This article addresses the seeming absence of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in video games from the 1980s and 1990s, the height of the US AIDS crisis. As Adrienne Shaw and Christopher Persaud have noted, stories about HIV/AIDS were pervasive across American popular media during this period, which also represented a boom in video game development. However, documentation remains of only a handful of early video games that mention HIV/AIDS. This article argues that, far from being absent from video game history, HIV/AIDS and the US AIDS crisis were actually influential in shaping a number of the design elements and narrative genres that have become important to contemporary video games. Scholars like Cait McKinney have demonstrated how people living with HIV/AIDS in America played a crucial part in the evolution of internet technologies that now form the backbone of video games. Through a comparative reading of two games by C. M. Ralph, Caper in the Castro (1989) and Murder on Main Street (1989), this article demonstrates how HIV/AIDS has also manifested in the content and form of video games, even (and perhaps especially) when it seems absent. Derritt Mason has explained how Caper in the Castro, widely celebrated as the first LGBTQ video game, contains clear echoes of the AIDS crisis. Yet, as this article demonstrates, HIV/AIDS remains a powerful presence even in Murder on Main Street, Ralph’s “straight version” of the game. Together, these games offer a microcosm through which to explore larger tensions between HIV/AIDS and video games, with the AIDS crisis representing a key element of what Cody Mejeur has termed the “present absence of queerness in video games.”

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