Rainbow Arcade and Digital Queer History
I finally went to the Rainbow Arcade exhibition in the Schwules Museum* Berlin (Gay Museum Berlin) and it was amazing. I went there spontaneously because I got hyped about video games as the Hugvengers Podcast went live on Twitch playing Marvel’s Spider-Man on a PS4. If you don’t know that geeky MCU Podcast, some friends of mine are involved with, yet, and I think you definitely should know that one, have a listen here.
Gaywalking on a Sunday…
It was already 15 o’clock as I arrived at the SMU, located a short walk away from the Nollendorfplatz, Berlins cozy gaybourhood, and since I went there alone I still had my music running during the first exhibition hall, since it was a rather graphical than informational floor showing queer history exhibits reassembled to a puzzle-like pattern showing of the milestones of Berlins queer movement during the 20th century.
Queer is Political
There were photographs of the first Berlin pride in 1979, aside to pictures showing of the political heart of that event revolving around groups like the Homosexuelle Aktion Westberlin and banners smashing rainbow capitalism. Some of the exhibits were showing queer poetry and art, like a Oscar Wilde portrait and two poems called “Analyse” and “Rechtfertigung”, others tried to give a glimpse of what historical queer nightlife may have looked like. Large parts of the first exhibition hall focussed the prosecution and persecution of homosexuals, especially in Germany, as well as experiences with homoantagonism not only linked to those laws but going beyond that as a broader (and still persisting) issue.
On my way to the Museum I walked by the pink triangle memorial plaque at the U Nollendorfplatz. The triangle was reclaimed as a LGBTQ+ pride symbol reclaimed from its association with the persecution of homosexuals in Nazi Germany and the Holocaust during the 1970s by queer activists. Four years later as the Homomonument in Amsterdam (I blogged about this in March 2018), in 1989, after ten years of tough discussions with the BVG, who wasn’t in favor of having such a monument at their station, the memorial plaque represents the first public memorial remembering the persecution of homosexuals in Germany.
Especially having the anti-queer rhetoric and violence of the far right in mind, that part of the exhibition is an important reminder, that one cannot think queerness separate from it’s political core, since queer identities are always political and always have been, especially since not experiencing violence as a queer person says more about other privileges one has, than about a reality, where queers often still face discrimination, social isolation, are driven into suicide or having to be afraid of death.
As a reminder: The german § 175 got superseeded in 1994, the transantoganist and discriminating german Transexuellengesetz is still common law, so there’s still no equal ground, neither in terms of law nor in terms of acceptance, for queers in the german society.
After having spend too many time in the first exhibition hall, I finally made my way to the Rainbow Arcade Exhibition, with one hour left on the clock until the Museum was closing, and got surprised by a cute user guide in a 80s-retro-game-design. The exhibition itself was split up into 6 sections:
- Hub World
- Which was some kind of a introductory section to the exhibitions theme itself containing not only information on the first queer video games, but also on the historical methods being used to research queer video game history and the difficulties (I’ll catch up on that later). The exhibition itself was pretty trans and non-binary inclusive, which was surprising to me since the museums name felt pretty binary and old-fashioned (as in from another historical period of queer movements, since it was found in 1984 and haven’t updated their name yet while their scope is much broader), as well as focussing polyamory on some exhibits as well as bisexuality. I was a bit sad that asexuality wasn’t as much included as I wished it was (I mean, Borderlands has asexual characters as well as Halo), but all in all I got overly excited exploring the Rainbow Arcade.
- The first themed section approached mainstream Video Games such as Dragon Age (<3), Fable and the Nintendo Universe. I loved how the curator of the exhibition ranted about the lost queer potential of the Fable series on three cards in total, and thought that it’s a sad thing that most of the cool representation got either due to bugs (polyamory is possible in fable due to a bug) or as a easteregg (SimCopter had cities inhabited by gay men holding hands and kissing on specific dates such as the programmers and his boyfriends birthdays which is goals!).
- Independent Games
- This was even more interesting than the mainstream games, since there are more own voices queer indie games than mainstream ones and there were Life is Strange screenshots in that section, which is, by far, one of my all-time favorite games (Amberpricefield is bae). I really loved the idea of portraying queer game developers in that section and embraced that they shared advices to queers who got curious thinking of having a peak into the world of game development. The advice of Anna Anthropy (who made Queers in Love at the End of the World and Dys4ia) to unionise is a big mood.
- I fangirled this section soo much, since it featured content of the game which made me gay (well I was gay before but came out because of fanfictions and having had the possibility of living out loud my desires and wishes in a game made me realise things) Mass Effect, as well as the cutest lesbian Tracer cosplay I have ever seen. Though I would’ve wished that they would’ve talked more about fanfiction and not only fanart in that section, since there are so many amazing queer fanfictions, especially when it comes to Bioware and Donotnod Entertainment games.
- First of all: the museum did so much right in this section, since it had actual physical content warnings as well as a reassurance that those experiences are just a small part of queer gaming culture, since there are 5 other positive aspects to discover around that separated area covering discrimination. I think it was a good decission to include that into the rainbow arcade, since it is actually part of the experiences we make.
- The Next Level
- The exhibition closes with an outline of the future, covering the lesbian kiss in the The Last of Us 2 trailer, leaving the visitors with questions if such things are even ~new~ or if that’s just a existimation since queer voices got marginalised for so long and people just haven’t noticed that they’ve existed the whole time in gaming as well. In the Indie Game Section the exhibition made the point that because of the accessibility of tools and the internet in the midst of the 2010s a queer video game culture got established and it just feels good that characters, e.g. where I as a queer woman can relate to, are pushing into the mainstream. This section also had a screenshot of Marvel’s Spider-Man, the game which was the reason for my spontaneous visit at this museum today, where Spider-Man is in front of a pride-flag.
Difficulties of Working With Queer Online Culture
In the Hub World the exhibitors stated that it was hard to recover or even research queer video culture before 2009, since the Source Code of early indie games were often just lost, despite the lack of having any logs or ideas of how queer-multiplayer experiences may have looked like during the 1990s, despite being unable to fully grasp the modding scene. Even in my early teens it was common to develop and share mods with a small group of friends, at a time where Minecraft has not existed yet, we had build our Schools and Houses in Half-Life 2 & made small text adventures for friends.
With broader access to distribution platforms like Steam it started to become easier to actually use historical methods to approach queer gaming culture, though the problem of content being lost forever still persists.
My heart is still bleeding because of that tumblr NSFW-ban and flickrs new photo policies, the majority of queer image content, blogs exploring queer non-heteronormative non-male-centric experiences, are partially gone forever and partially not easily searchable anymore, since archive.org isn’t as convenient as tumblrs native UI. Tumblr is actively erasing large parts of the 2010s queer history and there’s hardly a thing one can do about this.
I really would love seeing a queer online archive at some point, providing access to and the ability to upload queer video game content, since oral history isn’t enough. Before I dropped out of uni I made my own experiences with researching queer history and how difficult doing that actually is, and how often the only answer to research questions is “we can’t really tell” and “we don’t know, and probably will never know much about this”.
The best part about visiting the museum was, that it felt like, that, to some extend, I was able to relate to some experiences and to the history; since it’s the history of a community I am a part of. I always had a problem with other video game exhibitions, that I, on one hand, felt like I know bunch about those games, but ,on the other, that I had a hard time relating to points being made since my experiences, as a queer woman who plays video games, are entirely different than those straight cis-men make and sadly the mainstream video game culture is still largely made for them not giving space for anyone else but them. My reading and approaches to video games, such as Mass Effect, are entirely different, and having them represented in a museum is just kind of cool and feels empowering and amazing.
While making out at video game exhibitions is definetely something I enjoy, I guess you, the people reading this, are more interested in other dates, as in the opening times of the museum and the limited period of the exhibition, whatsover. So the ‘RAINBOW ARCADE – A queer history of video games 1985-2018’ exhibition is still open until May 13. The museum is open on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday & Friday from 2-6 pm, on Thursday from 2-8 pm and on Saturday from 2-7 pm. It is closed on Tuesdays. You’ll find more information on their website.