The video game industry is slowly (perhaps too slowly) liberalising, moving to include more rounded female characters and protagonists, more variety with regards to relationship choices in RPGs (which is why the lack of an option to date Yusuke in Persona 5 was so heart-breaking), and better representation of the LGBTQ+ community in video games both AAA and indie. When compiling this list, I realised with a heavy heart that we still have a long way to go. Some of these are not as deep and representational as I’d like, but they are a start, and the existence of LGBTQ+ stories and characters in video games is only going to get better in the future.
10 Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
The Assassin’s Creed series has moved more and more into RPG territory, and the latest entry went full Mass Effect with dialogue options, moral choices, and the option to bang anyone you like. You can play as a male or a female mercenary, and while embodying this character you are free to pursue any and all options with regards to sexual conquest, including the option to abstain from sex and romance completely. This is good, because it normalizes gay and lesbian relationships. It’s also shallow because most of these choices amount to lots and lots of sex and little else, reducing sexual representation to sex representation.
9 Gone Home
This short, two-hour experience is a walking simulator in which the player takes on the role of Katie, a girl who returns home to find her family house empty. As she explores the house, we piece together the lives of her parents and her sister. It’s an engaging and unconventional narrative structure which keeps the plot moving forward beautifully. The source of the rift which had led to the house being found empty is the outing of Katie’s sister as a lesbian who has fallen in love with a punk rocker named Lonnie. Learning about their relationship as the game goes on even uncovers links to the feminist punk movement of the ‘90s, Riot Grrrl. So that’s pretty cool.
8 The Last of Us
The Last of Us did a lot of things right, including a true and nuanced depiction of grief, a multi-layered relationship which grows naturally and with room to breathe, and a depiction of a young lesbian character done right.
In the DLC to the main game, titled Left Behind, protagonist Ellie must explore and survive an abandoned shopping mall with her friend Riley, a story which ends with a parting kiss. From what we’ve seen so far of the game’s sequel, we also know that Ellie will play a starring role, and has been seen in the trailers dancing with, and kissing, a girl. Ellie is a strong-willed, resourceful, and ambitious character who also happens to be gay. She is a wonderful example of an LGBTQ character written well.
7 Life Is Strange
The first Life is Strange was well-received little darling, examining the relationship between two friends, Max and Chloe. While the relationship is platonic, the devs made the daring (read: not daring at all) move to experiment with their characters by giving them the option to kiss, and by handing out enough subtext to make us wonder about a potential more-than-friends-friendship. It was all a bit meh. The sequel (or prequel) on the other hand, fared better, introducing a friend to Chloe who makes no bones about liking girls. Chloe herself is also given the dialogue option early on to tell her friend Rachel that she has feelings for her. Throwing out vagueness for direct gayness in the second game was an absolute breath of fresh air.
6 Mass Effect
Much like the afore-listed Assassin’s Creed, which mentioned the now-listed Mass Effect, Mass Effect is a game whose mechanics are geared around player choice. While there is a narrative, it can be influenced by choice, opening up new paths and options as you play (at least, to a certain point, and only until the trilogy’s ending which cast every choice aside like week-old milk). The non-narrative choice mechanic is that of relationships, which, to the developers’ credit, were given enough attention to become a very key aspect of many players’ experience. The devs did come under fire when they allowed female Shepard to be gay, but not male Shepard, and so they fixed it in the following game. The adage ‘better late than never’ is apt here, I suppose. Either way, by the time the third game is out, not only can relationships go whichever way you desire, you can also date whichever lizard-skinned alien takes your fancy. All is as it should be.
5 Final Fantasy IX
[For complete disclosure: Final Fantasy IX is this writer’s favorite game ever, and he fully embraces any excuse to mention this game]
Final Fantasy IX, claimed by series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi to be his personal favorite (his David Copperfield, if you will), is a complete JRPG experience, with a fantastic motley crew of protagonists that has no weak link. Every party member has something about them that makes them charming and intriguing, even series oddball Quina Quen. Quina is often seen as the comic relief character – the JarJar – of the game but Quina is more than that. Quina is a non-binary character from an enigmatic swamp-dwelling race of happy, peaceful, inquisitive, frog-eating people. Arguably it is frustrating that the one non-binary character in the franchise is an ugly fat thing that eats frogs and isn’t even human, but Quina also plants in the player’s mind the seed of an idea that there are more things in heaven and earth etc etc.
4 The Witcher 3
The game hailed by many today as the finest western RPG to have ever graced our consoles is also a game filled with characters to love and hate in equal measure; characters with intricately-woven relationships who make terrible mistakes, charm, trick, and steal from each other; characters who are remarkably human for all their magic. Fan favorite character, Ciri, is a badass woman who is introduced through flashbacks and stories told by people who have been charmed and impressed by her. When controlling Ciri later in the game, players are given the choice to declare, as Ciri, that she prefers the company of women. This is also proven canon in the fantasy books which inspired the game, as Ciri is involved in a relationship with a female character. Gay, bisexual, pansexual; whatever the case, Ciri is awesome.
3 Stardew Valley
A delightful life simulator which has a strong message for the capitalist world around us, Stardew Valley puts players in the shoes of a young woman or man who becomes disenfranchised by office life in the city and opts to take on a farm they have inherited in the countryside. So begins one of the most wonderful, relaxing gaming experiences in recent memory. Inspired heavily by Nintendo’s Harvest Moon franchise, Stardew Valley improves on its predecessor in many, many respects, one of which being the option to enter into a gay or lesbian relationship if you so choose. Adding in this option merely gives the player the added freedom to craft the exact life they would want to lead in this perfect rural landscape.
2 Night In The Woods
This game got a lot of hype at launch for being something very much its own. Not a life sim, not a walking sim, not something which fits into conventional genre types. Night in the Woods is a narratively-driven adventure story about a (cat) girl called Mae, 20 years old and a college dropout. Mae returns home and, through the game’s narrative, we learn more about her life, her friends and family, and her mental health. Before leaving for college, Mae played bass in a band and two of her bandmates, Gregg (a fox) and Angus (a bear) are a gay couple. This kind of normalized gay-relationship-as-part-of-a-band-of-friends being woven seamlessly into the story is something that should be seen, naturalistically, in a lot more games by now. But it’s not, and that’s what makes Night in the Woods special.
1 Steven Universe: Save The Light
Primarily known for being an engaging and clever children’s cartoon, Steven Universe has also had its own RPG, Save the Light, which is surprisingly excellent as tie-in games go, and well worth the asking price.
In both the show and the game one of its most beloved protagonists is Garnet, a member of the Crystal Gems who is actually a fusion – a being comprised of two characters fused together (yes, like Gogeta). The two characters who form Garnet are Ruby and Sapphire, two non-binary gems who are so in love that they prefer to spend every day fused into one being then together-but-separate as two. Ruby, Sapphire, and Garnet are referred to by the pronouns ‘she/her’, and so their relationship is arguably lesbian, but the gems are also non-binary, thus expanding their representation even further in the LGBTQ community. The impact that this show has had, and the way that it champions the LGBTQ community with nothing but love and celebration is truly wonderful. Watch the show and play the game now.