Walter Crasshole on the world’s first queer gaming exhibit
When I was a kid I had a favourite babysitter: Nintendo. I spent hours in front of the slowly overheating plastic box(es) that spat a veritable Skittles packet of eight- and 16-bit shapes at my face and I never could get enough… Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Castlevania, the list goes on.
Connecting these video games to my queerness never really occurred to me, but joysticks, synth-like music and flashing lights seem like a natural fit for the two worlds. And when the Schwules Museum opened its Rainbow Arcade in December, the world’s first exhibition on queer video game history, that was confirmed in beaming technicolor. Done in a rare instance of Berlin museum cooperation with Karl-Marx-Allee’s Video Game Museum, curators Dr. Adrienne Shaw, Sarah Rudolph and Jan Schnorrenberg put together something dazzling in terms of both art direction (courtesy of Nicolas Simoneau) and content with its exploration of the complicated history of video games and queers.
In six ROYGBIV colour-coded rooms, Rainbow Arcade starts off with a timeline punctuated with illustrations and vintage video game boxes, beginning with the supposed first queer video game, 1989’s microfloppy-dialogue mystery Caper in the Castro. It’s in the adjoining mainstream room where you first see the complicated history flesh out, for example the female-presenting antagonist Poison from 1989’s Final Fight, who was made to be a transwoman in the American version for fear that people wouldn’t accept men beating up a “real” woman!
Things get a bit more serious as evidenced by a blank wall dedicated to those who have been silenced or bullied out of gaming because of their sexuality right across from a section of truly vile tweets and online bullying examples queer gamers have received over the years. But the takeaway here isn’t subjugation of the LGBTQ* community among the larger gaming world. The exhibition goes the length to honour queer participation on-screen and off-screen in the indie-gaming world and beyond, and even highlights those spearheading the fight against hate in gaming, like the woman at the centre of 2014’s #Gamergate controversy Zoë Quinn with her book Crash Override.
Of course, what would a video game exhibition be without games? A healthy sprinkling ensures a taste for any queer gaming sweet tooth, without overwhelming – after all, you don’t really want to sit in a museum and play a video game from start to finish. But don’t miss a chance to recapture your bondage slaves in Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars or grab a dick (literally, the joystick is a rubber dick) in Genital Jousting in the Dark Room – for sampling sexually explicit games.
Although the bottom (and top) line is that Rainbow Arcade is tons of fun, it’s astounding how much there is to explore and talk about when it comes to queer gaming – we just haven’t done much of it. For those who need even more, a beautiful 200-page catalogue with expanded texts and photos is promised. Unfortunately, we have to wait until April to buy it (€32.50).
Until then, I may hit “START” on the brick-and-mortar version one more time.
Rainbow Arcade Through May 13 Schwules Museum, Schöneberg