Just like last year, a collective of queer creators have released a massive games bundle for Pride Month. The bundle is effectively a virtual slice of queer game design across disciplines, from 20 minute RPG Maker horror pieces to full on, multi-hour tabletop RPGs, from straightforward smut to heartfelt visual novels. The fact that the bundle runs at the price of a AAA title is a pointed statement. The amount of people involved in making the bundle is likely also equivalent to the hundreds involved in a smaller scale mainstream production, but this $60 goes far more directly to the creators. Imagine what we could make if those resources were spread not thinly but fairly. The bundle’s contents are a sampling of what could exist in that different world.
The simple beauty of the bundle’s argument may not come to mind when you are considering what the hell to play in this massive thing. I think any of us who have purchased the multitude of massive itch.io bundles in recent years is guilty of looking over the contents, feeling overwhelmed, and closing the window to never open it again. It’s more than understandable, especially since Itch’s interface is sparse, without features that would make these bundles significantly easier to navigate.
So, before I make any recommendations, I’d like to offer some advice for sorting through these games. This advice is as much for myself as it is for anyone else. I barely tapped the surface of the bundle in preparation for this article. I would like to return and play more, rather than letting an article end my relationship with it.
First off, don’t overthink it. You will never get to every item in the bundle and not all of it is going to be to your taste. It’s okay to pass over something for shallow reasons or to give up on a game if it doesn’t grab you. On the same tack, don’t worry about finding the “right” game. If something grabs your eye, give it a go.
I would also suggest installing one game at a time. It’s easy to get caught up in the process of personal curation, which can be its own kind of pleasure. In my experience though, that can get in a way of actually playing games. At least to start, try to just download something and play it. Then move on to the next thing when you can.
You should get together with friends too. This can be as casual or as formal as you would like it to be. Talk with someone else who got the bundle about what games you enjoyed. Pick a game to play through and discuss together. Introduce a single session tabletop game to your group. As we all saw earlier this year with Elden Ring, the desire to have a conversation can drive real engagement. With games as small as this, you often have to start that conversation yourself or make an effort to find the places where it is happening. As an example, Caroline Delbert is interviewing creators who contributed to the bundle. Following that series and playing along could be a fantastic way to find games!
Now, if you are still looking for a place to get started, here are five games from the bundle I would recommend.
Disclosure, my friend Lotus, who is an accomplished critic and all-around cool person, made this. Nevertheless, the game is quite good and I think you can trust me despite my bias. Dandelions is a narrative RPG Maker game about listless young people who inhabit an abandoned house in the middle of the woods. It has a dreamlike, whimsical touch. The reasons these people have for living in this place in the middle of “nowhere” are left vague but evocative. The landscape around them evolves to represent their desires for a more communal and caring world. It’s a short, wistful game that carries all the ache of our times.
Likely one of the better known projects attached to the bundle, this action RPG has some of the most striking fighting in any game from recent memory. At once abrasive and deeply sentimental, Lucah cuts through clichés of “wholesome” or “messy” queer art. It’s also just plain fun to play, sporting a thrilling weight and expressive but accessible customization. Plus if this game doesn’t sate your appetite, the playable trailer for the as-yet-unreleased sequel, Death of a Wish, is also included exclusively in the bundle.
Symbiosis is a lean and evocative RPG maker game about a witch in the woods, hidden from the world’s cruelty. This witch is no innocent and the townsfolk rightfully fear her presence. Over one horrific night, this witch must protect her son from the knowledge of the horrible things she is doing to maintain their little life. This is simple and short, but full of craft. The amber-sepia palette of the home gives even the most explicit horror elements a touch of simple melancholy. It’s a well-crafted example of how formally beguiling simple games can be.
Set on a generation ship, Ten Tales is at once whimsical, melancholy, and adventurous. Though largely pulling on the layout of 2D JRPGs, each of the 10 micro games flits between formal frames. Visual novel portraits, adventure game style graphic interfaces, and even a Wizardry-like dungeon crawl round up its visual inspirations. The tone of each of the stories is similarly playful, usually concerned with the routines and simple hopes of the space vessel’s population. These joyful tales are burdened with melancholy. The ship left earth because of some calamitous event, implied to be climate change. That shadow haunts the ship even hundreds of years after its departure. Ten Tales’ sense of humor, of simple human joy, is all the more profound for that sadness.
I wrote about this interactive zine a couple years ago and had a lovely conversation with the dev, Nathalie Lawhead. The “game” is hard to pin down, flipping between darkly funny cartoon violence, aching personal memoir, and dizzying formal play. It’s occasionally violent and frequently abrasive in its vulnerability. This is one of the most profound and powerful interactive art pieces ever. And hey, what do you know, the MoMA agrees with me.
Grace Benfell is a queer woman, critic, and aspiring fan fiction author. She writes on her blog Grace in the Machine and can be found @grace_machine on Twitter.