In celebration of Pride Month, this month’s session featured some LGBTQIA+ games such as Gay Monopoly (1983), the Drag Match Memory Game (2021), Drag Match (2021), Stonewall Uprising (2022), and others. Topics of discussion included the use of terms such as "queer" and "LGBTQIA+" in marketing and commercial contexts; what exactly defines a "LGBTQIA+ game" and where those definitions originate; and how such categories/definitions/perspectives change according to time period, as well as location.
To begin with, it’s very difficult to gather a collection of tabletop “LGBTQIA+ games” because even searching for such categories and classifications calls them into question. Searching for LGBTQIA+ games assumes that they are easy to clearly define. Unless a tabletop game has words such as “gay” or “queer” in the title, it is hard to uncover them. While there are lists of LGBTQIA themes in RPGs and video games, we haven’t found similar lists for tabletop games so our search began with local game stores and game directories.
Perhaps the easiest game to identify was Gay Monopoly (1983), an unlicensed game that was published by the “Parker Sisters,” a subsidiary of Fire Island Games. According to most descriptions of this game, it was the object of a copyright infringement action by Parker Brothers, publishers of Monopoly. We could not find any legal filings (which would have been useful for providing more information about Fire Island Games) so it may be that Parker Brothers sent a warning letter but never filed a court case. We were able to find a copy to add to our collections but it is difficult to tell how many copies were originally produced and how they were distributed. If you have played this game and would like to share your memories, please let us know! This would be a great research project for someone interested in documenting this aspect of LGBTQIA+ history.
Gay Monopoly is an amazing historical artifact, as can be seen in this unboxing video from the University of Southern Maine's Digital Commons, and was by far the most popular item at our event. It was also by far the most informative and educational about the gay community, packed full of educational information about the “handkerchief code” and famous gay figures.
One of the newest games was Stonewall Uprising, about the 1969 uprising at the Stonewall Inn in New York. This game is a two-player asymmetric deck-building game in which you play as either The Man or Pride, fighting for or against equal rights over a multi-decade cultural conflict. One attendee pointed out that they found it stressful to play as the oppressor, which is why designer Taylor Shuss chose to include a solo mode to play as Pride vs an "AI" version of The Man. Other games categorized as LGBTQIA+ include The Queer Agenda (2022), the Drag Match Memory Game (2021), and Drag Match (2021). The two different Drag Match games (one published in the UK and one in the Netherlands) were fascinating and educational in that they both included booklets that focus on what drag is, and the people who are “underneath” the drag personas. Perhaps intended to “humanize” drag queens and kings for an audience unfamiliar with it, these games involve matching the drag persona with the individual when they are not in their persona. One attendee at this event pointed out that these games simultaneously titillated and claimed to be presenting a view “behind the persona,” which this attendee found upsetting because frequently with trans/non-binary people, there is a perception that they are “really” one gender or another. These games seemed to reinforce the binary perception that there is one “reality” that needs to be uncovered.
Fog of Love is sometimes included in our search results as a queer game, apparently because players can play as either male or female. However, those are the two choices (no non-binary options, etc.), and gender presentation is irrelevant to the actual gameplay. We discussed how this game can be considered “queer-friendly” and how game mechanisms could reflect more expansive understandings of gender and sexuality.
The Spielköpfe Company (Kiel, Germany) has created several decks of cards questioning gender and sexual norms, including one called Queer Allyship. This game has good intentions but attendees found it problematic in that a big focus of the game is on calling out fellow players. A very interesting aspect in this game is about combating statements by trolls and coming up with strategies to counter hateful statements, but that part of the game seemed less of a focus than denouncing other players. If someone is playing a game called Queer Allyship, we felt that they have already shown a willingness to learn, so calling out fellow players seemed unnecessary. In terms of accessibility, there is a concern that the font is also almost impossible to read on some of the cards, which makes playing more challenging.
One upcoming game that is very intriguing is Molly House, a competitive game with co-operative elements in which you play a group of gender-defying queers known as "mollies" who are regulars at a molly house in 1720s London. More information and an interview with designer Jo Kelly are found in the first issue of Conflicts of Interest cooperative. We'll be sure to add it to our list once it's released.
Our exploration of these games led to further discussion about what an LGBTQIA+ game is and what it could be: Is a game with rainbows on the cover automatically an LGBTQIA+ game? Who are these games for? Some LGBTQIA+ games are loaded with terms, codes, and inside jokes. Are such games meant to be educational for those outside an LGBTQIA+ audience? Do they rely on stereotypes and jokes? Do they focus excessively on sexually-explicit subjects? Should gay history be a theme? Should we include games by LGBTQIA+ creators that may have no specifically identifiable “LGBTQIA+” content? And how can we find potential LGBTQIA+ games in other languages/from other regions to broader the conversation?
But this session of Tabletop Tuesday and these games are just the starting point. If you have suggestions about more games for inclusion in future events, please contact us!