A newspaper from Animal Inspector, proclaiming that there are too many animals.

Welcome to another worldwide crisis: too many animals. Shocking, I know.

In Tom Astle’s Animal Inspector, you’ve been hired to help solve this crisis by sifting through scores of animals to decide which animals survive another day. That’s not it, though. You’ve got skin in the game too: you have an adorable dog that you want to save from the culling.

From Animal Inspector, a rejected cat that kills mice and disappears.

We Rate Dogs, the game?

Day by day, the game foists a new batch of animals upon you to approve or reject.

In the WeRateDogs era of the internet, a game like this is strangely cute—you just want to tell every lazy dog that, yes, they are the most adorable (13/10). But, don’t be distracted by your impulse to or the game’s cute and cushy MS Paint Aesthetic. It’s all a distraction from the fact that some animals won’t pass muster.

Each day (and a new stack of animals) throws something different at you to switch it up and inject unique flavor. There’s the day where Martha—a bonafide cat lady—begs for you not to reject any cats, and the game dumps on you a stack of five cats. Or the day a documentary crew arrives, and you have to be on your best behavior for them—yes, you can imagine exactly how that goes.

You also have to inject your own opinion into your evaluations. Not only is there a binary approve/reject, but you need to give a reason. And the game tracks your reasons, and scolds you if you’re not good enough. You can’t swear, you can’t be repetitive, you can’t stamp multiple times—you know, the rules and procedure any proper bureaucrat should know.

Martha in Animal Inspector asks if you really rejected a kitty—she loves cats.

Tinderlike games

This game is a good jumping-off point for a developing genre of games that I find to be pretty compelling: Tinderlike games.

These tinderlike games feature repetitive player-initiated approval/rejection as a core mechanic. It could be several binary factors: yes/no, true/false, approve/reject, or a swipe right/left. There’s something about this type of mechanic—game or not—that answers to a primal thing going on in our brains. When Animal Inspector was first out, it was one of just a few of these “tinderlike” games, but now the genre is a bit more established.

A good old dog approved in Animal Inspector

Approve them all

Well, wait, no, you can’t actually approve them all, sorry. (That’s also the point.) But, the game takes a quick thirty minutes, and you’ll hit an even faster failure route if you do try to approve them all.

Animal Inspector is a chill game that exists in a world of established Indies, with games like Sort the Court and Papers, Please as distant related cousins. It also features a soundtrack by Ben Esposito, notable now for Donut County.

You can approve and reject different pets in Animal Inspector for free on itch.io, for Mac and Windows.

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Sort the Court screenshot, showing the king speaking to his royal advisors.

If you could control a kingdom, would you be a benevolent ruler—one that feeds the people and pays for luxuries for your kingdom? Or, would you want to tax a circus, and sponsor a shifty character that steals from your citizens?

Sort the Court is a tinderlike simulation game by Graeme Borland, where you play the role of a king or queen, ruling over a cute and whimsical kingdom, deciding whether to approve or reject the whims of townspeople. But be careful, each decision has a cost—everything you do earns or loses you citizens, happiness, or coins.

Throughout your regime, you meet a delightful array of citizens seeking your assistance. Chester, a wooden chest, is hexed to eat humans repeatedly, and eventually seeks your help to have the hex removed. Miriam and her owl, Albert, are wanderers, and share some stories with you before going on their way. You’ll encounter Yarno, an advisor to the king of the Comfy Kingdom, followed immediately by Button Boy, who tells you that they’ re actually the real advisor to the king. You’ll also get drop-ins from Boots the cat, who always wants to be scratched.

The circus comes to town in Sort the Cort.

As your kingdom grows, you face new challenges. Following a dragon attack, you have to fund your blacksmith so they can smith a blade—the dragonslayer—to kill a dragon which has stolen from your kingdom. Later your decisions involve intermediating in quibbles between other nearby nations, like a conflict over marshland.

And, hey, I know how hard it can get for a modern ruler sometimes. In order to build a new, ornate town square—undoubtedly the best use of money—I did have to steal some coins from my citizens to make ends meet.

However, some of the game can get repetitive. I was nicknamed “The Creep King” by Lil’ Fang time and time again, while I was waiting for actual story progression decisions. But, there’s enough to the game that you’ll keep with it and pattern match; when you recognize someone frequently returning, you’ll just jab y or n, and send them on their merry way.

Amy Gerardy produced some excellent art for this game. The characters are delightfully realized, and the evolving backdrop as your kingdom grows is beautiful. The background music, by Bogdan Rybak, is chill and whimsical. It reminds me of the main menu music for Life is Strange—something uplifting that you can listen to on a loop for hours.

If you enjoy a “ruler simulation” game like Reigns (a game like Sort the Court, a close spiritual cousin perhaps), you’ll surely appreciate Sort the Court. It’s available in-browser, or for Windows, Mac, and Linux, on itch.io.

The main character of Coming Out Simulator.

Coming Out Simulator is an interactive story by Nicky Case. Semi-autobiographically set in the high-school years of Nicky, you must wrestle with decisions on how best to come out to your homophobic parents in the most careful way possible. As Nicky says, this is a game with no right answers.

This is the game that inspired this website. I have recommended this game to so many people over so many years. This is the game that’s inspired me to daydream, write up a bunch of design documents, and spend weekends building malformed game prototypes. Coming out is a challenging experience, and nobody has it easy. This game, while different from my own story, hits back at these same sensitive feelings, but likewise reminds me of my feelings of success after coming out. Because of how much I relate to this game, it fits to post it here to start this website, even though it’s by no means a small or undercover game these days.

Similar to the mechanics from the seminal games The Walking Dead: Season One and Life is Strange, your choices matter in this game. Your choices manifest as a selection of responses to say to people in your world, such as by text to Nicky’s boyfriend or conversing at the dinner table with Nicky’s mom.

In the end, Nicky’s parents find out, and things change. Despite all this, Nicky still considers that he’s won. 5 years later, I almost think that’s truer than ever. Nicky is an accomplished indie developer, with several games out that tell stories about systems.

Coming Out Simulator 2014 is a web game which takes about twenty minutes to play, and can be played online on itch.io. You will enjoy this game if you enjoy narrative games where choices matter, such as Life is Strange.