Erasing Erasure in If Found…

Erasure – the experience of being rendered invisible – is a depressingly common facet of queer experience. For those who live and love beyond the boundaries of cis-heteronormative society, recognition, be it legal, social, or cultural, can be hard to come by, and visibility, when it does come, is often plagued with risks. This experience can be particularly pronounced in a culture like Ireland, which, for much of its existence as an independent nation, premised its national identity upon an often noxious blend of piety and purity. It is perhaps not surprising then that If Found…, the new interactive visual novel from Dublin-based developers DREAMFEEL and Annapurna Interactive, should take erasure as its core gameplay mechanic. What is pleasantly surprising, however, is how the developers have implemented that mechanic, and the story they have used it to tell.

Set in the dying days of 1993 on Achill, a small island on the west coast of Ireland, If Found… tells the story of Kasio, a twenty-three-year-old, queer, trans woman and aspirant physicist who has returned to her family home from university in Dublin for the Christmas period. The home to which Kasio has returned is stifling – ‘no-one has drawn breath here since da’s wake,’ she notes – and, as the days wear on, Kasio must weather the passive hostility of her mother, who ‘can’t understand this whole ‘alternative’ thing’ and wants her to abandon her studies and get a ‘sensible’ job, and the active hostility of her brother, Fergal, who derides her as a selfish ‘freak’. A tentative refuge is offered by her former schoolmate Colum who, along with his partner Jack and their friend ‘Shans’, form Bandshee, one of the ‘heaviest groups in Mayo’ and the possessors of my second-favourite groan-worthy pun band name in the game. The members of Bandshee squat in the ‘big house’ – the increasingly decrepit remains of an aristocratic pile once occupied by members of the Anglo-Irish gentry and now owned by ‘the nuns’ – and, through the company and acceptance of this chosen family, Kasio slowly begins to find a place for herself again on the island. However, when her increasingly close attachment to ‘Shans’ (an islander of Indian heritage who has never felt fully at home either on Achill or in their own masculinity) becomes complicated, Kasio finds herself facing the New Year homeless and alone. Oh, and, unless astronaut and astrophysicist, Dr Cassiopeia, and Mayo accountant, McHugh, can stop it, a black hole triggered by ‘the Anomaly’ (an event closely tied to Kasio’s journey of self-understanding) might destroy the universe as we know it. I probably should have led with that…

So, where does erasure fit in to all this? Well, the primary means by which the player uncovers and navigates Kasio’s narrative is by erasing page after page of her abandoned diary. As the player assumes control of the game and, implicitly, takes possession of Kasio’s diary (hence the game’s title), their cursor takes the form of an eraser, which they use to rub out layer after layer of Kasio’s writing, scribblings, and sketches. This sounds unsettlingly destructive, and, to an extent, it is. It feels almost sacrilegious to erase Kasio’s most personal thoughts (and lead artist Liadh Young’s gorgeous illustrations), and this sense of consequence helps to elevate what might otherwise have been a passive means by which to advance the narrative into something that meaningfully implicates the player in the game and its world. Crucially, however, rather than consigning Kasio and her friends to invisibility, the more the player erases, the more clearly (and queerly) Kasio and her friends come into view. Where once Irish culture concealed, marginalised, and silenced its gendered and sexual minorities, If Found… places them front-and-centre, offering a delicate, subtle, and painfully well-observed portrait of queer life playing out in what has traditionally been heralded as one of the heartlands of ‘authentic Irish identity.

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