Digital diversity: First LGBTQ gaming exhibition opens in Berlin

4 mins read

Berlin’s Schwules Museum has opened a new, first of its kind exhibition called Rainbow Arcade, which explores and traces the rich history of queer content in gaming.

The exhibit, running until May 13, focuses particularly on the last 33 years of gaming titles and showcases prominent and obscure characters alike, from Nintendo’s 1988 Birdo – a boy who thinks he is a girl – to the more recent Radiator trilogy by Robert Yang which features autoeroticism of a gay car, and everything in between.

caper (retro-rama)
credit: Retro-Rama

The exhibit leads visitors around a rainbow, with each colour comprising a different section, and its themes highlighted through memorabilia, fan art, and unique interviews with designers and developers. It also features numerous gaming stations, offering visitors an opportunity to play such rare vintage gems as Caper in the Castro – which is considered to be the first explicitly queer game. Based in the famous San Francisco thoroughfare, the game follows a lesbian detective – Tracker McDyke – investigating the disappearance of a transgender woman in the Castro neighbourhood.

The game was only recently rediscovered and updated into a playable format, and immediately began to gather traction worldwide. Elsewhere in the exhibition hall, visitors can also take turns at arcade-style machines to play such quirky and unique titles as Queers in Love at the End of the World – a text-based game set among an apocalypse, and Dominic Pamplemousse – a 2013 stop-motion, detective, gender-explorative musical.

lgbtq exhibit (kickstarter)
credit: Kickstarter

One of the exhibit’s curators, Adrienne Shaw, explained her motivation behind the exhibition and the cataloguing of queer content in gaming. “Until this archive, there just wasn’t a historical understanding of LGBTQ content in this medium. This often means that new games with queer content are perceived as a radical break from the norm, rather than additions to an existent cultural history. It makes it really easy to forget that this kind of content has always been in games.”

The exhibition likewise showcases the queer storylines found in numerous triple-A gaming titles, such as GTA, Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid games, along with the rich support coming from players, as depicted via screenshots of forums.

Following that, as the visitors enter the blue area, however, the exhibit highlights some of the discrimination and trolling that creators of queer games had to face throughout the decades, as well as today.

Nonetheless, the exhibition concludes in a definitively positive light. It showcases the overall trend for the diversification of gaming, wider delineations from the norm, and the widening margin of approval for formerly stigmatised content and ideas. It commemorates the Gamergate controversy, and the famous World of Warcraft exoneration of 2006 – wherein WoW refused the founding of the first LGBT guild, citing fears of harassment, but later reconsidered their decision and have held an annual WoW pride parade every year since.

Above all else, the exhibition spotlights vibrant integration and creativity and, in the words of its curators, presents a ‘love letter to games’, raising awareness, spreading open-mindedness and injecting a fresh dose of colour into the community.

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Hi there. I'm Irina, a student/staff member at University of Stirling, studying English and Journalism.

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