I’m on a study project to improve my understanding of roleplaying games. To this end, I already have two reading projects, A Game Per Year and An Adventure Per Year. This is the third, with the goal of reading or playing 52 games made in the last few years. Originally I considered making this “A New RPG Per Week” and that’s where the number 52 comes from, even though a weekly schedule is probably not within my abilities.
Horse Girl is a Malaysian solo journaling roleplaying game in which you play a girl in a relationship with a man who turns her into a horse through mental manipulation and grotesque surgery. The content warning is pretty hefty: “This game includes grotesque body horror, torture, dehumanization, bestiality, pregnancy, sexual situations, and consenting to having horrible things done to you by someone you love.”
The game is based on Wretched & Alone, the design format of which has been used as the basis of a mini-movement of interesting solo journaling games. They’re built on using a common card deck as a randomizer, prompting different kinds of scenes and events. There are various endgame options. In Horse Girl, it’s possible for you to assert your independence and escape, but you can also end up changed by horrific surgeries or become the mother of a half-horse foal.
Out of the solo journaling games I’ve read, this is absolutely my personal favorite. It jumps head first into extremely difficult emotional territory by exploring the question of how the need for love and security makes us subsume who we are in our relationships.
At first, the game reminded me of the BDSM ponygirl fetish but the more I read, the more I realized the vision presented here is much sharper, more painful and emotionally comprehensive. This is not about sex but about something much more encompassing and intimate. In some ways, the experience it paints feels like the roleplaying game Bluebeard’s Bride which similarly revolves around a sinister, compelling and controlling male presence.
Perhaps the most audacious design choice in Horse Girl involves using a marker to draw dots on your own body. You play naked (obviously) and when the cards give you surgery, you mark those areas in your actual real body even as the body of your character is changed.