The Rainbow Arcade at Schwules Museum

Banner from Rainbow Arcade Kickstarter
Banner from Rainbow Arcade Kickstarter

by Jonathan Fryerwood

The RAINBOW ARCADE exhibition hosted at the Schwules Museum in Berlin presented itself as the first major exhibition of queer content in video games. The event ran from December 2018 to May of this year. The project was overseen by the museum and the LGBTQ Video Game Archive, whose mission involves documenting the history of the LGBTQ community in video games.

Entrance to Rainbow Arcade, originally published at:

Spanning from the 1980’s to the present, the exhibit featured both well known mainstream titles that involve queer content, and independent works by queer creators. Items on display included playable games, preserved documentations of online game communities, concept art, and even modifications and “hacks” by queer fans that seek to adjust or add relevant content to existing games. The official press release for the exhibit states that it “[took] stock of contemporary pop cultural questions of representation, stereotypical and discriminatory narratives in entertainment media, and our cultural memory.” To this end it highlighted the often turbulent history of queer themes in prominant games. Harmful stereotypes, underwhelming romantic narratives compared to straight counterparts, and disingenuous representation have been issues in the game industry since the beginning, and the curators of RAINBOW ARCADE aimed to show how things have changed and how they have not over the years. Conversely, underground and “indie” spaces have a long history of of queer art and community that has hardly been documented. The digital history of these communities, often hosted on abandoned forums and outdated operating systems, is ephemeral and much of it has already been lost to time. By preserving and highlighting these materials, RAINBOW ARCADE provides a valuable view into a small but vital part of the twentieth century pop culture zeitgeist.

The project was realized in part by a Kickstarter campaign in 2018. The Kickstarter allowed the RAINBOW ARCADE team to produce a catalog of the exhibit and its featured games, which boasts the claim of being the first comprehensive guide to the queer history of video games. Though initially only given to Kickstarter backers, the book is now available for purchase. The success of this campaign allowed for not only the exhibit and catalog themselves, but an extensive supplemental program as well.

Rainbow Arcade exhibit, originally published at:

The RAINBOW ARCADE exhibition is the result of a collaboration between the Schwules Museum, Temple University, and the LGBTQ Video Game Archive, and it was funded by the Berlin Senate Department for Culture and Europe. It was an official part of gamesweekberlin, an industry-wide networking event hosted by Berlin-based tech company Booster Space.

The LGBTQ Video Game Archive is a grassroots organization that, by its own admission, is not a “true” archive. Though it has not yet collected enough primary materials to consider itself a full archive, it does maintain a database of information spanning over 1000 LGBTQ and queerly read games, aimed to be a resource for researchers. The success of RAINBOW ARCADE has afforded the organization greater visibility and attention, which will hopefully lead to similar projects in the future and allow for the collection of more objects.