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Nothing smacks of pinkwashing more than a corporate-sponsored pride parade. Thanks to Atari, you too can take control of your own march toward gentrification, one spa center at a time.
Released for mobile devices, Pridefest is a social simulator where you, the mayor, must spread “fun and rainbows” throughout your drab, monochromatic city by hosting pride parades. The more parades you run, the more money you make; in turn, you can demolish the “old and decrepit” buildings, replacing them with modern art museums, neon clubs, organic markets, spa centers, and other stereotypical vestiges of the bourgie gay’s lifestyle. No sports stadiums here!
Once you have established your city, other users are allowed to “move in” to your buildings, enabling a chat function that seems adapted from gay dating apps like Grinder, with leading questions and winky-faced emoticons. You can even search for users who live near you.
Pridefest is about the rainbows and only the rainbows. It provides glossy lip service to queer gamers who are typically represented as villains — if at all — in one of the entertainment industry’s least diverse workforces. Ironic when you consider that minority groups (especially LGBT and African-Americans) comprise the majority of gamers.
To the game’s credit, there are momentary signs of inclusion. For example, while you are able to choose a preferred pronoun at the start of the game, customizing your avatar is subsequently restricted to gendered clothing. (Choosing “them” does give you access to all the clothing options.)
Perhaps it was a fool’s mission to create a completely inclusive game, but by avoiding the queer history and identity politics that prompted Pride, Atari reduces its target audience to less than a caricature. Pridefest is corporate by design, a neutered representation of queerness. Why have a queer mayor if his sole power is to destroy and rebuild his city? Even if gay enclaves often signify the first wave of gentrification, the game fails to acknowledge the role corporations play to complete the process.
Even the villains of Pridefest are bland copies of their real-world counterparts. Within the parades, you, as mayor, have one obstacle: a group of protesters with signs saying “SHAME,” “DO AS WE COMMAND,” and “WE DON’T LIKE COLORS.” The protesters are stronger than your parade. If you run into a protester embankment, they simply destroy your float. In a game centered around the power of pride, it seems strange that dissent should carry such a strong axe.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, Pridefest has no problem adopting the iconography of the queer movement without any of its politics. In my playthrough, the words “gay,” “lesbian,” and “queer” do not even appear in the game. Transgender people are also nonexistent. The closest you’ll get is on the game’s cover art, where a flotilla in the lower right corner says “STRAIGHT ALLIES.” It’s nice to see where Atari’s priorities are.
Pinkwashed commodification is key for Pridefest, both as a poorly executed PR move by Atari and as a component of gameplay. It’s also a moneymaking move. When your cash runs low and the rainbow tour ends, no worries — you can buy coins and gems using real-world money. I think microtransactions on a “free-to-play” videogame are a sign that your movement has hit the mainstream.
The Pridefest app can be downloaded on iTunes.