Seeing as its pride month, I thought I’d do something a bit different for my next gaming post. There’s always a lot of discussion about LGBT representation in television (which is improving) and film (which is hamstrung by filmmakers greed – including LGBT themes tends to get your film banned in China and the Middle East – so many just leave them out or have LGBT characters whose sexuality is never shown or spoken of overtly). But there’s one form of media where representation doesn’t tend to be discussed often – gaming. I mean, in one way it makes sense – there’s plenty of games where any kind of sexuality has no impact or meaning (driving games and platformers for example). But given how many modern games are story or character led, character sexuality often plays a role in events. The vast majority of games feature protagonists who are heterosexual or whose sexuality is never addressed – which isn’t necessarily a problem – some plotlines don’t really require you to have a sense of the character’s sexuality in order to connect to them. I could name dozens of games where a male protagonist can romance female characters or heterosexual relationships are depicted in the background. But there aren’t many where the same is true for homosexual or bisexual characters. Trans characters are even rarer. The growing trend in games (particularly RPG’s) is to have characters with entirely fluid sexuality who can romance anyone – such as Kassandra in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey – and while this increased choice is certainly welcome, its still far from perfect, as it often means developers just don’t include characters with defined sexuality. Non-RPG’s depict such relationships incredibly rarely – particular top of the line triple A games (with one massive exception – see later).
So, I thought to mark and celebrate pride month, I’d give a shout out to five games who get representation right – even if it isn’t their main focus or they aren’t perfect at it, these are 5 games which are among the best in terms of having meaningful LGBT representation in gaming. There may be games I’ve missed which also do this, but I tried to include 5 games which even non-gamers may have heard of, and true gamers will probably have played or know something about. Enjoy!
Fallout New Vegas: New Vegas is one of the first games I can remember playing with a notable amount of LGBT characters and themes. There are several games that pre-date this which included them (mostly from BioWare) but this one perhaps used its LGBT characters and choices in a meaningful way more so than any previous games. Quite a few named NPC’s in this game have set sexualities, which even in RPG’s isn’t as common as you might think (normally sexuality in games is either not present at all or utterly fluid and romanceable by either gender of player character). The courier, the player character, can be of any sexuality, as you can gain perks when you level up allowing you to flirt with other characters of the same sex (or opposite sex), which often helps you advance questlines or gain characters trust more easily. The game doesn’t really have sex scenes (when romancing NPC’s, the screen fades to black, with some moaning sounds offscreen), so defining your characters sexuality is there solely to help develop your character. Two of the 8 companions you can recruit in this game are LGBT: Veronica and Arcade. One of the only ways to get former Enclave Doctor Arcade to join you is to flirt with him as a gay male courier (other couriers can use speech checks). Veronica’s sexuality plays a huge part in her backstory, as one of the reasons she feels isolated from the Brotherhood of Steel is because they encourage procreation between members (due to their low numbers + isolationist policies), making her status as a lesbian a point of contention. She was forcibly split up from Christine, the girl she loved (who you recruit in the Blood Money DLC later on) and is understandably upset that her ‘family’ in the brotherhood is unwilling to accept her for who she is. While gaming has a tendency to over-sexualise lesbian characters, Veronica and Christine are rare exceptions – their sexuality is a key part of their character, but neither are designed in a titillating way (neither are romanceable by the player either) and it is purely included to give their characters a meaningful backstory. From the team at obsidian, this game is a great example of how sexuality should be done in RPG games – it’s shown, not overly sexualised, and in some cases, a crucial aspect of main character backstories.
Mass Effect 3: Mass Effect 1 originally was going to have gay and lesbian romance options, but due to predictable outcry over the games sex scenes (in the US, of course) the developers got cold feet and cut the homosexual romance options (except Liara and femshep, which is arguably the first game’s best romance, so thank god). ME2 avoided homosexual pairings entirely (Kelly, the only Bi character, wasn’t fully romanceable). Fortunately, by ME3, the developers had got their act together and gave the player far more freedom, providing a more diverse roster of romanceable characters (and NPC’s). They confirmed Kaidan, a character since game 1, was a bisexual male. They included a gay male character (shuttle pilot Cortez) and a lesbian character (Sam Traynor) for the first time. Overall, ME3 is a game where your main characters sexuality is entirely fluid, and also depicts homosexuality and bisexuality as entirely accepted and normal within society – i.e. how it should be. Given this game is set in 2186, it makes sense that it depicts a future where sexuality (and race for that matter) are no longer controversial issues for humanity. With any luck, such progressive normality won’t take that long to come about.
Dragon Age Inquisition: Another BioWare entry, Dragon Age Inquisition includes something few games had had by this point: a trans character. Krem, the lieutenant to Iron Bull, one of your companions, was born female but clearly identifies as male, and had to escape their homeland to find somewhere they could be truly accepted. While their character is only a supporting one, and their backstory only apparent through optional conversations back at base, Krem is still a landmark character in BioWare games and gaming more generally. The game overall has great LGBT representation, with lesbian characters (Sera), bisexual male and females (Iron Bull and Josephine) and gay male characters (Dorian), all of whom are romanceable by the player (whose sexuality is player-determined – you can flirt with anyone as male or female characters, but only characters with matching sexualities will reciprocate. BioWare games often get mocked as dating sims because of their romance sub-quests, but DA: Inquisition is one of the few games that gives LGBT players a chance to interact with characters similar to themselves.
The Outer Worlds: The Outer Worlds is another entry by Obsidian, and while it lacks a large roster of LGBT characters, it features something rarely seen in gaming or indeed wider media – a character who isn’t interested in sex at all. Parvati, the first companion you gain in game, has a sub-quest about getting her together with her crush, another female engineer. But Parvati isn’t interested in sex, she simply wants a loving relationship. I’m not the right person to identify exactly where on the asexuality spectrum this puts her (if indeed, that is the right term) but as someone who has an asexual best friend, it struck me just how rare it is to see that kind of sexuality depicted in fiction. The Outer Worlds is the only game on this list I’m not a massive fan of, but I have to give it credit for including something that rarely receives adequate representation.
The Last of Us Part 2: The Last of Us Part 2 released last week and blew me away in terms of its quality and storytelling. What surprised me was just how progressive this game dared to be – as a headline game and PlayStation exclusive, the developers need it to succeed, and well know the type of review bombing and bigoted backlash LGBT-friendly plots unfortunately tend to get online. But they didn’t just include them, they built the whole game around them. The main character is a lesbian (rare enough in games), her love interest is bisexual and the companion of the main antagonist is a trans character escaping discrimination among their people (a religious cult, because of course). Few games would base a large part of their narrative about a healthy lesbian relationship, even fewer would have a trans story which humanises its antagonist. But the Last of Us Part 2 does both, and does both well. The relationship between Ellie and Dina feels natural, normal and isn’t sexualised for horny male gamers to leer over. The game features amusing flashbacks of Joel (Ellie’s surrogate father figure) failing to realise Ellie is a lesbian, but later accepting it without question. When a nasty, older character insults Ellie and Dina and calls Ellie a dyke, the other characters instantly spring to her defence and shut the drunken bigot down. The game has a clear message about LGBT people and relationships, and doesn’t shy away from telling it. It also doesn’t make the pitfall a lot of ‘supposedly’ progressive movies do by having token representation. These characters sexuality is clear and important within the story. It is also shown, not patronisingly spelt out for viewers (like Chibnall’s botched version of Doctor Who does with similar characters). I’ve honestly never seen representation done in a healthier, more sensitive and natural way than in this game – and that’s one of the many, many reasons I’d encourage everyone with a PS4 they own or can borrow from a friend to play this game. It really is ground-breaking.
There’s my list – feel free to leave a comment if you know of any games which do a great job on this issue that I haven’t mentioned – it would be interesting to hear about them.
And if discussing LGBT issues makes you uncomfortable or offends you in any way… then please stay the fuck out of my comments section and off my blog – I have no tolerance for bigotry – this post is a celebration of progressive games and show of solidarity with the LGBT community – its not meant as a political commentary or anything else.
Happy Pride Month 🙂