Recently, we talked in class about the concept of ‘queerness’ in games. In her writing, scholar Colleen Macklin argued that Queerness can manifest itself in games in a number of ways, besides the community outside the game identifying as queer. In class we elaborated on this specifically in the game itself. Gameplay can be queer. The narrative itself can also be queer in how it is told.
Now, you probably are confused as to how a game about cars playing soccer could possess any sort of queerness. But I’d argue quite the contrary. When you think of a game like Rocket League conceptually, you’d probably initially expect it to be hyper-masculine. Cars, particularly racing games, are usually targeted towards men, typically featuring things like scantily-clad start girls and super “macho” cars. The same can be said for games like Madden and Fifa who focus their marketing towards men. Thus, if I were to tell you you were going to play a game that involved both, you’d probably think this was a real MAN’s MAN GAME.
However, on a gameplay level, the combination of cars with soccer is kind of queering the idea of a traditional soccer game. Playing soccer with a car results in a lot of erratic movement and passing. This challenge the fluid and controlled movement of a traditional soccer game.
Rocket League isn’t in the business of catering to heteronormativity and masculinity. As an example, look no further than the car customization system that sits at the center of the game.
As you play matches, you acquire gear to customize your car. In most car games, you’d expect to be able to change the color of your car, add a huge muffler, maybe put some flames on the side, or improving the performance of your car. In Rocket League, everyone’s car is the same. The important thing is to stand out and be unique. As a result, you end of with all sorts of crazy cars that are stellar exemplifications of self-expression. These cars don’t have to be hyper masculine, bending to heteronormative expectation. They also defy the expectation of conformity in sports like soccer, the idea that we have to sacrifice individuality for the success of the larger group.
And the developers didn’t hide this customization feature, it sits front and center. Customizing your car, being unique and standing out, are the only true measures of progression in this game. There are no experience points or awards to be sought, the only thing you gain from playing matches is more cool gear to customize your car. They clearly wanted being different to be a point of emphasis in this game.
I think that ultimately you can call Rocket League a queer game because of the way it subverts heteronormative expectations of what a car or racing game, “should be”. The idea of customizing your player avatar is not necessarily new in games, but it’s presence as a prominent feature in a car/sports game, especially in such a way that emphasizes creative freedom and expression, is certainly something to get excited about!