One of the worst things you can do is live in ignorance, which is why for this LGBT+ History Month, we’re looking at games from the past that lets us reflect on what it means to be queer back then, and the significant work it did for us in the present. For this first week, we look at The Warden Game by Ed Mead.
Ed Mead was a queer prisoner that was incarcerated at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe, USA. He was sent there due to his involvement in a January 1976 bank robbery, and in 1987 he designed a game I’ve been lucky enough to play: The Warden Game.
If asking for an older queer game to play, you’d be forgiven for not thinking of Ed Mead’s game. It isn’t obviously queer in the same way as Moonmist or Gay Quest, or even the original Fallout. There’s no character that stands in to convey ‘this is a gay man!’ But it doesn’t need to be, because this game understands that mass incarceration has touched the lives of many queer people, and not just men who are white, either.
In The Warden Game, you play as the Warden of a prison who has to deal with an organization that breathes far too heavily down the back of your neck, and the balancing act that is keeping inmates happy. Only, this is a prison, not a summer camp and it’s made clear from the very beginning that police brutality is rife. Just like with the majority of prisons around the world.
It takes only one click of the button for you to have to deal with two opposing forces. The anti-administration forces of the prisoners, and if you decide to actively act like a human being and not exert your power over them, your higher-ups that believe you’re too soft and call for your resignation.
The difficulty of keeping everyone happy is impossible – because the ideologies each group keeps is so radically different. Your higher-ups see these men as people to be crushed, whereas the inmates just want someone to listen to them and give them something that isn’t just mindlessly staring at a wall for hours and hours on end. One of the most important things you find out they want the most is education – education focused on bettering themselves.
It’s hard not to see how The Warden Game inmates desire for education references Mead’s Men Against Sexism, an organization of mostly trans and queer prisoners. They didn’t want to overthrow authority in the sense of murdering everyone they saw, they wanted to change a culture of bigotry that was dug deep in the hearts of others. They wanted to show that the ownership of queer individuals was not permitted, and in fact, those who consorted in such a thing would actively fear recompense.
The Warden Game does not go into the nitty and gritty of this group, but it’s anti-authoritarian message is clear. So is how the desire for fairness and empathy is twisted into it being dissent that needs to be squashed. It’s an uncomfortable, but brutally honest look at Mead’s life and how it was treated, and how that led to a radical group of queer prisoners.
It’s an absolutely fascinating game, and one that I feel everyone should at least play for themselves. And if not, at least read about, because the mass incarceration of queer individuals is still a problem, even to this day.
Gayme of the Week is a weekly column by Aimee Hart about indie LGBT+ games that she’s played and what she loves about them. If you’ve got any recommendations, be sure to contact her on Twitter (@AimemeRights) or email (email@example.com).