Racist Bridges and Smelly Horses: What Is A Queer Game?

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All media carries ideology. But when we consider ideology, it’s often only through the lens

of direct representation. Another part of the equation is how the formal elements of media carry ideology. In games, these formal elements are rules, procedures, and the way creators abstract data. Drawing from discussions by previous QGCon speakers and the writings of Langdon Winner, I describe how creators inscribe ideologies into the formal elements of the work they produce. I also describe what I consider to be queer ideologies: beliefs which speak to queerness in some way.


Combining the notion that media can contain ideologies either through formal inclusion or direct representation, as well as the notion that there are queer ideologies, I arrive at a

taxonomy of queerness in games:


  1. Games in which queerness is absent: neither inscribed nor represented.
  1. Games in which queerness is represented, but not inscribed.
  1. Games in which queerness is inscribed, but not represented.
  1. Games in which queerness is present: both represented and inscribed.


These last three are queer games, and the third in particular is what I consider to be queer

formalist games.For players hostile toward games they regard as having political motivations, queer games are easy to dismiss. This makes formalism an important tool to have in our design toolbox, as a form of camouflage in a hostile world. Queer formalist games have the potential to

evade dismissal, operating as ideological Trojan Horses. They also risk what I call “The Rotting Greek Problem”: the door won’t open from the inside, and soon the plaza starts to smell weird. Players might not even consider that the horse has anything inside it. Or they might consider the door laid in the stomach to be an aberrancy or an experiment in design. If they never open the door, the game fails as a rhetorical object.


I believe work can avoid this failure by transitioning from inscription to presence at a later point in the player’s interaction with it. By “opening the horse” and adding representationto formalist work, rhetorical points are less likely to fail at. In articulating this approach, my hope is that other developers will consider it as a path for queer games to take as an alternative to pure representation or pure formalism.



Matthew R.F. Balousek is a MFA candidate in the Digital Arts and New MMatthew Balousekedia program at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He makes games, interactive Öction, bread, bots, and bad jokes.

Twitter: @mrfb

Games and projects: mrfb.itch.io