Home Gay Gaming REVIEW: “Kevin(1997-2077)” and the queer attraction to coded language

REVIEW: “Kevin(1997-2077)” and the queer attraction to coded language

by Edwin Chris
A coded language from the video game "Kevin(1997-2077)"

What makes a game, a game? The fact that I am leading this review with an existential question about the medium at large should probably tell you that Kevin(1997-2077) expresses a worldview not normally found in gaming. As such, it’s also not a game that will appeal to everyone: if a game can’t hold your attention without the rattle of gunfire, you can save a few bucks right now and know that this isn’t a game with you in mind.

Billed as a language-deciphering game, Kevin(1997-2077) is the product of Scottish game developer Kevin Du, and it’s almost entirely autobiographical in nature. Kevin, as he revealed in an interview with gamedeveloper.com, studied architecture in China and game development in Scotland, where he now lives. As he explained, he found the combination of his poor English, coupled with the obvious prevalence of the Scottish accent, almost impossible to wrestle with when he first arrived in the country. And yet, he still found ways to understand, and for others to understand him. Through his struggles, a gameplay loop was born.

Decoding A Fake Language As Gameplay

In terms of gameplay, Kevin(1997-2077) feels like a brain-teaser one might encounter in a newspaper or in a novelty puzzle book one might have received when young. Interacting with Kevin(1997-2077) requires patience and an awareness that you will not be solving this in one sitting, (unless you happen to already be a linguist, perhaps.) Armed with a pen, eraser, and the ability to anchor at different points on the map, Kevin(1997-2077) very much feels like you’ve discovered someone else’s journal written in code.

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Because, well, it is. As the game both boasts the LGBTQ+ tag and mentions discussions of sexual identity within the game, there’s another reason that Kevin (whether knowingly or unknowingly) may have been attracted to the idea of this game. It is hard, as a queer person, not to think of Polari as I unraveled Kevin’s story. (For reference, British Queer people historically employed Polari, a slang language, to communicate with each other without risking arrest or persecution for their sexuality.”)

Audio and Visual Design (Unfortunately) Takes a Back Seat

Such are the lengths people will go to to maintain connection in a world they feel lost in.  Kevin(1997-2077) is such a rumination, one that, conceptually, works very well for a very particular type of player. It is not without fault, though: this is an indie game with a capital I, and by that I mean it is a genuinely ugly game to look at. There might be a certain charm in some moments where the game’s “programmer art” reveals in sweet earnest, but generally, there’s a lot of UI elements and design decisions that just look bad, both in utilitarian terms and as experimental art pieces.

One could hand-wave this to an extent with a game that is solely about language. But sound design also takes a hit here: a choice was made for the game’s audio exclusively be Kevin counting, in English, up from one. I imagine there’s subtext here referencing the fact that English and Chinese do not share the same method of counting (for example, the Chinese language has a “Ten” marker, so “Twenty-Two” would be written/spoken as “Two-Ten-Two.”) As the numbers climb, you can hear Kevin struggle to place the words in the correct order, you can feel him translating in his head. For an art piece, it’s a beautiful decision that evokes the struggle of navigating language. As a part of a video game’s atmosphere, it is wholly distracting to the point of consequence.

But that’s a risk Kevin(1997-2077) is willing to take. It’s hard not to admire such bravery.


  • Innovative exploration of language
  • A wholly unique gameplay loop
  • On the short list of “games designed exclusively for linguists”
  • Immediately made me want to play a Polari game


  • This is a video game in desperate need of a graphical designer
  • A second opinion should’ve been given by someone within Kevin’s orbit on the decision to include English counting as the game’s sound design


Overall: 67/100


Sources: Steam

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