Gaming While Fabulous: Greg Bayles Celebrates Drag Culture with Self-Made Platformer ‘Super Bearded Dragons’

For a glimpse of Greg’s poetry, pick up volume three, issue one of peculiar (or click here for an excerpt). As the featured writer of that issue, Greg Bayles won’t be hard to find, but once you’ve brought his words into your world, he’s hard to forget.

In the selected pieces he published with us as Featured Writer, his voice captures an orchestral formality that spans the cosmos, from ash to porch to canvas and the stars, serious and engrossing. But his latest project is a rowdy and playful dive into drag queen camp and sass. At first glance, Super Bearded Dragons might seem a surprising deviation from his written work in peculiar, but that’s only until you consider the reasons he was compelled to create it.

In today’s post, we catch up with Greg to learn more about the making of Super Bearded Dragons, the inspiration it draws from past and contemporary queer culture, and how to get a copy in your hands in time for the holidays.

First of all, what first got you into drag?

It was in 2017, in a Vancouver drag show that would change my perspective on drag forever. You might think it would have been Ru Paul or some other star I had seen that night, but no, it was a budget queen who had been doing drag for only six months or so.

She’s painted Elphaba green for Wicked, but other than that she’s in what I remember to be just a sort of frumpy, shapeless, 1970’s-couch-colored frock. She’s got sunflowers pinned in a matted brown wig. No boobs, no pads. Just hairy boy-body and spaghetti straps.

She starts singing, and midway through comes the reveal, where off comes the ungodly mumu, and underneath is a shimmering, sequined cocktail dress. She’s got the whole audience captive as she glitters her way around the room singing and climbs up on the bar. She’s nearing the end of the song when she reaches up and starts peeling the sequin dress off, neck down, to reveal nothing more than a pair of ratty, old, gray whitey tighties. And as the song draws to a close, she’s perched there atop the bar—resplendent as ever, with her hairy shoulders and love handles—singing her heart out, in a pair of dirty whitey tighties. And it’s at that moment that I realized that in the end, it’s all drag. Underneath all the sequins and the mumus and all of our curated selves, we’re all that same green-faced, pudgy guy in dirty whitey tighties, singing our hearts out, hoping others will hear our brave song and love us for it.

It’s also at that moment that I realize a lot of people do eventually manage to rip off the mumu and are excited to show off their glittery, sequined selves, but getting to that washed-too-many-times whitey tighty realness takes a lot of work and a lot of honesty. So a couple days later, I flew back to Salt Lake City, and I didn’t have a drag mama, and I had never done makeup, but I decided I was going to host my first drag party. I invited every queen I had ever heard of, and all my friends, bought a ton of dollar store makeup and thrifted wigs and dresses, and we kiki-ed in bad drag until the morning. It all just kind of unlocked something in me, and the rest is history!

What’s it like doing drag, being queer, and developing this game in Utah?

You know, Salt Lake City itself is a beautiful, liberal jewel, so I’m doing weird, queer things in a strange place, but I’m not doing them alone. Obviously, the Mormon church influences politics and some aspects of daily life in Salt Lake, but you also end up with this really beautiful counter-culture of tattoo parlors and microbreweries that has sprung up in the wake of Mormonism. I definitely get some weird looks when I go out in drag, or when I tell someone about my game, but I get just as many positive responses from post-Mormon folks who are finding their way through life after Eden, and that becomes a huge source of support and connection. I think the biggest thing in Salt Lake is that you find what you seek, so I’ve been able to find a really beautiful, transgressive, supportive queer community here that inspires me to do more every day!

How do you describe Super Bearded Dragons to the uninitiated?

Super Bearded Dragons is a lightning-fast, four-player platform fighting game that explores identity and conflict through the tongue-in-cheek battles and cash-grabbing antics of bearded drag queens.

Players face off in quick-pickup, samurai-style combat, using a variety of drag-inspired attacks and a full wardrobe of zany items to sashay to victory. Every time a queen gets hit or falls off the stage, cash tips rain down from the sky, and the player with the most money at the end of the round takes home the crown. Players explore a range of unique stages inspired by traditional fighting games, but which have been subverted to represent various queer spaces, including clubs, dating apps, festivals, the NYC piers, bathhouses, and other unregulated spaces.

Besides falling in love with drag, where’d the idea for the game come from?

I had developed a game jam project around the concept of a heterotopia, or a small “other space” that disrupts and at the same time mirrors the larger world. I spent a month or two building out a female heterotopia, and thinking about what conflict, or social structures, or wars might look like in a game world populated only by female characters. This got me thinking about queer heterotopias, and one day at a game development meetup, I threw out the concept (and the name, Bearded Dragons), and the rest is history.

I have been part of the drag community for the past four years or so, so in a big way, Super Bearded Dragons became a receptacle for all the spectacular things I was experiencing in the community. Many of the locations are reimaginations of actual locations or events I’ve attended, or locations inspired by historical queer spaces. The characters, likewise, represent influential queer characters in my own queer journey and draw broadly on LGBTQ+ archetypes for inspiration.

I played a lot of fighting games growing up and spent countless hours in Super Smash Brothers for the N64, so the platform fighting game made a lot of sense to me as a genre. I also loved the idea of samurai drag queens, and of the blending of the often hyper-masculine and performatively masculine fighting game aesthetic with the campy, performatively feminine aesthetic of drag.

Describe some of the characters.

The characters in Super Bearded Dragons are, in a lot of ways, based on real people, or else draw inspiration from artifacts of drag culture. Not necessarily just drag queens either, but all sorts of characters I’ve met or been influenced by in my life. Some of them are my past personal drag personas, like Petti Revenge. She is sort of a vindictive rocker babe slash hired gun. She started out as a reinterpretation of Uma Therman from Kill Bill, but with some Storm vibes from X-Men.

Other characters are inspired by pop figures or artifacts, like Gayja Vu, who has a suspiciously Lady Gaga-esque pink Joanne hat. Beardra the drag hag, who at one point in the story mode traps you inside a Ouija board, definitely channels Winifred Sanderson. Then there’s Dominatia, who is sort of a BDSM/Folsom interpretation of Vega from Streetfighter. Wooby, who’s the drag personification of Mugatu. Tons of other little references, and hopefully points of connection for people.

I think more than anything, though, it was super important for me to include characters from all walks of life, all ages, all types, and it was especially a goal to have black and brown queens front and center. There aren’t a ton of queer people of color as leading roles in games, even though they have driven LGBTQ+ progress in a big way, so I wanted this to be something that honored the sacrifices and the struggle that a lot of folks endure.

What was the inspiration behind the different levels?

I pulled from a lot of historical LGBTQ+ sites in creating the levels. I’ve read a lot about the New York City piers of the 70s, for example, and how they became such a vibrant third space for sex workers, artists, and others, and that was something I wanted to pay homage to in my work. You often see docks and piers in traditional fighting games as well, so it seemed like a natural pairing on that count.

Other levels are based on bathhouses, or clubs, or concert venues that I’ve visited. There’s one that’s based loosely on a gay bathhouse in Bangkok. Another is a recreation of a fairly well-known outdoor concert venue but reimagined as giant lipstick tubes. Another is the rooftop of a now-closed bar in Los Angeles. I really wanted to capture the essence of these spaces and allow for some aspect of play and understanding in each of them.

There are also a bunch of levels that are more abstract in their approach: a gay dating app turned into a scrolling platformer level, a dressing room blown up to gargantuan proportions, a level taking place entirely inside of a Ouija board. They really run the gamut in terms of breadth.

Why do you think so many drag queens are gamers?

I think for a lot of people, games are a way of experiencing a different life than the one you’re given. You get to populate a different world, and deal with different challenges, and meet different and often more interesting characters, and so in a big way, it’s expressive and creative and exhilarating to play a game. I think drag is very similar, in the sense that you are trying on different personalities and exploring a different world—seeing the world through different eyes. I remember the first time I ever went out in drag, none of my friends even recognized me, and I thought to myself that that was the first time I could really set aside the self and experience the world without the lens of Greg. So there’s in some ways a sense of escapism and in other ways a sense of fuller expression—of being able to assume identities and roles you might not otherwise be afforded.

When we talk about something that’s amazing in the queer community, we sometimes use the world fabulous, but what that literally means is something belonging to fables. Things aren’t impressive: they’re sickening. When we love something we live! When I was amazed, I died! We love the outrageous, the hyperbolic, the impossible, the visceral, and I think drag and games both tap into that sense of exaggerative wonder. The possibilities are endless and something unexpected is just around the corner.

How to get your hands on the game

The Kickstarter for Super Bearded Dragons is up and running and the clock is ticking to preorder your copy before the campaign ends. Every backer brings Greg nearer to his goal, including his stretch goal to make the game available on the Switch! Right now you’ll be able to play it on PC.

Find the Kickstarter here and follow @gregbayles and @thatdraggame on Instagram for updates.