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LGBTQIA+ Characters In Video Games: A Spotlight

We’ve seen developments over the years in more characters within video games identifying as LGBTQ+, and whilst there is still more work to do, we wanted to celebrate some of our favourite kickass characters from games that are in the LGBTQ+ community.

Life Is Strange – Alex & Steph

screenshots of steph gingrich from True Colours

Where would we be without this wonderful duo from Life Is Strange: True Colours? Alex and Steph have been fan favourites since True Colours first came out in September 2021. Alex, the main protagonist of the game, is a bisexual character who begins the game reuniting with her brother Gabe in Haven Springs, Colorado. Her kindness and tenacity is a huge asset to the character, and is why so many players fell in love with her! Steph is a lesbian who, depending on the player’s choices, can romance Alex. We talk a lot about Steph’s character in an upcoming podcast episode with the voice actor Katy Bentz.

 

The Last Of Us – Ellie, Riley, Lev

a mashup of Ellie, Riley, Dina and Lev from The Last of Us

The Last of Us has a number of LGBTQ+ characters within the series, with Ellie, one of the main protagonists initially hiding her sexuality from Joel. Her lesbian identity is unveiled in the Left Behind DLC after Ellie and Riley share a kiss within the mall. Bill, a gay character is also within the first The Last of Us game. In The Last of Us Part II, Dina’s character is introduced as bisexual and as a love interest for Ellie. We also see within the sequel an introduction to the first trans character within TLOU universe; Lev.

 

The Outer Worlds

Photo from The Verge

Parvati is an asexual character from The Outer Worlds, and is a fan-favourite. Gayming Mag have a great article looking into their character more here.

 

Tell Me Why

Dontnod’s Tell Me Why moved so many players with their powerful story telling and engaging story, but Tyler’s representation within the game as not only a trans man but a complex character outside of that, was inspiring to both players and game devs alike. Dontnod’s collaboration with GLAAD and using lived experience was a huge factor in creating Tyler.

 

Technobabylon

Max Lao; one of Technobabylon’s 3 main characters, who is a tech-savvy operative on the police force. It is discovered within emails within the game that she is a trans woman, who previously attended an all-boys school.

 

Mass Effect

Liara T’Soni is the very first queer (and romanceable) character within the world of Mass Effect, with her own DLC within the second game. Mass Effect has a number of LGBTQIA characters within the series in total, and this article by Gayming Mag goes into greater detail on each of them!

 

Dragon Age

Dorian is the first male companion who is a romance option exclusively for a male protagonist within Dragon Age, making his debut in Dragon Age: Inquisition. He is a charming character, a mage, and an inspiration for David Gaider to continue to integrate LGBTQIA+ characters within his future game narratives.

There are so many characters within the games universe that have well-written LGBTQIA+ characters, and these are just a few highlights from our community! If you’re looking to delve into more LGBTQIA+ characters, our friends at Gayming Mag do fantastic work in queer culture.

We’ve found resources such as Represent Me and LGBT Characters Wikia to be brilliant in documenting LGBTQIA+ characters across fiction and video games.

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Character Creation and the Privacy of Playing with Gender

Video games have offered queer nerds a safe space to explore aspects of themselves for decades.

I’m not the first to have noticed, and more personally felt, this phenomena and I most certainly won’t be the last. From romancing characters of the same gender, to opening up a new save and creating a character of the opposite one, games have always been playgrounds for positive exploration of sexuality and, especially, gender.

Gaming is often a solitary hobby with the majority of releases focusing on single-player campaigns. Because of this, gaming is often also a very private hobby, with players retreating to their bedrooms or studies after school or work to tune out the rest of the world and dive into the one loading up in front of them.

It’s this privacy that is important to why video games lend themselves so well to gender exploration. Players can dive into a new skin with a sense of security, knowing there’s nobody to perform for.

See, there is still an awful societal pressure for queer people to know exactly how to label themselves as soon as they are comfortable coming out, particularly queer youth. Society perpetuates the idea that changing your mind, discovering something new about yourself, or growing into a new identity is something to be ashamed of. I’m sure you’ve heard the stereotype prescribed to bisexuality as the ‘in-between’ step towards ‘realising you’re actually a lesbian / gay man’ or the similar belief that coming out as non-binary is just one step away from coming out as binary transgender.

For many people, discovering themselves does lead them from one label to another, but these stereotypes have come to assign a certain amount of shame to that. These should-be-comforting moments of self-discovery can become tainted as wrong-turns, when in reality they’re often natural progressions.

This is where the privacy of video games, and character creation, come in. Not only does creating a new persona to inhabit allow you to test the waters of presenting and identifying in a different way, but you can experiment and change that persona as you go, sometimes within games and sometimes between them. All within the privacy of your own save files.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons, for example, was the first game in the Animal Crossing franchise to remove gender restrictions in the game. Previously you would be asked to choose ‘girl’ or ‘boy’, often in bizarre dialogues where the question isn’t specifically asked but is instead assumed on whether you think your name is ‘cute’ or ‘cool’…you know, the two genders. Clothing options and haircuts would be restricted depending on this choice, and it couldn’t be changed without creating an entirely new character.

New Horizons, however, let’s you change your gender marker whenever and clothes and haircuts are available to all. In an interview with The Washington Post, Aya Kyogoku, the game’s director, spoke about this flexibility of gender in New Horizons:

“We basically wanted to create a game where users didn’t really have to think about gender or if they wanted to think about gender, they’re also able to.”

This freedom offers small and private moments of gender affirmation, including when that affirmation comes in freedom from gender; letting you run around knowing your character’s gender marker is set to boy while you terraform in your most ‘girly’ cottage-core dress with not a single villager caring (something I did myself).

What happened with New Horizons is just one of the examples of the ways game designers are beginning to push better representations of gender. More games are allowing a mixture of traditionally feminine or masculine traits within one character, including non-binary identities, and are providing a wider / mixed choice of pronouns. While this has been in the works of several developers over the years, it came more to the forefront during Covid when separation from society was greater and people had the space and privacy to experiment in real life as well as in their
games.

During this time, I myself remember playing Arcade Spirits, the already very queer dating sim from Fiction Factory Games. On opening the game, I was met with a character customiser where I was able to give my ‘me’ a cute blonde bob, a masculine build, and, for the first time, they/them pronouns. It was one of the first times I had been able to experiment with these pronouns; despite wanting to see how they felt for me, I wasn’t yet comfortable asking others to try them out.

But there, alone in my bedroom with a cup of tea and my laptop propped up on plushies, it felt private and personal and good. After I finished the game, I was able to recognise that, while those pronouns did feel right for me, there were times where I missed more gendered ways of presenting and interacting in-game. This Arcade Spirits version of me didn’t quite capture ‘me,’ and it was affirming to uncover that without the onlooking eye of others.

That experience could not have been the same were it broadcast and shared with others, and Arcade Spirits is only one example of how powerful the intimacy with video games can be. It’s why there is so much queer joy waiting to be found in games, because there is always excitement in the fact that we can try again and again to learn more about ourselves whenever we load into the next character creator.

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The Beginner’s Guide – A Subtle yet Powerful Trans Allegory by Ruby Modica

The Beginner’s Guide (TBG) is an environmental narrative game written by Davey Wreden and tells of his experience with a friend who used to make games.

TBG is a tightly written venture that poses many questions but answers only a handful of them by the end, leaving much of the story open for interpretation. Despite the overarching themes of game design and creator burnout, there is also room for an allegory that focuses on one of the characters being transgender and their difficult journey of self-discovery. 

The term “transgender” refers to an individual who lives as a different gender to the one they were assigned at birth. This Pride Month, where many will be proudly celebrating their right to be themselves and love themselves despite oppression, it is important to remember that trans people have come under serious attack in recent years. Therefore, examining this trans interpretation of TBG is important for those who may be unaware of the difficulties a trans person typically goes through, or even for someone who is unsure of their gender identity. 

Davey tells the story of his friend who uses the nickname Coda. Since the entirety of TBG is narrated by Davey, we are only given access to Coda’s life through another person’s perspective, which is why the conflicting story details might not accurately portray Coda’s gender identity. Hints at Coda’s true identity are revealed in subtle ways all throughout TBG, something that can be easily overlooked on an initial playthrough. 

a screenshot of an empty room with cream coloured walls, one wall is open and there are bars across the length of it

Firstly, Davey uses he/him pronouns when talking about Coda, initially suggesting that they are a cisgender male (that is, assigned male from birth and living as a male). However, this simple detail becomes less credible as the game progresses, since most of the games Davey shows feature multiple sound clips of a woman’s voice guiding the player directly, such as The Whisper Machine’s announcer. Davey’s voice is recognisably male, but if Coda is assumed male then the voice’s origin becomes unclear. 

Other examples of female-gendered dialogue are found all throughout TBG. The second game Backwards reveals several pieces of short text, using the pronouns “she” and “her” throughout. The Island and Machine levels also portray the player as female, and other minor references appear in the Notes level that have all seemingly been written by Coda. 

4 images within corridors inside a building. There are words on the walls: "The past was behind her", "when she stops and looks it becomes clearer", "but if the future is always behind her" and "how will she find strength"

Based on other interpretations seen in TBG, each game created by Coda simulates something personal and experimental. Despite Davey’s attempts to connect them and add meaning, it is clear that Coda’s games are a safe creative space. In turn, it would make sense that these private thoughts would better depict Coda’s desired mental state, one where they use female pronouns and exist as a female. 

If Coda is indeed a trans woman, then the continued use of he/him pronouns by Davey could add another disheartening layer to the allegory. Refusing to acknowledge a trans person’s identity can cause trauma and dysphoria, both of which lead to psychological damage if unchecked. 

However, if Coda is a trans man (female-to-male) then this would be the inverse: Davey is respecting Coda’s new identity. The timescale for Coda’s games takes place over several years, so it is possible Coda begins transitioning during the course of their game development. That would also explain why Coda becomes more detached from their older games due to featuring an outdated version of themselves. Artefacts like their old username and voice clips can easily trigger dysphoria, which would parallel most trans people’s experiences. 

Additional signs of Coda’s female presence include the small number of NPCs appearing across TBG levels. One NPC model is seen in the Theatre level, where the disembodied narrator states that this person embodies everything the player wants to be. The deliberate gender choice is expanded upon when the game forces the player to recede back from the stage, followed by prison gates closing in. 

The only realistic female body seen in TBG comes at the end of Island, which depicts a crying woman behind a prison barricade. It is possible that all of these factors depict Coda’s thoughts of being trapped in the wrong body and unable to escape. 

An animated character with long brown hair is sat in the corner hugging their knees, with 3 dialogue options in the corner: 1. Hello?, 2. Where am I?, 3. What is this?

Coda’s happiness occurs in the House game where a male-bodied NPC is portrayed in a feminine manner. This could symbolise Coda’s desired gender identity, which contrasts heavily with the Theatre game where the player is told to hide themselves away instead. With this in mind, both of these levels could simply be a portrayal of Coda’s euphoria and dysphoria respectively.  

Of particular note is the final message to Davey, where there are certain lines that refer to distrust and insecurity brought about by Coda’s games being shared publicly. Coda states that this is “violating the one boundary that keeps [them] safe”, a potential allusion to having their gender identity publicly outed against their wishes. This has resulted in numerous upsetting instances in real life where kids are disowned by parents and/or suffer bullying, which would serve as a more impactful reason for Coda to cut contact with Davey. 

an animated tree on a series of grassy islands suspended in a white background/space

This trans allegory portrays the everyday difficulties that trans and non-binary people face on a daily basis, from finding their identity to a lack of help. Thankfully, despite all the attempted attacks, the world is gradually becoming more accepting of trans people. Deltarune and Tell Me Why are just a few gaming examples that feature trans/non-binary protagonists who are presented as independent and strong, a proud depiction that LGBTQ+ individuals and allies can empathise with.  

Additionally, there are many charities at hand such as Mermaids and GLAAD specifically designed for reaching out to trans individuals with support and guidance. There is hope for the future that the tragic trans allegory from The Beginner’s Guide will soon be a thing of the past, and this Pride Month is a good opportunity to show support where possible. Even small actions like respecting one another’s pronouns and helping those dealing with dysphoria can go a long way to making the world a better place. 

Ruby Modica is an independent content creator, editor and writer.

She loves sharing insight into video games and discovering new things, with a desire to work in the media/gaming industry full time. Most days she is busy at her computer working on her next big project.

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Gayming Magazine: Pride Month 2022 Highlight

This Pride, we are highlighting organisations and companies doing outstanding work within the LGBTQ+ gaming community.

Today we’re highlighting Gayming Magazine; the home of queer geek culture.

Gayming Magazine is a hub of LGBTQ+ culture within video games; from news to reviews to lifestyle and events – there is so much being covered by the fantastic team at Gayming Mag.

They’ve even collated a list of LGBTQ+ games that have come out this year, which you can find here.

The team will also be hosting DIGIPRIDE 2022, which will run from June to August this year, featuring panels, streams, podcasts and more! We are proud to be hosting a mental health focused panel for gaymers as part of this event on July 26th!

Follow Gayming Mag on Twitter

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How to Tell Meaningful Stories Through Games with Paula Angela Escuadra (Safe Space Podcast Season 2, Episode 1)

In the first episode of Season 2 of the Safe Space Podcast, Rosie talks to Paula Angela Escuadra about her vast experience within the game development space where she has broadened the conversation around inclusivity, representation, sustainability and climate consciousness.

We talk about the importance of using games to portray important messages, and how it differs from messages within more static media such as films and books, and what steps developers can take to implement these messages in ethical and proactive ways. We also discuss the effect that video games can have on player’s introspection and identity, and how it can act as a support mechanism to those who may often feel unsafe to be themselves in person.

Click here to listen!

There are two people in the foreground (Rosie and Paula), between them is a Audio waveform graphic in white and the text 'Safe Space', with a white siow logo at the bottom. There is a forest with light flickering through the trees in the background and a SIOW Pink wave shape at the top.

About Paula
Paula Angela Escuadra (She/Her) has spent +12 years elevating the power games have to redefine our relationship with failure and create meaning. She leads research for Xbox Game Studios Cloud Publishing, helping developers make great games that foster meaningful communities. She co-founded IGDA Climate Special Interest Group, co-authoring its newly released Environmental Game Design Playbook. She’s also on Cologne Game Lab’s advisory board with a focus on unlocking sustainability competencies.
(Lastly, she’s a very strong advocate for community care, psychological safety, and dog cuddling as a form of self-care.)

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Want to listen to more episodes of the Safe Space Podcast? Check out the full list of episodes at this link

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Hub World – Representation

Welcome back to Hub World!

In June, we spent time reflecting on the theme of representation. As people, we naturally look for representation – people and stories that connect with us on a personal level. As an industry, we still have a way to go in ensuring a diverse range of voices are heard, but we continue to see many brave individuals and communities pushing for change. 

This month, we will get straight into the stories from the SIOW community and what representation means to them. 

Suneet Sharma 

Sometimes my British Indian heritage and society’s heteronormativeness makes my gay identity sometimes feel stifled. These clashes of culture make it easy to withdraw and want to hide my sexual orientation, thus playing into societal stereotypes of LGBTQ+ people of colour. 

Opening up about this uneasiness has let me reclaim my identity and celebrate who I am. Persona 4’s depiction of Kanji’s Tatsumi struggling to accept his sexuality, represented through a fight with his inner shadow really struck chords with me. 

The depiction is controversial. But most importantly it’s there. A faithful depiction of a LGBTQ+ character. Not just queer coding. So to me that’s the most important thing- games telling these stories in an authentic way.  


Mel Plays Games

I’m a bisexual retro streamer on twitch. I also struggle with depression, anxiety, and chronic pains.

Being a Bisexual there is a lot of odd stigmas that pressure us. I have, as probably many before me get those odd “but you cant be a bisexual if you are only dating men” or “Bisexuals are always 50/50 of who they are attracted to”, this only serves to amplify stereotypes. It was hard for me to come out as Bisexual but even harder when I mention I’ve only dated cis men, it seemed then that I wasn’t Bisexual enough in some lgbtq+ communities.

Bisexuals experience high rates of being ignored or rendered invisible in the community. I felt left out and it had a negative effect on my health.

Finding a community that fosters a safer place for you to feel welcome has helped me feel more comfortable, I sat in a discord group once and listen to all the stories people talk about being bisexual and the stigma they go through every day, they gave me some helpful articles surrounding bisexual stigmas and now I know I’m not left out, it’s ok to be more attractive to men and still love women or vise versa, you still bisexual despite what you prefer to love the most.

Night in the Woods is a game I really felt connected to, the main character Mae especially, the whole game has a great understanding of going through emotional trauma and gives a good representation of mental health. Mae is dealing with depression and anger issues and trying to repress the feelings she is having, she’s a bit misunderstood but as you go along you see her more compassionate side. I love that about her, it reminds me of me growing up. It was a good escape to play through the story, made me feel ok with what I was going through myself, I felt at peace. If you haven’t tried the game out, I highly recommend you do.


Lilylefae

I’m Lily and I’m a streamer from Brazil. In general, coming to the US and adapting to a new culture was hard, but streaming gave me the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends. However, I love seeing other latinx content creators but could also definitely feel the lack of representation. A lot of the latinx streamers I see are born and raised in the US, most of them have an American culture and fit right in. I would love to see more people who have the same struggles as me, who overcame xenophobia and how they did that. I’d just love to see more diversity all around, not only concerning my culture, but every other aspect that needs representation too!


Karen Lee  

I used to spend much of my time in MMOs such as Runescape and World of Warcraft. Being a Canadian-born Chinese who moved to Hong Kong for much of my high school life, online games allowed me to connect back with my North American upbringing with like-minded folks. I mainly played from Hong Kong—meaning I’d stay up late at night so I could properly sync up my playtime with North American servers.

I truly felt that I belonged in these games, despite feeling different from my peers in Hong Kong. There was no judgement based on age, race, geographical location, or gender. We focused on the game and that was it.

I continue to love online multiplayer games. I’m overjoyed that I’m now seeing characters that align with my actual Chinese Canadian heritage! Frost from Rainbow Six Siege is an immediate favourite that comes to mind. However, I’m eager to see even more video game characters and stories develop around the unique culture of Asian-Americans in the future!


Richard Lee Breslin 

Representation comes all in forms. It could be skin colour, upbringing, sexuality, disability, mental wellbeing, and more. In one way or another, whatever our background, representation can be an important aspect of our mental health.

Other than being physically disabled, I’m an adult with autism and up until recently, I was scared to talk about my autism. I was concerned with how society might judge me, even some of my family and friends. However, with the help of social media, I learned that I’m not alone.  

There are loads of people like me from all backgrounds who are on the autistic spectrum. Autism is a different experience for each individual.  But the one thing that connects us all on social media, is that none of us are alone, and we’re all ‘ausome’ 😉”


Emma Withington is a freelance writer and Senior PR at Bastion who has worked on campaigns for a variety of titles, including Control and Final Fantasy XIV: Online.

She is currently spending time focusing on the wider community and how she can help others through her personal journey with mental health.

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Please, Not The Fade Again by Chazz Mair

Representation in media is better than it’s been in the past – I don’t think that’s a strange statement to make.

People of different skin colors, sexual and gender orientation see more exposure now than this time ten years ago. Things are better but not quite there yet. Seeing nonwhite people in leading roles is still a rarity – with the most recent one coming to mind being Spider-Man: Miles Morales. For a while now, games with expansive character creation tools do their part to bridge that gap, but if I have to pick between having a shaved head or looking like I googled “Black Goku” instead of doing my homework in 2003.

Monster Hunter: Rise is excellent; I’ve put in around 40 hours of playtime in the first week after its release. I love hitting large dragons with a big stick alongside my cool ninja dog. The start of my journey was immediately soured by how few hair options were available. The only black hairstyle available at launch was a shaved head – which is how the previous game, Monster Hunter World, launched but after adding so many in Iceborne, I had hoped that the sequel would keep them.

Hair is part of culture in the same way that food is. If it wasn’t, I would just sit here and let it grow however it wanted. But even that would be an active decision influenced by the things that made me, me. My hair grows a certain way – it curls and coils in on itself like wool. It doesn’t straighten; it twists. I’ve twisted it into braids and locs. I’ve had fades, icepicks, and waves, and I would just appreciate it if even a fraction of those options were represented in the escapist worlds video games seek to make me a part of.

I’ve seen too many stories about black trauma – in film especially. Video games are unique through their interactivity, and while there are plenty of games that try to emulate cinema, they haven’t tried to make me go through a playable version of the underground railroad since Freedom: the Underground Railroad, so I’m appreciative of the differences. I don’t want to relive a painful history for the umpteenth time; I want to see someone who looks like me fight a cool lightning gorilla. And while those stories about pain are essential, it shouldn’t be as hard as it is to find fantasies that want me to escape that pain with them.

It’s upsetting that right now, every new release that markets itself with “immersive character customization” feels like a lottery. Many people got the opportunity to create polygonal replicas of themselves for generations of gaming; my hair is a cut feature if it even gets that far.

The last time I recalled being able to live that same escapist fantasy was in Insomniac’s Sunset Overdrive, nonetheless an energetic romp through a contemporary setting. The options were by no means expansive, but there were enough there to make me feel considered. I could create authentic and believable black people and experience the story with them at the heart of it.

Sunset Overdrive and its setting are a lot of fun, a zombie apocalypse called by a soda corporation. People invent weaponry out of old guitars and music records – I desperately wish it had a sequel. But when I take a step back and think about it, I can’t help but be reminded of how those modern-day cityscapes are one of the few settings where I’m allowed to be without raising those bad-faith arguments of inauthenticity or pandering.

I understand that Monster Hunter: Rise is an unabashedly Japanese game – and it’s good that this game is reveling in its culture so much – those things also don’t exclude the possibility of people of other complexion living in their world. Culture isn’t inherently tied to skin color. Monster Hunter gave me the choice of creating a character, inviting me to this world but only if I wore a wig. It’s a quiet but prominent reminder that people like me and I are still outliers.

Still, I’m happy we’ve at least gotten this far. I remember the days when to have a darker complexion in Animal Crossing, you had to let your character stand in the sun until they were a crisp, golden brown.

I can’t personally create the lead of my favorite movie, but video games want me to. I would like for my inclusion to be the standard instead of an afterthought.


Chazz Mair is a black, New Jersey-based freelance writer and stand-up comedian who often spends his free time hanging out with friends at the local arcade or staring at toasters. Nowadays, he does more of the latter. An avid advocate of diversity, Chazz hopes to create stories about people who don’t make it to the front page.

 

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