Atop the lofty corridors of the ivory tower there’s an even higher, loftier tower with a sign out front that says, “Critical Theory.” I cannot pretend that academia has ever tried to make itself accessible, despite its cries to the “widening participation” otherwise. The humanities, especially, gets a bad rap for its pages and pages of philosophy books and politics and symbolisms and god, what if the curtains were just BLUE.
For those who want that taste of academia without the elitism, I recommend the Queerness and Games Conference.
QGCon straddles that delicious line between what is theoretical and what is put into practice. The conference is dedicated to all things queer in games: that which pushes boundaries, acknowledges the personal is political, and recognises the urgency of keeping things radical. If you’re interested in the use of the word “queer” to describe theory, I recommend Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s essay, Queer and Now.
As a disclaimer, QGCon was co-founded by one of the faculty members I work with, who still maintains a position of leadership in its organisation. In addition, I’ll be presenting some work there this year! The games featured below will be showing at the conference’s arcade alongside many others -- like Kitfox Games’ Boyfriend Dungeon and Kara Stone’s the earth is a better person than me. I recommend giving them all a look, and if you’ll be in Montreal this weekend, I hope you’ll swing by Concordia University and play them in person.
Mx. Dietrich Squinkifer, or Squinky for short, is a programmer, game designer, and PhD student out of Montreal by way of Southern California. In their game, you used to be someone, they present a vignette of their experiences during a major depressive episode after moving to a new city. In the game, you wander the streets outside of their apartment, and consider the state of your life in coffee shops and laundromats and queer dance clubs.
Squinky’s work is an assemblage of cut-and-paste people amidst superimposed images of stoves and street corners. There are references to the queer early internet (Shoes and Let Me Borrow That Top each make a cameo) and the French surrealists, René Magritte and Marcel Duchamp. It’s a perfect mixture of humour and melancholy, encapsulating the frustrating self-awareness of a depressive episode.
If you’re interested in learning more about the needs of the queer community and their mental health, check out this factsheet from the Human Rights Campaign. If you are struggling with your own mental health, check out The Samaritans or the Suicide Prevention Hotline.
There are so many stories of sapphic swordswomen, from Revolutionary Girl Utena to Haruka Tenoh (aka Sailor Uranus), but the real OP sword queer is Julie d’Aubigny. A 17th century opera singer and swashbuckler, d’Aubigny once posed as a postulant nun to break her girlfriend out of an abbey. In the process, she stole the body of a dead nun and set the building on fire. Très romantique.
Argentinian developer Rumpel has adapted the tale of Julie d’Aubigny’s super gay displays of heroics in their visual novel “La Maupin to the Rescue!”, with superb art by Nadia Kerzman. It's so titled after the Gautier novelisation of D’aubigny. The game is super cheesy in the best way, replete with nun combat, drunks, and molotov cocktails. Happy fencing!
Egyptian game developer Ahmed Khalifa, a PhD student in computer science at NYU, has been open about his experiences coming out in a religious family. Together with Christopher Michaels and inspired by Ahmed Saker, Khalifa put together this Bitsy game for the Summer Novel Festival, and the monthly Bitsy Game Jam. The game is about a family of moths who love each other and their community. The game is also about the dangers of being different.
The Colored Moth talks frankly about homophobia, immigration, the tensions in family relationships, and crucially, it is a conversation about queerness in a non-western context. There are many games from independent U.S. and European developers considering the consequences of queerness as it relates to their experience. Many queer folks -- those in rural communities, those in the Global South, those who are not otherwise afforded the luxury of transparency about their identity -- may not share these experiences. Here, Khalifa offers an invaluable perspective.
Jess Marcotte and Dietrich “Squinky” Squinkifer, transgalactica: a tune your own adventure
Squinky (see above) teamed up with Jess Marcotte to bring us the Trans Radio Artists Network in Space, or T.R.A.N.S. This underground/outer space/online radio must be tuned to certain frequencies in order to hear the stories of the trans individuals in Transgalactica.
Taking a page out of punk rock underground radio scenes, the mechanics of T.R.A.N.S. parallels the complexities of queer and trans discourse: many times, it can feel like the only way to hear from others like you is if you can decipher the clues. Tweak the dials and rock on. Someone out there is playing for you.
Julien Lallevé’s PICO-8 adventure game, Forever Lost in the Never Ending Museum of Still Life, is a pixel puzzler about love, loss, and ghosts. The premise here is that you have come to help the police exterminate some ghosts, who are sad. Mood. Some of the puzzles are trickier than others, but my advice is to just keep wandering and to keep trying until something clicks. Also mood.
I spend a lot of time thinking about queer memory, and the lengths to which queer folks go to maintain their sense of self when so many institutions deny the nuance of queer life in their very infrastructure. The queer museum -- what it means and what it holds -- can only be made and maintained when queer folks are actively making, creating, doing, and remembering. The QGCon Arcade helps to sustain this creative practice from a marginalised community, and gives them a platform by which they can be remembered.
Looking for more free games? Check out our round up of the best free PC games that you can download and play right now.