Gaming in Color. Directed by Philip Jones. Berkeley, CA: MidBoss, 2014. 62 minutes.

Reviewed by Jennifer Malkowski

Video games have long been overlooked, not just as an art form but as a unique site where cultural politics play out and where political education may even take root. The documentary Gaming in Color gestures—if not strongly enough—at this potential amid a focus on LGBTQ gamers and their passionate, fraught relationship with the medium.

The interview-based Gaming in Color is primarily a 62-minute argument for increasing LGBTQ representation in video games. Its interviewees share openly about how much games have helped them be themselves and how little they see themselves reflected or respected there. Topics include the overlap (or not) between gay and geek identities, the problem of diversity in video games, toxic homophobia in gaming, and the GaymerX convention.

In addition to the lackluster attention to intersectionality, my main critique of Gaming in Color is that its laser focus on representation (Edmond Chang calls this attitude “bird-watching for queer characters”) leaves little room for exploring games’ queerer potential (2017, 232). Two interviewees in the film do highlight this potential. Game designer Naomi Clark points out, “games are the aesthetic form of systems,” and we all need to understand more intimately how systems operate in our world—the better, perhaps, to disrupt, dismantle, and remake them. And game designer and professor Colleen Macklin hints at the queerness of video games in her insight, “The best games are the games where you have to change the way you do something… Games teach us to look at ourselves [and our world] in a new way.”

Clips from this documentary would help address video games in a queer studies course or sexuality in a game studies course, paired with a reading from the exciting new wave of queer scholarship on gaming. I recommend work by Bonnie Ruberg, Amanda Phillips, Edmond Chang, and Adrienne Shaw. Ruberg and Shaw’s collection Queer Game Studies (2017) is an excellent place to start and includes chapters by Phillips and Chang. Additionally, Ruberg’s essay “Playing to Lose” in Gaming Representation: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Video Games (2017) works wonderfully as a stand-alone reading.

It’s a hard, hard thing to love a type of media that—at least in its mainstream manifestations—doesn’t love you back. That’s the disappointment queer gamers have been living with for decades, but Gaming in Color offers hope that video games are changing and, itself, is part of that change.

Works Cited

Chang, Edmond Y. 2017. “A Game Chooses, a Player Obeys: Bioshock, Posthumanism, and the Limits of Queerness.” In Gaming Representation: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Video Games, edited by Jennifer Malkowski and TreaAndrea M. Russworm, 227-44. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Chang, Edmond Y. 2017. “Queergaming.” In Ruberg and Shaw 2017, 15-24.

Phillips, Amanda. 2017. “Welcome to My Fantasy Zone: Bayonetta and Queer Femme Disturbance.” In Ruberg and Shaw 2017, 109-24.

Ruberg, Bonnie. 2017. “Playing to Lose: The Queer Art of Failing at Video Games.” In Gaming Representation: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Video Games, edited by Jennifer Malkowski and TreaAndrea M. Russworm, 197-211. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Ruberg, Bonnie, and Adrienne Shaw, eds. 2017. Queer Game Studies. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Jennifer Malkowski is assistant professor of film and media studies at Smith College, where they write and teach about digital media (especially video games, internet video, and digital cinema), documentary, death and dying, and identity in media. They are the author of Dying in Full Detail: Mortality and Digital Documentary (Duke University Press, 2017) and coeditor of Gaming Representation: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Video Games (Indiana University Press, 2017). Their work has also been published in Cinema Journal, Jump Cut, Film Quarterly, the edited collections Unwatchable and Queers in American Popular Culture, and the forthcoming edited collections A Tumblr Book: Platform and Cultures and Writing about Screen Media.