Why I Make Queer Video Games

I was working as a barista when I realized I’d rather be making queer video games.

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Latte art was my calling at the time, but a lotta my lattes featured art from Mario, Tetris and Katamari Damacy. Looking back now, I can’t believe it took me so long to see that making video games was the path for me.

Queer representation in video games is sparse.  There are queer games out there, but there aren’t nearly enough. I never see myself in the games I play, and I know LGBT visibility is vital. I decided to be a part of the change.

I started my journey into game development with a book: Anna Anthropy’s Rise of the Video Game Zinesters. It was the pep talk I needed. At the time, I was an English major with zero programming experience, and this book told me that it was okay to make games without programming and that my game didn’t have to be big.

Feeling inspired, I cracked open Game Maker and I made my first game: Queertastrophe. In it, the player navigates a dance party, trying to bring drinks to cuties while avoiding their exes. That was three years ago. Since then, I’ve remade Queertastrophe three times in three different programs and built an arcade machine for it. The last few years have gone into building up my skills and learning how to code. I had planned to take one community college class to learn the limits of programming from a design perspective, and now I work as a programmer.

Since first realizing I wanted to make queer games, I’ve been plotting one game in particular. Queer Quest: All in a Gay’s Work is a slice of the LGBTQ community. (I’m currently closing out a fundraiser to make the game happen. Please give!) It’s about how we help each other and how we navigate grief and how we practice self-care. It’s a point-and-click adventure game, which I’ve fondly redubbed a ‘point-and-clit’ game.

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Inspired by the games I grew up on, Queer Quest is like a gay Monkey’s Island meets a feminist Leisure Suit Larry. It’s got nachos, bong rips and a femme sex party. It’s also got grieving, real talk with friends and communities responding to tragedy. The characters are based on friends and the puzzles are influenced by reality—like helping Theo, who suffers from FOMO (fear of missing out). This game is honestly as gay as I can make it, and it has been so rewarding to see the years of work finally take a cohesive shape.

The last few years of my life have been adding up to making this game. I want Queer Quest to help pave the way of what games can look like. Balancing humor with the challenges that the LGBTQ family faces is one of the most satisfying and terrifying challenges I’ve taken up—and I’m committed to it because the LGBTQ community deserves to be seen in games and feel seen when they play them.

It’s becoming easier and more accessible for anyone with a passion for gaming to build games, and more queer games are rising to the surface. We just might be on the cusp of a golden age in queer games—opening the doors to telling more of our stories and giving everyone else a glimpse into the spectacular communities we don’t need a console to connect to.

Mo Cohen is a queer-as-fuck game developer. She lives in Portland, likes talking to people’s pets, and eats Nutella out of the jar with a spoon. Sometimes she talks about feminism in tech, but usually she’s working on Queer Quest. You can follow her work on Twitter @queermogames and on Facebook.

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