence dissenters.
In the beginning Ceyda realizes that the society is unjust, but it’s accepted as one of those things that you can’t just change by yourself. Her opinion changes over the course of the game, though.
And for the most part, she’s alone.
KW: In the game trailer there is a profile for Ceyda. It is revealed that she has cybernetic legs. Why does she have cybernetic legs?
RR: [She] lost them in an accident during the revolution. In my mind I kind of have a backstory that years ago during the revolution she’d fought for the government, hoping things would change for the better, but she ended up being cast aside afterwards. I haven’t really gone into that in the game though, but I might try finding a relevant point to squeeze in that information.
KW: It also states in the profile for Ceyda that her birth status is “MAAB” (male assigned at birth) and also Gender ID “Fem”. We also see a profile for Elsa whose birth status is “FAAB” (female assigned at birth) and also Gender ID “Fem”. What is the difference between birth status and Gender ID in Aerannis? Are transgender women viewed as being women but not born that way or are they viewed as men disguising themselves as women?
RR: The government officially recognizes them as men. Their gender status is essentially the government saying, “Okay, they identify as women and that’s why they’re here, but we don’t want them here.”
Whenever something bad happens in the city, transgender women are pinned as the problem to make everyone think society would be just fine if only it weren’t for them.
KW: What do you hope transgender gamers will experience playing as Ceyda in Aerannis?
RR: At the very least, a relatable character. Someone who’s had a rough life, but isn’t willing to give up and does their best to make things better.
KW: Thank you for your time. I know I’m looking forward to playing this game. Do you have one last thing you would like to say to our readers?
RR: If the game does well, there’s a possibility of a prequel or sequel.