Shade is all about subtlety. It’s the art of delivering an insult without delivering it at all, and witnessing perfect shade being thrown is like watching a unicorn prance through an open field: majestic, glorious, dangerous but inspiring.
Gay Fighter Supreme, a new game available for smartphones, is the opposite of shade.
To be fair, Handsome Woman Productions was clearly not trying to be subtle with Gay Fighter. Everything, from the fiery explosions in the menus, to the grossly stereotypical character designs, to the constant cries of “Yes ma-maw!” during fights, are not meant to be more than what they are. There’s no statement being made — this is a game that revels in audacity for its own sake. It is literally throwing rainbows in your face and screaming.
If you’ve heard of Gay Fighter already, it might be because most of the press it’s received has been about the not-PC representation of the “gay” fighters. Pretty much any stereotype you can imagine (and some you didn’t even know existed) is represented in the roster. The leather daddy, the go-go boy, the twink, the emo (?), the drunk bisexual, the charmingly-named lesbian Sappho Ethridge — they’re all here! The greatest crime, however, is that the drag queen fighter has the lamest name of all: Carrie Cupcake. C’mon, guys.
There’s a cockamamie story about how these LGBT fighters are coming together to take down the League of Oppressive Self-Righteous Zealots. It makes as much sense as any other fighting game’s story does, and it’s thankfully never picked up again after the opening sequence.
If you’re into odious charm, Gay Fighter has it in spades and isn’t afraid to show it to you. In fact, it’ll gladly throw huge, congratulatory words (“Fierce!” the announcer shouts, for what seems like no particular reason) over the game as you’re playing. On top of the colourful cast of characters and bright stages, it has just about the same effect as dumping a bucket of glitter on a Jackson Pollock.
Gameplay wise, calling it a “fighting game” is also a bit of a stretch — it plays more like Guitar Hero. Six buttons line the bottom of your screen, and pressing the lit-up button at the right time has your character execute their attack. Fail to press the right button at the right time, and your opponent hits you instead. The gameplay is novel for the first five minutes.
Campy, tongue-in-cheek humour is tough to pull off right. Unintentional humour — like Susan Sontag says, a work has to at least have the air of being serious for it to be considered camp — is essential, and eschewing that detail ruins the magic. Gay Fighter is too cute for its own good. Mortal Kombat, for example, is a camp dream. The series’ infamous fatalities are so over-the-top and delivered with such a straight face that it makes them comical and incredulous.
Gay Fighter, for what it’s worth, has its own version of fatalities. They’re called gaytalities.
Representation has been a big word in the video game industry for the past few years, and LGBT characters are cropping up in more and more video games. Dragon Age: Inquisition has a trans character, and even Mortal Kombat has a gay character now — Kung Jin. What makes Kung Jin such a surprise is that he is treated like every other character in the roster. His sexuality isn’t overtly mentioned, but merely hinted at during one of the game’s story cutscenes. There’s no fanfare, no explosion of hairspray and Prada: he’s present, and that’s more than enough.
Gay Fighter isn’t that. It’s a one-note joke and the punchline is “gays!” At its best, Gay Fighter is a funny joke in a self-deprecating kind of light — but the best jokes know when to end.