June 28, 2020 – Day 104 of my quarantine
The National LGBTQ Task Force recently hosted a Zoom Party that revolved around a group playing Caper, live in real-time, and I had been asked to attend the party to answer questions, an invitation which I gladly accepted but, unfortunately, got the time wrong and totally missed.
The coordinator of the party instead emailed me their questions last night and this morning I was wondering about how best to answer them – (in a PDF file or Word document or email) … and it suddenly dawned on me that a had the perfect place to answer them that everyone could easily access – this blog.
Just about every year during Pride Month I am asked by someone (mostly LGBTQ magazine and newspaper reporters) to do an interview about the making of Caper and I must say, these are some of the best questions I have ever been asked. I’ve also employed many links to additional information for historical context as well. So, here goes –
How did you get into video game design? That kind of work seemed inaccessible at the time, how did you find your way there?
What is hypercard and how does it work? Can you explain in layman’s terms?
I never sought to get into video game design. I was a precision mechanical inspector for a medical device manufacturer in Silicon Valley, working 40-60 hours a week. And playing computer-based word adventure & mystery games like Trinity in my spare time for entertainment. I had fallen in love with the concept of personal computers from the very first time I purchased and played with a Commodore Vic 20 in 1980. The potential of what computers could ‘do and be’ opened my imagination in ways I had never experienced before. The applications for them seemed limitless.
The creation of Caper was, in fact, an act of what I have dubbed “subversive re-assignment”. Taking something that was intended for one specific use and applying it to something completely different.
Apple’s HyperCard was basically an indexing program or database. It operated like a stack of virtual cards, like a Rolodex File, with the added benefit that one could add primitive (by today’s standards) graphic elements & sounds to each card and link one card to another out of sequence using HyperCard’s programming language, HyperTalk, applied to “buttons” that could be added to the cards. It was never meant to be a game dev platform. During that time many others besides myself were also exploring this idea for subverting the use of HyperCard into a game platform. Here’s a great video on the topic –
What made you decide to create this game?
Creating the game was more of an interesting challenge for me than anything else. I love learning new things and HyperCard was no exception. As stated earlier, I never set out to specifically create a computer game, let alone an LGBTQ computer game. I started out by just playing with HyperCard, testing its limits. The idea of a mystery game organically grew from my experimenting with the software and was informed by the fact that I love mysteries and at the time, identified as a lesbian. (I now identify as transgender) My partner and I had just moved to Silicon Valley from Orange County (Southern California) an extremely White, Straight, Christian, Republican area we used to refer to as ‘Behind the Orange Curtain”. I was so overjoyed and overwhelmed by the freedom and welcoming we experienced by comparison here in Nothern California – once I decided to create a game I knew it would be dedicated to the community that I had found here. At the heart of the community was San Franciso’s Castro District. My partner and I would travel to The Castro just about every Sunday for brunch and people watching.
How long did it take?
It took almost exactly one year. I worked on it evenings after I got home from my day job in the factory and weekends. I began it in 1988 and released it in 1989.
What was your process? Follow up, how did you come up with the characters?
I wish I could tell you I had a process – lol – I had none. I just fell into the rabbit hole and followed my nose out at the other end. The characters in the game are just roughly-hewn, and embarrassingly badly stereotypical caricatures of people I’d observed. Their existence in the game was meant to be tongue-in-cheek humor. But by today’s standards come-off as ignorant, poorly constructed depictions. I have one regret about the game and that is I wish I had treated these characters with more dignity and respect.
There was no social media as we know it in 1989. How did you distribute the game?
Oppressed people will always find a way to network, support, and connect to one another. Back in those days, there were underground Bulletin Board Systems. We used the phone lines to connect one computer to another. Someone would volunteer their home computer to run as a dedicated HUB where others could call in and upload data files that would then be placed in a common file area on their hard drive where other callers could download them. The uploading and downloading was an arduous process and took many hours and sometimes days or even weeks to accomplish.
Once the game was finished I contacted one of these underground BBS operators and explained to him what I had created and asked if he would consider hosting it – he agreed and that was how the game eventually traveled around the world. In one instance, someone downloaded the game onto a diskette and then took the diskette physically to London with them on a business trip where it was then further shared.
I’ve seen comparisons with the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s to today’s COVID-19. Do you think the comparisons are valid? Is the scenario in your 1989 game still relevant today?
No. There is absolutely no comparison here. Imagine you live in a community with 100 other people and you wake up one morning and 95 of them are gone. Nobody knows why they are gone and none of the people in charge even remotely care that they are gone. In fact, many people applaud the fact that they have been taken out of the population because their very existence was seen as a “stain on humankind” or an “aberration” and you are told that they were taken out of the population as “God’s punishment for being different”. That’s what the AIDS epidemic was like for me.
The over-arching scenario of the game loosely being “Corporations run by Rich White Guys stopping at nothing to exploit and oppress those of lesser means and status” – Yes – it’s still relevant and today we politely call it, “Income Inequality.”
What was going on in the lgbtq world back then that you think we should know about? Or anything that would help put the game into context.
I think it’s important to remember that it was only 47 years ago – December 15, 1973 – by a vote of 5,854 to 3,810, that the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in the DSM-II Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
And many, many years after that it was still not decriminalized – we were still being arrested for holding hands in public. I recall being in a bar with my girlfriend in Garden Grove, California, the year was 1987 and the local police were still making regular walkthroughs of the bar on a daily and nightly basis and arresting anyone who was seen touching another patron – you could not even publicly hold hands or put your arm around your date without risking arrest.
I volunteered as a Suicide Prevention Hot Line Counselor for the local LGBTQ Center and our building was burned down 3 times causing us to move repeatedly.
When random news footage was broadcast that had caught me riding my motorcycle in a Los Angeles Gay Pride parade I went to work the next day was summarily fired and my car vandalized and set on fire in my employer’s parking lot.
I guess what I’d like young people to remember today is that many of us sacrificed a lot, and some even sacrificed their lives, to pave the way to the freedoms you now possess. Use your legacy wisely. Make us proud of you. Keep moving forward.
It’s been 21 years. Do you think this game still holds up?
LOL – I wish it was only 21 years! My arthritis would be so much better! It’s been 32 years since I created the game. The game itself technically does not hold-up by any standards – but its ultimate publication through an underground network, it’s distribution as “Charityware” and what it stood for will always hold up, I think.
Sending you all my Love and Light. Stay Safe. Stay Smart. Stay Sane. Stay Strong out there.
Until next time … Here’s Sister Sledge (with an obvious choice for today’s song) “We Are Family”