Jun 29, 2022 - Technology

Award-winning Thirsty Suitors is a different kind of game

Video game screenshot of a woman and a man in a magical-looking restaurant, facing off
Screenshot: Outerloop Games

The upcoming video game Thirsty Suitors recently took top honors in the gaming category at the Tribeca Festival, but its lead developer Chandana Ekanayake says he's inspired by recognition of a different kind: players who can relate to its largely non-white characters.

Why it matters: Video game content, especially in story-driven adventures like Thirsty Suitors, typically centers on the experience of white or Japanese lead characters.

  • Thirsty Suitors is unabashedly about the experience of Jala, a woman who immigrated to the U.S. with her parents when she was a kid. She proceeds through the game skateboarding, battling her exes and trying to impress her mom with her cooking.
  • It’s the work of Outerloop Games, a small but diverse team of game creators spread around the world whose focus, in their words, is to create “accessible games with depth about underrepresented cultures and themes.”

Details: Thirsty Suitors is a “role-playing game that has more adult relationships,” Ekanayake tells Axios.

  • Jala returns to her hometown in suburban Washington state and players immediately skateboard her through a dream-like romance quiz that helps establish some of her strengths and weaknesses in the game.
  • From there, the story proceeds one chapter-length day at a time, as she encounters her exes and fights them — not with the purpose to defeat them, but to reach some sort of relationship resolution.
  • The adventure is colorful, playful and atypical of most video games in that it doesn’t have evil bad guys: just friends, ex-lovers and family members with problems.

Origins: The seed of Thirsty Suitors was planted in 2017, when Ekanayake saw a Netflix comedy special by Hasan Minhaj about growing up as a brown person in white America around 9/11.

  • Ekanayake, who immigrated from Sri Lanka when he was 8 years old and grew up in Maryland, could relate. And he began wondering why there weren’t more stories, especially in games, about immigrants in America.

What they’re saying: “I read every single comment, and I shouldn’t,” Ekanayake says, about user feedback to the game.

  • He sees the reactions from some who slam Thirsty Suitors as “woke.”
  • “But for every one of those, there are people saying, 'I see myself on screen,'" he says. That sends a clear message: “We’re doing the right thing.”

Go deeper: Video gaming's "harder road" to racial diversity

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