NACVGM 2020 – Musically Queering Love in the Monstrous World of Undertale

From the Abstract

Hyeonjin Park (University of California, Los Angeles)

Musically Queering Love in the Monstrous World of Undertale

Standard, objective-based gameplay reminds the player of their shortcomings with unsympathetic “game over” screens before giving them the options to try again or quit.  However, Undertale (2015) differentiates itself by reassuring the player to “stay determined.” The game resists other conventional expectations, notably by providing an alternative route to complete the game as a pacifist.  This particular route calls for empathy and presents an opportunity for the player to foster loving relationships with the nonhuman inhabitants of the Underground.  In doing so, Undertale challenges the normalized brute force and violence towards monsters, as well as the one-dimensional depictions of them.

This paper explores the development of queer love and acceptance through Undertale’s main leitmotif, “Once Upon a Time,” and its connection to the player-character, Frisk.  As the game progresses, this leitmotif increasingly intertwines with other characters’ and locations; own themes to depict the queer relationships that the player-character establishes in the Underground.  The queering of Undertale goes beyond canonically queer characters, which includes Frisk, a nonbinary human child, by demonstrating the importance of familial and/or platonic queer loves.  This is portrayed in Frisk’s journey towards their found family.  I argue, ultimately, that the various uses of “Once Upon a Time” represent the evolving actions of love in a supposedly monstrous world that, as it turns out, is a place for the player-character to call “home.”

Source: Bardic Knowledge

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