We’re twenty days into June, which means that, for twenty days, my Facebook and Tumblr dashboards have consistently presented me an excess of rainbow flags, companions and couples and companies kissing for cameras, and the gender nonconforming and non-white reality of the Stonewall Riots. It also means that for twenty days, I’ve encountered (and, in more than one case, chosen to talk back to) posts that regard the Babbadook (from the eponymous film) an LGBT icon as well as arguments that claim all queer identities are linked to “fursonas” or furry-personas (delegitimizing queer Otherkin and theriomorphs). Tempers are running hot, mirroring the weather (political and otherwise) predicted for upcoming parades.
Welcome to the unkempt chaos of PRIDE month, 2017.
I’m one of the hot-headed folks; combined with the fact that I’m the kind of person who is openly out outside of PRIDE and parades, the Internet and I this month are a capricious mix, which is why I’ve been staying quiet, or dormant, at least. Scrolling through posts, there are still amazing developments coming to, like the addition of black and brown stripes to the design of the Philadelphia gay pride flag and the calling out of alcohol producers sponsoring parades in relation to how many queer people are addicts (abusing and recovering). These events are needed, strengthening individuals in a culture making concerted efforts to homogenize.
What I can’t interact with positively/with a cool head is the mangling of pop culture products (by those they’re marketed towards, not even those consuming them) to make these inventions appear diverse instead of actually locating actual diversity. There’s no integrity in equating the monstrosity of the Babbadook, a beyond-the-grave abuser, to the perception of queer persons in social and liturgical media (especially since the recent association started as a joke and not some sort of repossession). And when this kind of junk breached the topic of video games (in this post about Todd Howard, a notorious director at Bethesda (Skyrim, Fallout 4) that links him to a “fursona”), I had enough. Aligning queer identities and Otherkin identities lived out through video game play with someone to mock them is defamatory. It makes me scream!
There are genuine game developers out there who are queer and/or part of LGBTQ communities. Many of these folks are all sorts of magical or mage-allied, as Witches and Pagans and theriomorphs. (I, unfortunately, did not find any theriomorph game designers to profile for this article.) Even if for just one thousand words, I want to present people, admirable people, people who take the crossroads of identities and make serious games out of them.
Of the couple of teams I’m highlighting for this post, neither have works that can be easily adapted into technomagical purposes, and for the sake of showcasing, I won’t even try. More importantly, despite the title of this piece, not everyone finds PRIDE applicable or acceptable to who they are and what they are doing. (Especially with its history of whitewashing, capitalizing, and trans-exclusionary practices, it’s difficult for so many to reclaim (or even claim) a place in it.) I want to celebrate the queerness of their persons and their games; my heart soars in watching and playing what they have created, and it’s the nearest thing to magic.
I think it’s appropriate to first highlight someone who approaches the monstrous in her games. Kitty Horrowshow has a flair for horror; the games I’ve played of hers embrace a dark, almost gothic aesthetic while addressing the ethics of magic and the realities of trans and nonbinary bodies. Landscapes are mangled, geometric, minimalist, and always overwhelming. The best example of this looming emerges in her game Rain, House, Eternity (which she made/sponsored a video for, locatable here). The altar is the locus of this particular game, and matters involving depression, the value of perseverance, the struggles of trans identities, and eventually, the place of witchcraft in transitioning. Horrorshow navigates the nuances of “monster,” from those perceiving to those who are being perceived, in a style that is pleasant and unsettling. She provides players a first person experience into a dark queer landscape that isn’t soon forgotten.
Not every developer tackles Paganisms or Witchcraft/magic explicitly, however. I recently read that one person on the team for Kisareth Studios, creators of the Chronicles of the Dark Lord series, was part of queer Pagan communities. (This person took pains to conceal identifacory elements (including name) from the piece—in keeping with this style, as a sign of respect, I won’t cite the source of this knowledge.) Even since the first game, this dark JRPG (Japanese role-playing game) -inspired series has been conscientious of its presentation of magic and rituals. In the turn-based combat, for example, the mage-heavy game has an option for players to do “Magick” amongst other magic-based moves accompanied by symbols and glyphs carefully depicted. The society of the games is grandiose and ceremonial (which includes a delightful bonding ceremony in the beginning of the second game). The manga art style and modern English-speaking mage influences make the series an appealing treat for Pagan fans of JRPGs.
I’m glad I could make something out of this—it was looking like a rant there for a bit. It’s hard to find articles about and interviews with Pagan and Witch game creators these days, typing the keywords “gay” and “pagan” into Google turning up (due) criticism on the antagonist of Far Cry 4 in the results. Help me out. Who are some game developers you know are Pagan/Witches? Play any witchy games lately?
*a note on queer/magical/digital bodies*
I was a little misleading when I attributed the purpose of this post to my anger towards pop culture and social media reactions during PRIDE. Just a little. PRIDE is a month set aside to expose queerness, and it correlates with an expectation of dialogue on queer topics, which explains my timing.
The real reason I decided to show some queer/LGBTQ game designers is because of the relationship (and struggle) between queer, magical, and digital bodies.
The body is the crux. Sustained in one article, the defining characteristic of technopagans/mages was the framing of the body as “the interface that must be surpassed for the Witch to become a walker between worlds, where the disembodied self, (soul, mind, psyche) can coalesce with supernal entities, assume an alternative identity by switching gender, theriomorphing, or reach apotheosis and become a god” (Robertson, 2009, p. 298). I’ve used this quote before; it highlights that technopaganisms require an understanding of the importance of the medium, in this case bodies, and that the body is the tool of transference. Teacher Desmond Stern (2017) asserted that gender nonconforming bodies were witches’ circles, emphasizing that even his trans body “lives in an in-between place” (pp. 127-8). We are always negotiating between communities, often intraqueer and intergender (not including inter/intraracial and between neurodivergent/disabled cultures). This constant exchange makes us great at assembling conflicted bodies, tingeing experience with playability. We know how to assume roles for others as well as ourselves. A castor always tied to their body, living an embodied experience, knows what transcending that anchor is like—you can’t even spell the word without writing “trans” first. Gender and sexuality-conscious Pagans and Witches are conscious about bodies, the strain of presenting the very real queer body in digital/magical/digi-magical planes, reflected in the games they develop.
The reactions to pop culture this PRIDE month have me wound up because of the disregard towards these focused folks. You can’t just ascribe redeemable qualities to a monstrous body or use the shallow discourse of “everyone” having something. It isn’t reclamation; it removes folks from conversations, queer Pagan media producers who deal in the monstrous and LGBTQ trans-species people, QPOCs and neurodivergent trans people who have even recent histories of being presented as villains. Shown through just digital games here, there are ways to control our bodies without controlling our beings.
Robertson, V. (2009). Deus ex machina? Witchcraft and the techno-world. Literature & Aesthetics, 19(2) (pp.
Stern, D. (2017). The transgender body as holy & liminal witchcraft. In P. Mosley, D. Ce, Redbud Collective, &
Friends (Eds.), Arcane perfection (pp. 127-34). N. p., n. p.: Cutlines Press.
Arcane Perfection (online zine)
[Despite also being a contributor to Arcane Perfection, the author ensures that there is no conflict of interests. When researching for this article, the zine appeared more than once in the results. Few texts discuss queerness, magic, and digital media. He just wanted to make that clear.]