Alongside other LGBTQIA+ movements throughout history, Pride at Play stands on the shoulders of queer giants from around the world. My team and I began this work in the slipstream of folks who make, document, archive, and write about queer games. The resources now available to anyone interested in the history and future of queer games now include the researchers at the LGBTQ Video Game Archive, Represent Me’s crowdsourced online database, the much celebrated annual Queer Games Festival, the visionary Queerness and Games Conference, the grassroots initiative Queer Games Bundle, the art collective xxxhibition, the vibrant Rainbow Arcade exhibition, communities like Digital Diversity, QTPIES, and Sydney Gaymers, as well as other industry bodies, like Games Connect Asia Pacific, GaymerX, and PAX Australia, who host queer game events. These titles are printed on this page so that queer-minded players may discover these resources with kindred hearts.
As Robert Yang, gay games developer and scholar has said, writing and storytelling is a crucial part of the design process. Queer stories have been told as long as humans have told stories. Although the word ‘queer’ was once a slur, it has been reclaimed as a source of strength and pride. Queerness is what sets us apart from normative genders, identities, sexes, and sexual orientations. Not so long ago it would have been difficult to imagine that queerness and games might productively intersect, in part because gamer culture has a history of toxic interactions and a mob mentality that has driven people away from these communities.1
Twenty years ago, Game On, the world’s first major videogame gallery exhibition launched. Game On would be seen by over two million people in ten years. The exhibition travelled to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, ACMI, in 2008, helping to showcase the maturing medium locally.2 The curation of games for public engagement is now a staple of the industry. Exhibitions have been crucial in promoting a healthier outlook within and about the medium. It was in this tradition that we embarked on Pride at Play.
The queer games genre emerged not by accident, but out of necessity—games were shaped by the tools at hand. In the early days of games development, most games, both printed and digital, took a lot of specialist knowledge, money, and effort to create and distribute. The capacity to make games that centre queer narratives was out of reach for many aspiring developers.
Although LGBTQIA+ games history is grossly under-documented, thanks to the efforts of the LGBTQ Video Game Archive, we now know there was abundant queer content before the rise of the indie games scene. The indie scene grew further as game-making tools like Bitsy, Twine, and Ren’Py were released into the open source development community, lowering the barrier to entry. Making a game was as easy as typing words into a document, a do-it-yourself affordance that allowed queer narratives to flourish.
The tabletop roleplaying community has also come a long way since the early days of colonial fantasy racial tropes and fictional violence. Thanks to roleplaying tools like Lines and Veils gaining traction among the roleplaying scene globally,3 we now have safe and guided boundaries to explore the weird or awkward moments of everyday queer life, and learn more about ourselves and those with whom we play. This is the narrative permission extended to us by queer game designers. Kickstarter has proven over and over again that there is a viable market for queer tabletop games. The broadly acclaimed Artisans of Splendent Vale, for instance, a game that combines choose-your-own-adventure style gameplay with turn-based tactics and openly queer characters, raised over two hundred thousand U.S. dollars prior to its release.
Luke Miller, the force behind the Queer Games Festival, has observed that a generation that grew up playing gay games and queer games from as early as the 1970s are now making their own ‘next level’ queer games.4 At the beginning of 2023, itch.io distributed more than 3,200 video games tagged ‘LGBT’ and ‘LGBTQIA’, a 28% increase in volume from March 2022.5 The number of queer games is growing at an increasing pace each year. Efforts to preserve and celebrate these games have also begun. To quote Adrienne Shaw, founder and researcher behind the LGBTQ Video Game Archive, ‘the “Project” never ends.’6 The project of curating the games that appear in Pride at Play began in quiet conversations with many people. With Taylor McCue, co-organiser of Queer Games Bundle and the creator of He Fucked The Girl Out of Me (nominated for the Independent Games Festival’s 2023 Nuovo Award), we discussed how institutions can be a force multiplier allowing for queer games to reach a broader audience.7 We also drew inspiration from The Queer Games Avant-Garde, a collection of interviews with queer indie developers edited by Bo Ruberg.
The Pride at Play team have worked tirelessly to include the voices of each contributing queer game developer in this catalogue. Rather than showcasing the work of artists so established they need no introduction, we asked all our contributors about their backgrounds, motivations, goals, inspirations, communities, and what it meant to them to ‘play with pride’. Their responses reveal the deeper social and cultural context for queer gaming. At the end of each interview, we provide links to purchase or download the games, since games need players as much as players need games.
In addition to this print catalogue, we have a website (prideatplay.org) where the gallery exhibition program can be found. The inaugural run of Pride at Play took place during Pride Amplified, part of the Sydney WorldPride festival in February 2023. In each iteration of Pride at Play, we involve local queer gamedev communities to run social events, gamedev panels, and facilitate roleplaying game sessions.
Just as art production does not operate without community support, this exhibition would not happen without the LGBTQIA+ community coming to its rally at a time of need. The curatorial team on Pride at Play collectively wanted to shine light on queer games that are thoughtful, purposeful, and designed for queer folks with authenticity. Early on in the process we issued an open call for submissions from anywhere in the world while also signalling a wish to focus on Oceania and the Asia Pacific, a region still experiencing humanitarian crises for the LGBTQIA+ communities in countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Korea, and Japan.
An early lesson we learned in the online curation process was that even nationally accredited translators do not always share our LGBTQIA+ vocabulary. That did not stop us. We put out a call for paid translation work from folks in the queer community. Thank you to those who responded and assisted us to translate and proofread the call into queerly-legible Korean, Japanese, Traditional and Simplified Chinese, Bahasa Melayu, Bahasa Indonesia, and Tagalog. If we had the funding, we would translate this whole catalogue into those languages too and more. We wholeheartedly believe that engaging with queer games globally will make our communities stronger.
We created Pride at Play with three intentions in mind. First, although narrative design is still relatively new as a specialisation in the games industry, we wanted to show the queer possibilities of game design and play. Narrative design has much to offer in the realm of queer games, especially when the games are designed with the LGBTQIA+ audience in mind. Intentionally queer games can be specific, rich, and complex without having to justify or explain design decisions to the players. We want to see more narrative designers continue to push the boundaries of queer possibilities, and also see more queer designers embrace the powerful tools of narrative design. Both these things will generate more meaningful gameplay experiences for everyone.
Second, we want to see queer game developers, who often operate at the fringe, have their work supported and celebrated. Queer gamedev communities have already found each other through itch.io, other social platforms, and local meetups. We need to continue to cheer each other on and encourage each other to create queerer games. It is only through practice and putting games out there for players to engage that we will be able to refine our interactive and cooperative storytelling craft, as well as learning what resonates with the player audience.
Third, we want more folks to challenge the perception of what queer games look like. Don’t be afraid to make LGBTQIA+ content. Make them good, make them queer, make them loud, and make them proud. Queer games are only partly defined by characters, narratives, stories, and players. In another dimension, queer games are actively subverting and transforming the public understanding of what games can be. Queer games are constantly moving the dial on the weird and creating paths no one has walked down before, through the bushes, in the dark, over the wandering seas. Whenever you feel lost, there are millions of queer people like you looking out for each other. You are a part of what it means to ‘play with pride’.