- Carlito Calzone 💤
- Digging out Love from Trauma in Thirsty Suitors.
Digging out Love from Trauma in Thirsty Suitors.
Call your mom, call your dad, call your exes, call your exes' dads who you really imprinted on that one summer because he spoke to you like a human being.
Thirsty Suitors Key Art
Spoilers for Thirsty Suitors
All of our anxieties seep their way into the art we create and consume. So what does it say about us that we keep making art about reconciling with our parents? In the past 5 years we’ve seen generational trauma, and subsequent reconciliation, rendered in gargantuan scale. Domee Shi’s “Turning Red” blows up puberty and the frustration born from the impossible expectation Asian women face (and inherit) as “model minorities” to kaiju level proportions. The Daniels’ Best Picture winner “Everything Everywhere All At Once” collapses the multiverse because nothing short of that will address decades of repressed mother-daughter angst. Outerloop’s Thirsty Suitors translates a similar interpersonal friction and generational trauma to over-the-top cooking mini-games and extravagant RPG battles. It also helped me put into words how I want to think about love.
Thirsty Suitors is a turn-based RPG, narrative game, cooking game, skateboarding, rekindle friendship and flirt with your exes game. Serial heartbreaker Jala returns home to Timber Hills after her latest relationship falls apart, but for the first time she’s come out on the losing end. She moves back in with her parents, her sister is not talking to her, and she has to confront six of her exes -- well they confront her.
Jala is everyone’s “the ex.” It’s a universal concept — the person you spend the better part of a year or more recovering from. You either have one, are one, or are somewhere on the waiting list. Fights in Thirsty Suitors are melodramatic affairs where relatives are summoned like RPG gods and status effects such as poisoned and paralysed are swapped for ‘thirsty' and ‘impressed.’ It’s not deep, but the way the combat flows into the narrative keeps things moving. At the end of a fight, you reconcile, but on their terms.
The cooking mini-games shift the focus from Jala’s relationship with her exes to her relationship with her parents. Jala’s parents walk her through recipes, commentate on her comings and goings, and tell her stories. I’ve written about the utility of cooking as familial expression and conducting culture across generations in Venba and all of that applies here. These cooking sections are when you most interact with Jala’s mother, Rukmini.
Unpacking Rukmini is difficult. She’s a first generation Indian immigrant fluent in passive-aggressive English. There’s no doubt she loves her daughters, Rukmini accepts Jala’s bisexuality and her choice of partners, but she’s also overbearing and demanding. I hesitate to call her abusive, the term conjures up horrific physical violence and wanton neglect that Rukmini never enacts. But it’s hard to completely circumvent the term either, and if I’m honest, I’m reticent to use it because Rukmini reminds me of my parents.
My folks aren’t immigrants, not in the migrating between countries sense, but they moved from rural Jamaica to Kingston, our capital city. My stepmother, as much my mother as anyone else in my life, made a similar transition but from a garrison community to middle class Jamaican life. There’s an intimacy with poverty and hardship that never leaves. Social strata aren’t porous membranes, they’re rigid structures designed to pen people into the lot they’re born into. Thrusting yourself in a foreign space with the mission of ‘do better, both for me and my children’ — it has to change you.
There’s an exchange between Jala and Rukmini in the lead up to the first cooking mini-game. Jala’s father Arvind suggests that she takes the opportunity while she’s home to take cooking lessons from her mother, “It would mean a lot to your mother if you asked,” he says. Why can’t she just ask you directly? It doesn’t go smoothly during the cook either. Rukmini is incapable of seeing her 25-year-old daughter as an adult, she needs to see her wash her hands in front of her and seems physically incapable of giving a compliment. Talking to your parents — talking to my parents, is occasionally a nightmare. It’s bargaining for autonomy with the cadence and calm of a hostage negotiator, as any wrong word or fluctuation in tone is immediately seized upon and exploited.
The final cooking mini-game brings in Paati, Rukmini’s mother. Paati is in town for Jala’s sister’s Aruni’s wedding. Before the ceremony she wants to inspect Jala’s cooking, but in actuality it’s to evaluate Rukmini’s parenting. Paati is exacting and inflexible, the ultimate matriarch and a shadow that looms over the family. My grandparents only exist as nostalgic stories, a distance afforded by death. I wonder if my father would shrink in front of his mother like Paati does in front of hers.
To form a cogent point about the interactions in Thirsty Suitors and how they affect me, I’m going to appropriate a term -- “love language.” The term was originally coined by Gary Chapman, an American author and marriage counsellor who, in 1992, published his book ‘The Five Love Languages: The Secret To Love That Lasts.’ In the book, Chapman describes five ways of showing/receiving affection. I don’t recommend reading it, the legacy of ‘The Five Love Languages’ is plastered headlines of how to find your love language on out-of-date lifestyle magazines at your GP’s office and buzzy headlines that pop up when a website needs to hit a click quota. So for the purpose of this piece, and maybe beyond if you’re so inclined, we’re going to define a Love Language as the way we talk and interact with our loved ones -- be it friends, partners, or family.
From Paati to Rukmini and then to Jala we can examine a shared vocabulary regarding love. It’s non-renewable and thus should be doled in controlled quantities. Affection is aggressive but also a tool for control; all three use love (familial, and in Jala’s case romantic) to maintain the upper hand in their interpersonal dynamics.
Jala ends this cycle by pulling from everyone she’s reconciled with to push back against Paati, the ‘original sin’ of stilted affection. Like any language, we learn love from a variety of sources, but our parents are our first, and usually greatest, teachers. We get their lips and their voices and a lifetime sorting out which parts of them to keep and which parts to throw out, hoping after each decision that we’ve made the right choice. Every friend and lover is an opportunity to take stock of how we love: what compromises are we willing to make? Where do we reinforce? What can we learn? It's an excruciating process; bodies and lives get tangled, and often there is no safe and painless way to untie people.
PS: In 2023 gamers discovered thirst and fell in love with twink white vampires, skinny white elf women, and slightly less skinny red women and I can’t express for free or in line of sight of the crucifix in my living room the feelings I have for Diya a brown woman who is thick as fucking porridge and I have to stop, I have to move on, we’re moving on.
PSS: I call Paati “the original sin” and that feels bad, but not bad enough for me to edit this. The “original sin” is probably the British, I live my life blaming them for pretty much everything, and it serves me pretty well. India was a British colony and like all British colonies was plundered for profit and robbed, or at the very least delayed, a chance at being a leading global economy. The British also ransacked the culture of every territory they violated. The promise of colonialism, or its justification so colonists and would-be emperors could convince themselves that life after death was still on the table, was rescuing indigenous people from their own culture. Absorption into the British Empire, even at the lowest levels, was rescuing the masses who didn’t know better. Living under that rule, where being yourself was defiance, and you had to smuggle your culture through their food and their religion and maybe eventually smuggle yourself out of your own country, away from your own…I don’t know, that has to change you. Like an animal in the wild surrounded by predators, you become caustic. Spiny. Too tough to get chewed up by the world. It takes active work to undo evolution, to return to a version of us that does not have the genetic memory of shit going awful. It’s a multi generational project.