Genderwrecked is playful, poetic, lonely, beautiful, and gross. It’s a brilliant visual novel about a post-apocalyptic journey of self-discovery and gender. And also kissing, fighting, and talking to monsters, all of whom are endearing and grotesque in their own charming ways. One is a fiery ball of cosmic horror that alternates between shrinking with shyness and blazing with infernal fury. Another is a floating cube studded with sherbet-colored eyes that transforms into a gaping maw when it speaks. At some point, developer Heather Robertson promises that we’ll encounter a horde of children who are made entirely of ground beef, and “it’s horrifying, and I love them.” A free demo is up on Itch.io, and the game will be out January 18 for PC, Mac, and Linux.

Robertson and artist Ryan Rose Aceae have been working on the project for about a year now, and it’s inspired by discussions they’ve had about gender. The two creators describe it as “incredibly self-indulgent,” and the result is a game that feels personal, almost like an open conversation with a friend. It’s brimming with humor and punctuated with poignant moments about how messy and confusing the topic can be. Aceae is a comic book artist, and their colorful hand-drawn monsters pop against Robertson’s sparse ASCII art background.

“One thing that we wanted to encompass was the entirety of the experience of dealing with your own gender,” said Robertson. “Sometimes it’s really depressing. Sometimes it’s hard to focus on. But other times it’s an OK thing to laugh about and joke about. Just to have weird experiences with.”

“I think a lot of trans-centric media — the writers, the creators — try to make the experience of being trans so straightforward, and it’s so not,” said Aceae.

Genderwrecked is one of the biggest projects Robertson and Aceae have worked on, and now that it’s almost over, they’re looking toward the future. Aceae has a comic coming out in an anthology called We’re Still Here, which solely features transgendered creators. They also collaborated on a trans superhero coloring book that will be out sometime in the future. And Robertson, who’s impressively prolific, has two games coming up: Extreme Meatpunks Forever and Eternity. She’s also giving a talk at next year’s Game Developers Conference.

“It’s relieving and scary to have a release date,” said Aceae. “But we’re very close to the end of the game. We’re ready to put a date on it, and hopefully get people excited about it. As excited as we are.”

Here is an edited transcript of our interview.

GamesBeat: Who are you, and how did you become game developers?

Heather Robertson: I’ve “been a game developer,” officially, for the past two or three years? It hasn’t been super recent. I mean, it has been fairly recent. I don’t know. I make a lot of stuff. Me and Ryan Rose have been working on this project together for about a year, and we’ve also been dating for about a year. Oh, and being in school. I go to the University of Southern California, the cinema school for game development. That’s where I’ve been studying for the past few years. I’ve been learning a lot about making games, making my own work on the side, doing schoolwork, and so on. It’s given me a lot of good experience.

Ryan Rose Aceae: Last May I graduated, also from the University of Southern California, the Roski School of Art and Design. I have a background mostly doing illustration, narrative, some comics. I ended up making a lot of friends in game design, because USC—there is a surprisingly robust queer community within the games community, so all of a sudden I realized all of my gay friends did game dev. I was like, “All right, well, I can draw and I can write, so why don’t I do this too?” I really fell in love with it. I’m not sure I’d consider myself a “game developer” yet —

Robertson: But you have been making a game for literally the past year, so —

Aceae: I’ve worked on a couple of game things and I want to keep doing it. It’s been fun. I’m definitely not Heather level of game developer, though.

GamesBeat: Speaking of Genderwrecked, can you tell me more about the inspiration there and how you started working together on the project?

Robertson: OK. We started working on Genderwrecked a little over a year ago. When we went into it, we knew we wanted to make something together, and so our first instinct was, “OK, let’s make something incredibly self-indulgent that we will like and we hope other people will like.” The first question that always came to mind when we were doing design decisions was always, “Is this something that we would enjoy doing and enjoy making?” That’s why we went for a visual novel, because it allowed both of us to use our skills to their fullest extent.

Aceae: We decided to make it about gender because that was something we had in common, that we bonded over some. We wanted to make a game that made us feel the way — in a way that we felt like we never really got to feel with media? Something that made us feel seen and that would make people like us feel seen in a way that I think is really rare.

Robertson: Representation, yeah.

Aceae: Or not even so much representation as just feeling that way.

Robertson: Yeah, I get that.

GamesBeat: I played the demo, and I felt like it had an intriguing blend of humor, but also the profound. When you meet Phil and they’re really hilarious, but then they talk about how their gender is a vacancy sign in a run-down hotel — it was really interesting how those two aspects are balanced. Can you talk about how you approached that? 

Robertson: One thing that we wanted to encompass was the entirety of the experience of dealing with your own gender. Sometimes it’s really depressing. Sometimes it’s hard to focus on. But other times it’s an OK thing to laugh about and joke about. Just to have weird experiences with.

Aceae: It’s something that’s really common to trans folks. I think a lot of trans-centric media —the writers, the creators — try to make the experience of being trans so straightforward, and it’s so not. I think that there’s kind of like — like what you’re saying, there are two camps of being trans. There’s making stupid jokes about it and there’s trying to describe it in these really —

Robertson: — deep metaphors.

Aceae: Or not even deep metaphors, but really weird, esoteric, out-there — not even deep sometimes as just bizarre. I think that we both dabble in both of those.

Robertson: Right. Nobody’s ever truly in one camp.

Aceae: We also just don’t take ourselves very seriously.

Robertson: We don’t.

Aceae: We wanted to be poetic about it, but also we couldn’t write two lines of poetry without —

Robertson: — sticking a fart joke in there.

Aceae: Yeah, exactly.

GamesBeat: Do you view Genderwrecked as a game that speaks to other trans people who feel the way you two feel? Or do you see it as more of an educational game? “This is a messy topic with a lot of different approaches and everyone feels a different way and this is one perspective.” 

Robertson: If people want to learn things from our game, they totally can, but we put this out —we are putting this out, because it’s still coming out soon — but we put this game out to talk about our experiences with other trans people. It’s not really an educational game.