Underground art is hard to find — that’s what makes it underground — but it can be especially hard to find in an era of extended lockdowns. Sure, you can find something special by trawling through social media, but stumbling upon something great often means taking a step out of your routine and finding alternative perspectives.
The 4th annual Melbourne Queer Games Festival has you covered for those. Once a year the fest showcases the best and brightest games from indie queer developers worldwide, with the winner bagging a $500 prize to further their creative vision.
This year’s entries are some real gems, spanning everything from heartwarming interactive novels to gay truck simulators. Talk about diversity!
Here’s my hot take on this year’s award winners, with a few of my favourites among the shortlisted games. I encourage you to look through the whole shortlist (not that short at 57 games) to find a diamond for yourself.
(Note: you can click through to each game’s store/download page via each of the subheadings below.)
A magnum opus of the furry romance genre with a staggering word count — 500,000 words! That’s more words than the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy; it even has its own wiki and forum. The effort isn’t limited to the dialogue, though – this visual novel has full character customisation, puzzles, lore items and even achievements. If delving into the labyrinth in search of prime beef looks a bit too steamy, there’s a safe for work mode available, too. An evolving project, this will surely attract some die-hard fans.
Less a game and more a virtual interactive gallery, this masterfully constructed, non-Euclidean installation will educate and inspire as you navigate through it. The focus here is on the terminology surrounding gender, and the clinical dictionary definitions combine with the humanising narrative voice to create a beautiful little moment of introspection. There’s a lot of value here as an educational tool, for those who find it hard to keep up with modern parlance surrounding sexuality and gender. Take the time to explore.
A raw commentary on queer migration to urban centres, this interactive visual narrative uses moody glitch art and low synth tones to weave a tale of personal and private struggle. It’s got haunting imagery, a Stephen King small town horror vibe, and features a protagonist drenched in the triumph and despair inherent in the monster girl genre. Surprisingly short on traditional gameplay elements for a silver medallist, but the framing and visual impact make this a tale that will stick with you.
The tragic mortality rates of trans women are often central to the stories told about them, and this game’s skull-faced protagonist, Meredith, drives that point home mercilessly. The second monster girl entry on the list, Winter shines in every aspect. From the driving soundscape to the eerie glitch art and provocative dialogue, there isn’t a single element that hasn’t been deliberately crafted.
It’s an interactive fiction that offers a gut wrenchingly honest introspective on sex, trans insecurity and self-perception and doesn’t shy away from tackling the hard issues — be sure to check the content warnings. As you browse the dialogue options carefully, you’ll be swept up in its often dark but deeply touching story of love and adversity. A worthy Gold Medal champion.
This companion to the EP Video World by Monster Mansion also scored Excellence in Emerging Games at this year’s Australian Game Developer Awards. Everyone knows Halloween is Christmas for the gays, and this rhythm game harnesses that energy with upbeat synth-pop and some witty wordplay.
The bright primary colours and crisp character design make night shift at the video store a delight, in an offering that validates Film Victoria’s recent funding for gaming. Check it out on Steam for free.
Queer immigrant experiences can be especially harrowing, but this adorable texting and cooking simulator brings an optimistic tone to the table. It tells the story of a Chinese-American girl discovering her heritage with the help of her mother.
The chiptune soundtrack is so bouncy! Played entirely on a simulated phone, this half hour experience packs quite a punch. It’ll pull at your heartstrings and maybe make you a little hungry along the way.
A charming puzzle game about the small trials of a rabbit who runs a flower shop, the art and story of Parcels and Pollen are filled to the brim with youthful enthusiasm. With kitschy visuals and adorable characters (each sporting its own whimsical musical theme) it creates a soothing and super cute atmosphere that makes you feel right at home.
There’s also a suite of accessibility options — caption tools, localisation — so it’s a game that’s playable for everyone. Settle in with a cup of tea on a rainy day and have a perfectly peaceful moment.
Glitch art has experienced a huge rise in popularity recently. userID takes it a step beyond set dressing, exploring the notion of a “bug” in code and elevating it to an aesthetic principle in its own right. An almost antagonistic experience to play, this title sits somewhere between an unconventional puzzle game and interactive digital art.
The work is an expansion of the artists’ previously published digital portrait and is described as a “critique against the Internet’s normalisation of privacy invasions”. Bold stuff.
Although not an award winner, my personal fave this year was “an open-world truck sim with gay robots in it”, which is certainly attention-grabbing. Ambitious in scope, only the first act is available to demo.
The truck driving part – which happens on an alien planet, by the way – is crisp and satisfying, with a slick user interface and great controller feedback. The writing’s the star of the show though. It’s a world enlivened by dry workplace banter as well as deep and meaningful conversations (about consciousness, existence, and the philosophy of mind). The robot boyfriend is pretty cute, too.