Gaming

Indie dev Nadia Nova talks building a community through erotica

“Sex is always awkward.”

The protagonist pulls on the hair of their lover, Addie.

Their crotches press together and they kiss. They rip off each other’s clothes and moan loudly to drown out the noise just outside their elongated isolation quarters — the sounds of screams at the end of the world.

“Her gaze was unable to even stay locked onto me, just clawing my hips as she let out the most delicate and pathetic moans I’d ever heard. I kept filling my lungs with the cool air with sharp gasps, my head being thrown back as the little I could see from my dark room was lost in a blur. It was too easy, just erasing the whole world. For that one ephemeral moment, everything was right. My life is perfect and all figured out. I didn’t have to crave for reason or belonging, because feeling my heart pound in my chest had my veins pump the rush of lust and love.”

This is Nadia Nova’s most recent game, 2021’s doomsday dreamgirl. It follows two new lovers isolated together amid the end of the world. Nova has been a prominent developer of queer independent games for the past half-decade now, producing 11 games and three comics. She isn’t interested in following controversy or trends, instead choosing to dive deep into the characters she creates. Nova’s work fills a unique niche on itch.io — sexually explicit visual novels featuring furry transgender gay characters.

“As niche it may be, there is most certainly a demand for trans furry erotica,” Nova tells Inverse.

Nadia Nova

There are other trans erotica games on itch.io, but few are as emotionally intimate and vulnerable as Nova’s work. Whether you came to play her games because they were hot or because they feature cute trans characters, you are in for a surprise. Her stories are far deeper and more thought-provoking than saucy genre labels might suggest.

“As much as horny things are great, things like these can easily be overlooked for the sake of wanting to make the sexiest story possible,” Nova says. “I love showing the more complicated sides of this kind of interaction.”

Make it euphoric

That’s what makes Nova’s work so special. In all her games, even the smallest ones, there is a relatable depth to the characters and their situations. Part of this stems from Nova’s candid willingness to draw from her own experiences, but it also comes from allowing her characters’ emotions to intersect with their sexualities.

Above all, Nova wants her stories to uplift trans characters rather than focus on their hardships.

“It is more enjoyable for me — and presumably for the readers — to show trans positivity. It makes me happy to focus on gender euphoria and acceptance instead. It isn't intended to remove or hide the negatives, but to build on top of it and focus on the good parts instead,” Nova says. “Feeling represented in a positive way is extremely valuable for trans people, especially when they're still sorting everything out regarding their gender— so just being able to show this feels like I'm doing a good thing.”

“I love showing the more complicated sides of this kind of interaction.”

For decades, furry communities have experimented with gender and sexual identity, heightening the sense of fantastical possibility within a grounded setting. Nova tells me that this sense of fantasy is always in the background for her characters, but largely it’s just her preferred art style. There’s not necessarily a deeper meaning behind it.

Instead, Nova’s visual style might better be described as a euphoric trans aesthetic, which uplifts her characters in various ways. A notable example comes in can you say my name again?, which follows Laina, a trans bunny girl, who lets trans girl Pisti stay the night after being kicked out by her transphobic family.

Both characters face hardship — Laina struggles with anxiety and Pisti is figuring out how to live after being kicked out. Yet despite these obstacles, both characters find happiness with each other: they support each other’s individual trans experiences and enjoy each other’s company — in and out of bed.

Nadia Nova

A realistic fantasy

For Nova, uplifting characters doesn’t mean setting them in an alternate world where the conditions of being trans don’t exist. Her characters celebrate trans identity while acknowledging their very real challenges of their lived realities.

Many, though not all, of Nova’s games feature characters with traits associated with anxiety and depression. While these characters don’t represent all trans experiences, they do represent behaviors and experiences that will be familiar to many trans people.

”Mental illness and trauma is a big part of life, for some people more than others,” Nova says. “Showing aspects of it in my stories not only makes the characters feel more realistic, but it results in me being able to show more nuanced interaction — especially when it comes to sexual behavior and relationships.”

“There is a huge audience for these types of stories.”

Getting to tell stories about trans characters’ and talk about their relationships to their bodies is powerful — it gives players permission to both desire and be desired, to be accepted and enjoyed without judgment. There is no cut off to another scene, a shy fade to black, or half-mentions. These games jump right into sex, which often leads to characters dealing with anxieties and insecurities about their bodies in real time. This kind of intimacy is vastly different from the cinematic soft porn presented by blockbuster games like The Witcher 3 and the Mass Effect series, where sex is a conspicuously choreographed moment of achievement and desire.

“To me, sex is always awkward, even in the middle of having a great time, if I were to stop and think what exactly is going on— the situation is just pretty absurd if you start focusing on it like that,” Nova says. ”It's normal to just not have things immediately work or, or mishaps happening.”

Nova’s games are about perfectly imperfect sex, and these moments of awkwardness and absurdity create space for her characters to work through their emotions.

“There is baggage from being trans, especially when it comes in the form of dysphoria or trying to do our best with the bodies and parts we have, things like these can lead to gender euphoria just as much as to anxiety. It’s an opportunity to show something deeper about my characters when the vulnerability is exposed in a situation like that,” Nova says. “My view of sex is entirely different than what it was before I started transitioning. Things just change a lot, and it can feel like having to learn everything all over again.”

Nadia Nova

The power of games

Nova recognizes that she fulfills a specific niche, but she could care less about the discourse on gaming Twitter. Nova just wants to tell stories about furry trans gay characters that are having a good time in spite of it all — just like her.

“I know I am doing something correctly since people like what I do,” Nova says. “So I just keep doing stories I like doing.”

Nova says she’s excited to see more trans creators making games now than when she started. The lack of games in the transgender tag on itch.io was what first inspired her to start holding trans game jams.

“I do think that I've contributed to the tag growing in size, like even just my own games, but just the fact that I've held game jams and helped newcomers affects that,” she explains. “I know there are plenty others doing the same things, and that makes me happy.”

“It’s an opportunity to show something deeper about my characters.”

But Nova’s most significant contribution may not be the games themselves, but the community those games have helped to foster and support.

“Art is beautiful and can be an important part of a person's growth. It can be cathartic making a story to process something difficult, and when it comes to gender and sexuality there is a lot to go through. Things like these can just lead to people connecting with each other and making new friends, communities or relationships,” she says.

“Being able to support trans creators to enable all these positive things is highly important. There is a huge audience for these types of stories, so it is just a win for everyone involved to make them.”