Now You’re Playing with PRIDE
Games represent arguably the most powerful entertainment medium of the 21st Century. And as the influence of the gaming industry grows, so too does the variety of voices creating them, as do the types of characters represented inside the games themselves. This includes games with LGBTQ characters and themes, both of which are currently experiencing a kind of Golden Age.
The modern gaymer community has more options than ever before to play games with relatable storylines and characters - from AAA releases with multi-million dollar development and marketing budgets, to small indie titles that, despite their quality, never reach a mass audience.
A full spectrum of LGBTQ characters are out there - in space shooters, RPGs, and open world games. A collection as diverse as the real world LGBTQ community made up of individuals from all walks of life who do not succumb to stereotypes. Ordinary and extraordinary people just like anywhere else.
It’s getting where it needs to be...and we’re all better for it.
That gay game characters have become more commonplace is an amazing achievement and so important to that young person struggling with their own sexuality. This kind of modeling provides hope. Hope eases the journey. Hope provides heroes and role models - even if they live in space or can control time.
The collection of games below is a testament to just how far the gaming industry has come - in some ways, doing an even better job than TV and film in its realistic portrayals of gay themes and LGBTQ characters. Each game brings something new to the table. And for that, they deserve recognition.
Mass Effect Andromeda
Critical and fan reception to a game is important. Being free to love who you want to love is much more important. The latest installment of the Mass Effect series let a lot of people down in terms of gameplay. It was a buggy mess at launch - and for many months thereafter. But it gave gamers an opportunity to choose from all types of love-story-lines, and that made it an important release, despite clunky shooting mechanics and characters with cold, dead doll’s eyes. And there was kissing. Lots and lots of kissing.
Life is Strange
A teenage girl mourns the death of her girlfriend Chloe, only to discover that she has the power to control time. That’s one rollercoaster of a week, which is why we connect so quickly to Max, the protagonist of Life is Strange. We’ve all had weeks that overwhelm us. Where we feel as if the world is ending. As Max struggles to change history and reconnect with her love interest, we feel her pain. It’s an emotional and sometimes stress-inducing reminder of what teen love was actually like.
Steven Universe: Unleash the Light
The effortless way that the animated series weaves strong LGBTQ themes into it’s storylines is carried on into this terrific mobile RPG. It’s a simple game to play with a surprisingly rich combat system that grows deeper as you press on into the second and third acts of the game. But the real reason to play Unleash the Light is the contribution of the show’s writers and voice actors. This is a chance to play an episode of a show we love to death - where LGBTQ characters are done effortlessly and made so real. And for that reason it, along with the fact that it is single-handedly keeping us from cancelling our Apple Arcade subscription, deserves all the love in the world.
Like all the female characters in the Borderlands franchise, Athena is strong and smart as hell. Funny too. Her relationship with the mechanical - literally - Springs is about as good as game writing gets. You know you’ve accomplished something when your lesbian relationship carries real weight amidst a game that boasts over a million different types of guns.
Lena Oxton, or “Trace” as her friends and followers call her, had her sexuality confirmed via game-related comic book backstory. It was here where we met Lena’s girlfriend, Emily and fans began musing what other characters from the hero shooter might be LGBT or Q. Blizzard has been mum on the topic so far, but we’re keeping a close eye on those comics.
There aren’t any gay characters in The Sims. That’s not what it’s about. It’s the fact that the game designers have provided total freedom over the world they create and the characters who inhabit it. That means that gamers who have long sought to play with videogame characters who shared the same orientation now had a place to call home - and if they wanted, that same playable character could look an awful lot like themselves.
The Last of Us/Left Behind
The sweet adolescent innocence of Joel and Ellie’s relationship garnered most of the attention, but we were always partial to the backstory belonging to NPC Barley Bill who, we learn, lost his lover before the events of the game began. For an NPC, Bill’s experiences really hit home - and as anyone who has felt grief over a lost loved one will attest - are hard to shake. The Last of Us is mentioned in just about every Top 100 Games of AllTime list ever coded - and it’s for good reasons like this.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2
Juhani, the fierce Cathari knight, was a revelation for the Star Wars franchise. Not only did she represent the first lesbian character in ANY of the films, books or games, KOTR gave you a chance to romance another female character, Beliya the Jedi. Interestingly, the game originally gave gamers a chance to involve Juhani in a romantic relationship with a man - an element of the game that was subsequently removed, much to the developer’s credit.
Grand Theft Auto IV
Remember when a new GTA game meant getting DLC that was of such a high quality that it outshone most core game releases on its own? The latest iteration of the franchise has only given us the distressing experience that is GTA V Online, but at least we have our memories. And for most of us, the most vivid of those memories involve Gay Tony. When The Ballad of Gay Tony was released as DLC for GTA IV, it was reasonable to shudder. After all, this was not a game series that dealt politely with some of life’s more sensitive issues. However, the game itself proved to be a breakthrough in many ways. You play as Gay Tony’s bodyguard (not the titular main character) which is a shame. But the key takeaway was that you had a gay chacracter who was not sweet and syrupy or even weak. On the contrary, GTA showed that you could have an LGBTQ character who was just as awful a human being as everyone else in the criminal underworld.
Where do we go from here? Keep playing games with LGBTQ storylines and characters. And support those developers making these games as well. Dig around Steam and other game stores to find those really niche titles that were obviously created by individuals who had taken a similar journey. When we learn something important from our games, or when they provide us solace, you know that the industry is living up to the highest ideals we have set for it.
There are a million miles more to travel, but these games and many more not included here, prove that the journey has already begun.