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Rental Trauma, Horror Inspirations And Queer Game Development – A Chat With Aussie Duo Fuzzy Ghost

We talk all things housing horror with Pete and Scott

It’s hard to explain the unique joy that comes from feeling seen by a piece of media. Doubly so when that media exists in a medium that has a historic barrier of entry to queer and marginalised people, our stories not deemed market worthy enough to warrant promotion, let alone creation. Sydney-based game development duo Fuzzy Ghost, comprised of Scott Ford and Pete Foley, make me feel seen. Their recent success with the indie hit Queer Man Peering Into a Rock Pool.jpg has catapulted the team onto Australia’s independent scene and now the two are looking to explore one of the greatest horrors to afflict our country – the housing market. Janet De Mornay is a Slumlord (and a witch) takes a fantastical approach to the renting experience and in doing so looks to continue Fuzzy Ghost’s trend of expressive queer work. We recently had the chance to chat with Scott and Pete about how they craft their games, what inspires them and why my abbreviation of the game’s name is such a delight.

WellPlayed: With a title like Janet DeMornay is a Slumlord (and a witch) I’d be remiss in my journalistic duty to not ask for the elevator pitch on the titular slumlord? Who, or what is a Janet DeMornay?

Scott Ford: Thank you for your service. Janet DeMornay is a faded Television Shopping Star Network star with an extensive property portfolio and a taste for witchcraft. She’s very much inspired by evil divas like Yzma from Emperor’s New Groove and Delia Deets from Beetlejuice. Also Trude and Prue from Kath and Kim.

WPYou’ve talked about the inspiration behind the game being your own horror rental experiences, which I’d probably call a shared generational trauma at this point. Why was it important to you to explore this through your game and how do you think the current housing crisis specifically intersects with the queer community?

SF: We were trying to come up with an idea for a horror game. I saw the large cracks in our bedroom wall that still, STILL haven’t been fixed after months of passive aggressive emails, and the idea came to me. After that, there wasn’t much of a choice. The idea of pouring all of our rage at renting, as well as our love (and hate) of share housing, was too hard to resist.

At least for us, we only really feel comfortable (and safe), that we can be ourselves, in large cities. So the prospect of being priced out of the city and into the suburbs wouldn’t be just an inconvenience. It would have a huge effect on our mental health. I feel like that’s true for a lot of our fellow queers. Plus it just affects the ability to meet and hang out, to make found-families, to make and sustain communities.

WP: Speaking of the queer community, your first major title Queer Man Peering Into A Rock Pool.jpg and now JDMiaSaaW (an abbreviation I hope you enjoy as much as I do) both feel born from the high camp and social empathy often found in queer spaces and like deeply personal expressions. How do you find a balance with how much of yourselves you put into your games and do you create with a queer audience in mind?

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SF: I do enjoy it! Thank you, we hadn’t seen it before.

Pete Foley: Sometimes I worry that we’re not being loud enough but your mention of high camp and social empathy just has me – “WE ARE BEING SEEN” and I cannot thank you enough for that.

SF: I remember when QMP released we were surprised by how much people enjoyed the happy ending. How surprised they were, that it was a happy ending. I thought we’d moved on, at least a little bit, from the “Bury your gays” mentality. I guess hundreds of years of miserable depictions of queer people will linger a bit longer. Long story short, our work does try to combine high camp, fun and frivolity, with care. I think it’s also truer to life that way. Because even when we’re miserable, we laugh, too.

We absolutely do create with a queer audience in mind. Especially after the warm reception QMP received. We wanted to give and to share with the community. So the choice to set the game in a queer share house was both our first choice but also perfectly aligned with this desire, too. As for putting ourselves into the work, we do like working with specificity, of finding the universal in that. Although having said that we do have to take out things from time to time, in-jokes or phrases that are a bit too specific, for example. Things that tip over from charming into distracting.

PF: Every Wednesday at the Bearded Tit (in Redfern) is Queerbourhood, a night run by Stereogamous (Jonny Seymour and Paul Mac). And while we don’t really go to parties much, I am forever inspired by the love and radical care coming from them. I hope that in some small way our games can be manifesting a similar type of justice-striving, care-giving, healing space… but for our fellow homebody-gays.

WP: Something a little less heady now but tell me about the gameplay and mechanical inspirations behind JDMiaSaaW?

SF: I go on about the Taiwanese horror game Devotion a lot. Pete is tired of hearing me mention it. But it has been a good guide for me. It just has a really satisfying combination of accessible puzzles, scares, and story. Mortuary Assistant has some elements we enjoyed and have taken cues from. Also the classics like Resident Evil 2 and Silent Hill 4:The Room. So a lot of Escape Room elements that reward paying attention to the world around you. Hopefully welcoming enough that a group of friends, non-gamers and gamers alike, can sit around and experience together.

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PF: That acronym is heaven.

WP: While I’ve got you both I’d love to talk a little about your Dev Diary series on YouTube. Getting to see a more personal and open take on your development process is such a treat, what made you want to share your stories this way? Do you think a more transparent approach to game development helps players better understand the trials and tribulations of the experience?

SF: Oh thanks for watching! In the beginning we were just doing it for ourselves. Having QMP at the Powerhouse for Absolutely Queer required us to talk about our process and the experience of making QMP. Remembering that was such a blur, so we thought we would try and document the next one. We also thought it would be novel to show a queer couple making a game. I remember when we were just getting started in games Pete watched a GDC talk by a couple making games in England and that inspired us. So maybe a bit of giving back as well.

It’s been good for making us think about the game in a different way. Having to explain a half baked idea really forces it into being, however ugly it might be at first. And actually,  it has helped us work out some interpersonal issues we were having in regard to creating the game, too. The process is much smoother now than it was in the first, oh, 7 episodes. So it’s been weirdly therapeutic. (and) Yes I think it’s been a great trend to humanise game development. To show the mess of it all. How it’s so often held together by strings and tape. It makes the end result even more magical, I think. I hope.

WP: Lastly, assuming your games take over the world and you’re in a position to own a home anywhere in Australia, where are you putting down roots and why?

SF: That would be the dream! We toss and turn between Sydney and Melbourne on a weekly basis. It’s all about being close to our friends and family. Being able to just hang out at a moment’s notice is such a simple thing, but so valuable, like being back in a share house again. But also we are terrible at making social plans and sticking to them, so we need all the help we can get.

PF: What we need is for this game to make SO much money that we can Billionaire-bully the Federal Govt into building that national high-speed rail and we wouldn’t have to choose between the big two.

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WP: Thank you for your time and best of luck with the launch. 

PF & SF: Thank you!

Janet De Mornay is a Slumlord (and a witch) (JDMisSaaW) will launch in late 2023 on PC via Steam. You can follow Fuzzy Ghost on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok to keep up with announcements.

Written By James Wood

One part pretentious academic and one part goofy dickhead, James is often found defending strange games and frowning at the popular ones, but he's happy to play just about everything in between. An unbridled love for FromSoftware's pantheon, a keen eye for vibes first experiences, and an insistence on the Oxford comma have marked his time in the industry.




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