Written By Michael Ferrara
Created on 2023-05-25 12:43
Published on 2023-05-25 16:00
In the vast and dynamic universe of video games, diversity is not just about populating worlds with a mix of species, races, or creatures. It's also about representing human identities and experiences. In the gaming community, LGBTQ+ representation has taken on an increasing importance, reflecting a desire for inclusivity and relatability.
The journey of LGBTQ+ representation in video games mirrors the broader social changes we've experienced. The earliest video games rarely featured LGBTQ+ characters, reflecting society's lack of open conversation about queer identities at the time.
One noteworthy exception was the 1986 text-based adventure game, "Moonmist." Although the representation was far from perfect, this game featured one of the earliest known instances of a gay character in a video game.
However, many early representations of LGBTQ+ characters were problematic, often relying on harmful stereotypes or treating these characters as jokes.
In recent years, we've seen a progressive shift in the portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters in video games. More games are showcasing characters with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, creating a more inclusive gaming landscape.
Consider the critically acclaimed "The Last of Us Part II" where Ellie, the protagonist, is a lesbian. Throughout the game, her relationships and experiences are portrayed with sensitivity and depth, making her one of the most prominent LGBTQ+ characters in mainstream gaming.
In "Dragon Age" and "Mass Effect" series by Bioware, players have the option to engage in same-sex relationships, reflecting a growing trend of player-controlled LGBTQ+ representation.
However, it's not always a level playing field. Some games still fall short, offering shallow portrayals or exploiting LGBTQ+ characters for shock value. This reminds us that representation is not just about quantity, but also quality.
Video games, like other forms of media, shape our understanding of the world around us. Rather than being merely escapist fantasies, they reflect and influence societal norms.
Seeing LGBTQ+ characters in games can help normalize diverse identities, challenge prejudices, and promote empathy. For LGBTQ+ gamers, it can provide validation and belonging. A gamer, Jamie, who frequently posts thoughtful commentary and analyses of game narratives online, recalls playing Ellie in "The Last of Us Part II": "Seeing Ellie's story unfold, seeing her struggle, love, and perseverance – it felt as if a piece of my own experience was being acknowledged."
While strides have been made, LGBTQ+ representation in video games faces hurdles. Industry biases, censorship, and sometimes backlash from segments of the gaming community present significant challenges.
The "Tomodachi Life" controversy, where Nintendo initially did not include same-sex relationships, underlines how these challenges can arise. After Nintendo apologized and pledged more inclusivity in future versions, it emphasized the need for continued vigilance and advocacy.
Indie games, with their often smaller scale and more personal storytelling, have become a vibrant space for LGBTQ+ representation. Games like "Gone Home," "Life is Strange," and "Undertale" provide nuanced portrayals of LGBTQ+ characters and narratives, often outpacing their AAA counterparts in terms of representation.
As we load the next level, the future of LGBTQ+ representation in video games looks promising. Upcoming games like "Tell Me Why" by Dontnod Entertainment feature transgender protagonists, signaling an evolution in representation that reflects a wider range of LGBTQ+ experiences.
Still, there is much work to be done. Better representation doesn't just mean more LGBTQ+ characters, but more diverse and authentic portrayals. This includes characters of different races, ages, and backgrounds, as well as intersectional identities within the LGBTQ+ spectrum itself.
We must also address the industry's structural issues, such as the lack of LGBTQ+ people in game development roles and the often toxic culture surrounding video games. To promote better representation, it is important to create safer and more inclusive spaces for players and developers alike.
Finally, gamers themselves play a key role in shaping the industry. By supporting games that portray LGBTQ+ characters well and advocating for better representation, players can help push the industry towards a more inclusive future.
In the realm of mainstream gaming, there are also notable strides being made. Industry leaders like BioWare, known for the "Dragon Age" and "Mass Effect" series, have introduced LGBTQ+ characters and player-driven romance options that allow for a variety of relationships. This shift represents a significant move towards a more inclusive approach in AAA game development.
Ubisoft's "Assassin’s Creed" franchise has also made efforts towards inclusive representation, offering gender choice in recent entries, along with various LGBTQ+ relationships. These strides, though far from perfect, indicate a growing awareness within the gaming industry of its diverse player base and the need for stories that reflect this diversity.
Other mainstream games like "The Last of Us Part II" from Naughty Dog feature LGBTQ+ characters in leading roles. The game’s protagonist, Ellie, is openly gay and her journey involves an intricate and profound love story that contributes significantly to the narrative's emotional depth. Representation such as this in a major AAA game signifies a move away from tokenism towards more nuanced, human, and central roles for LGBTQ+ characters.
The landscape of LGBTQ+ representation in video games is continually changing and growing. The efforts of independent developers like Kristi Jimenez, Kris Wise, Jaime, moaw, and Madeline Cavegift play a significant role in shaping a more inclusive gaming industry. In addition, mainstream gaming has begun to understand and accommodate the needs of LGBTQ+ gamers.
However, we can't rest on our laurels. As the gaming community, we need to continue to push for greater representation, diversity, and inclusion. We must hold developers accountable when they fall short and commend them when they make strides in the right direction.
The gaming world is a vast, shared universe, one that all of us - regardless of our gender identity or sexual orientation - have a right to explore, enjoy, and see ourselves represented within. As the arcade game continues to level up, here's hoping that the next stage brings even more diversity and inclusion for us all.
The intersection of LGBTQ+ representation and video games is more than a niche interest – it’s an essential part of the conversation about diversity and inclusion in media. While we've come a long way from the pixelated worlds of retro gaming, there's still plenty of terrain to explore.
As gamers, developers, and enthusiasts, we all have a role to play in this journey. So let's gear up, press start, and continue to champion a more diverse and inclusive gaming world for all.
After all, in the sprawling universe of video games, everyone should have the chance to see a character they can identify with – because representation matters, whether you're battling aliens in a distant galaxy or finding love in a fantasy realm.
So, game on, everyone. We've got worlds to explore, stories to tell, and progress to make. Let's do it together.
Queer Game Studies, edited by Bonnie Ruberg and Adrienne Shaw, is available in paperback form.
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