Earlier this week, Atari released Pridefest. An LGBTQ Pride festival sim, the game hires the player to be the Mayor of a fictional city that is dull, grey and in need of some sprucing up. So via the method of spreading ‘Fun’, the game’s rainbow-coloured currency, it’s up to players to build new stores and house and restore colour, like an inclusive version of de Blob.
However, despite the free to play mobile title (iOS and Android) seemingly meaning well, some have suggested that the game exploits the LGBTQ community, taking advantage of calls for more diversity. But does Pridefest really do a disservice to its target audience? Or is it just a bit of innocuous fun? We take a look a the controversy to see what’s what.
Atari’s Pridefest Stirs Up Controversy
By far the most-touted argument about Pridefest‘s exploitative nature is that it fails to understand the real meaning of Pride. While the clue is in the name – Pride, it’s a celebration – some are adamant that Pride is as much about being proud as it is about politics, fighting for equal rights and and representation.
The modern Pride festival as many of us know it was created as a result of the Stonewall riots, a series of 1969 protests against a police raid (June 28, 1969) on the Stonewall Inn, a bar with many LGBTQ+ patrons. The Christopher Street Liberation Day was founded to commemorate the anniversary of the riots; including banners, flags and marching, the first ever (Gay) Pride event was founded.
Pride is still used for similar reasons, celebrated all over the world as attendees protest for their basic human rights and protections. Even in so-called progressive countries such as the United States (where some states can still fire you for being gay) it still retains that political element.
Despite Atari CEO Fred Chesnai recognising that Pride is in part about the “pursuit of equality”, the only evidence of this is in Pridefest that anti-LGBTQ protesters feature as obstacles during your parades. The question many are asking is whether or not Pridefest does Pride and its legacy justice and if not, how can Pridefest or any game, represent Pride and the LGBTQ+ community in a more well-rounded light?
The other suggestion that Pridefest is exploitative comes from its monetisation. Pridefest‘s premium currency, gems, can be purchased (or earned in small amounts through normal play) and spent on faster unlocks. This is expected, as it’s a free to play mobile game but what players are finding particularly troubling is that it also has ‘stamina’, a bar which limits how many Pride parades you can host (until you wait for it to recharge, or spend gems to buy more stamina, that is). Admittedly, money-grabbing mechanics aimed at anyone (LGBTQ+ or not) would be ugly, but in this particular case Atari has its sights set on the pink dollar.
While Pridefest‘s exploitative nature/its accidentally divisive gameplay are up for debate, my personal opinion is that regardless, this game just isn’t very good. Any time you want to upgrade a building (thus restoring colour), you have to fill out its Fun meter via several Pride parades. Not only is this annoying (I ask, why am I earning coins if the game goes to such lengths to stop me from spending them on upgrades) but it’s boring, repetitive and it takes forever. Your Pride parades will quite literally have to circle the block just to get the job done.
Although it feels good being able to customise my Mayor (being able to choose between he/she/they pronouns is a nice touch too) and being able to restore buildings (eventually) is grand too, these are side dishes and the core mechanic just doesn’t work. Pridefest has its fair share of crashes and bugs (which led to two mission’s worth of progress being deleted, in my case) though that could just be chalked down to launch week teething problems.
Some would make the point that clearly LGBTQ+ people have come far if this community is also being blighted with bad games and being pandered to in the same way the straight, cisgendered people have in the past.
Is that the true meaning of equality? Of course not, but regardless of whether Pridefest is seen as ridiculous and cheesy fun or whether Atari is taking advantage of an entire community’s goodwill, it does at least show that greater representation of LGBTQ+ people in games is needed, at least so that we don’t have to settle for this.