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Visual Novel / Secret Little Haven

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"Explore the internet.
Explore yourself.
Find haven in your life's small comforts."

Alex Cole is a teenage trans girl in 1999 who has yet to figure herself out. She spends much of her free time on the internet, browsing a fan forum for her favorite magical girl show, and chatting with her friends. Join her on her story of self-discovery through friendship and media as she explores her computer for the treasures and curiosities of the early internet.

Secret Little Haven is a unique Visual Novel in that it takes place entirely on Alex's computer. There are no sprites or character portraits, and all character interaction (and most of the story) happens via Alex's instant messaging program. Besides these conversations, Secret Little Haven allows you to explore more of Alex's world and headspace via Sanctuary OS, an entire operating system developed in Unity that includes nearly a dozen applications such as a Web Browser, Doll Maker, and Text Editor, as well as an entire web forum for you to search through.

Secret Little Haven was developed by Victoria Dominowski and can be purchased on

Secret Little Haven provides examples of the following:

  • Abusive Parents: Johnathan, whose gaslighting messes up Alex so badly it seems to alter her perception of reality.
  • Arc Words: "You'll figure it out." It's what every last one of Alex's final conversations with her friends and dad end with at the end of the game - with variations - and "She'll Figure It Out" is both the closing title and the achievement you unlock for beating the game, echoing this further.
  • Art Shift: The cheerful colors and soft edges of Alex's operating system turn stark and sterile whenever her father messages her.
  • Audience Surrogate: Alex, assuming the player is transfeminine like she is; though she has a defined personality and backstory, the player can choose her dialogue options to make her more forward or more passive, and can define her "ideal" appearance by designing her Pretty Guardian Love Force original character in her dollmaker, allowing her to stand in for the player's experiences as well.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: The story culminates in Alex confronting John after his constant abuse and gaslighting, calling him out on monitoring her and taking away her privileges to something that's become a safe space for her. Shortly before he completely takes away her internet access, her friends join the chat to call him out for making her feel unsafe.
  • Change the Uncomfortable Subject: Whenever Alex attempts to talk about her newfound trans feelings to Sam, the latter's response is simply to divert the subject whenever possible, becoming more blatant about it as time goes on. This is because Sam is repressing her own feelings about being trans. When Alex finally comes to a conclusion about her identity, Sam is bitter about it, believing herself to be in a much worse situation; Alex's responses allow her to finally break through her repression, come to terms with her identity, and understand that they will figure it out together.
  • Chekhov's Skill: The programming tips that Laguna teaches Alex actually become necessary, after Johnathan locks up her computer access; Alex has to apply her newfound coding skills to log out of Johnathan's session and regain access to her account.
  • Cool Big Sis: Jenni and Laguna both play this role to Alex, being older college students whom she admires. Jenni is the admin of the Pretty Guardian Love Force forum that Alex frequents, and the one to plant the seeds of the latter's LGBT Awakening when they discuss how the forum has become a safe space for young girls like her; she also praises Alex's writing and encourages her to grow as a writer by setting deadlines. Meanwhile, Laguna is a sort of "mom friend" who's also a Playful Hacker and talented artist, which plays a part in Alex being inspired to sharpen her own art skills and giving her a Chekhov's Skill when Alex is locked out of her computer and hacks her way back in. On top of this, Laguna living happily as a trans woman is what spurs Alex's own LGBT Awakening, and she even gives Alex the courage to accept and see herself as a girl.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Alex and her friends finally speak up to John, making him realize what a horrible father he's been and promising Alex he'll learn to be a better father from here on out. Afterwards, Alex goes to see the Pretty Guardian Love Force movie, and the game ends with the quote, "She'll figure it out..." Alex's friends get their happy endings, too; Sam has come to terms with being trans because of Alex supporting her, and even though she cannot openly transition yet, she's happy with at least giving herself the space to think about it, Andy realizes how entitled he's been acting and begins to start working on himself, and Jenni is figuring out how to balance her life between school, work, and her interests.
  • Easter Egg: Several, and according to Word of God there are still secrets left to be discovered. One of the easiest Easter Eggs to find is this code which seems to be some sort of message written to Alex's dad. invoked
  • Entitled to Have You: Andy feels as though he's being snubbed by a girl at his school because she isn't interested in him, even though it's clear that she isn't interested in him and he's hurting her by attempting to affect a domineering, macho persona. Alex ends up having to call out Andy on this behavior directly, leading him to begin making efforts to grow as a person and be more genuine.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The entire game takes place over the course of 3 days, from May 12 to May 15, 1999.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: John, as mentioned under Wanted a Gender-Conforming Child, greatly disapproves of Alex's extensive internet use, believing it's dangerous for her to be interacting with strangers on the internet and that she could be using her time studying chemistry instead (even though she has no interest in the subject whatsoever, and doesn't even take classes for it). He even locks her out of her desktop and attempts to take away all internet access before her friends step in.
  • Fictional Social Network: As much as an obscure fandom forum could be considered a social network, technically speaking. A large chunk of the game revolves around Alex visiting a forum called "PGLF Fans". It's even possible to browse the forums, though some pages and sections are inaccessible until after the first day (the plot reason being that Jenni, the webmaster, is in the process of moving servers).
  • Foreshadowing: At the very beginning of the game, Alex has a spam email in her inbox advertising prescriptions: Accutane, Concerta, spironolactone, estradiol, and ibuprofen. While most of these can only be considered tangentially related to Alex's arc, spironolactone and estradiol are well-known feminizing hormones, hinting at Alex's gender dysphoria well before it becomes relevant to the story.
  • Gaslighting: John's Establishing Character Moment is him interrupting innocuous conversations between Alex and her friends just to get on her case for not attending a class she didn't ask to be signed up for, and accusing her of wasting his offers to help her get ahead - their ensuing conversations only get worse from there on. Any attempt to speak out against John results in him shifting the blame and making Alex feel like it's her fault, then in the same breath, he tries to brush it off as simply being concerned for her and that he loves her, when there's genuinely a lot more at play.
  • Gender Bender: In-universe, Alex's trans awakening is partially brought on by rumors that Minori, a male character in the Pretty Guardian Love Force series, becomes a Magical Girl in the series' movie, and subsequent fanart that depicts Minori physically transforming into a girl. Though she's unsure how to feel about the physical part of the transformation, she finds herself unusually captivated by the idea as a whole.
  • Heel Realization: When Alex's friends help her confront John, she works up the nerve to tell him that she doesn't feel safe around him any more, which is when he realizes that he's been far too authoritarian with Alex and restricting her from something that makes her happy.
    John: I guess I have a way of fucking up everything I touch, don't I? First my marriage, and now my job as a father.
  • Knight of Cerebus: What would otherwise be a normal day for Alex on the internet is turned on its head by John, her father, suddenly interrupting conversations with her friends to get on her case about school, and for a subject that she doesn't even study, no less. Not helping matters is the interface's sudden Art Shift and Epileptic Flashing Lights that accompany the introduction of the character.
  • LGBT Awakening: One of the primary plot points is Alex realizing she's a trans girl and her online friends helping her along the way. Equally important is Alex's friend Sam having trouble accepting her identity and mostly burying her feelings, until Alex vows to support her and helps her come to terms with it.
  • New Media Are Evil: Part of the reason John disapproves of Alex spending so much time on the computer is because he believes it's causing her to waste her life and that internet users are all predators out to hurt her. The message of the story thoroughly debunks this viewpoint, showing internet users as real people who care for each other and help each other grow despite their distance.
  • Noodle Incident: There are occasional references to Alex having gone to an all-boy's boarding school, but having to leave because she was causing issues at school. It's never explicitly stated what exactly happened to get Alex kicked out.
  • Nostalgia Filter: Alex’s childhood friend Andy constantly reminisces on how outgoing and aggressive Alex was when they were kids, and frequently invites her to masculine activities like visiting shooting ranges to prepare her for the ‘real world’. However, this is deconstructed in that this isn’t what Alex wants at all, and she even points out it’s unfair how he keeps pushing masculinity on her just because of his own nostalgia. This nearly leads to the end of their friendship.
  • Ominous Visual Glitch: Alex's conversations with her controlling father are represented by a gray and glitchy desktop, with the glitches become more severe the more strained their relationship becomes.
  • Playful Hacker: Laguna is a more realistic example of this trope; she loves to mess around with computer coding and even teaches Alex how to access programs in unorthodox ways, should her access to the computer interface ever be inaccessible. This becomes a Chekhov's Skill when Johnathan completely blocks off Alex's computer access, making it necessary for her to bypass the locks by coding her way through it.
  • Psychological Projection: It's heavily implied that John's attempts to make Alex more masculine are due to the collapse of his marriage and subsequent distrust of women in general.
  • Rated M for Manly: Alex's friend Andy attempts to invoke the trope by waxing nostalgic about gory video games, manly movies, and firing rifles at shooting ranges, in an attempt to get Alex over what he sees as a "slump". He doesn't realize that Alex doesn't want to partake in stereotypically manly things, which is the entire reason she's been having an identity crisis to begin with.
  • Reality Bleed: John's gaslighting is so thorough on Alex's psyche that it warps her perception of reality, making her second-guess her own thoughts (represented by the text physically changing to become what John hears rather than what she thinks). It even applies to the interface itself — aside from the windows becoming gray and hard-edged, the date is crossed out, and the line "Previous messages archived to save space on hard disk" becomes "Previous messages do not need to be seen anymore. Listen to your father." However, the inverse happens later on in the story: when Alex resolves her relationships with each of her friends, their automated log-off message changes from "(user) is away" to "(user) is here for you". It comes to a head in the climax, where Alex's friends jump into John's chat log to speak in her defense, bleeding between the cold sterility of Alex's conversations with John and the warm haven that her friends have provided her.
  • Retraux: Being set in 1999, Sanctuary OS's entire aesthetic is based on older operating systems. The websites Alex visits are based off the later style of websites common during Web 1.0.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The mini-game "Egg Friend" is a shout-out to Tamagotchi, which also features a virtual pet in an egg-shaped interface. The name, in addition to being a pun on trans slang (see Stealth Pun below), is also a reference to the incorrect theory that Tamagotchi is a portmanteau of the Japanese words for egg (tamago) and friend (tomodachi)note .
    • Pretty Guardian Love Force is localized by "Kid5", and the movie is subtitled "The First Movie".
    • The recurring jokes about the seemingly non-existent "Guardian Waffle" are likely a reference to KiraKira★Pretty Cure à la Mode, and specifically the series' heavy fan speculation that Rio (a male character) would become a Pretty Cure under the name Cure Waffle.
  • Show Within a Show: Pretty Guardians Love Force, a Magical Girl anime that harkens back to shows like Tokyo Mew Mew and Sailor Moon. Alex is a massive fan and a major conflict of the game is her attempting to see a screening of the limited run of the movie.
  • Sobriquet Sex Switch: Alex's deadname is "Alexander", and she is later referred to with the more feminine name "Alexandra". However, she's mostly referred to with the gender-neutral nickname "Alex" throughout the game.
  • Stealth Pun: Alex downloads a game onto her computer called Egg Friend. Among trans people, "egg" is slang for a person who is very clearly trans but has yet to realize it themselves (a metaphor that compares realizing one's gender to hatching from an egg).
  • Sure, Let's Go with That: When Jenni talks to Alex, she makes an off-hand comment saying "I love helping young girls like you find community in their interests!" Alex, who at this point thinks of herself as male, is unsure how to respond; all three options end up amounting to a "sure, let's go with that," and Jenni continues referring to her as a girl.
  • Trans Tribulations:
    • Alex, over the course of the game, comes to terms with being a trans girl - though this discovery is a lot for her to process because she didn't realize her experience was so common. However, this self-discovery is juxtaposed with her extremely hidebound father who disapproves of her femininity and unorthodox interests, insisting that she's going to be the best man he can make her and accusing her of softening up too much because of the internet.
    • Sam is in denial about experiencing gender dysphoria, and whenever Alex even tries to bring it up, she balks at the thought and tells Alex to just not think about it. Another attempt to talk it out with Sam leads to her accusing Alex of rubbing it in her face because Sam doesn't have an option like Alex does (even though Alex doesn't have much of a space in real life to do so, either), and believes she'll be stuck in her rural, dead-end town in Alabama forever.
    • Laguna is a trans woman who just recently moved in with her aunt, away from her father. At first, it's not clear why she's distanced from her father - but Laguna eventually confirms she was kicked out of the house because she's transgender. Additionally, Jenni outs Laguna as trans to Alex without Laguna's permission, and there's a bit of discussion about it possibly endangering Laguna because Alex may let it slip on the forums. Laguna even tries to confront Jenni about it, before Alex explains the situation.
  • Two-Timer Date: A pile-up of several overlapping events becomes the first major conflict of the plot. Alex wants to see the Pretty Guardian Love Force movie, which only has one showing at 5:00 PM on Saturday; Andy wants to take Alex to their school's baseball game, which also happens at 5:00 PM on Saturday; when Alex eventually disagrees to that, Andy insists on taking Alex to a different movie showing on Saturday; when John finds out that Alex has been skipping her tutoring sessions, he grounds her and forces her to study chemistry all night on Saturday. Alex eventually manages to resolve the issue by being firm that seeing the PGLF movie is what she wants to do.
  • Wanted a Gender-Conforming Child: John completely disapproves of Alex's feminine interests, and insists on her doing more masculine activities to toughen her up and live as an upstanding man. He then degrades her for having an avatar and desktop that appears girly, telling her that she's presenting herself in the wrong way.
  • Workaholic: Deconstructed; Jenni believes administrating the forums is interfering with her studies and work, worrying that it's little more than a waste of time on a frivolous hobby. However, Alex points out that although Jenni isn't obligated to keep moderating if it comes at the expense of her own life and health, Jenni is also punishing herself too much for doing something she enjoys and that it's important to set aside time for her passions.
  • You Are Not Alone: The story emphasizes community and highlights the internet as being accessible for reaching out to the most unlikely of friends. It’s because of connecting with other people over a silly magical girl show that Alex discovers she’s trans, and even encourages her friends to work on themselves and become better people. On top of that, having a community to call home gives Alex a safe place away from her abusive home life, and even gives her the courage to confront her father.