Pride Month is here! It’s a time for the LGBTQIA+ community to celebrate. But it’s also a time for reflection: reflection of how far the community has come and how far it still has to go. Never forget that it was inspired by the Stonewall riots of 1969 when many fought against the oppression LGBTQIA+ people faced. That fight is, unfortunately, still not over.
But society is moving forward and representation is at its highest levels. TV shows, films, books, and video games are all mediums where LGBTQIA+ characters can shine. Strong creative voices push the community into the light to let people know they aren’t going anywhere. In the video games industry, in particular, thanks to the efforts of LGBTQIA+ members and allies alike, queer stories are being told.
So let’s celebrate the rich diversity we have and the bright future it represents. Here is a list of our favourite games with LGBTQIA+ characters and stories, and let me tell you, it wasn’t easy whittling it down. There are so many fantastic examples that narrowing it to just a few was nearly impossible! But here we go…
The Dragon Age and Mass Effect series
Okay, it’s the first entry and I’m already cheating. But these two series – in fact, anything made by BioWare – have had queer motifs since the start. In both, the player character has multiple romantic interests they can pursue, both male and female, and open to male or female player characters.
Dragon Age always had the option available and Mass Effect added male-male romantic interactions in the third entry. Both series portrayed queer relationships as completely normal, creating worlds where the notion of queer identity was a given. Even as far back as Jade Empire, BioWare has been putting gay relationships on the map.
Krem from Dragon Age: Inquisition is also said to be one of gaming’s first transgender male characters.
Grand Theft Auto
Grand Theft Auto is never one for subtlety, but the character of Gay Tony is one of their most nuanced characters to date. As the deuteragonist of GTAIV: The Ballad of Gay Tony, you see a lot of depth to Tony beyond his sexuality. You see his highs, his lows, and his rock bottoms. He’s a shady nightclub owner and as much of a criminal as you can expect from Grand Theft Auto. He also just happens to be gay.
It’s refreshing to see an early example where a character is defined by something other than their sexuality. Yes, he’s called “Gay Tony”, but the game goes to lengths to show you who, what, and why Tony is beyond that moniker.
Assassin’s Creed has always embraced queer characters, even as far back as the first entry. But with the latest entry, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, developer Ubisoft has given the player agency to pursue it themselves.
You can play as either of the siblings Alexios or Kassandra and can, through the course of the game, pursue opposite-sex or same-sex relationships. It’s something Ubisoft has stressed will carry on in the next game in the series, Valhalla. Having this option is a great way to validate sexual orientations of all kinds and provide an inclusive platform where people can be who they are, which puts it above games that aren’t interested in exploring that option.
The Life is Strange series
Life is Strange is an example where the characters’ queer identity plays more of a role in the story. As an open-ended, choose-your-own-path episodic game, it was up to you to follow that storyline, but the main character of the first game, Max, is bisexual. The protagonist of the follow-up, Chloe, is a lesbian.
This continued with the sequel, as it explored more queer relationships and identities. It hit a chord with many as its younger cast gave teenage fans a space to explore and think about their own identity. People also liked its human, ‘real’ approach to the topic of whirlwind teenage romances.
I won’t spoil this one as the main crux of the story is a mystery that needs solving. You play Katie, a young woman who returns home to find the house abandoned. As you wander around the house, you piece together what happened.
Before I go into it more, beware spoilers. If you want to experience the game for yourself (which I recommend), don’t read on. In Gone Home, you explore your home and unravel the mystery of your missing sister, Samantha. It turns out she had started a relationship with a female friend from school and their parents were less than accepting. In the end, you discover Samantha has run away to be with her partner.
It’s a hugely affecting story and speaks to the pain so many LGBTQIA+ members go through. It’s a message of self-acceptance but isn’t without its bitter-sweet note. The game was applauded for its approach to LGBTQIA+ issues and was an example of a game remaining compelling even when all you were doing was rooting around in the kitchen cupboards.
The Last of Us
While the first game merely hinted at it, the prologue DLC Left Behind confirmed Ellie is queer. And now in the second entry in the series, The Last of Us Part II, Ellie is the main character and the story involves her romantic relationship with partner Dina.
The trailer from E3 2018 even showed us an intimate moment between the two of them, a huge leap for queer representation. Stories like this normalise queer nature because it is just that – normal. The game hasn’t been released yet, so we don’t necessarily know where the story goes, but it has given LGBTQIA+ people another strong character they can get behind. It pushes forward the goals of the community as we seek greater representation.
And the rest!
If only I could go on about every game with LGBTQIA+ characters and motifs. These last few years have seen an explosion of representation and that doesn’t look like it’ll stop anytime soon.
We could have mentioned Fable, which has the BioWare school of ‘be-who-you-want’ representation. Or Stardew Valley which gives you a bevvy of eligible bachelors and bachelorettes you can explore and marry. Other indie games like Dream Daddy or Night in the Woods. And The Sims! Riot has also added a variety of pride flags to League of Legends, so many people can proudly display the flag they most associate with.
All of these are examples of games that have done so much for queer representation. They are the trailblazers. They have given us worlds where we can find people just like us. Where queer people can feel a sense of belonging. To some, they might just be video games but, to others, they are a lifeline. They are home. What matters most is developers keep fighting to include that representation. Not every “letter” in the community has a character they can look to and feel pride in, which is why we must carry on with this representation. The more games – AAA, indie, or in between – that stand by the community, the closer we can get to true acceptance.
At REALTIME, we’re flying the pride flag with, well, pride! To all our LGBTQIA+ members of staff, clients, and readers, we’re with you for this month and every month to come.