As in Vaida’s Talks with My Mom, the directness of Conversations We Have in My Head isn’t one-sided. This quality indicates a shift in style for Deirdra “Squinky” Kiai, whose 2014 claymation musical, Dominique Pamplemousse in “It’s All Over Once the Fat Lady Sings!”, was a miscalculated combination of comedy and social commentary. Whereas Dominique Pamplemousse treats genderqueer identity as little more than a punchline about bathrooms, therefore pandering to left-leaning smugness, Conversations We Have in My Head connects specific gender and queer themes to a general vulnerability of humankind in relating to others.
Kiai does retain the theatricality of Dominique Pamplemousse, but the greater audiovisual simplicity of Conversations We Have in My Head is another upgrade: The footsteps of cartoons against a blurred photographic background suggest a witty humbleness about holding imaginary talks in one’s head. Within this theatrical context, you play the role of an ex who was in a relationship with Kiai while Kiai was still playing the assigned gender role of a girl. As Kiai delves into the many life changes since the relationship, you can click different lines of text that appear at the top of the screen to send the conversation in more complicated directions. The decision to allow the player to listen to or interrupt Kiai’s primary voiceover with varied responses—questions, quips, sympathy, resentment—puts queer theory in personal, sociologically understandable terms.
Although talking in Conversations We Have in My Head functions much like it does in Telltale’s adventures (The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us), the timed selection of phrases in the latter mainly fulfills a self-important marketing campaign about player choice. Kiai’s approach registers as more of an inspired fetishization of the unpredictable rhythm of dialogue, encouraging a give and take on everything from gender pronouns to the interpersonal dishonesty of conformity to spiritual disillusionment to family ties. These possibilities, all within a concise frame, augment typical consumer “replay value” with relational viability, where restarting the game is a way to build communication between the artist and audience.
Squinky’s Conversations We Have in My Head is available now for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.