RAINBOW QUEST! meets every criterion for what a board game should be!
In his paper, MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research, Marc LeBlanc describes the “Eight Kinds of Fun” as essential elements for designing a successful and enjoyable gaming experience.
He calls these eight kinds of fun Sensation, Fantasy, Narrative, Challenge, Fellowship, Discovery, Expression and Submission.
RAINBOW QUEST! delights LGBTQ+ players with all eight kinds of fun.
RAINBOW QUEST! is glossy, sparkly, colorful, and durable. It looks good, it feels fun, and looks like what we often call it: A pride event in a box! (Just add people!)
This board game is in stark contrast to the usual ‘activities’ designed with the right intentions, to affirm and educate the LGBTQ+ community. These are most often materials that are downloaded from the internet, photocopied, and cut into pieces. Those seem like scraps offered up in the absence of a truly comprehensive and ‘normal’ gaming experience. They seem and feel cheap and give the impression of being an after-thought. On the other hand, Rainbow Quest Players often squeal with delight at having a ‘real’ board game that makes them feel that they ‘count.’
Where so many popular games involve assuming roles with special powers, RAINBOW QUEST! provides one invaluable fantasy — the opportunity to safely be yourself, where the only special power necessary to flex is your authenticity. Now this was a concern to one play-testing lab where seven heterosexual men were trying out RAINBOW QUEST!, bless their hearts. Their first question was, “Do we have any roles to play?” I assured them that they needed only to be themselves. They looked apprehensively at me. When I explained that players who land in ‘the closet’ have to tell a ‘coming out story,’ they uniformly blanched and then blushed. They were mortified that they were expected to tell a coming out story, and probably were wondering if those experiments in college were required story-telling.
They also voiced the concern that asking someone to reveal a coming out story would be very upsetting to players. I had to remind them that for most LGBTQ+ people, we can spend weeks, months, or years until we feel the courage to come out. Then, we ‘do it,’ and more often than not the reaction is much better than expected, leaving us with an enormous feeling of relief and acceptance. And then when do we ever talk about it again? That moment we spend so much time rehearsing, the performance of our lives, and then… silence. Most players do indeed seem to love sharing those stories. For the group of straight game testers, one of them said he was concerned for one of his gay friends who would probably find this challange intimidating. Seizing the teachable moment, I asked if he’d ever been mistaken for a gay man while out and about with his friend. He laughed, and said, “It happens all the time.” I asked if he’d ever had to tell someone, “Thanks, I’m flattered, but I’m straight.” There was an immediate collective sigh of relief when these players realized that straight people often need to come out, and one can share a coming out story about being vegan, or HIV positive, or agnostic.
Another of the challenges asks players to imagine how they might react to a variety of hypothetical questions, and other players are aksed to see if they can predict what those reactions would be.
Each player begins their RAINBOW QUEST! journey at the ‘bleak world’ — the Earth depicted in black and white, from which players advance with each roll the die to move along a path of rainbow colored flags to be the first to reach a ‘better world,’ colorful and affirming. As each player takes their turn, the narrative of LGBTQ+ history is revealed, as well as players’ personal life stories as well. We like to call RAINBOW QUEST! ‘the journey of your lifetime!”
RAINBOW QUEST! has something for everyone! Left and right-brained people will enjoy the variety of tasks as they move along the board. Players may feel trepidation as they contemplate each designated challenge, but once in play each turn can’t help but be exciting and fun. Whether testing factual knowledge or having to draw or act out a prompt, each turn is a satisfying and engaging experience. A level field is created as no player, even the winner, knows all of the facts presented in the game, and how rewarding when you do get it right! When some players can complete a charade in under ten seconds, or a drawing of a flag prompts ‘pride flag’, the connections between the players is palpable.
We consider this to be the best byproduct of playing RAINBOW QUEST! The superlative bonding experienced by players, be they strangers or old friends. and all in under an hour is affirming and community-building. Unlike other games, RAINBOW QUEST! players reflect on and share their own life experiences, prompting empathic and often uproarious reactions from the rest. Players learn how much they have in common, alternate ways of reacting to similar experiences, and enjoy how ‘snarky’ players are humbled as more socially vulnerable players come into their own as their stories are listened to with empathy and interest.
Many important contributors in the arts and sciences were LGBTQ+, but lived in times where sexual identy was not to be discussed in polite company, and certainly not to be reported about or speculated on in textbooks. RAINBOW QUEST! exposes players to the rich and lengthy inventory of proud moments in LGBTQ+ history. Where we encourage the community to feel ‘Gay Pride’ it is difficult if the majority of messages learned in life is about being considered deviant, going through a phase, destined to burn in hell, threatened with the loss of support from friends, family, and employers, being outed, or having suicide as a long-standing acceptable way for LGBTQ+ characters in popular films to be ‘less of a burden’ on society.
Through RAINBOW QUEST!, players learn true ingredients of Pride, as pride is the result of who we believe we come from and if there are redeemable qualities to take pride in.
Players of RAINBOW QUEST! get to shine when doing the challenges that require doing a charade, relating a personal anecdote, or drawing a picture noted on a prompt card. There are no boundaries to the creativity on the part of the player doing the challenge and the players attempting to guess the correct answer.
Often described as the experience of a game being a ‘mindless pastime,’ RAINBOW QUEST! is quite the contrary. It is a decidedly engaging game where players are learning about culture and history, but also about one another. For many, the game is like a mini-retreat from the usual heteronormative lives they lead. Its not mindless, but the experience is safe and affirming.