Pride Week: Hunky Dads & Voxel Flags

Pride Week: Hunky Dads & Voxel Flags

Hello! All this week, Eurogamer is celebrating pride with a series of stories examining the confluence of LGBT + communities and playing in its many different forms, from video games and tabletop games to live role-playing games. Next, Sharang examines how gamers are using video games to explore the potential for a more queer future.

When we talk about video games as “escape”, we tend to focus on the source: we escape the grind of our jobs, our obligations, the little horrors that fill modern life. We rarely focus on the destination. Where do we escape? Is this really a better world than the one we are trying to leave behind? Video games can offer us worlds in which we would like to live; can they offer us worlds in which we can live? And especially for queer people, what is this world like?

In Tracing utopia, a documentary premiering at the 2021 Rotterdam International Film Festival, filmmakers Nick Tyson and Catarina de Sousa interview a group of queer teens about their vision of a queer utopia. The answers are varied. Better access to mental health care, queer history in schools, desegregated bathrooms … “My idea of ​​a perfect world is a forest,” sounds a teenager.

The feelings of the teenagers strike a chord as Tyson and de Sousa shot much of the film in Minecraft, a game known for allowing players to create, well, a “perfect” world of their own, block by block. The filmmakers overlay video conferencing footage right on the teens’ private game server, juxtaposing the meaty space – the real, the tangible, the present – alongside the digital space – the potential, the virtual, the possible future. .

Teenagers Tyson and Sousa spoke to get specific ideas on what a utopia looks like.

“Queerness exists for us as an ideality,” writes José Esteban Muñoz in his seminal book Cruising Utopía, “which can be distilled from the past and used to imagine a future … here and now and an insistence on the potentiality or the concrete possibility of another world. “And what potentiality, what possibility imagine teens! In video games, teens can express any style, whatever the gendered or non-gendered presentation of themselves that they like (“Online, it’s easier to be yourself,” says one). misunderstandings they face from family and acquaintances. Screens that might not be safe outside of their real-world rooms (“This is my ‘flaggy tranny’,” a trans teenager proudly states, pointing at her camera towards the wall of his room) are imbued with the archi The very interpretation of their Minecraft utopia, pride flags, banners and rainbows embedded omnipresent in their voxelized world. There are cats everywhere. In a sense, Tyson and Catarina tell us, teens have built in Minecraft the queer paradise they envision for the future.

Building worlds, whether they are better “eutopias”, worse “dystopias”, or just different (sometimes called “allotopies”), is a fundamental part of games. Even more abstract games like checkers or go involve the creation of a space in which the ordinary rules are suspended and the rules of the game dominate. Researchers call this concept the “magic circle”. For many educators at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City, where I am currently a Game Artist in residence, worldbuilding is the lens through which to view games. Adjacent to the fictional worlds of film and television, which to a large extent constitute the core of MoMI’s scientific interest, play spaces are another way for people to navigate stories. And “navigable spaces,” Janet Murray argues in Hamlet on the Holodeck, is one of the characteristics that makes games play, that sets them apart from other forms of media.

2Is Minecraft where we envision our queer future?

Our ability to shape and make sense of these spaces – these worlds – is what interests Tyson and Sousa, and what the teens of Tracing Utopia, consciously or not, seem to respond to. Minecraft allows teens to very literally build another world, free of judgment, free of gay phobias, and stifling lore. “While play spaces are generally fantastic spaces,” writes Mary Flanagan in Critical Play, “gamers often experience real stakes when they’re inside.” Adolescents have no illusions that their virtual play space reflects the real world; yet their experience within this space is powerful. Playing in a utopia allows adolescents – allows people – to taste what this utopia looks like, to bring utopia closer to reality.

Explanations like this demonstrate the importance of games like Game Grumps’ popular Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator. Dream Daddy introduces you to the role of a single dad moving into a new neighborhood with your daughter. The game focuses on two main storylines: your changing relationship with your daughter and your love life with the various eligible step dads who live in your quiet cul-de-sac. While conflict and drama abound in Dream Daddy, the world the developers are building can be seen as a queer utopia. Homophobia, transphobia, etc. are notoriously absent. Gay and trans identities are accepted without a doubt. The color of your skin and the shape of your body don’t matter to muscular dads who romantically pursue you. Laura Hudson at Wired Magazine Notes that the game has even reached a remarkable audience of gamers outside of the LGBTQIA community. She quotes Leighton Gray, one of the creators of Dream Daddy: “I have never seen so many straight people or who never play video games playing it.”

3Dream Daddy and the dating fantasy who cares!

The acceptability of an oppressive majority is not the mark of good art, of course. Some argue that this rapid and widespread acceptance of Dream Daddy outside of the queer community could portend the game is failing queerness itself, that in its attempts at mainstream appetite it is losing its essential queerness. Braidon Schaufert discusses many critiques of Dream Daddy’s core optimism in his article on play studies. Daddy’s Play: Subversion and normativity in the queer world of Dream Daddy. “Optimism, in the context of queer lives, serves those who are privileged by homonormativity because they can disengage from the realities of social issues and avoid negativity,” he writes, continuing, “optimism in the game flattens differences and ignores the social realities that influence the lives of queer, racialized or transgender people. ”This feeling is not uncommon. games. when they write, “[Take] removing oppression, homophobia and transphobia from the game world. While this is well intentioned, much of queer and trans history becomes absurd if such structures are removed during the design process . “

This kind of argument has come up time and time again when it comes to queer media. Recent films such as Call Me By Your Name and Love, Simon have received similar criticism. The world is too beautiful. Too mainstream. Too straight. While convincing and valid, such arguments are nonetheless limiting. The richness of the queer experience can make room for both art that grapples with the history of queer adversity and art that revel in saccharine “normalcy”. There is no singular way to understand queerness – it would be a contradiction in terms, a normalization of what by definition is a rejection of the normalized. The media that delves into our struggles as queer people and the history of violence against us have a vital role in our consciousness; those who postulate happy utopias too. Evan Lambert, in the now defunct We Are Flagrant website, rejoices that all-mainstream and upbeat films like Love, Simon offer queer teens “the same lies about love that have delighted their straight peers ever since. the advent of the first modern novel. com “and” a roadmap, albeit fictitious, to happiness “. Such roadmaps do not need to be concrete, or even exact; the point is that they exist. As game designer Mattie Brice says Nina St Pierre for Bitch Media: “By realizing the utopia … the body acquires its memory”. Playing utopias makes us think about how to build these utopias.

Maybe queer utopias are all lies. Maybe we can never achieve one, and attempting to do so amounts to futility embodied. But “lies” are just another way of telling “stories”. For the teens of Tracing Utopia, for gamers around the world who explore, build, and play in fictional queer joy, such stories hold power. We see this in the way the teens talk to Tyson and Sousa:

“Things can change over time.”

“Nothing has to be the same.”

“I started to research how to build a better world.”

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