by Dr. Joe Baxter-Webb, Senior Lecturer in Games Design
In 2021, I enlisted the help of colleagues and students to put together two games-related events as part of CCCU’s LGBT+ History Month programme. Please read on to find out more.
These were Playing With Our Selves: a QR-enabled exhibit showcasing games by LGBT+ creators over the last decade, and Queering Game Studies, and online symposium with a keynote by notable Game Studies academic Bo Ruberg.
The Playing With Our Selves exhibition ran for the whole month on the ground floor of the Verena Holmes building, and featured a series of posters, each explaining a particular game and its significance. We collaborated with Head of Culture Katie McGown, and students from our new taught MA programmes were enlisted to help with art and graphic design. Being an illustrator with an interest in the more unusual side of gaming, Aoife helped to cure the collection, to develop the written content for the posters, and created illustrations to represent each game. Zachary had the opportunity to design a logo for the event, mixing low-fi retro-gaming imagery with rainbows, and designing all of the poster layouts.
Some of the games were also available to play on a custom built arcade machine, complete with rainbow-coloured controllers. Due to the public nature of the exhibition – and the explicit content of some of the games – we were limited in what we could show in motion on a screen, so we used QR codes on the posters to allow visitors to find the games online if they wanted to. The games selected each explore LGBT+ themes, and in doing so, push and redefine the limits of what video-games are “about” and what they can do as a still emergent artform.
Queering Game Studies was the first event of its kind organised by the Games Design team. Many colleagues in the School of Creative Arts and Industries have been working on Game Studies for some time, but Games has only existed as an undergraduate course here since 2018. For some of the speakers, this was one of the first chances they had found to present their postgraduate research work, mainly due to the impact of the pandemic on academic conferences. Myself and colleagues Katja Hallenberg and Andrew Butler streamed all of the speakers into a room in Powell for two sessions which covered a variety of topics connecting gaming and sexuality.
Marie Dalby opened the symposium with a broad-ranging examination of what “Queer Game Studies” means, which was an excellent orientation for the rest of the talks. Corrin Bailey talked specifically about the interpretation of videogame representations by audiences of sapphic women. Luis Valverde took a close look at videogames of the 1990s through the lens of a crisis in masculinity. The first half closed with Professor Esther MacCullum’s examination of the LGBT+ community within Dungeons and Dragons.
In the second part of the symposium, Noel Brett spoke about the queer potential of representations in World of Warcraft. This was followed by a talk by Brittany Rockelle Brasher, who discussed how genderqueer and nonbinary millennials use cultural resources from media to understand their identities. Samuel Poirier-Poulin spoke about “beefcake” masculinities in erotic interactive fiction.
Finally we were joined for an online keynote talk by Bo Ruberg, an Associate Professor at the University of California, Irvine, and the author of the highlight important The Queer Games Avant-Garde (2020) and Video Games Have Always Been Queer (2019). Ruberg’s talk at Queering Game Studies spoke to the significance of queer creators’ frequent use of apocalyptic imagery.
Ruberg, B., 2019. Video games have always been queer. NYU Press.
Ruberg, B., 2020. The queer games avant-garde: How LGBTQ game makers are reimagining the medium of video games. Duke University Press.
Games Featured in Playing With Our Selves
Aceae, R. and Robertson, H. (2017) Genderwrecked https://gendervamp.itch.io/genderwrecked
Alexander, M. (2015) Tusks: the Orc Dating Sim https://hxovax.itch.io/orc-dating-sim
Anthropy, A. (2013) Queers in Love at the End of the World https://w.itch.io/end-of-the-world
Brice, M. (2017) Mainichi https://hxovax.itch.io/orc-dating-sim
Case, N. (2014) Coming Out Simulator 2014 https://blog.ncase.me/coming-out-simulator-2014/
Clarke, N. (2014) Consentacle https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/166976/consentacle
Jiang, S. (2019) Lionkiller https://six6jiang.itch.io/lionkiller
Lei, B. (2017) Butterfly Soup https://brianna-lei.itch.io/butterfly-soup
npckc (2018) One Night, Hot Springs https://store.steampowered.com/app/917680/one_night_hot_springs/
Squinky (2014) Dominique Pamplemousse in “It’s All Over Once the Fat Lady Sings!” https://squinky.itch.io/pamplemousse
Yang, E. (2016) Magic Circles of Life https://emiliayang.org/portfolio/magic-circles-of-life/
Yang, R. (2017) The Tearoom https://radiatoryang.itch.io/the-tearoom