Yesterday was the American holiday of Thanksgiving. Growing up, we’re taught a lot of lies about cooperation, friendship, and giving. Growing up, we’re just taught a lot of lies. Period. American culture is one of self-aggrandizing mythos. Almost every superhero, like the white dinner tables I grew up around, is fascist. We’re taught that we saved the people we killed. We’re taught we gave freedom to the people we oppressed.
Yet, still, every November millions of Americans travel back to the states and small towns they were raised in, to sit among Fox News mouthpieces, surrounded by Trump 2024 flags and banners bearing the phrase “The Rules Have Changed.” It fills me with a profound and deep sense of terror.
I write all of this because, today, the day after that holiday, while news sites and right wing personalities continue to hammer on about a hate crime they are happy happened, a hate crime that continues to separate us queer folk from any semblance of community, while I sit in my hometown, right across the street from where a Qanon banner hung for a full year, Lutong Banwa made me feel human.
Lutong Banwa is not an American game. It is not about Thanksgiving. But it’s spirit is so full of life that even the mythologized idea of Thanksgiving pales in comparison.
Lutong Banwa was designed by Sinta Posadas, with beautiful illustrations by Liyo. Sin is a Filipino game designer and illustrator who’s made too many games to count, but you might have heard of Navathem’s End which was created alongside Pam Punzalan (another name that should be said more within the scene).
And this game is supremely magical. Beautiful is the word I would use to describe it because that’s how it made me feel. Beautiful. It is one of the most kind and nurturing games I’ve had the pleasure of reading.
The game itself is Myth. It builds you, the player, up not as a human but as the thing that comes after. As something more free and in control of your destiny. You could call it post-human, but it would be rude to call it post-apocalyptic. I’ve yet to see a post-apocalypse that is this hopeful in you, the player.
It’s a self described cooking game and comes with personal recipes from the designer. These include a recipe that was made simply because it was all Sin had in the fridge that day, and another recipe that Sin makes every day for breakfast. These are parts of the designer being trusted with you. I’m not much of a chef myself, but the sharing of recipes has always felt spiritual, and in Lutong Banwa they are a physical way of sharing the essence of humanity with one another.
You play as a Tamawo, a being that is human-like but might forgo gender or shift genders at will. You might have horns or wings. You might be anything. You’re born from the Mother Banana Tree and raised by a loving, giant crab.
At its core it’s a game that teaches you a person’s history through their recipes. It shows you a different kind of history than maybe you were raised with (the one of myths and lies, in my case). It shows you a history baked with kindness. Of sharing a meal. A person’s legacy. It’s a game that treats cooking as holy and generous, and recipes as a human way to share that.
It’s hard for me to stop talking about this game. I could easily write and write until I have more words than the original text. The spirit of Lutong Banwa is that big and full and happy to share and share and pile more and more on your plate until you are stuffed and can’t possibly eat anymore. It made me reframe my grandfather’s insistence that I put more on my plate as a form of kindness that I’d never seen in him. It’s making me think back to the few times my mom cooked and let me watch and learn. It makes me think of past loves and meals we’ve shared in shitty apartments. It gives me a great feeling of connection.
Lutong Banwa made me feel human while sitting in an America that treats me as inhuman. I thank it for its kindness. Thank you Sin and Liyo. Thank you for giving me something True.