Drag in video games is often played for laughs – see 1997’s Final Fantasy VII, in which spiky-haired Cloud Strife dresses as a woman to deceive a gullible, misogynistic mafioso, or Alfred the “cross-dressing freak” from Resident Evil: Code Veronica – but drag and video games can be vectors of identity exploration and self-expression. Drag can involve trying on a persona by putting yourself in someone else’s heels, a subversive form of role-play – and what are video games if not role-play?
Gaming has potent power for many queer people, as a space to safely explore what it’s like to be other people (or to be ourselves). Hyper-feminine characters such as Princess Peach, D. Va and Bayonetta have become drag and cosplay icons. And drag queens are visible in many parts of the gaming community, from developers to Twitch streamers. Here, four queens explain how video games have influenced their drag.
Kitty Powers/Richard Franke
With the Kitty Powers’ Matchmaker series, I challenged myself to create a game about making people happy. I want people to be able to choose whatever they want to be: an avatar that is like themselves, or something fantastical … like Kitty Powers! My approach was not to make a queer game, but to make a game for everyone that had queer people in it. It’s important to see all humans as equal.
Kitty Powers was my one creative outlet and combining drag and video games hadn’t really been done before. It can get a Marmite reaction, but it’s good to provoke people and make them think. I like to think that me expressing myself in my art form is a positive thing and when there’s enough negative energy flying around on the internet, it’s good to bring a bit of fluffiness.
It’s interesting how meta it has become, because there aren’t many developers who star in their own game. Kitty Powers is a video game character but also the real person who developed the game, able to appear in productions on YouTube or on stage. I like to connect the dots for fans and explore the live theatricality of drag too.
There’s something about the confidence you have when you’re in drag that inspires other people and makes them feel safe. That’s really important when leading a design team. Video games have also helped Kitty Powers go beyond just being a drag queen. She’s all about love, positivity and inclusiveness, so the games have helped to spread that message. I do drag for other people as much as myself.
Streaming in drag gave me the chance to practise makeup and do drag at least once a week. I get a positive reaction from most of the people who come to my stream, especially for my Sims drag series. I love The Sims so much because you can create your dream scenario and if you don’t like it, you can just destroy it. I also love Heroes of the Storm – those characters have definitely inspired my drag looks.
But I do think drag streamers get a lot more trolls than even LGBT streamers. I’m sure it’s the same for trans streamers as well. Maybe I’m an easy target. They see the big hair and the LGBT tag and it attracts attention. I try to be funny and entertaining and play back with them. But I realise that they’re doing this to get a reaction from me so if I give them that it just encourages them.
Personally I don’t take any offence at what they say. Sometimes it’s hilarious. What does affect me, though, is a loss of hope for humanity. There are a lot of people out there that hold these terrible views and I’m exposed to the worst of it all through trolls. But Twitch is very supportive of the LGBT community, and it has a lot of tools to help.
I dabbled in drag for a few years, testing different looks and styles, before beginning to stream. I’m naturally introverted, but was determined to share my passions of gaming and drag as I hadn’t seen [the pairing] explored much by others. Horror is my genre: scary, creepy, weird, thrilling. That’s reflected in my drag looks.
When I first started streaming on Twitch, I had no idea how people would react. I thought I was entering this straight world and that, as a gay person, I would be chased out immediately. However, Twitch is full of talented LGBTQA+ streamers, viewers and allies. I am really lucky to have all the friends that I have met through Twitch.
It’s scary streaming live on camera, especially as an openly gay person showcasing their drag persona. You open yourself up for hurt but as a creative person you can’t showcase your art without putting it out there. Detractors seldom visit my broadcast, but when they do my stance is to take away their power. I get rude comments but purposely mispronounce them or misunderstand them. And they say I’m not passing for female but I don’t care: I’m a drag queen!
The LGBTQA+ community flocks to like-minded people. I like to keep my space welcoming and positive for anyone that decides to visit. I love that I can provide that for my friends and fans.
Drag queen performer and host
Every gay kid can relate to their straight friends playing as Mario or Luigi. I would always pick Princess Peach. The original Erika Klash was conceived as a Princess Peach type character – a queen but not always the damsel in distress. Her gentle nature, her softness and her beauty inspired me but I also wanted to be a sassy, fun drag queen.
As I was developing this video game character I knew I wanted to do a lot of cosplay with my drag. I was always interested in putting a twist on a character as a living cartoon, seeing how I could adapt a non-human shape to my body. Nobody was really doing crazy makeup at the bars I was working at, but I became known for it very early on. I’ve used video game music too – I do a number about gonorrhoea and use music from Dr Mario!
I produce nerdy shows in New York and San Francisco, like my nerdy punk drag show Pastel Gore. I also participate in Flame Con: an LGBT-focused anime video game convention. There’s always an appetite for gaming drag because I don’t think there are as many places for nerdy queer people as there should be. It’s important to spend time with people that have the same interests and look at the world in the same way. Queer nightlife is very gay male orientated. These days, I see nerds of colour expressing themselves more openly, and I see women participating a lot more, too. It’s important that there are all kinds of people in the line-up so they feel affirmed in their work and feel they can express themselves freely.