In our heart of hearts, we always backed the LGBTQ+ community and yearned for an opportunity to make the right move when it came to the Pride Month celebration. Situated in a small temple town of Udupi in India, where the decriminalisation of Section 377 did not see the day of light until 2018, we had our inhibitions about coming off as a brand that only wanted to hog the spotlight of this highly respectable revolution that is a result of several confrontations and bold moves all the way from New York’s Stonewall riot in 1968 to the very present day in some nations.
We have been and always will be admirers of the brands that nail the LGBTQ+ representation –especially when it comes from an employee who belongs to the community, sharing authentic experiences and thought-changing initiatives. However, in 2022, we asked ourselves if the honour of celebrating and uplifting the Pride Movement is only reserved for ones who belong? Can’t someone be an ally?
We see actors who are straight, like Bhumi Pednekar and Rajkumar Rao, do exceptionally well in portraying their homosexual roles in Bollywood Blockbusters – realizing we are self-imposing the inhibitions. To set the record straight, we have not had the pleasure of welcoming a member of the LGBTQ+ community into our team yet – blame it on the societal norms of a small town or maybe the absence of acceptance among individuals – there’s no way to tell. Well, that’s not going to stop us (anymore) from representing what we as a brand collectively believe in.
We commissioned our very own Art Director, Nagesh Hinge, who grew up in an orthodox family in the cultural capital of the Marathas, to re-imagine the 99Games logo in celebration of Pride Month. When asked about his inspiration, Nagesh reflects with some wise choice of words - “I think the Indian culture always created a respectable space for the transgender community – may it be to shower blessings on a newborn, or to wish a newlywed bride good luck before she steps into her marital bliss – all of which made way for a source of income and a life of dignity. Somewhere down the line, with changing dynamics of society, the transgender community lost its standing and identity. Coming to the LGBTQ+ community as a whole – I cannot fathom the amount of courage it takes for one to come out of the closet, especially given our society’s definition of what’s normal and what’s not. I have even witnessed some family matriarchs/patriarchs go to the stretch of bringing in voodoo magic to rid their kins of the “spell” that is their sexuality. So, the bold choice of colours in the logo signifies various sexualities and the courage to be yourself, and the wave patterns represent changing times (just like the trough and crest of ocean waves) and a need for acceptance and tolerance”. That’s how Nagesh decided to become an ally of the LGBTQ+ community, doing what he does best – his art and creativity.
We asked our marketing team to inculcate Pride Month into our flagship game, Star Chef 2. Our Senior Marketing Executive, Akshatha Pai, who grew up by the coast of God’s own state in Kerala, chimed in with an idea that reflects her beliefs which the brand corroborates with. She says, “like all casual games in the simulation genre, Star Chef 2 hosts several LiveOps events – from the in-game characters visiting the North Pole during Christmas to the same characters giving a visit to China during the Lunar New Year, we try to leave no stone unturned when it comes to adventures. While the themes for LiveOps are created to uphold diversity and culturally rich gameplay, inclusivity is not just limited to geographies and races, right? Humans have created multiple historical blunders like stereotypical and degrading representation of homosexuals in Bollywood flicks like Dostana and Student of the Year, which no doubt leaves permanent impressions on young minds trying to navigate and explore their own sexuality. Yes, the entertainment we consume is deeply rooted in our perception of the world around us. And when I am presented with an opportunity to use my platform to set foot in the right direction and be a part of such a revolutionary movement, you can bet I am going to take it.
In one of the LiveOps events hosted in the month of June, Star Chef 2 characters will now head to join one of the biggest Pride Month parades in Los Angeles to show our support to the generation of LGTBQIA+ community who walked so the current generation can run today. No, I do not identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community but I am a proud ally of this inspiring, courageous, and loving community.”
Outside of the game, we aimed to go into the real world and do our bit by contributing to empowering the marginalized communities who are oppressed due to their sexual preferences and orientations in Karnataka. Ashraya Samudaya Sangatane(R) Udupi was one such charity that truly resonated with our folks. We all grew up seeing members of the transgender community in trains, at traffic junctions and at bus stops seeking money in exchange for blessings. While we may have failed to understand the trials that life put them through back then, it’s never too late to give back – not in exchange for their blessings but to seek forgiveness for being a non-tolerant society for so long. We truly hope they live their lives with the respect and dignity they rightfully deserve.
All in all, we realized we’re never going to be in the right moment, be in the right position or have the perfect timing to do good. There may not always be a way if there’s a will, but you can pave your way if you have the will.
Be YOU, celebrate YOU and take pride in YOU! Happy Pride Month to everyone celebrating and especially to the ones not celebrating.