Arcade Spirits: The "Dating" Sim Where You Don't Have To Date!
Happy Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week! Recently we played every route in the game Arcade Spirits- including one where you can canonically be AroAce and actively choose not to date anybody! Designed by the indie team at Fiction Factory Games including Aromantic, Asexual, Nonbinary, and Disabled developers.
The MarketplACE for Aro & Ace small businesses.
- Fiction Factory Games Website
- Arcade Spirits
- The New Challengers
Stefan Gagne (Website, Twitter)
Qweerty Q&A with DrKrabby, Stefan Gagne, Lovestrut, & Rik Wortman. Aro & Ace in Gaming.
Aces Playing at Attraction YouTube VOD channel (including Arcade Spirits playthroughs), Twitch, Twitter, and Tumblr.
Let's get Sharky from Aces Playing at Attraction to Affiliate! He needs 20 more followers on Twitch!
Courtney: Hello, everyone, and welcome back to the podcast. My name is Courtney. I’m here with my spouse, Royce. And together, we are The Ace Couple. And I hope that each and every listener out there is having a wonderful Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week. The first full week following Valentine’s Day is ASAW, or, for sake of ease, we also just like to call it Aro Week. If you are looking for ways to support Aromantic creators this week, then I highly recommend you head on over to TheAceCouple.com/Marketplace. We are featuring Aromantic shopowners, artists, stores all week long. There’s some really amazing folks on there and a wide variety of things. So, if you’re actually looking for Aromantic pride merch, you can find it. If you’re looking to get artwork commissioned, you can find it. If you’re looking for games – video games, perhaps – you can find that as well.
Courtney: And that is what we’re going to be talking about today. Because one of the several brilliant games that you can find over on our little MarketplACE is Aromantic, Asexual, and disabled created game Arcade Spirits. And now, if you’ve listened to a fair number of our episodes, then I am sure you have heard us say, at one point or another, that we love a good dating simulator – or maybe we love a bad dating simulator? [laughs]
Royce: It’s kind of both?
Royce: It’s not like how some people like to watch bad movies that are unintentionally funny.
Royce: It’s a dating simulator that doesn’t always take the romance very seriously.
Courtney: Yeah. Yeah. Or it at least has something, you know, kind of quirky and unique about it in some way, like when we date things that aren’t humans – like pigeons, for example – love that nonsense. Absolutely 100% on board.
Courtney: So why are we talking about a dating simulator during Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week? Well, Arcade Spirits did something that we really liked. Because it is a dating sim, but it’s a sim where you do not have to date. You do not have to romance. And in fact, your character can canonically be AroAce. So, let’s chat about it a little.
Royce: So, Arcade Spirits takes place in an alternate reality, assumingly somewhere near the present day. It isn’t explicitly stated. It is actually intentionally not stated.
Courtney: The future year 20…[mumbles].
Royce: But in this future, in this alternate reality, the big video game crash of the ’80s never happened, and video games – particularly arcades – are a massive form of entertainment, even more so than today,
Courtney: A big focus, I think, on the actual arcades. Because obviously, video games are huge – that you can just get and play at home, video game consoles. But arcades, at this point, in real life, are a bit retro and a bit novel.
Royce: They’re a bit novel. They’re a bit of a… I think that arcades still exist now partially because of nostalgia.
Courtney: Mmm. Mhm. Yes.
Royce: But it is a place to take kids to that have a lot of bright lights and noises. And it’s a different kind of entertainment than sitting down in front of a TV at home, playing a game console.
Courtney: Yeah. And, you know, I grew up in an arcade, so I definitely do have a bit of that nostalgic element. So it’s kind of interesting to play a game where arcades are not a thing of the past, and in fact, there’s a big community around arcades. Like, there is an arcade community, and it is a more mainstream type of entertainment.
Courtney: Although, apparently, the arcades I was around growing up are not the usual arcades. I was telling this story to our all-Ace D&D group recently, about [laughing] the arcade that was in my hometown, and everyone was, like, horrified by it. And I was like, “This isn’t weird! That was just, that was a staple of our city for many years.”
Royce: It was something that I saw parodied in cartoons when I was growing up. It’s like the… Before Chuck E. Cheese dominated that style of restaurant place, there were other local places, very similar.
Courtney: Yeah! And that’s kind of what it was. I mean, it was called Gigglebees, first of all. And there was a tricycle-riding coyote who brought you your pizza, and his name was Wilbur, and apparently he’s terrifying? [laughs]
Royce: In the FNAF era? Yeah.
Courtney: [laughing] Yeah, a little bit! Because, I mean, this was before anyone in my – probably – home state had ever [laughing] been to a Chuck E. Cheese. But it did have the cast of characters. It had pizza. It had soft serve ice cream. It had all these arcade games. There was a ball pit for the much younger kids, but then there was also, like, bumper cars. And oh my goodness, I loved that place.
Royce: See, I never went to a place like that when I was a kid. I feel like I knew that they existed. But all I can remember is… I want to say maybe an episode of Rugrats, way back when –
Royce: – where the idea of having an animatronic band in a place like this was being parodied as awful at that point in time.
Courtney: [laughs] Oh no. [laughs]
Royce: But anyway, Arcade Spirits, near present-day alternate reality, arcades are a big deal. You play the character – who you can name, but canonically, their name is Ari Cader.
Courtney: Which took me, like – we were unlike our fourth or fifth playthrough when I was like, “Oh, arcader!” [laughs] That took me way too long. [laughs]
Royce: Which is really funny, because near the end of the first playthrough, I went, “Oh, I get it now!”
Royce: And apparently, you just ignored me. Because the two names – I feel like first and last name were not consistently mentioned next to each other.
Courtney: Not as a full name, no.
Royce: But anyway, your character… There is some amount of a character creation screen. You have the opportunity to customize your appearance, to a certain degree. And your gender is selectable.
Courtney: Well, your pronouns are selectable.
Royce: Your pronouns are selectable.
Courtney: Yeah. It’s, you know, “he,” “she,” and “they” are the options.
Royce: But past the character selection screen, you get into the story of the game, which is the story of a person who is down on their luck, wondering what to do with their life, and they find a new job working at a local individually-owned arcade.
Courtney: Because of the help of a futuristic assistant app named IRIS.
Royce: Yes, I forgot about IRIS, the sentient – in the process of becoming sentient – phone application who is trying to help you live your best life.
Courtney: In work… and in love, if you’re into that kind of thing. [laughs]
Royce: Yeah, you can opt out of love.
Courtney: Which is really interesting. Because – we’re going to have some spoilers for the actual game, so if you don’t like having spoilers and you want to play this game first, go play the game first.
Royce: Yeah, why are you listening to this?
Courtney: Why… Go away! [laughs] But I will say, right off the bat – because IRIS kind of hooks you up with a job interview and says, “Alright, done. Go interview at this job.” But she also says, “Oh, well, since I’m your assistant, I’m trying to get to know you better. And how do you feel about, like, oh, office romances?” And you can kind of do three options right off the bat, where you can say “I’m not even interested in dating.” And if you tell her that right off the bat, she will respect that. Or you can kind of have two different levels of, “You know, maybe after a while, after I’ve gotten to know someone a little bit, then maybe something will happen,” or you can pick “Flirty First Impressions,” where basically, you’re just – you have the option to be completely smitten with everyone [laughing] right off the bat.
Royce: You have a thirsty option in every selection.
Courtney: [laughs] And as dating simulator visual novel completionists, we did all of them. And actually, as Aces, some of the “Flirty First Impressions” were just hilarious. Just really, really funny.
Royce: Like, “Look at this thing I would never say to another human being.”
Courtney: “Look at these thoughts that I would never even think privately in my own head.” [laughs] Like, “Oh, I don’t know that guy’s name yet, so in my head, I’m just going to call him ‘Yummy.’” [laughs] No, absolutely not!
Courtney: And so you go to this job interview, and it is a smaller sort of family-owned arcade in a place where a large arcade conglomerate is swallowing up smaller arcades in the area, so it’s not immediately as successful as other arcades. And the owner, Francine, is absolutely charming – just precious little old lady with knitting in her bag, might just fall asleep and take a nap on you at any given moment. But also, the interview questions are just ridiculous. Like, “If you were a dinosaur, what kind of dinosaur would you be? When the inevitable zombie apocalypse happens, how can you be of service to us in that situation?”
Courtney: And of course, once you get the job, you start to gradually meet all of your coworkers, as well as some of the just regular customers at this small arcade. And these – should you choose to date – are your dating prospects.
Royce: And those prospects are: Naomi, who is the resident hardware expert slash builder and repairer of all of the arcades at your new place of employment, the Funplex.
Courtney: The Funplex, yes. An entire plex of fun.
Royce: Gavin, who handles the finances at said Funplex. Ashley, who is the company’s… mascot?
Courtney: She’s a floor attendant like we are hired to do, but she’s also…
Royce: A bird.
Courtney: [laughs] Yeah. A thing of Horrors. [laughs] Yeah, you first meet her in a mascot costume. And it’s really funny, because your three options are, like, incoherent screaming –
Both: – coherent screaming –
Courtney: Or silently await death. [laughs]
Royce: Ashley is a fan of cosplaying and likes to get into branding and marketing sort of things.
Courtney: Mhm. So those are all the coworkers. But then we have some regulars.
Royce: Yeah. Rounding out the rest of the crew are people who are just always there –
Royce: – and willing to help out even though they don’t get paid.
Royce: Teo is a local star on a fictional rhythm game. Think DDR-ish adjacent.
Courtney: Yeah, very Dance Dance Revolution.
Royce: QueenBee is a competitive gamer in something that is definitely not League of Legends.
Courtney: [laughs] Definitely not League of Legends. But, because arcades are so important to culture, she actually, like, streams from the arcade. Like, she rigs up a stream and is basically like a Twitch streamer, streaming directly from the arcade every single day.
Royce: From the arcade.
Courtney: But also on a professional team.
Royce: I believe Naomi rigged that up.
Courtney: Mmm. Well done, Naomi.
Royce: Percy is someone who is slowly preparing to try to take the world record in a particular game that is not Pac-Man.
Courtney: Not Pac-Man. Mr. Moopy.
Royce: And the last person on the list is Juniper, who is your current roommate and longtime friend.
Courtney: The secret option, who it’s not immediately obvious that she could potentially be a dating prospect.
Royce: So, for a game that is very surrounded and steeped in arcade culture, the gaming elements of the game itself are shown, like, in your face all the time. It’s a part of the system. You have a very clear idea of where your state is with each character. It’s being quantified by your sentient phone app.
Courtney: With points that are meaningless, like in Whose Line Is It Anyway. [laughs] “The points don’t matter!”
Royce: Your responses all have a particular characteristic or vibe behind them that is also tallied, and those sort of impact some of the key decisions in the game, where if you tend to respond in a particular way throughout the game, it’s going to push you in that direction for some of those responses, as opposed to some others, during some of the big important moments.
Courtney: Yeah. That’s like, are you a bit of a jokester? Are you replying with humor? Or are you very even-keeled? Or are you like QueenBee and you curse a lot? [laughs]
Courtney: In addition to the points that don’t matter, you also get pizza facts, so that’s kind of fun. Your IRIS subscribes you to pizza facts, such as: did you know that when you have pizza on a bagel, you can eat pizza anytime?
Courtney: And here’s one thing – we’ll get into a little bit about each of the characters and some of the things we liked about the game, but if you are playing this and you sit down and you want to play it with, like, the Aromantic Asexual route, you can do what we said and just say right off the bat that you’re not interested in dating, and you’ll still be able to play the game. But I think the really key dialogue that sort of gives us the actual words “Aromantic,” “Asexual” having sort of a conversation with your IRIS about what that means and why you don’t want to date – you kind of have to say at first that you do want to date?
Royce: Was that exclusive to one of those routes? I couldn’t recall the differences. Because we did play – we did get about as close as you can to 100%-ing the game, which meant skipping a lot of dialogue that we had seen frequently, and the lines have blurred for me a little bit after, what, like, eight playthroughs.
Courtney: Well, there are several different chapters that each have a different sort of event going on around them, and you can choose which of all these people you want to spend a little more time with than others, whether or not you’re trying to date them. But if you tell your IRIS right off the bat that, “Yeah, maybe I’m okay with dating someone,” there comes a point in one of the later chapters of the game where it’s sort of like decision time. Like, “You’ve met all of these people and now you have a golden opportunity to take someone on a romantic date, and, you know, start this romantic journey with them. Who do you choose?” And that’s when you get all of the coworkers, all the regulars, and your roommate, Juniper, at the bottom of the list – who you didn’t even know was an option until this point – or nobody.
Courtney: And I think the best dialogue comes when you click “Nobody.”
Royce: The question that I had was: do you remember if that dialogue is automatically hit if you selected “no romance” in the beginning?
Courtney: If you selected “no romance” in the beginning ,then it doesn’t even give you the choice to pick someone.
Courtney: So, the scene ends up sort of just playing out for you, so you don’t even really have a choice at that point, because you aren’t choosing all of these people – which one do you want to hang out with for the night? Which one do you want to go on a date? Basically, it tells you, “Well, everybody’s already, you know, paired off. They’ve already made their own plans. They’ve already gone off. So, you know, good old-fashioned Juniper, your good friend of many years, your roommate, you’re going to go a have nice night as friends.” Which is nice. My one, like, light critique of that is that if you say right off the bat at the very beginning that you don’t want to date, that is a big decision later down the line that is just completely taken away.
Royce: It is. If I can remember correctly, playing through it, I think the main reason that you would want to say “no romance” right from the beginning is if seeing some of those thirsty comments – that you didn’t necessarily need to choose, but seeing if seeing the options irritated you.
Royce: It just completely takes those options away. If you do play a different route, you can also just choose to not say those things.
Royce: And still get to the same place.
Courtney: Mhm. And especially if you don’t pick the “Flirty First Impressions,” then you won’t. You might still have something that might be a little bit flirty, but you aren’t going to be, like, calling people “Yummy.” You aren’t gonna be like, “Hot damn, boy, she’s sure sexy.” [laughs]
Royce: I think there may have also been a few lines here and there throughout the game that were toned down a little bit too.
Courtney: Mmm. Mhm.
Royce: I can’t quite remember, but I think that was the gist of the “I’m not interested in romance” option.
Courtney: Yeah. Which – the reason why I like it – because if you just say, off the bat, “I am not interested in romance,” then your IRIS is just like, “Great! Noted. We won’t even worry about that, then,” which [laughing] could be a very validating thing for someone who is Aromantic, someone who isn’t looking for a relationship. But if you’re really looking for kind of a conversation behind it and to see those words put out, if you kind of go along like, “Yeah yeah yeah, okay, IRIS, I guess you can tabulate my, like, relationship score with each of these people.” But then she says, “Alright, time to choose! Who are you taking on a romantic date?” and you say, “Nobody,” she kind of gets flustered. She’s like, “[stammers] I didn’t account for this!” And that’s when you say, “I’m Aromantic and I’m Asexual,” and you sort of have this conversation with your IRIS, your… becoming-sentient phone app – who is a regular character. You talk to her frequently in between every single chapter. And sometimes you can even just enlist her help for things that are going wrong in the arcade. Like, you’ll have the option: “Oh, should I ask this arcade regular if he knows how to solve this problem or should I ask my phone assistant?”
Courtney: So that is something that, if any of you out here listening to this are like, “Hey, I want to check out that game,” that’s kind of my recommendation is that, if you’re looking for the rep and you want to see how that conversation plays out, I think the best option is to go along with it, go with the flow, say “Maybe after I get to know someone, something will happen,” but then have that choice later to say, “Nobody.” Or you can be like us and just date everybody! [laughs] Because we did that.
Royce: Just – just try all of it.
Courtney: Did you have a favorite route, or a route that you thought was especially interesting?
Royce: A favorite route? Not necessarily. I think that the character I feel like I would have gotten along with the most in real life was Naomi –
Royce: – who was also –
Courtney: She was the first one we romanced.
Royce: – the first route we went down. Also, I believe the first character you meet, aside from your roommate.
Royce: Actually, I take that back. You run into –
Courtney: No, I think it’s Gavin.
Royce: You run into Gavin.
Courtney: Gavin and then Naomi. Yeah.
Royce: Did you have one?
Courtney: Well, I’m trying to think. Because I… we were both on the same page about starting with Naomi. I think after all the first impressions, she was kind of the one I was most curious about. However, after playing all of the routes, I think some of the other characters have more depth and surprises in their backstory that you really have to go down the route to learn that thing about them or to learn this added element of the story.
Royce: That’s true. Ashley is working through the process of understanding their gender identity.
Courtney: Mhm. Yeah. She doesn’t ever change pronouns, and that’s why I use “she.” But if you get to know Ashley really well, there are definitely conversations of, like, “I don’t know if I feel this way, and I don’t know what this means.” And as a cosplayer, is also –
Royce: They specifically bring up feeling gender euphoria –
Royce: – by cosplaying male roles.
Courtney: Yes. And I love that, too. Because there’s a scene where you go to this big, like, arcade convention, and Ashley shows up dressed like a butler, like, with a fake mustache on and everything, and that’s maybe one of my favorite single interactions in the entire game. Because this butler just shows up, and you have the option to be like, “Wait a minute. I recognize this butler.” Or you can just be like, “A tea, good sir, Earl Grey.” Or you can even be like, “Ah! Bestill my heart. [laughs] I didn’t even know it, but I guess butlers are my type.” And I just thought that’s great. And you’ll see that no matter what route you’re going down, but there’s a big difference between just casually knowing Ashley and knowing that Ashley showed up wearing a butler costume at this convention versus sitting down and having lunch and having these deep conversations about why Ashley likes to “cross-play,” as they call it.
Royce: And that’s a big part of why we like this genre of games in the first place, is that, I mean, it’s the digital equivalent of, like, a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, if you ever picked one of those up back in the day –
Royce: – where there’s a certain amount of material in the world, there’s a certain amount of information there, but you can’t put all the pieces together unless you go about it in a few different ways.
Courtney: Mhm. Yeah. And honestly, Ashley – out of all of the first impressions, Ashley was kind of lower on my list for someone I wanted to get to know, and maybe that’s just a really superficial reason, because, you know, you see this very, like, blond, bubbly sort of personality, and… it is superficial, because you don’t know what’s behind that person. But based on all the first impressions, I was like, “Yeah, we don’t need to do her.” And I think Ashley’s route was one of the later ones that we ended up doing.
Royce: It was.
Courtney: But then we got these details and this more depth and nuance about who this character really is, and that’s what I really like. So I thought that Ashley was a great character for that reason. I really liked Gavin’s as well, because not only do you get a lot more of that character – because he is kind of… When you first meet Gavin, he’s a bit buttoned-down. He’s a…
Royce: He’s very buttoned-down.
Courtney: He’s very buttoned-down. He’s sort of a manager type at this arcade, and he butts heads with Naomi all the time, because –
Royce: I was about to say, how many scenes is he holding, like, a clipboard?
Courtney: Oh, yeah. Like, he’ll have a clipboard. He’ll have his phone.
Royce: This is actually why I mistakenly said we came into contact with Naomi first, because that first interaction with Gavin is, like – it’s a bit standoffish.
Courtney: Oh, you even have an option to, like, think to yourself after you have that interaction, like, If you picked “Flirty First Impressions,” you can be like, “Man, what a babe.” Or you can be like, “Kind of a jerk.” [laughs] Like, “What’s up with that guy?” [laughs] So that’s one of those things where, like, you have to try to get close to him but once you, do he’s a really great guy.
Courtney: But he also has a broader connection to sort of the lore of this world that you would never know unless you went down his route. Because his family is very wealthy. He comes from a very wealthy family. But he did not want to inherit or benefit from any of his family’s wealth. So, he’s trying to blaze his own trail and, you know, make a mark on the arcade world, trying to be a self-made man. But he’s got siblings who are, like, in the tech world, and they’ll buy up tech companies and sell them and merge them, and, you know, doing capitalism. And so we learn a little more about the IRIS system if we go down his route. Like, Gavin has an IRIS on his phone also that we find out at a certain point, eventually. But he’s also really, really wary of it, because one of his siblings had a hand in that company, and he’s like, “I know how they do business, and I’m not impressed.”
Courtney: I think the second person we chose to date was QueenBee.
Courtney: Which I don’t think gives you quite as much as Ashley and Gavin do. But if you get close enough to her, you learn her real name, which is a big step. And I think just personality-wise and who she is and what her deal is, I think is really interesting. And she was one of the most immediately interesting, right off the bat, characters to me.
Courtney: But I also surprisingly got a big soft spot for Percy after we did all the ones. Because I would say Percy was pretty low on my list and Ashley was pretty low on my list for immediate interest, but… I don’t know. I liked Percy.
Royce: Percy’s family trauma and medical situation got you?
Courtney: Look. [laughs] He’s always in the arcade playing this Mr. Moopy game. And the thing is, your first impression of him is basically your first day on the job, he is killing it at this Mr. Moopy game to the point where no one else gets to have a turn because his turns take forever because he doesn’t lose. He can stand there for hours at a time playing this game.
Royce: It’s explained that he’s basically at the level – the extreme tier of a professional player attempting to go for the world record. And it’s like, what you do is you do so well that you pad a bunch of lives so you can just walk away from the machine to go to the bathroom –
Royce: – and just die a few times in the process. And that’s a part of playing the game for hours.
Courtney: Yes! And another customer is angry with him, like, “Hey I want to play this game.” So you go over to try to resolve this feud, and this guy who’s just playing this game, not taking his eye off the screen while he’s having this argument, is like, “Great, here’s $2,000. Can I buy this game and it’s mine now? $3,000, in fact.” And he just pulls $3,000 out of his pocket to try to buy the game, and he’s like, “Well, I’m not taking it home. Like, it’s going to stay here. It belongs in the arcade. But now I get to play it as long as I want.” So it’s like, okay, well, hello Mr. Moneybags, like, almost a pretentious-level elite player. Like, I wasn’t super interested in what his deal was after that first interaction. But then you get to know him, and his baby sister was the one who loved this video game and taught him some of the tricks of this video game, and then she died of a heart condition, and he wants to get that record so he can put the world record in her name in her honor. And it’s like, “Ohhh! My heart!” [laughs]
Royce: But twist: he also has a heart condition.
Courtney: Oh noooo! He only has two years to live, the doctors say. So yeah, I liked that. I liked that a lot.
Courtney: You know, as a dancer, I really, really, really wanted to like Teo more than I did. But Teo is the flirt of the game. Like, he’s the one who will wink at you, and he’s the one who talks a little flirty. And it’s like, that personality of person has just never appealed to me. He’s still a good guy. I didn’t terribly, like, hate anybody.
Royce: I didn’t dislike anyone, but Teo is basically like a community coordinator for the large groups of people that go to places like this and play rhythm games. And even in virtual settings, that’s too many people for me.
Courtney: [laughs] But yeah, that’s also something interesting too. Because if you don’t get to know Percy during your first playthrough, he actually, like, at one point, just keels over and you need to call an ambulance for him. And like, if you didn’t get to know him at all before that point, then it’s like, “Okay, hey, surprise.” And then you feel kind of guilty, because it’s at this big event that you planned and you advertised, “Ooh, we’re going to try to break the world record on this game.” So then you have the guilt of like, “I didn’t even know this person too well, and I just way overextended him until he had a cardiac event.”
Courtney: So regardless of which character you get to know better, what sort of standard plot points that you’ll hit every time, regardless?
Royce: So the central plot to the game is pretty similar, with some scenes varying here and there based off of who you’re interacting with the most, what your choices are, those sorts of things. But after getting your job at the Funplex, you kind of start out just getting immersed in the environment, getting to know everyone. Your first big issue is: how do you resolve a whole bunch of problems at work? People being rowdy, a big surprise birthday celebration coming up, cupcakes getting thrown at you, angry customers, those sorts of things.
Courtney: Ah, yes. The Great Cupcake War of 20…[mumbles].
Royce: After that, the next big plot point is going out to a…
Courtney: …very unique auction?
Royce: That’s what I was trying to think of. Yeah, it’s a little auction put on by a few people who are in the know, who are in the same group, who are connected to this one wealthy individual.
Courtney: Hamza! Quite a character
Royce: And depending on where you go there, there’s a bit of corporate sabotage going on. There’s a bit of sci-fi supernatural. Is that how you would call that one video game?
Courtney: Yeah. This is, like, at the estate for, like, a pop star who died, who was secretly an arcade fanatic, so had, like, a private collection of old cabinets and things. And her spirit got trapped in one of them?
Royce: Essentially. It’s a bit of an odd segment that kind of stands out from the rest of the game. I guess, as a plotline sitting underneath the main storyline is part of the technology of this alternate universe and how IRIS came to be. And a… essentially sentient arcade game out there exists due to tech corporation foolishness.
Courtney: Mhm. And yeah, that’s the first real only indication of, like, nefarious technology going on. Because obviously, like, something’s going on with IRIS, but she’s just here to help you. She’s practically a friend at this point. But, like, you go to this auction and you get sucked into this game, and you must play this game, but the game is also, like, trauma simulator, kind of. [laughs]
Courtney: And then you can try to rescue the spirit of this, you know, deceased singer. And then that’s just kind of gone. You don’t really notice that again until you’ve actually completed a route. Then there’s sort of a cliffhanger, like, secret scene at the end that shows, like, “Oh, there are actually, like, underground agents, like, investigating what’s going on with this.”
Royce: Mhm. Which, I wonder, we have not… There is a sequel to this game out.
Courtney: The New Challengers!
Royce: We have not played it yet, but I wonder if more of that plotline comes up in it at all.
Courtney: It could be. It could be. We’ve purchased it. [laughing] We just haven’t had the time to go through it yet.
Royce: You’ve been quite busy lately.
Royce: But after going through this auction and getting one of three rare antique games, you make it back to the arcade, continue on, and end up at a big event.
Courtney: Yeah, you kind of decide that you want a bigger hand in this arcade that you work at. Like, you don’t just want to be a floor attendant; you want to help it grow and get bigger. So you kind of, you know, precociously ask for a new position to be created for you where you can be, like, an events creator and bring people in.
Royce: And so that gets you to a big convention, which is, Courtney, where you mentioned –
Courtney: The butler!
Royce: – Ashley was cosplaying as a butler at, yes.
Courtney: “Cross-playing.” And Teo has, like, a flash mob thing going on there, and…
Royce: It’s a big event.
Courtney: It’s a big event. There’s a lot going on.
Royce: After the convention wraps up, you find yourself in the the obligatory beach scene.
Courtney: Does that happen right away, or do you actually do your event at the arcade first? I think you do your event at the arcade first. Because the beach scene is kind of celebration for, “Hey everything’s going so well.”
Royce: I think you’re right.
Courtney: Because you’re at this convention to advertise, so there are a few different ways you can go about that. You can end up cosplaying with Ashley and making an announcement on the big, you know, cosplay competition stage. Your friend and roommate, Juniper, is there, and she is an artist, and she actually offers to, like, make a poster for you, and you can pull off a heist to try to get the poster up on the big screen.
Courtney: And kind of regardless of what choices you make, lots of people do come to your event. Which is maybe, maybe my biggest critique of the game. I really liked playing it, and I loved playing through everything. And for me, when I play through all the different routes of a game, I start liking it more and more every route, because I’m flushing out the world even more. So I definitely liked the game more, by the time we’re going through our third or fourth route, than the first one. But that’s just – that’s always how my brain works when I play these things. But there are a couple of choices that seem like they potentially have very big stakes that the first time through, I thought they did matter. Like, I thought the choices I was making at this convention were going to determine whether or not we got enough people at the event to make it successful. But after you play through it multiple times and it’s like, “Oh, okay, that decision that felt important the first time through wasn’t actually.”
Royce: Yeah, there is a pretty clearly defined path through the story, and you can’t deviate off of it very much.
Royce: But yes, coming out of the convention and hosting your event at the Funplex, happens. Then you go to the obligatory beach scene for a celebration.
Royce: Which, is that the thirstiest part of the game?
Courtney: Probably, because, like, everybody’s in their swimsuits.
Courtney: And so if you do, like – [laughs] Everyone’s in their swimsuits. This is also the chapter where, at the end of the night, you get to pick who you’re taking on a romantic date, if that’s what you’re doing.
Royce: Mhm. That is a big scene for character interaction, for kind of solidifying your relationships, for figuring out who’s going to be close to you, if anyone, throughout the rest of the game. And then we come into the next chapter, where you start going through the discussion of a potential buyout.
Courtney: Mmm. Mhm. Which – and you know, that’s actually one thing. I will say this about the beach scene. If you are going through the routes and you are courting individual people, this is where you get some of the biggest, like, deviation in scenes. Like, you’ll go to an entirely new place with an entirely new, like, background art that you’ve never seen before based on who you pick, some of the time.
Royce: Each person has an individual date scene.
Courtney: Yes. Which, all the scenes leading up… You can still pick different people to spend time with, but it’s sort of the same setting. Like, there’s a place called The Hole Story next to the arcade that is owned by a really charming gay couple, and it’s just books and donuts. And you can basically go there to have lunch and kind of pick who you’re inviting to eat with you. So the conversation will change, but you’re still going to this place to do it.
Royce: And a lot of other conversations just happen around the arcade, because that’s where you’re at.
Royce: But yeah, you’re right. The individual dates are distinctly different. They’re entirely different areas. And they’re alone.
Royce: Like, no one else is around.
Courtney: Because, yeah, it’s kind of… Well, first of all your IRIS is like, “Yeah, I’ve calculated the percentage chance of having a successful romance if you take this person on a… moonlit walk [laughing] on the beach at the end of the night.” But before you get to the, you know, moonlit beach at the end, whoever you’re inviting on a date kind of picks the first half of that. So you kind of go somewhere that’s more in line with their personality and what they want to do first.
Courtney: But, yes. Then you start getting pressure from Deco’s Palace, which is the big arcade capitalist of the area, who has apparently been trying to buy Francine’s Funplex for a long time and has had meetings with her that she has always declined up until this point. But now he’s like, “Hmm. Well, this Ari Cader I’ve heard so much about is, you know, starting to make waves and having these big successful events now. So, hmm, they work for Francine. Maybe I just could invite them to a meeting and try to get my foot in the door, you know, the back way.”
Royce: Yeah. More naming jokes. Deco Nami is the –
Courtney: [laughs] Yeah, Deco Nami, that’s right.
Royce: – the owner of the arcade monopoly that is crushing all of the little guys underfoot. It’s an anagram for “Die, Namco.”
Courtney: Yep. [laughs] But yeah, when you walk in, the background art of this place very much gives, like, kind of like Dave and Buster’s vibes, almost. Which I had never even heard of until I moved to Kansas City, and I think we’ve been exactly… twice.
Royce: I think it’s similar, but I think it’s all of the aspects of sort of chain arcade places cranked up.
Royce: Because it’s explicitly mentioned that it almost gives off casino vibes.
Courtney: Yes. Like, some of the games have even been modified to be less of a game and more of just a slot machine basically. Like, they have a Mr. Moopy, but it’s just, “Hit a button and there’s a random outcome to whether or not Moopy gets through his maze” kind of a thing. Like, you aren’t actually playing it, so.
Royce: And it’s still legal to set up gambling machines for kids, as long as you don’t call them “gambling machines.”
Courtney: [laughs] Loopholes. But, yeah. And they also have a restaurant built off of it, so you can check out the restaurant if you want. They have a big… I guess we didn’t say the name of the not-League of Legends, but it’s Fist of Discomfort. They have a big Fist of Discomfort tournament happening there.
Courtney: So you can choose any of these people to come with you to this meeting, and they’re all going to give their own opinion based on what they’re seeing. So if you bring QueenBee, who is a player of this, she’ll even say, like, “I’ve had some, you know, friends who are professional players who have had horrible situations at tournaments at this place.” Or if you bring Percy, he’s going to be horrified at the mangled Mr. Moopy machine.
Royce: And if you bring Gavin, he’s like, “Look at all of these good financial ideas.”
Royce: “I mean, I mean, I mean, they’re clearly unethical, but look at all of the profit.”
Courtney: [laughs] Gavin isn’t completely a capitalist, because he definitely, like… he will still be very upset if you do decide that you want to work with this guy. He does not like it at all. But he’s like, “If we maybe made it a little more ethical than this…”
Royce: [laughs] “Maybe there’s a line somewhere between what we are doing and what Deco Nami is currently doing.”
Courtney: Yes. Because Gavin and Naomi – they’re kind of always butting heads. Because Naomi is just, like… just geek at heart, just absolutely nerding over all of these games and, like, loves the original games, loves the artwork of the cabinets, loves keeping things retro, you know, the good old-fashioned kind of arcade experience. And Gavin’s like, “I’m trying to keep this company alive.” [laughs] “Like, we are constantly on the edge of bankruptcy. Do we really need this game that nobody’s actually going to come in to play, even though it’s a classic. There is no money in this.” So, they’re kind of always fighting back and forth. Which is interesting, because if you do not romance either of them, the two of them end up getting together. And I think that’s the only situation of another couple happening that does not involve you.
Royce: It is, I think. I think it is the only one. It also completely caught us off-guard the first time we hit that.
Courtney: Yes! We were like, “Gavin and Naomi?! Wow!”
Royce: Were those our first two? Naomi, then Gavin?
Courtney: We did Naomi and then QueenBee.
Royce: Oh, right. Okay.
Courtney: And then I think Gavin was the third one.
Courtney: So, yeah. I think we did the QueenBee route, and we romanced QueenBee, and then Gavin and Naomi went together. But we didn’t know everything about Gavin yet because we hadn’t done his route, so we were like, “Pardon me.” [laughs]
Royce: So after you go have a chat with the most hated character in the game, regardless of what you do, you come back to the arcade and the arcade owner has passed.
Courtney: RIP Francine.
Royce: And in their will, they have passed ownership of the arcade down to their descendants, who want nothing to do with the arcade. And Deco Nami has already made a deal and has bought it from them.
Royce: So you have one quick scene where you can choose either to punch Deco Nami right in his dumb face or not.
Courtney: [laughs] Yeah, the options are, like, “Kick his ass, literally. Kick his ass, figuratively.” [laughs] Or something maybe a little more toned-down. [laughs]
Royce: But the conclusion of that is basically spiraling into a bit of depression into the chapter titled “New Game Plus.” And then getting a second wind, thanks to whoever is closest to you, and deciding to start your own arcade.
Courtney: Yes, Funplex 2: Electric Boogaloo.
Royce: This one you can name whatever you want. The default, if you don’t put anything in, is Arcade Spirits.
Courtney: Which is what we did every single time. [laughs]
Royce: We never entered another name for anything.
Courtney: [laughs] We were always Ari Cader. We looked different every time, and we rotated pronouns every time. But other than that, our name is Ari Cader, and we’re going to open Arcade Spirits. [laughs]
Royce: But getting into this last stage, you have a few options in who you’re going to accept as the investor for your new arcade and what you’re going to do – whether you’re going to be a bare-bones gaming sort of arcade similar to the Funplex, if you’re going to try a barcade, if you’re going to try to do, do the whole restaurant arcade thing. And you have a few options as to how you’re going to set things up, which –
Courtney: Mhm. Who your business partner’s going to be. Because you can’t afford this. [laughs]
Royce: Right. Exactly. You still live in an apartment with a roommate.
Courtney: And you eat pizza bagels every single day.
Royce: And have been for a long time.
Royce: But you get that started off. And you get a pretty good showing on day one, except there’s a group of saboteurs.
Royce: And they wreck your whole day.
Courtney: Well, first, your day already starts off rocky. And here’s the thing: no matter who you are with, whether it’s your friend Juniper as your friend Juniper, or if it’s your friend Juniper who you are now starting to romance, or if it’s any of these new people you’re starting to romance, this is like, you start the day off – the opening of your arcade is going to start with interpersonal drama that just absolutely comes out of nowhere and hits you like a truck.
Courtney: [laughs] And the first time this happened with Naomi, we were like, “Where is this coming from?” [laughs]
Royce: It was –
Courtney: That one at least made a little more sense, because she’s there working with you and she’s fighting with Gavin, as she always is. So, that one was a little more… made a little more sense than some of the other ones, I think.
Royce: I was about to say the opposite.
Royce: I was about to say that some of the ways that she reacted were more extreme than we had seen from her character throughout the entire game.
Courtney: I think that’s true of every character in this scene, though.
Courtney: I think everybody gets, like, the melodrama cranked up –
Courtney: – for the sake of…
Royce: – starting a fight?
Courtney: [laughs] Because, like, yeah, she’s fighting with Gavin, which isn’t abnormal, but what she really digs her heels into is kind of like… do we really need this right now? [laughs]
Courtney: Do we really need this right now? Which is, uh… oh, because she wanted to put, like, Pengies out on the cabinet, right? Which, by the way, there’s one in, like, every scene. There’s this adorable little penguin – little penguin guy.
Royce: Right. And there was the very real concern of, “Hey, the company that owns this symbol is very litigious and we cannot handle a potential lawsuit.”
Royce: But a similar thing happens with every character. There’s a bit of relationship drama leading into the day, and then a bunch of saboteurs ruin things on opening day, and it’s a whole big problem.
Courtney: Yeah! And the thing is… So like, yeah, Ashley – or, um, Naomi has this absolute major fight and ends up getting mad at us, no matter how we try to resolve it. [laughs] Even if you picked the most, like, sensitive options, whoever you’re with is going to take it in the least charitable way possible.
Royce: In every instance, there’s a fight that you resolve –
Both: – later.
Royce: Because of things that we’ll get to in a moment.
Courtney: Yeah. And some of them really do come out of nowhere. And because of that, I actually think my least favorite one might be Juniper for this scene. Because –
Royce: Oh, right.
Courtney: Overall, I loved the, like… And the beach day scene with Juniper, the couple of options, whether it’s romance or still platonic, I liked those a lot. I thought that was a great scene. But now – we’ve been living with Juniper for years as roommates – and now on the opening day of our arcade, where you can have her help with branding, you can have her create a new character to be the mascot of the arcade, you have her, like, she can draw, like, posters and advertising and stuff for it. So she’s, like, actively trying to help build your arcade’s brand. And it’s opening day. She knows how stressful this is and how much this means to you. You’ve been living together for years. And now all of a sudden, she’s like, “By the way, you’re a frickin’ slob. Clean up the damn apartment once in a while, maybe.” And it’s like, “You’ve never told me this before ever, even once! [laughs] Where is all this coming from?”
Courtney: And I was like, “Oh. I can’t stand it.” Because that just implies that there has been a conversation that has needed to happen for a very long time.
Royce: And it could have come up literally any other time? Yeah.
Courtney: Literally any other time. [laughs]
Royce: I think the one that… I honestly can’t remember all of them right now. I remember QueenBee’s making sense, because it was –
Courtney: QueenBee’s, yeah.
Royce: QueenBee got a huge career opportunity that could involve her moving elsewhere.
Courtney: Yes, right as you’re starting this sort of relationship-ish. QueenBee is the only one where they don’t really put a label on it, and they kind of have a conversation about, like, “Let’s just keep being the way we are. We don’t have to rush this or put a label on it right now.” So you get a little bit of variation into, you know, sort of a terms of each of these relationships, but it’s still a bummer. You’re starting it a relationship with a new person, and now they might be moving. So that’s a big one. And I did think that one fit pretty well. That one and Percy’s – I think those are the only two that didn’t have me, like, viscerally angry. [laughs] Percy’s –
Royce: Percy’s was: medical issues are getting worse, and his family wants him to try some other – like, get a second opinion sort of a thing.
Courtney: There’s a new treatment that they think will be very effective for him, and he’s outright refusing it. And we haven’t met the parents yet, but his mom is like, “Hey, maybe you can convince him to do this?” So, those are at least, like, bigger life things that aren’t just…
Royce: They’re also things that are coming from an outside source that don’t know how important this day is.
Courtney: Yes, exactly. Like, QueenBee couldn’t control when she got this new, like, letter job offer. And, yeah, it’s Percy’s mom who is just inadvertently picking the worst possible opportunity to try to get ahold of you about this big thing. But other than that, it’s like, Gavin you should know better. Naomi, you should know better. Ashley, you should know better. What are you all doing? [laughs] I guess Teo’s was also kind of a job offer, too, wasn’t it?
Royce: It was. It was to be a sort of community manager that worked in a broader area across the country –
Royce: – for the sort of rhythm game company –
Royce: – or a rhythm game company. But anyway, past the drama, the day goes on. Stuff starts working. You find out that a little group of Pac-Man ghosts has been causing problems.
Courtney: Not the Pac-Man ghosts! [laughs]
Royce: And this all concludes with a rival gang – rival to the Pac-Man Ghosts – coming in and inadvertently shooting you.
Courtney: Yes. Yep. [laughs]
Royce: It escalates fast.
Courtney: It does escalate fast. Yeah, so you’ve got these Ghost Monsters, who are causing havoc. They’re just, like, wrecking shit all over your arcade. Don’t really know why other gang comes in and [laughs] starts something, but that happens.
Royce: It’s their turf.
Courtney: It’s their turf.
Royce: The Ghost Monsters aren’t supposed to be in this side of town.
Courtney: Okay, fine. [laughs] So, hey, surprise, now you’re in the hospital. You’re fine, mostly.
Royce: You got shot in the leg.
Courtney: Yeah, it’s not ideal. So now, you’re going to be laid up for a while, but you gotta figure out why people are sabotaging your arcade so you can make it stop, so that you can try to actually make this work. And this was a bit of an odd one, because you… In trying to investigate, you can take a lot of different routes to try to figure out who these people are and why they’re sabotaging you, but you don’t go as yourself. You go as two of the other characters.
Royce: Right. From the seven friends that you have – friends / romantic interests – and IRIS. They split up into four groups of two, and you choose which one you go as. And each one is a unique scene with different people trying to investigate this problem.
Courtney: Yeah. So the leader of this ghost gang is named Sue, Sue Nami! [gasps theatrically] [laughs] One of the little tidbits you learn on this secret adventure: there are a lot of different ways to come to that conclusion that actually are very different settings and ways about it, but.
Royce: But they all end in the same conclusion, which is that your arch-nemesis, Deco Nami, has gotten their –
Courtney: – super haxor daughter –
Royce: – super haxor daughter and her gang to sabotage your arcade, and has probably done this more than once. This seems like a thing that they have just done. So, you have the information, and you go to talk to her at night in an abandoned-looking warehouse, because that’s a great idea.
Courtney: [laughs] One thing I did like – because you’ve got Sue Nami, who’s the head of these Ghost Monsters, and she has four hench-people, that three of them – basically, like, the same dude with a reskin, like, they’re the same size and shape. Just big guys.
Royce: They’re very similar artwork that are color patterned differently, yes.
Courtney: Yeah. And they all have, like, a little, like, picture of their Ghost symbol on their clothing. And of course, once you learn their names, it’s Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde. But Clyde is just a precious little nonbinary baby. I love them so much. [laughs] Clyde is one of the characters in the game that is exclusively referred to with they/them pronouns by other people around them. And that just is how it is, which I always love when that is. It doesn’t have to be a big conversation every time. But Clyde’s just so little! Just tiny little, like, mop-haired, kind of messy, much tinier than all these other big, buff, like, bouncer guys. And I was like, “Of course. Of course, Clyde.”
Courtney: Like, I did play a lot of Pac-Man, on an actual retro machine, when I was a kid. There was a diner in my hometown that I would go to with my grandma. It was called Boomers. And they had a Pac-Man machine, and I would play that every time we went to Boomers. And I always loved Clyde the ghost, because he had the silly name. [laughing] Like, he’s the only one who bucked the naming convention, so that was great.
Courtney: And then I think I noticed this immediately, because I’m very in tune with Pac-Man. But when you’re in this old warehouse, you get sort of on an upper level looking down at all the games that are here in this warehouse, and it is very much like – it is a Pac-Man course, [laughs] basically. And as soon as I saw that, I was like, “Oh my gosh, I really hope we have a pseudo Pac-Man game going on here.” And that is one of the options! [laughs]
Royce: There are a few ways to resolve this final scene. Basically, you come in and Sue and her father are having a conversation and you interrupt, one way or another. And it comes down to this event where you are trying to convince Sue to turn on her father.
Royce: And there are a few different ways that you go about this.
Courtney: Pizza bagel eating contest! [laughs]
Royce: There’s that. There is the Pac-Man maze. There is just a series of dialogue options, you try to convince them. There’s also a…
Courtney: “I challenge you to a game-off.”
Royce: A video game duel.
Royce: Which happens using the video game that you got from the auction earlier. So, there are a few different ways that that path is told.
Courtney: Mhm. And when you actually play the pseudo Pac-Man game with the other Ghost Monsters, it’s kind of more like a game of keep-away than anything. Like, they have an item that you’re trying to obtain from them in the four corners of this map, and there are a variety of ways you can go about trying to retrieve these. And it’s not a guarantee that you will succeed in getting Sue to turn on her father. But coming from the two of us who actively tried to fail a couple of times just to see what would happen, it is difficult. [laughs]
Royce: It is difficult to fail.
Courtney: It is difficult to fail. [laughs]
Royce: We had to try really hard to fail.
Courtney: We tried really hard to fail. And we failed at failing a couple of times. [laughs] And then you theoretically live happily ever after with whomever it is you’re living happily ever after with, whether or not it’s romantic. And honestly, I had a lot of fun with it. I’m excited to play The New Challengers. I like that if you choose “Nobody,” it outright says, “I am Aromantic Asexual.” Those words are canon. They are in the dialogue. I did like the way that conversation was handled overall. I kind of think it’s funny that this sentient app on your phone gets a little flustered. Like, she doesn’t know what to do. [laughs] ’Cause that’s just kind of realistic, you know. But yeah, that little scene we mentioned before with the investigators investigating this game. You see Deco Nami kind of get dethroned. He actually ends up like… his daughter has all this dirt on him, so there’s, like, press conferences going on. But then you have, you know, a figure in a suit and sunglasses who take him in for questioning, and that’s sort of the, oooh, cliffhanger.
Royce: A woman in black.
Courtney: A woman in black – who we actually get to meet a little bit in one of the routes. Is it Teo’s route that we actually see her when she’s off the clock?
Royce: Possibly, I can’t remember. But yes, he ends up in questioning by the secret organization who are searching for more machines like the one that we encountered –
Royce: – in a post-credits scene.
Courtney: Yes. We’ll, of course, put all the links for finding Arcade Spirits and The New Challengers in the show notes. We’ll also send you in the direction of the creator of the game, Stefan Gagne, sometimes known as TwoFlower. And if you’re interested in hearing from more Aro and/or Ace people who are in gaming, we’ll go ahead and add a link as well to a panel that was put on about a year ago by Qweerty Gamers that Stefan was a member on. We watched it. We thought it was very well done. We obviously have the creator of Arcade Spirits. We have an Aromantic Twitch streamer who sometimes streams in drag. And then a staff member at… The Fist of Discomfort. [laughs] No, no, not that one. League of Legends. Riot Games, if we’re being politically correct. [laughs]
Royce: If we’re naming the actual company –
Courtney: If we’re naming the actual company.
Royce: – and not the product.
Courtney: [laughs] And, just for the fun of it – because I know lately, we’ve been getting yelled at to stop retweeting things by our friends Sharky and Satan, who both have interviews [laughs] on the podcast at this time. If you’re more of a watcher than a player of games, I was gonna say, the Aces Playing At Attraction did play all the routes of Arcade Spirits as well, and some of those videos are available on their YouTube channel, even though they played the game a while ago.
Royce: Uploading to the YouTube channel is a little bit behind, so you can watch it as they come out on the YouTube channel –
Royce: – as if it were a live release.
Courtney: Wow! We popped into just one of those videos after we played through all the routes, and Sharky just randomly started doing a Kermit the Frog voice for Teo during a Teo route they were doing, and that had us cracking up, so.
Royce: I also saw one scene where Satan got very flustered by the flirty beach scene.
Courtney: Ah, yes. [laughs] There are… it is a dating simulator, so there are very flirty dating sim-y tropes, which we find fun to get flustered at.
Royce: I think it was – I think it was, honestly, the chat commentary paired with the scene, but.
Courtney: Mmm. Mhm. See, it’s – I just think it’s so funny. It’s just a way of, like, dipping your toe into the allo world in a way that doesn’t actually matter. You are not actually flirting with someone. Someone is not actually flirting with you. And that’s why we like it. Because we, as Aspecs, can kind of make fun of it that way [laughs] in a way where we still are having fun. We’re still playing a game. I don’t know why so many of us do this, but we do. So there we have it. Since so many Aros and Aces that I know play dating simulators, I love that we have one where you can canonically be AroAce, and I hope we just get more going into the future. I know we’ve still got some on our list that I think would also qualify, but we’re working through ’em.
Royce: We have a big list. The list is getting things added to them more frequently than we’re playing games.
Courtney: Oh, yes. [laughs] So if you’re interested in hearing about more games with representation for the Ace and/or Aro communities, we’ll have more. [laughs] They are coming. Let us know.
Courtney: So I think that’s going to be all for today. I hope you all enjoy the rest of your Aromantic Spectrum Awareness week. We’ll go ahead and pop some resources about Aro Week in the show notes as well, and don’t forget to check out the MarketplACE. Support some Aro creators this week and until next time, always remember that when you have pizza on a bagel, you can have pizza anytime.