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Curtain: Queer Video Games, Identity, and Realism

by Ethan Tussey

by Diana Pozo for IN MEDIA RES

We are in the midst of what Samantha Allen has called a “queer games renaissance.” Since the late 2000s, a canon of queer small games produced on easy-to-use development tools have become known for their candid representations of queer experience. This ever-expanding roster of "out" game design has in turn drawn attention to existing queer gamers and game designers, as represented in the documentary Gaming in Color (dir. Philip Jones and David Gil, 2014), and at conferences like GaymerX and QGCon: the Queerness and Games Conference.

Questions of realistic self-representation have been central to this queer games community. Queer games often feature fictionalized personal narratives, and queer game designers are frequently tokenized as community spokespeople, or even targeted by online hate campaigns, as a result of this perceived self-revelation. However, as Nicky Case notes in the opening of Coming Out Simulator 2014, games about queer experience are often "half-true game[s] about half-truths." The strength of contemporary queer games is in their ability to question the demand for game designers to unproblematically and realistically represent themselves.

To open a discussion of queer identity and realism in contemporary games, I chose a preview of Curtain (llaura dreamfeel, 2014), a first-person 3D exploration game that immerses the gamer in a destructive relationship in a queer punk subculture. While Curtain does not employ visual realism, instead telling its story through pixel art and throbbing electronic music, critics including Danielle Riendeau have attributed to the game a deep emotional realism, discussing how real its portrayal of abuse feels. For the uninitiated, however, Curtain could be a blurry window into the queer world, the punk world, and the world of emotional abuse. The game's abstract design and sometimes-imprisoning mechanics require users to bring much of their own emotional life to the game in order to produce the intimate feeling of realism, and dreamfeel has described Curtain as a game about "second-person relationships." Curtain's aesthetic use of a mirror that never shows the player character's face speaks to this core mechanic of self-reflection. While questions about game designers' identities circulate in reviews, blogs, and on social media, queer games like Curtain ask users to reflect on their own identities and experiences.

Gaming and Queerness

A clip from the game Curtain

from Curtain - DREAMFEEEL (2014)
Creator: Llaura Mcgee
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey