Gaming in Color
I guess I did the thing backwards. While most kids have fond memories of their first “video game” as a PC or console game, my first gaming system was a Game Boy Color (see-through lavender, because of course). I begged my parents and saved my allowance for a copy of the game every kid had to have in 1998: Pokemon Blue / Red. While I enjoyed the story, I appreciated the social and trading aspect a lot more- being able to beat all the boys in my second grade class at anything was a rare pleasure. Collecting all 150 monsters, memorizing the TV “PokeRap”, whatever, I was there. But I really didn’t fall in love with a game until I was older, a few years later. I was struggling a lot with gender identity and sexuality (both questioning my own and my sister’s coming out as a lesbian) and I found a copy of Harvest Moon 64. In the game, you play as a kid sent to take over his grandfather’s farm and restore it to prosperity. I probably would have been bored with just a farming simulation game (though the animals are super cute), but the other part of the game is about dating even cuter girls. Really adorable girls. For the first time in my life, I had a safe space where I could explore how I felt about being in relationships with women. Yes, I was playing as a man (and that wouldn’t change for me until I picked up the Mass Effect series), but the characters were so appealing and charming that I didn’t care. I gave them presents on their birthdays, paid attention to their interests and, eventually, would propose and start a family. I think I logged at least a few hundred hours on that game, if not more. Over the years, my interest in games has grown to incorporate even more types, from JRPGs to rhythm games (I’m deep in the competitive world of Love Live: Idol Festival at the moment), but how I feel about games as a medium has never changed. Having that immersive, safe space to explore my feelings and become someone else, even if it’s just for a few hours, had such a profound effect on my life and still does. In that respect, I’m absolutely the target audience for Devolver Digital and MidBoss’s new documentary Gaming In Color, which explores queer gaming in a tolerant and insightful way. I had an opportunity to watch the film last week, and I really found it to be a smart, well-made, and fascinating investigation of both “traditional” gamer culture and queer culture. The documentary is a fairly well-paced mix of interviews with important queer gaming figures, information and diagrams about the industry, and footage from various games to help illustrate points (including Gone Home and Portal, among others). Part of why Gaming in Color really works for me is the compassionate, kind voice that’s easily visible and consistent throughout both the interviews and criticism. These scholars, gamers and game developers don’t want to take over the industry or take away games that cater to others. All they want is an opportunity to play games that are catered to them, and that shouldn’t interfere with anyone else’s enjoyment of a hobby. There’s no bitterness, trash-talking or name-calling in Gaming in Color, and that tone of tolerance and love helps the message here really register. The conversation in the film tackles a wide variety of topics, from in-game harassment to subversive tropes and target audiences for games, leading towards an exploration of GX (formerly GaymerX), an annual convention created as a safe space for all gamers. The documentary was made in part with a Kickstarter campaign, and the quality is impressive. Interviews are well-lit, the sound is great, and the original soundtrack is surprisingly good. Gaming in Color can serve as both a teaching tool (for students, other gamers, or family members) and as a call to action for queer gamers, to demand more safe spaces and fair and equal treatment for queer gamers in social games. Gaming in Color won Best Documentary at the Gen Con 2014 Film Festival, and has been shown at nearly two dozen festivals so far in both the U.S. and abroad. You can watch it on demand via http://gamingincolor.tv/ (I’ve heard it’s on Amazon Prime Instant Video, too).