Being gifted hotels by strange old men in cafes would be thought of as odd at the best of times, but when that hotel comes with its own mysterious bovine caretaker, and seems to attract creatures of myth & legend to its doors, things are only going to get weirder.
Will you accept the deed, and become the new owner of the Minotaur Hotel? You need only reach out and grab the bull by the horns…
Content Warning: Sexual discussion including gay sexual encounters and monsterfucking.
Kaiju: Welcome, everyone, to the re-launch of Digital Diversity after our long break of 2021. And a big welcome to MinoAnon (he/him), our first guest of the new year!
Creator of the award winning gay romance visual novel Minotaur Hotel, I’ve been keen to have MinoAnon on to talk about his game since the beginning of last year, ever since I first picked it up and checked out the amazing community involved with it.
So hi, MinoAnon, welcome finally to the Digital Diversity project. Let’s start things off with you telling us a bit about yourself, how you got started making big gay visual novels, and what the bull Minotaur Hotel is all about?
MinoAnon: Hello, and thank you for having me here!
Putting it bluntly, Minotaur Hotel is a gay visual novel where you get to know and, eventually, date the minotaur from the old legends. You find him in a very rough shape, help him heal and learn that his story is more complicated than the myths would have you believe.
All of this happens on a magical hotel that brings in people who are lost in some way or another. Gradually you will gather around you a cast of gay mythological beings and form a community with them, like a found family.
That’s the summary of the story, but speaking in more detail I’d say that Minotaur Hotel is a mix of literary and game genres. The writing is heavily inspired by Ancient Greek poetry, but we explore different styles with each mythological being that joins your team — we try to bring their culture into the game. We also have a few contemporary touches like Anne Carson and Toni Morrison.
We also try to build a sort of fragmentary narrative with a lot of world building, which is kept on the background in relation with the romance. You can explore the dangerous areas around the hotel to find items that paint larger stories, and later on we have a few chapters that focus on the mechanics of the world we created. This sort of narration was inspired by games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne, with which I have a frankly unhealthy fixation.
So I’d say Minotaur Hotel is an unique kind of creature. It’s an unashamedly gay romance story first and foremost, with many other themes and layered around it in the form of mythological motifs and exploring characters from diverse cultures. We are making exactly the sort of crazy game we wanted to have played years ago.
Now, as for how I got here… I started writing Minotaur Hotel around mid-2019, back when I was struggling with my undergrad dissertation. In its original form it was an interactive erotic story where I would write it out, the readers would comment what the protagonist should do, and based on that I’d write out the next segment. I really didn’t have larger plans for it back then, I was only writing the sort of story I’d like to read myself. On some level I was influenced by Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red, which is a novel revolving around a gay protagonist who is not quite human.
At first, Minotaur Hotel was a psychological trick I used on myself. It was a very self-indulgent story, I could easily sit down and do it — and then I would swap over to my dissertation.
In the end it all worked well, better than I could ever have imagined. My dissertation was a success and, to my surprise, the little story I wrote had gotten quite a following. I then showed it to nanoff, with whom I was already friends. We had talked about making a visual novel someday and we figured out that little draft had potential, so we got to work. He did the coding and the art, I did the writing.
A few days later we got together with two other writers, Awoo and Nemo, who were in the same community where I wrote the original draft. In truth their writing had inspired me to do it, and then I learned that since then we had all mutually inspired each other. We all got together as the writers, later on Kangarube joined our team, and things went from there.
As for me… I’m MinoAnon. I’m a gay Brazilian writer who’s long been furious with the rarity of good gay fiction. Eventually I got sick of it and figured out that if no one was going to do it I’d have to do it myself. I’m one of the writers of a little group called Minoh Workshop and we only make gay stuff. I also support a lot of LGBT creators here and there, because oh boy I sure like gay stuff and I want there to be more of it.
Overall, I’m just some guy making the sort of gay stuff I’d like to enjoy myself and helping other LGBT people do the same. Simple as.
K: Well the gay stuff you make is highly appreciated, by me, and by the overwhelming support from the community. There’s so much incredible fan art & passion for the story going on it makes my queer heart so happy.
That and of course you’ve got romanceable monsters, which is always something I love to see as a monster-lover.
You spoke about creating Minotaur Hotel as a game that you wanted to see years ago. That has me wondering, what kind of stories do you think we aren’t seeing enough of, especially in the queer game spaces? I’m guessing it goes deeper than “Oh hey, minotaurs and griffins are hot, we should make a game about that”.
Do you feel like there’s elements of storytelling, or gameplay, that we don’t see nearly often enough that you are currently working to create?
M: That’s a very good question, and I’m glad you asked.
Speaking broadly, I’d say that mainstream media is in the profoundly unsatisfying situation where only a handful of LGBT narratives are even touched on. To name a few we have “coming out of the closet,” “homophobic and/or transphobic school setting where the queer kid gets beat up,” “all the people we lost in the AIDS epidemic,” “a lesbian couple but only in the most palatable way for heterosexual audiences,” “a gay couple, but one has to die by the end of the story because there are censors breathing down our necks”…
But even this paints an inaccurate portrait. In gaming, for example, we seldom find LGBT narratives that have any depth to them, and you will not find any games that were specifically made for a LGBT audience. Even the works that do explore the narratives I outlined above often do so while trying to retain their non-LGBT audience.
To a certain extent I think this came as a result of the specific goals outlined by pro-LGBT activists. If you look back a few decades there was a strong push for representation in mainstream media, in the sense of injecting queer characters in television shows and movies. I cannot say this effort was misguided, no doubt we can find plenty of parents that could only understand their kids’ gender and sexuality because their favorite TV show had an episode about it.
So, we can say LGBT representation raised awareness in straight audiences. On top of that it provided validation to struggling LGBT people.
So, to an extent, I think representation was positive. It’s good. But it’s mainly good to build bridges with heterosexual audiences and to help young, struggling LGBT teens. And I don’t think that’s enough.
Now, to answer your question, I think that what we are missing are stories made by LGBT people for LGBT audiences, necessarily without the constraints imposed by traditional publishing models. In other words, I think that what we are truly missing is the way in which we construct and tell our narratives, as opposed to specific stories and themes.
To put this in very concrete terms, when someone decides to focus on LGBT audiences, perhaps even smaller sub-groups within the larger group, suddenly we can be specific. Instead of talking about the average experience of transitioning in a way that’s palatable for parents, one can explore all the ways in which that can go and the assortment of emotions it produces.
We can explore ourselves critically, too. If one is making a work aimed at straight audiences, they might not be comfortable with exploring the issues of the LGBT community because it would, possibly, give ammunition to the usual suspects. But if we are having this conversation among ourselves then we can be critical and examine our issues more honestly.
We can discuss how LGBT motifs intersect with other parts of one’s life, too. Instead of placing our stories in unspecified college settings we can explore, for example, growing up gay in rural Brazil, blue collar workers in remote regions of Australia struggling with their sexuality, what it is like to be both gay and in the autism spectrum… The possibilities are endless.
I mentioned I like Toni Morrison, and I think we can make a parallel here with her story. She was a black female writer, a Nobel prize winner with a strikingly poetic prose, and her body of work largely revolves around writing black women and, occasionally, black men. Critics asked her when she would touch on other kinds of characters, but I think that would have been a tragedy. Toni Morrison spent a lifetime writing about black people, and if she could live a hundred years more I know she still would have stories to tell.
It’s the same with LGBT narratives. We are as rich as narrative subjects as any other group of people. I could spend an entire lifetime writing about the struggles of gay people alone, not even touching on the other letters of the acronym, and I wouldn’t scratch half of it. Hell, I’ve been writing for three years about this sweet minotaur and I’m not even done. I must make peace with the fact that my frail mortal coil is fundamentally inadequate to fully explore all the gay shit in this world.
Now, if this rambling answer was not enough, I will say that one of the things I want to do is an earnest exploration of characters that are either tops or bottoms, and how that that part of them can be portrayed artistically. Some would say that’s a silly thing or a stereotype, and perhaps it is silly. But I like it, and that’s enough for me.
On a more pragmatic level, I think the one thing we all should be trying to crack are the best practises for LGBT game development in general, and for each letter of the acronym individually. How big should these games be? How should we develop them? How should we price them, what’s the business model? How do we foster discussion and engagement? How do we deal with platforms? These are all things we need to figure out if we want to keep having LGBT games 5 or 10 years from now.
Now, for the record, minotaurs and griffons are hot, and I think they are rich artistic subjects on their own right as well.
K: You and I definitely seem to be on a similar frame of mind when it comes to representation, and the lack of it. Heck, that’s why I created Digital Diversity in the first place, so it’s pretty great getting to talk to you at this level about something you are obviously as passionate about as I am, haha.
I for one would like to see a lot of those old tropes retired, we’ve seen too many of them in mainstream media and unless indie creators are reclaiming them for themselves & subverting them I do wonder if they are doing more harm to the community by their repeated use.
Something I always like to ask, as you’ve been working on Minotaur Hotel for quite a while now, is what have the greatest struggles you’ve encountered in making the game? Have you found Ren’Py the kind of engine that’s helped you tell the story you wanted to in a way that’s really worked for you, or have you had to make compromises along the way?
M: One could argue that those old tropes made sense given their times’ context, particularly in how they might have been censored otherwise. But overall I agree with you, I think they make more harm than good if we keep repeating them ad nauseum. And even if they do not bring any harm, they are still tired and unsatisfactory as storytelling tools. That’s reason enough to be mindful with how they are used.
By far the greatest struggle has been the scale of content the game requires. The amount of writing hours it demands is far higher than any other aspect of the game, so we, the writers, are always striving for more and faster, while also aiming for a high standard of quality. The game is already extraordinarily long and we still have a lot of work ahead of us.
Many things that could be difficult and time consuming became more manageable as we went on, however. We formed a small extended community of developers and artists around us who contribute when we could use a hand. Eddio, dev of Killigan’s Treasure, and GigaSaddle, dev of Pervader, have helped us with character designs. RoddoRod, from Nerus, helps us with figuring out what ideas of ours work or not. We were donated a few original music tracks, most notably h*ck’s Seikilos Guitar songs. This sort of support really cuts how much time we’d have to spend away from the writing. I’d say that, generally speaking, LGBT game devs gain a lot more by coming together to cooperate rather than being needlessly competitive against each other.
As for Ren’py, people have already asked us what our experience with it has been. Our usual answer is that it’s a good engine for what it sets out to do. It’s free and lets you quickly get to work on the content of your visual novel. You can easily compile Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, even iOS builds. If you have someone who’s well versed in programming you can even do quite complex things with it, like the management system we have on Minotaur Hotel. In fact, more often than not the restrictions we face are related to how our own code was structured, as opposed to Ren’py’s.
The issue with it is that, while it’s good for what it sets out to do, the more you deviate from the basics the more it will push back against you. While many non-standard things are, strictly speaking, possible, they are also very inconvenient. Animating sprites takes a lot of time and it doesn’t help that you’re basically doing it blind, unless you have the game open in developer mode and are constantly recompiling to see where the sprites are on the screen and how they’re moving. It can also takes time to learn the ins and outs of stuff like screen language and doing more complicated stuff than the bare essentials, depending on how much frontend experience the developer has.
Overall, Ren’py is good if you have a good story to tell, strong character designs and don’t have a lot of experience coding. Just don’t ask it to do much else without some pushback.
K: Agreeing with you on those points with Ren’Py, that’s for sure. Learning to make my own game with the engine was a great demonstration about how all those little visual or mechanical changes to a game can bring with them a lot of added complexity. And Minotaur Hotel I see as one of the most technically incredible visual novels I’ve seen, so I can imagine it’s got quite a lot going on under the hood.
Minotaur Hotel is, quite obviously, a very adult game. It not only deals with a lot of mature & darker themes, but also has a strong explicit adult component. With the community behind the game quite strongly in favour of that erotic side of the game, judging by all the fan art.
I’m curious how you see the importance of erotic content as a medium for story telling, be it a small element of the tale, or a larger part. Do you think there are parts of Minotaur Hotel you couldn’t tell without the characters getting hot & heavy with each other? The game does offer a version without the sexual content, so do you feel that anything is lost, narratively or emotionally if you deprive it of that sexual element?
M: To start off, I think sex and sexuality are criminally underutilized as writing tools. As a writer you can convey a lot about someone from the finer details of their sexuality and how they act during sex. What are they attracted to and why? What are their reactions to this or that sexual act? What is their general attitude — do they like it rough, gentle, violent, romantic? And, more importantly, do they like to cuddle afterwards?
It can be very striking when gay narratives, immersed in all of the hardships that come with it, show tender moments, happy and tragic, good and bad. It hits in a special way, sometimes it’s even cathartic for readers.
Now, on top of that, is portraying sex also horny and self-indulgent? Of course it is. Are we writing the sort of stuff we find hot? Absolutely. And we do hope that at least some of our readers can appreciate it in a sexual level. We are not even trying to hide that.
With all of that established, I can answer your question very directly.
Yes, there are moments in Minotaur Hotel where the adult elements — the flirting, the subtle moments of arousal, the desire and eroticism, the sex too — are integral parts of conveying the characters and their stories. They are horny, yes, and the story was designed with that in mind.
Now, as you so astutely put, what does that mean for the “Safe For Work” version of the game?
There’s no mystery to it either: for the most part we think the story loses something when the more explicit elements are removed. The game is less for it. We try to write safe for work alternatives for the more explicit moments, and we do get very creative with those, but it’s simply not the same. The story was designed as a celebration and exploration of homosexuality, and we wanted to go all the way. Hell, we even put in poems in the game, written from Asterion’s perspective, about him processing his sexual desires. They are horny and literary, and we like them that way.
The truth is that initially we didn’t want to make a safe for work version of the game, for the reasons I stated above and because we really didn’t want to bring in an underaged audience. And we would have happily gone with that, were it not for the fact that we once got a message from someone who was afraid of having their homophobic family going over their phone and finding a gay game. That made us realize that a so-called “SFW Version” was a matter of physical safety for some readers. Later on we also understood that it was a plus for streamers and those who like reading in public transport, but it was mainly because we couldn’t tolerate the idea of a reader being put in danger because they played our game. We were fine compromising our creative vision for that.
This is why our “SFW Mode” is still not meant for minors. The story is still very adult in themes, we still assume the reader is old enough to discuss sexuality in detail, it just doesn’t have nudity and graphic sex. It’s the sort of safe for work that was still designed for adults.
About the community… Yes, we do appreciate it a lot when they embrace the horny. We intended the game to be appreciated both on a literary and sexual level.
And thank you for the comment on the technical complexity of the game. nanoff put a lot of work to make that possible, and what he built truly is impressive.
K: “Embrace the horny” seems like a very on brand shirt idea for Minotaur hotel, I am now humbly requesting you put that on your merch store if you have one.
Since we’re talking about sex & sexuality as writing tools I’d love to know if there are any other games out there you’d recommend folks check out, as good examples of those elements being used in a powerful and/or positive way? Do you have any personal favourites that stand out among what can often be a bit of a glut of adult titles?
M: That’s a tough question! First because I’ve fallen into the gamedev pit of “I spend so much time working on a game that I barely play other games at all,” but also because there’re so many ways indie devs are incorporating sex into their games. “Sex as a writing tool” is what we try to do, but other ways of approaching it are just as valid.
Overall, I really appreciate it when a game’s approach to sex visibly comes from the developer’s honest enjoyment. You could say I find the idea of “this is the writer’s barely disguised fetish” fascinating. I do have a good, actual reason for it though: I’d like gay indie games to become a field where people are comfortable exploring a wide range of sexual topics without being afraid of being “icky”. This is partly why I make no attempt at hiding how much of a little goblin I am.
Aside from the games I already mentioned, there are three visual novels that I particularly like, and they integrate story with sexuality in unique ways. Some of what I think comes from talking with the developers so I won’t go into too much detail for all of them, but Pervader, Killigan’s Treasure and Nerus are worth checking out.
The one I’d like to go over here is Nerus. It begins with two shapeshifters meeting and falling in love. The both of them present as men — one very traditionally masculine and physically strong, the other a small, cunning, twink-ish young man. But their very nature as beings who can change their physical bodies opens up a lot of space for discussion about gender and sexuality. I appreciate how it was done in Nerus, I think it’s very rich.
I will say this was the hardest question to answer so far, haha… And pardon me for focusing on the “gay” games to the exclusion of others, it’s just that I really am a horny little goblin and that makes it particularly inevitable for me to focus on that.
K: Haha, that’s okay, horny games are totally worthy of attention. We like to cover them here because it’s often the only time that devs can really go to town on what they want to see or do, without any real judgement.
Let’s have one final question before we finish up, this interview has me raring to play more and I won’t be able to focus with this on my mind. So let’s make it one close to my deviant furry heart: Monsterfucking!
Why do you think that people, especially queer folks, are so attracted to the monsters of myth & legend? Is there something particular that you feel draws us to thirsting over these creatures, often disregarding human interaction entirely in the hopes of finding ourselves in the arms, wings, or tentacles of those who are very different indeed?
M: If you will allow me to go on and on about ancient Greek stories for a bit, in these old tales the concept of hybrid beings, of being halfway between this and that, is solidly tied to monsterhood. Minotaurs, sphinxes, satyrs, hydras, these are all hybrid-monsters. But their stories are not exactly black and white.
For example, in one of his labours Herakles brutally murders the red giant Geryon. He fires an arrow coated with the hydra’s venom, but the arrow is fired with such destructive strength that it destroys Geryon’s head (or heads, it’s complicated). Herakles’ victories, and the Greek epic heroes conquests in general, are often regarded as tales of order and civilisation winning over chaos and barbarism. But even back then alternative narratives popped up, retelling these stories by giving the so-called monsters much more human portrayals than the alleged heroes. One I particularly enjoy is Stesichoros’ Geryoneis, which was used as inspiration for Anne Carson’s delightfully gay Autobiography of Red.
The metatextual conflict between so-called heroes and alleged monsters is, in a way, quite close to the narrative LGBT people live through. We do not quite fit with the old heroes (which is a good thing when you consider how bloody they were), and that pushes us to sympathise with the monsters, understand their pain and seek narratives where they can be themselves. Monsters are marginalised by definition, and LGBT people are well acquainted with that.
This is all made more potent when you start diving deeper into the literary interpretations and start seeing that many of the legendary monsters are associated with very human concepts and emotions. These seemingly inhuman monsters are, in reality, reflections of our own selves. And, in their original narratives where they meet the old heroes, they are fated to die. They are meant to die, not to be understood.
LGBT narratives are subversive in so many ways. And it’s only fitting, I think, that we would take these marginalised beings and try to give them a happy ending through understanding and respecting their differences, as opposed to the violence which is so common in their original tales. Monsters are subversive, understanding them more so, and by giving them a happy ending we are giving ourselves the hope, the strength, to live well and love ourselves as we are. It is a kind of healing.
K: There’s something about the notion of giving a monster a happy ending that makes me giggle profusely. I whole-heartedly agree though, these are some awesome points well worth considering.
I think that’s about all we have time for this rather horny (pun intended) episode of Digital Diversity today. Thank you so much MinoAnon for joining me and sharing your copious thoughts with me, I’m so glad I finally got to bring you on to chat.
So in finishing up did you want to share any last nuggets of wisdom for folks who might be wanting to make their own game, especially in the adult realm? And of course any shout-outs you want to make to folks you appreciate?
M: I really enjoyed the talk, thank you for having me here!
I already said so much… I guess that, just to close off, I’d like to say that gayness (or queerness, lesbianism, transgenderism if you prefer) is essential. The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest known narratives, is gay as hell. And Sappho needs no introductions. Humanity has always had non-straight people doing great creative work. And while I know we will never be as incredible as Sappho, I think we should be proud of the fact that we carry such an ancient and bold artistic legacy with us. We all have a shared possession over this enviable gift.
Thank you for having me here.
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