Driving games are infrequently studied in terms of queerness and sexuality, but the genre’s core element of gameplay—movement through space—is particularly suited to queer themes surrounding mobility, collision, urbanism, exclusion, and surveillance. Beyond topics of representation, we can closely examine gameplay mechanics and game spaces at the intersection of queerness and politics. To demonstrate how the content and mechanics of driving games can speak to broader questions of queer experiences and urban life, I propose a thorough investigation of No Goblin LLC’s 2014 game Roundabout. Players navigate a constantly revolving limousine through crowded city streets strewn with traffic and barriers that require an adjustment to basic forms of movement while rethinking how such forms are often coded as “normal.” By emphasizing the awkwardness of movement through public spaces by a protagonist recurrently charged with not driving “straight,” Roundabout suggests that movement is constantly under surveillance and that deviations from the norm are socially and politically transgressive. This project argues that Roundabout, a game rarely acknowledged as conveying queer themes, effectively communicates ideas of queer subjectivity and marginalization analogous to existing work by prominent queer game developers like Merritt Kopas or Robert Yang. I bridge videogames with scholarly writings on queer mobility, social constructions of automobile culture and roadways, and urban versus suburban and rural spaces. In doing so, I propose that driving games provide fresh ways in thinking about queerness, and I offer frameworks to better locate videogames within a broader discourse on urban citizenship, governance, automobiles, and mobility.
Miguel Penabella is a MA/PhD student in Film and Media Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His prior cinematic research has examined the complex effects of temporality on narrative, national identity, and spectatorship, and he is also interested in theorizations of slowness in film, historical memory, and the relationship of politics and style in global art cinema. In addition to his formal education in film, he has a background in theorizing videogame narrative and game space, having presented and published papers everywhere from USC to UC Berkeley and Kill Screen to Playboy Magazine.
His compiled writings can be found on his blog, Invalid Memory.