Welcome, dear readers, to the Fuwazette, our yearly(?) news and commentary section here on Fuwanovel! While the consistency of putting out content other than VNTS wasn’t our strongest point lately, we never fully gave up on highlighting interesting developments and creators in the VN scene. And today, we offer you another piece of such content: an interview with PunishedHag, writer and author of unusual yuri VNs. So, consider joining us while we talk about visual novels, girls’ love media and the three memorable games our interviewee released so far.
Plk_Lesiak: Welcome and thank you for accepting our invitation! As a start, can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?
PunishedHag: I’m Hag on Twitter. I write a lot and I always have. I don’t really say much about myself online because I like to keep things clean but I’ve been alive three decades and I’ve lived in more than one country. I’m a girl whomst likes girls romantically and am just a generally horrible, belligerent individual who has somehow managed to convince other people to not only put up with me as a friend but actively collaborate on projects. Crazy!
PL: It always interests me how authors found their way towards VNs. From how you present yourself, I imagine your experience with writing goes deeper than the three visual novels I and other VN fans might’ve seen. So, how did you get to this point?
H: Well, I’ve been writing since… god knows. My mum was a big book nerd and refused to use a library so she had piles of fantasy and sci-fi and horror and drama and historical fantasy novels, and as an introvert I devoured them. Then I started writing properly for myself in my teens, experimenting with original stuff and fanfiction until I got my shit sorted out to write an original novel-length story several years ago.
It was really long and fancy and a bit too weird for publishers (and also I think my prose has improved a lot since then so I should probably revisit it sometime) but that showed me I could definitely write a large volume of decent quality story, so I decided to put more of my stuff out there. I heard about game jams through the Twitter sphere and decided to try it once I saw how Ren’Py worked. Then I got invited into doing the NaNoRenO one the following year by my very cool friend Liebe who really got my fires going in terms of asking people to help out. I’m super grateful to them for that!
PL: Is there something in the visual novel formula that makes it particularly attractive for you as a creator?
H: I guess it’s helpful for writers who want to focus on like, dialogue and character interplay because unlike a straight novel there’s less pressure on description and framing space. Using visual language makes for a more… paced? Experience? Like yeah, you’re reading but also music and art and character sprites are queued up and arranged to impress you in a specific order and to carry across a sense of urgency or sedateness or whatever. I don’t think that makes it superior or inferior to just writing a novel, but it’s a nice fusion of different media that is easy to get into and understand but is also capable of a lot. If you look at Gahkthun or Umineko or Steins;Gate or Root Double or Ace Attorney you can see it’s got a high ceiling.
PL: Let’s talk a bit about your specific works. Package Chat, your debut, was as interesting as it was striking in its naturalism – rough language, gruesome details of space travel and the protagonist’s cynical attitude all made for a very unusual tone. Were you worried about bringing that kind of writing into a genre that is rather known for sappy love stories?
H: Honestly, it was plan B. I originally was going to try and adapt a short story I had written years earlier because I wasn’t sure if I had the time to fill out an original story. It was about an astronaut explorer and her robot who went to look for life on alien planets, but the astronaut got disillusioned because she never found anything impressive. Her robot eventually tried to cheer her up because it had learned from her original optimism and spirit of adventure as part of the AI learning process.
I ditched that idea because I realized I’d need too many assets, which was relatively more of an issue for a single person with little technical prowess, and also I’d come up with my own new idea based on some medical experiences I’d had. It flowed out pretty easily and I could see from the start there was a clear arc there I could use to express my writing well in the short game length. The good thing about visceral, disturbing language is that it definitely sticks in your mind well after you read, and a lot of the popular VNs with horror elements understand this- freaking someone out is a good way to make them remember you.
I didn’t honestly care if it was an unusual entry for the Yuri Game Jam because I think sticking out with a weird story is fine. It’s all labelled on the game page and I’m not charging money. Also, I was mostly just trying to see if I could deliver at all at that point. I’m glad people liked it!
PL: Then came Spellbroken with its unusual, semi-totalitarian setting and the prevalent theme of witch hunts. Could you tell a bit on how this story came to be/what was your work process like?
H: Well basically I had like a jumble of ideas in my head about witches and magical girls and so forth. When Liebe came to me and we were figuring out what to do I was like “okay I have these thematic ideas in my head for what I want for story beats, and then the specifics of the setting and characters can just be whatever we as a group agree on”. So basically myself, Liebe and our music person Bug talked about it and we were all okay with the pseudo-SF fantasy setting and I just wrote the ideas down as they came to explain and frame the story as it went.
Several specifics changed as we went and it was relatively easy to change bits and pieces. As much as I love lore and worldbuilding the dirty truth is it’s often the easiest part of a story to change because it’s mostly just ideas and imagination. If you break Spellbroken down it’s basically just a story about how people will accept unfair treatment of others and easily justify it but will instantly realize it’s bullshit once they themselves are inflicted with the same treatment. The protagonist probably isn’t the best person and rightfully call themselves a hypocrite. But still, they have the right to fight against their fate, and they realize that everyone else does too.
PL: You make it sound pretty random, but the set of political, cultural and sexual themes that ended up in the story felt quite deliberate. For example the opening dream sequence and how it ultimately tied into the broader lore of the witches…
H: I think it’s mostly a case of the themes naturally fitting together because they just tend to come as a package deal. Spellbroken‘s opening scene is basically the fantasy of a stifled woman who has no love for structured life and finds sexual (and spiritual) release teased in an encounter with a mystery character. This sort of wish-fulfilment dream, while obviously having direct connotations to the main story, also is used as a kind of prophetic awakening. Witches in the setting are all about freedom and rebellion, and they reject the system that rigidly controls society. Sexuality can be a form of rebellion, especially the sexuality of the subconscious that speaks no languages and follows no laws of morals or logic. By being free about your sexual identity and exploring your desires it lines up pretty well with other forms of rebellion such as societal criticism and civil disobedience.
As to those other themes themselves, I think that again, if you write a story about a rigid, insular society that uses rhetoric to justify how it treats minorities, the specifics really write themselves? We all know how nationalism works and how the authority figures redefine society so that it’s not about the government serving the people but the people sacrificing themselves for the government. Individuals suffer to please the mob and ensure the powerbase of the monsters at the top.
PL: And finally, we’ve got GFxF, which broke off from the gloomy sci-fi formula for the sake of yuri fandom talk mixed with love drama. Here possibly the most interesting element for me was the protagonist, Mona, who places herself in a position of a voyeur – something that is played up for comedy, but also made very real by scenes showing the psychological pain that brought her there. What can you say about your ideas behind this character?
H: Well, with GFxF I wanted to basically… bait people with cute girls and then maybe bully them a bit over how they engage with yuri as a genre. This is also hypocritical of me because I’m guilty of the same behaviours. The three girls in the game are quite literally the same arguments I’ve been grappling with for years on how I’m supposed to enjoy, criticize and analyze yuri media and the game is just me arguing with myself. There’s no right perspective or true angle to it.
With the actual story, I initially didn’t have as much Mona introspection scenes because I figured the arguments I wrote would be longer and the story would be more comedic. But, I guess I decided I wanted to get more into Mona’s head because I didn’t think it was fair to have the protagonist be left unsympathetic when she has such a spicy motivation. Speaking personally, someone who’s in Mona’s position tends to become polarized over time due to a lot of different developmental factors as they grow, so I think it’s necessary to see and feel how Mona ended up as the mess she is. I mean, she’s me, and I’m a mess.
Of course, the problem with the story is how easily the girls forgive Mona’s impure motives. If I’d had more time to write I think I would have expanded on that. The way everything works out feels like a form of wish fulfilment, but then there’s nothing inherently bad about that as it’s comforting to know that you can be affirmed despite such “flaws”, so I feel like I’d want to still make it end happily even if I had fleshed things out with complications.
PL: So now that we’re on the topic of genre discussions, on your blog you write a lot about what makes poor yuri and what the theme means for you. But, what makes a good yuri story in your opinion? What are you striving to do with the formula in your work?
H: I struggle a lot with the definition of yuri because while, ideally, I don’t want to gatekeep about people’s works or try to restrict creativity, I feel that yuri has a bit of a genre responsibility to depict female romance. This is because like any other form of fiction about a minority it represents people who don’t normally get to be seen in the mainstream of fiction-, or more recently, seen in a way that satisfies us. Sometimes “straight male middle-aged tv-show writer writes lesbians” is good, but there’s plenty of times when it’s either fetishistic or threadbare or even offensive.
I don’t think it’s hard to just write yuri that reads as love, but once you get past a certain threshold of popularity it starts needing to carry more explicit signifiers like kissing and uh, saying “I love you let’s get married and fuck like rabbits” or whatever. Not because those things are necessary for writing a good romantic story but we kind of need them as ideological blunt weapons to beat away the deniers and eye-rollers who gleefully try to shut down our representation.
And that frankly sucks ass because it’s restrictive, and part of me wants to rebel against that; saying “no, yuri can be whatever and we can make what we want”. But I feel like I have a responsibility to be explicit about lesbian sexuality in my works because I can cast my mind back so many times to series or works that have handwaved or denied yuri ships in the past. Those also sucked ass.
I don’t want someone else to read something I wrote and feel let down because I wasn’t clear enough, or for them to see a beautiful romance only to have some fedora-wearing chucklefuck belittle them for “reading too much in”. Fiction’s a two-part experience between the reader and the writer and I’d like to do my part so the reader can get what they want out of it. Not that I can always get it right, of course.
PL: Considering all this, are there audience groups that you want to particularly reach with your work? Or maybe ones you are wary of?
H: Well importantly I’m just the writer and project lead. A VN is a collaborative vehicle with art and music and design. I’ve worked with two really talented artists so far, Liebe and Prinz, who did some amazing work, and our music person Bug is very talented, not to mention my siblings Cammy and Jao, who handled the programming and assets respectively. Spellbroken and GFxF were group efforts through and through. I’m incredibly grateful to them all.
Because of that when I talk about audience, sure, I’d like to appeal to both a weeby VN audience and the more western EVN audience in both shades, but I’d especially like everyone to see the beautiful music and visuals too – a VN is a multimedia presentation and a pretty good one at that.
I guess I’d like our projects to be seen by people who appreciate good projects? Pfft. I don’t think there’s any audience I’d want to avoid except the gamergate weirdos who have like zero awareness of the games fandom and think us girls spontaneously burst into videogames and nerd culture in 2007 because the Big Bang Theory made nerds “cool”. Those children are the worst. We were lectured by games media for decades to just “make our own games” and we do and oh no, evil SJWs taking over the industry… Fuck off with that crap. I was wasting my life on videogames before you were born you little trash heap.
PL: Before we finish, after the three game jam VNs you’ve released, do you have any plans for the future or ongoing projects we can look forward to?
H: Well, it’s interesting. After we finished GFxF I think we all kind of realized after talking that while the game jam method was a good way to begin making projects the deadline was frankly very restrictive and created a lot of stress. Also, it’s kind of uneven because since different people are doing different jobs, some can be finished early while others are rushing right up to the end. It can take a lot out of you in that short month or so window.
I don’t really want to subject a group of friends to that on a regular basis because I think that it’s probably just going to make people more stressed. I did notice while browsing entries from teams over the years on itch that there was a lot of “I’m sorry this one wasn’t as good as that other one” and so on so I’m fairly wary of falling into a game jam trap. It helped a lot to get people together with a deadline but uhhh… I don’t think it’s the best place to polish your craft, so to speak? Especially for narrative games that require a lot of, well, narrative.
So this year I’m thinking that I myself will offer my aid to some other people who might need help with writing, for like game jam projects involving narrative games. Editing, proofreading, etc, simple stuff, so I can help people out and make friends and get more experience. I think writing can be difficult for a lot of people, not like in a put-down way but English is an incredibly broad and intimidating language with a lot of hidden thorns, and if I can help someone make their work more clear and be understood by more readers that’d be good, IMO.
Additionally, I’d like to work on a larger project. I’ve discussed ideas with my friends and I hope that we can produce some sort of game in a way that suits us all, both in having a production structure that doesn’t end up going in circles but also not making undue stress. It’s probably going to take some time to figure out.
Personally what I really want is to find someone who’s experienced with building Doom-style FPSes and also loves cute anime girls because what I actually want to do is make a hybrid FPS dungeon crawler visual novel. I have this wild idea of like, you control a group of girls moving as one in a labyrinth and they have different weapons, and the “hud” is actually like, them around the screen bobbing and shifting to match the movement of the player and shooting the weapons they hold, and so on. It’s a silly idea but it’s one I really want to bring to life in some form one day.
PL: And for our readers that want to follow your endeavours, where they can find you?
H: I’m a Twitter idiot. My @ is @punishedhag. I use the same name on itch.io so far – I’m not sure if my group of friends is at the point where we want to form a dedicated studio yet. My DM’s are always open and I’m happy to work with anyone. I will totally try to praise and suggest people who’ve worked on my projects before though so be warned! We’re all people I think who are looking for opportunities to create things. My siblings can be found at @lcmfour and @Jaoaoaoaoao, and Prinz is at @anwoprinz. Liebe and Bug don’t normally share social media information.
PL: Thank you for your time!
I hope you all enjoyed this little conversation and maybe even got curious about PunishedHag’s work. You can find all her games released so far under the Itch.io link above, completely for free – personally, I think all of them are really worth giving a chance, with each offering very different things when it goes to story and tone.
As for the Fuwazette itself, while it’s hard to promise anything, I hope to fuel some content here to complement Zaka’s effort of keeping VNTS alive. Fuwanovel as a whole finally got past its worst period of organisational mess and inactivity, so there’s no point in squandering the potential it still has. So, if you find this kind of posts interesting, please consider following our Twitter to get notified on the rare occasion we actually post stuff. You can also follow my personal account at @PulkownikLesiak, for various EVN-related shenanigans. Thank you for reading!