Caper in the Castro: The first LGBT video game
The first LGBT video game was made in 1989, thanks to a computer designer named CM Ralph who made “Caper in the Castro.”
This game, playable on the Mac, was a murder mystery that was also a puzzle-solving game and featured a lesbian detective named Tracker McDyke.
A lesbian detective in the first LGBT video game
in the game, the player will be given a chance to find out what happened to Tessy by going around Castro, and in the process, learn abut other things happening in the area.
The object of the game was to search for McDyke’s friend, a drag queen named Tessy LaFemme, who went missing in the Castro district in San Francisco.
“As the player solved each problem they grew closer to finding the missing woman. The game employed a mixture of graphics, text and sound to create the neighborhood the player would explore,” Ralph said in an interview with Paste.
She further said that the game had “a lot of inside jokes. There was a lot of inside humor for the LGBT community at that time.”
And because the AIDS epidemic was happening at the time, a plot line in the game even referenced a bacterial virus-type agent.
CM Ralph and the first LGBT video game
Ralph explained that: “Caper was really the first and only time I’d ever programmed anything seriously.”
“I worked an eight hour a day job in Silicon Valley, and I would come home and lock myself in our studio room, bedroom, and work on this game just manically, and that went on for a year,” she explained.
Back then, Ralph had moved from Southern California in 1988 to the San Francisco Bay Area, and was “impressed and grateful for the freedom of the LBGT community.”
“I wanted to give back to the community and also create a way to raise money for AIDS charities,” she said.
The game was distributed as a “Charity Ware,” i.e. anyone who downloaded and played it could donate money to an AIDS organization of their choice.
The legacy of the LGBT video game that could
Together with a friend, Ralph presented the game at a symposium hosted by Pac Bell. It was there she meet a guy who wanted to distribute her game in a BBS (or bulletin board system) network.
“The LGBT BBS network was very small and very underground– just a few in countries around the world– but we all knew each other,” Ralph pointed out.
Ranging from the US to Europe, she estimated that about 250,000 copies had been downloaded over a period of five years.
In terms of reception, Ralph said the game was “embraced and enjoyed. At the time, seen as quite an innovative breakthrough. No one had ever attempted creating a game with LGBT characters and theme.”
What’s more, she created a ‘straight-version’ of the game and sold it to a company, adding that: “It always cracked me up that these people were loving this game and buying it and had no idea it was actually an LGBT game.”
With the help of Adrienne Shaw and Andrew Borman, Ralph was able to get the game installed at Strong Museum of Play in Rochester New York, as well as other museums.
For more about the game, watch a play-through of the game below.