A very adult branching comic... but not that kind of comic.
It Will Be Hard is an interactive branching comic full of 130 pages that explore the challenges we face as humans just trying to get through our lives. It’s about identity and relationships, and how we juggle our sense of self with our desire to belong. Full disclosure: I backed this project when it was launched on Kickstarter…
…and I have no regrets. Despite being a challenging and emotional narrative—it’s not called ‘It Will Be Easy’, after all—this game is full of wholesome, sentimental moments. It meanders through tricky topics—asexuality, polyamory, culture and heritage, communication, body image, and possessive relationships—and, for the most part, moves from one to the next in a natural way. Some of the dialogue can feel a little heavy-handed or didactic at times, but this is tempered with moments of heart-warming humour that makes you feel for Harold and Arthur like you know them personally.
All of the characters in the narrative—even the ones you hear from briefly, or only see from afar—feel authentic. Perhaps it’s because of the attention to detail and diversity evident in every page. The spaces depicted feel like real spaces because the people within them look real. Take Harold, for example. He’s the protagonist, and he’s an overweight masculine queer person of colour. He is certainly not the stereotypical white cis straight muscular dude we see in videogames, but his story is no less valuable, and it was a joy to see it told.
Sex is a primary theme of It Will Be Hard, but it’s not talked about in a way I’ve seen in games—or even other media—much before. As somebody who researches queer representation in games, I’ve seen my fair share of sex scenes, but even the explicit scenes in It Will Be Hard are especially wholesome. The one sexual moment shared between Harold and Arthur contains gentle, realistic nudity, and is entirely optional for the reader. It explores communication, consent, and comfort in a way that captures real conversations couples have about their own interactions. This vulnerable, emotional scene contrasts with an earlier moment between Harold and another character that includes the ‘I know you want it’-style lines from movies; the ‘stereotypical’ sex scene, by comparison, feels quite uncomfortable, and implied consent is depicted as being less sexy than open, honest conversations.
Vulnerability and emotion are celebrated. Conversations about masculinity are shared between characters, and Harold is even praised for publicly crying when he becomes overwhelmed by what’s been happening in his life. Characters reinforce the importance of listening without necessarily having solutions at the ready. Positive role models are celebrated for their communication and perseverance through challenges, but toxic relationships are also criticised as not being worth the work—and certainly not being the victim’s fault.
The game only took an hour or so for me to play, but in that time it covered a vast breadth and depth of challenges that I could both sympathise and empathise with. Some of them struck close to home. It was a heartbreaking and heartwarming experience, and one that I highly recommend.