“What are games if not stories?”

Dr Xavier Ho discusses Pride at Play exhibition: Queer indie game design.

Pride at Play is a queer games exhibition that celebrates LGBTQIA+ narratives and stories in games. The exhibition, led by Dr Xavier Ho (Monash Design) highlights gamemakers within the LGBTQIA+ community and makes queer games accessible for the wider audience.

Dr Xavier Ho is one of the curators behind this exhibition, alongside Mads Mackenzie (Freeplay), Fae Daunt (SAE Institute) and Chloe Appleby (Sydney Powerhouse).

Many LGBTQIA+ gamemakers (under the umbrella term ‘queer’) are underfunded. Being independent, they do everything from narrative design, implementation, and marketing through to playtesting and distributing games to players.

Pride at Play purposefully gives voice to those who need it the most, and gives them a platform to share their creative works.

Following the Sydney WorldPride festival, the subsequent Melbourne manifestation has now kicked off.

Dr Xavier Ho giving his Queerer than ever lecture as part of Melbourne Design Week.

“Every country has its own struggle and movement, many firsts, many sacrifices, and creative works that come out because of cultural differences in the works that are being made. So you have to be really conscious that one country’s  queer history is not the same as another country’s  queer history,” Xavier said.

“Games are not new, we’ve had tabletop games and video games for as long as people have known how to make them,” Xavier said.

Creating games is a very accessible area thanks to designing platforms such as Twine, Ren’Py and Bitsy.

Pride at Play features both ‘micro games’ (5-15 minutes experience) and full-length games (one hour or more). Celebrating games as a valid art form, Pride at Play has widened mainstream gaming conventions by bringing queer independent games into galleries and museums. The exhibition invites visitors to engage with 20 interviews with queer game designers, and also gives them the chance to sit and play a curated selection of tabletop and computer games.

Xavier’s area of research is in Queer Games Studies. A field spearheaded by Adrienne Shaw and Bonnie Ruberg, their work inspired Xavier to pursue study of this area. In fact, it was a talk by Adrienne at a games conference in 2016 that made Xavier realise he could pursue study in this field. He wanted to understand what studying this field looked like from both a local and international perspective.

“If we don’t document Australian queer game history, then who in the future will be able to find it once that generation has passed,” said Xavier.

In a museum and gallery context Xavier says Pride at Play becomes a window for people to discover queer games.

“Narrative game design has been a great vehicle in driving queer stories,” he said.

All the games from Pride at Play are available to play here.

Pride at Play is jointly funded by Monash Art, Design and Architecture, the City of Port Phillip, the University of Sydney, and housed by the Carlisle Street Arts Space in association with the St Kilda Film Festival. We acknowledge the support of the Sydney Social Sciences and Humanities Advanced Research Centre (SSSHARC), and the generous funding offered through the Hunt-Simes Chair of Sexuality Studies bequest.