Queer & Rebellious: An Interview with Naomi “Bez” Norbez
Naomi “Bez” Norbez wants to challenge people’s ideologies with his new game.
Naomi “Bez” Norbez writes stories that aim to educate people. He has been making interactive fiction games for six years and has over 30 games under his belt, most of which tackle abuse or depression and how they impact people. In addition to making games, Bez is working on a few novels while also trying to get his work published in magazines. Readers of Level Story may recognize his name from articles in our Florence and The Last of Us: Left Behind issues.
Bez’s newest game is one of his most ambitious. Eyewear Cleaner 2077 is a response game to the contentious Cyberpunk 2077. The game was released in June and the demo received the “most promising” ribbon in the Spring Thing Festival of Interactive Fiction 2021. Bez recently spoke with Level Story about the new game and why he wanted to make something that was “very queer and very rebellious.”
WHAT GOT YOU INTERESTED IN MAKING GAMES?
I’ve been making games since I was very young. When I was a kid I would make board games and show them to people and force them to play it. I remember, I wanted to make a visual novel because I was inspired by a lot of indie visual novels. My sister learned Ren’Py, so we'd make visual novels together. That’s what led to our first game, which is called Monster Uses CPU 2. It [is] about a monster trying to invite people to a Halloween party [and it] talks about religion and suicide and what it means to have a friendship. It’s so weird to look back at it because I think it’s badly designed but at the same time I have a really soft spot in my heart for it.
WHAT ABOUT CYBERPUNK 2077 MADE YOU WANT TO RESPOND TO IT WITH A GAME OF YOUR OWN?
It [was] a stack of things, but mainly it was the way that the game seemed to be discussing trans people and trans experiences, but also not doing that at the same time. They had [the] “Mix It Up” ad [where the] model [has] a clear outline of their penis, [and in] the game your voice has to match your gender. Just all these little things [where] the game was poking at the trans experience and also being rude about it…and very naive at the same time.
I [knew] Cyberpunk 2077 [wouldn’t] capture the trans experience as far as I [could] tell. [It was] going to be a cis idea of the trans experience. So what if I made a game that responded to it, that is the trans experience? What does it mean to be trans non-binary? What does it mean to be queer? I wanted to make a game that also discussed social justice issues and discuss[ed] what it means to be a rebellious person and whether that rebellion is right or wrong.
WHAT DIFFERENTIATES EYEWEAR CLEANER 2077 FROM YOUR PAST PROJECTS?
I think the biggest difference is the angle of approach I took, because in a lot of my other games what I aim for is emotional education. With my games about abuse or depression, I aim to educate the person on what [that] means and how it impacts people. [Eyewear Cleaner 2077] is very different because it’s not emotional education, it’s actually government and civics education, talking about politics and leftist ideals and what does it mean to be a cyberpunk and a rebel? And it’s me pouring my own ideologies into it. I pour myself into my games, but this is different than that. I pour myself emotionally [into] my games, but not ideologically speaking.
WHAT THEMES WERE YOU LOOKING TO EXPLORE IN THIS GAME?
I wanted to talk about what it means to be queer today and what it means to be different from everyone else. Queerness sets you apart from everybody else and it makes you different. Sometimes that difference is good, sometimes it’s bad, sometimes you bond with people over that difference and people understand you, and sometimes it brings you power, and sometimes it brings you pain. I wanted to discuss that with the game. I [also] wanted to talk about social justice and what true justice is in a society that is defined by capitalism, and what does it mean to have justice in that world, especially in the cyberpunk world [where] capitalism has basically taken over even more than it has today. So what does justice in that society mean?
I really hope I have made a game that inspires people to think about the ideologies that they support [by] breaking down concepts and ideas in the context of capitalist systems. Do the ends justify the means? I really want people to understand [and] maybe change their viewpoint on certain things.
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE THE GAME?
It took me three months. I was working at Costco at the time. I asked for a foldable keyboard for Christmas, and I used that keyboard every single break [to write] the game. I would sit down with my foldable keyboard [and] write after eating my lunch. When my break [was] over I folded my keyboard back in my pocket.
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?
I write it all in a Word document and break it all down into sections. I try to put all my code in my writing as I’m doing it. So I break it down into sections and say, “okay, this section is going to be here and this section is going to be here.” And when I do [the] choices, I do indentations so [the text] is all organized. Basically [I] organize it very well so it’s all very neat and clean.
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU FACED WRITING AND DEVELOPING THIS GAME?
The biggest challenge, I think, was making it authentic because I wanted it to matter in real life. I don’t know if I succeeded or not, that’s not for me to decide because I’m just the writer. I can’t decide that for my own text. I wanted to make it something real, something that feels like I can impact a person in real life. That was my biggest challenge, to try to make it something impactful and meaningful.
WHAT WERE SOME OF YOUR INSPIRATIONS FOR THIS GAME?
Oh, I have a long list. First there is The Queer Cyberpunk’s Guide to Tabletop RPGs, which I put a little reference to in the intro. Philosophy Tube did a few videos that inspired me: Work where she talked about being a worker in a capitalist society and what that actually means, and Sex Work [which] really changed my view on sex work and [made] me want to put sex workers in the game and make them into the heroes. Jacob Geller’s video called Searching for Disco Elysium talks about humanizing the city and what makes the city alive, and that inspired me to make my own city alive in places, and give the player refuge where they can relax, like the bar. See the full list of inspirations on Bez’s twitter.