Conference notes from QGCon 2020

QGCon is a queer games criticism conference that I attended in 2013 and 2014, because it was next door, and it made a pretty big impression at the time. Not entirely in a positive way, but it was just so out there, it was fascinating. I’ve also been to GaymerX before, and the contrast is stark, with GaymerX being geared towards the player (“gamer”) community, and QGCon being a weird intersection of academic queer theory, academic games studies, and very indie game devs. I come from a player perspective, but I appreciate the academic stuff.

But QGCon moved away, and I never attended again. I recently realized that it has been putting its talks online, so that I can attend even years later, without travel. So, I took notes on the QGCon Online 2020 sessions, and I’m sharing them.  There are even more sessions I didn’t talk about–often because I was critical of them or didn’t have anything to say.

A Cross-Game Look at Transgender Representation in Video Games” by Hibby Thach (transcript, video)

Thach did a study of a collection of 63 games with trans representation. They identified themes, described representative examples, and compiled a few statistics. The results aren’t very surprising if you’re familiar with trans representation in other media, but it’s good to have some grounding in empirical work.

Sexy and Still Macho Dudes: Techniques of Sexual Representations in Japanese Gay Amateur Games” by Edmond (Edo) Ernest dit Alban (transcript, video, includes mildly “sexy” images)

This talk is a bit slow to get rolling, but the main subject is Tokyo Afterschool Summoners, an F2P gacha game featuring “sexy” art from well-known artists in the Japanese fanzine (doujinshi) community. Fascinating. Although it’s been marketed as an LGBT game, there has been some criticism of its disproportionate focus on the G—which likely stems from its roots in the fanzine community.

Interpretive Game Design by Sasha Reneau (transcript, video)

It’s about games with more interpretive mechanics, contrasted with more discretized or numerical mechanics. For example, having players tell a story, like in Tarot. I played a storytelling game once, and I noped out really fast. I don’t do well with externally imposed creativity. But I appreciated the detailed (if overly abstract) analysis of potential pitfalls, and the mechanisms they use to mitigate them.

Sex and analogue games: A Marriage by Sharang Biswas (transcript, video)

Biswas argues that the topic of sex is underrepresented in analogue games, and argues that there’s unique potential there. People already incorporate roleplaying into sex, what about going in the other direction? The games don’t literally involve sex, but sounded like conversation starters for sexual partners. I wish he would have said something about the contexts in which people might be comfortable or uncomfortable playing these.

How to fail at Caper in the Castro: Gaming, Young Adult Literature, and HIV/AIDS by Derrit Mason (video)

This is a personal narrative of trying to play supposedly the first queer game, made in 1989, which is clearly about AIDS. It was apparently very frustrating, because of technical issues in the emulator. He takes a queer theory reading of his own failure, which is an extremely queer theory thing to do. For context, failure is a major theme in queer theory literature, and queer games studies people are very fond of pointing out the parallel between Jack Halberstam’s “The Queer Art of Failure”, and Jesper Juul’s “The Art of Failure”.

Pokemon Reborn and queer modding by David Kocik (transcript, video)

This talk describes a Pokemon fan mod that changes the mechanics and replaces the characters with a queer cast. Kocik asks if they also had queer subversion of the game’s mechanics, such as rejecting “chrononormativity” (getting stronger and gaining control over time). He concludes that they did not, and the creator says she just wanted to make the game more challenging. I appreciated this, it’s like the queer theory equivalent of being willing to publish a negative result.

Queer Zine Games: Integrating Zine Culture into the Queer Games Community and Vice Versa by Olivia Montoya (transcript, video)

It occurs to me that the presenter follows me. Hi, Olivia! This talk is about zine culture, and how it can be applied to games. Zine games follow a similar idea, being DIY, often personal, anti-capitalist, and so on. Unfortunately, the talk does not include examples, but there’s an interesting compare and contrast between zine culture and queer games. For example, zine culture tends to value analog over digital media, and in the games media they understand analog isn’t inherently better.

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