More thinking About Making QUeer Games

Do you remember Hannah Gadsby?

Nanette And the Limits of Comedy

They’re an Australian comedian, who made the comedy special Nanette, and its follow-up special Douglas. That’s where I know them from. They’re good specials. I liked them a lot. It takes a lot to get me of all people to tune in to a comedian standing in front of an audience just being funny when there’s no presence of a dinosaur or laser beam to keep me from feeling selfconsciously like I’m being educated about art.

If you are at all aware of their work outside of that context, like, say you haven’t watched those but you know you saw them on QI or something, you might perhaps be aware of them primarily because of their presence in the news right now, as I write this, where it seems every shithead on the internet has an opinion on ‘her’ work not being funny. It’s really weird, like some sort of sequential reaction system is set up so that whatever the current thing is, Hannah Gadsby comes up. Australian comedy legend dies? Well, best talk about how Hanna Gadsby doesn’t like him but that just shows how poor a comedian they are. A politician says something stupid in front of a microphone? More important than that is that Hannah Gadbsy, who commented on it, isn’t funny. Hannah Gadsby opens a fine art show about Pablo Picasso? Well, get a load of how Hannah Gadsby isn’t funny.

I think about Hannah Gadsby a lot because on the one hand they have successfully made a large portion of people in my country out themselves as fantastically fucking stupid, but also because in their first show, Nanette, they left me with not one but two enduring gems. I’ve said in the past that I find hindsight is a gift a powerful phrase, but something else that has bubbled along inside me is the anecdote about lesbian content. They describe a queer critic engaging with their work with:

“I was very disappointed in your show this year, Hannah. I just don’t think there was enough lesbian content.”
I’d been on stage the whole time. I didn’t… even straighten up halfway through, you know?

It almost feels gauche, rereading the transcript, to pluck this quote out of its context. Its context is that tittering haha oh yeah this is awkward but also very funny set, about how they spend their time being Not Normal around people who want them to be Normal with the threat of violence around them. I mean, Gadsby made a comedy special five years ago about how, y’know, what’s the deal with patriarchal violence, and people are still mad about it now, when I bet they haven’t watched it in ages.

But the quote hangs around in my head whenever I think about queer games.

I mean, what is it that a game is queer? Videogames, when I started writing about them, they had a lot of ways to represent queerness, because games are often about a cinematic representation of moments in a narrative. Videogames, simply put, can show you a lot of stuff, where board games and card games can struggle with showing the same stuff the same way. On the other hand, the way that board and card games can show some details, there’s some room. RPGs can have sidebars explaining that hey, yeah, just so you know, queerness exists in this setting.

But are those ‘queer games?’

There’s this idea I see sometimes expressed that if a player doesn’t engage with something in your game, it’s not really there. You can have all the interesting cars in your game but if they’re background details in a first-person shooter, then you can scarcely consider it a queer game. Is a game queer becuase of how it’s engaged with? How can Mass Effect or Fire Emblem: Who Cares be a queer game when the queerness is entirely optional, in such a way that players who are offended by it can avoid it?

I feel like I write this article every year. Sometimes it’s proud and defiant about how hey, I won’t tolerate talking about this stuff because X or Y. Making exclusions, setting up some kind of list, some kind of rule about it, about what counted, and that’s you know, fine, I think. I don’t feel bad about doing that.

But it got me thinking about queerness in the games I make. Or how I would get you to engage with queerness in games, the way I want to engage with queerness in games. What advice can I give? I personally struggle with the idea of representing romance in games! Which is also weird because I don’t feel bad about representing it in other media, I’m quite fine with writing about characters in relationships.

Even as I write these words out I realise that part of the problem is realising that I still treat characters I put in work I make as being, as it were, ‘my OCs,’ and therefore any story including or involving them is going to be an imposition on anyone else. Like, why should you care about my characters having romantic tension or sexy narratives? You don’t have any reason to care about them. And then the fact that they’re bi or gay or trans or anything feels like an attempt to express this is itself, an attempt to demand attention I don’t deserve.

This is, I’m sure, very normal thinking from creative people.

But the advice question boils away. I almost wish I could give some easy advice: Look, just make media that appeals to you and queerness within you will come through. But the problem is I do that, and I’ve had to start really harping on the fact I’m not straight to get people to not try and check for my queerness papers.

Anyway, the queerest mechanic is pair collection. Why you trying to make two things that are alike into a pair? Like gay sex or something?