When you were little, you got a lot of bug bites. Mom told you time and again not to pick at the scabs. But when something itches on your body you scratch it.
I once had to explain to a friend (understanding, but ignorant) about what I understood about the effects of being misgendered. I’m cisgendered, but have encountered many people on the Internet assuming that I’m male so it’s a phenomenon that I’m unfortunately familiar with. He couldn’t explain why it would upset people, being confused for something they are not. After all, it’s usually a harmless mistake. I told him that it’s like Chinese water torture. It’s not that initial comment, or the next one, it’s the weight of 30 of those comments piled high on your version of your self that causes the dam to break.
It’s in this that Caelyn Sandel’s Twine shines. Cis Gaze is about the sum total of those moments, about the constant pressure that builds up over time. In one particularly effecting scene, she (because you are playing as Caelyn) investigates a wall of soda trying to find the ginger ale, and her thoughts (small and red) pepper the perusal of all of the elements in play. It’s effecting because it shows the insidiousness of those thoughts and how little control she has over them.
There is little in the way of what we’d call overt bigotry at play in Cis Gaze. An old man stares. A friend uses the wrong pronoun. A clerk misgenders her with casual ease. In some ways, it is stronger because of this. There’s no person attacking Caelyn for walking in public, no angry villagers with pitchforks. This is the casual issues that Caelyn puts up with just by not being “normal,” just for not resting comfortably within others expectations and it’s rougher than villagers with pitchforks because it feels less like Disney villains. (Here is the standard disclaimer where I point out that I do not mean to erase people who I identify as trans, who are physically attacked and blatantly accosted in the streets).
Where Cis Gaze is the weakest is when it falls into salesmanship. Clicking on the link for SuperFight will take you to a storefront page for the game:
A link further down the same page tells me about a successful Kickstarter, after name dropping two other card games (Cards Against Humanity and Apples to Apples). Before I even begin the game, I’m asked if I have looked at Caelyn’s Patreon and considered donating to the cause.
The way that Cis Gaze allows you to seep into the mind of Caelyn, to the point where it feels oddly comfortable referring to her by her first name, is substantially altered by these paper thin excuses for purchases. A link to the Patreon in the credits (which is also included) would have been more than enough. It reminds me of reading fanfiction, of interacting with stories that suddenly drop the game the author is playing or their favorite restaurant without warning or need.
It’s really a shame too, because Cis Gaze is so strong on its own. It truly sucks you in, draws your attention to those small red words that demand your complete subjugation.