For many people, video games are extremely important. Some delve into a game to escape the stresses of everyday life. Others play them to feel connected to a relatable story or character. For those in the LGBTQIA+ community, that last part could not be truer.
The world we live in is so diverse, so naturally pop culture and media tries to reflect that with varying levels of success. The gaming industry is no exception, with developers having plenty of avenues to pull inspiration from.
While it has taken longer than it should have, we are starting to see more LGBTQIA+ characters in mainstream games. What was once only seen in indie games is now showing up in bigger, more well-known titles. Despite making some good strides, we still have a long way to go.
So, in honor of Pride Month this year, I wanted to look at representation in gaming. Specifically, the good, the bad, and what to improve going forward.
First off, let’s start with the good representation. Perhaps the most popular example in recent years is Ellie and Dina from The Last of Us series. Ellie specifically was one of the first big examples of representation. The Last of Us is widely considered one of the greatest games of all time, and to have one of the main characters be a lesbian was a big deal.
That continued into The Last of Us Part II. Her relationship with Dina was a major part of the story but did not dominate it completely. It helped debunk the myth that LGBTQIA+ characters would affect sales. The game sold over 4 million copies worldwide during its release weekend, making it the fastest-selling PlayStation 4 exclusive.
Another good example is the Life is Strange series. In the first game, Max and Chloe’s friendship (and potential relationship) is front and center. Even if players choose to not have Max go that route, Chloe clearly has feelings for her.
She also has feelings for her other friend, Rachel, which is expanded upon in the prequel, Life is Strange: Before the Storm. Right away, it is very obvious that the connection between Chloe and Rachel is intense and passionate. It gives great context for Life is Strange, where Chloe regularly brings up Rachel while talking to Max.
Life is Strange 2 follows the same formula with its main character, Sean. During episode three, he talks about finding some boys cute when asked about his sexuality. That trend looks to continue when Life is Strange: True Colors comes out on September 10.
Great representation at its core is well-written characters. In order to relate to their stories, people must feel emotionally invested. Developers must walk a very fine line; they need to give LGBTQIA+ characters proper stories without doing too little or going overboard. They should be an integral part of the story, not just a token character or someone whose story overshadows the game’s premise.
Those in the LGBTQIA+ community don’t want rainbow carpets rolled out for them. Rather, we just want to be treated as normal people.
Unfortunately, there are instances of some bad representation in gaming as well. In Grand Theft Auto V, Trevor Phillips is seemingly a part of the community but is also an absolute psychopath. Sander Cohen from Bioshock is referred to as gay. However, he is a remorseless and insane artist, not to mention a murderer. He also took part in human trafficking and sexually abused his male protégés.
Both characters fail to properly depict the community and paints it in a bad light. They perpetuate dangerous stereotypes LGBTQIA+ individuals fight daily. These two specifically insinuate that all gay men are predators and pedophiles, which is absolutely not true.
Another bad example is Poison from the Street Fighter and Final Fight franchises. She is trans, but her origin is where the problem lies. Originally, her character was a cisgender female. However, the developers thought players would have an issue fighting a woman in a beat-’em-up game, so they made her trans.
There are several things wrong with this. First off, trans women are women, period. Making her trans so players didn’t have to “fight a woman” misgendered her and is completely disrespectful to the trans community. Secondly, it normalized violence against a group already dealing with staggering levels of domestic abuse. Capcom could not have handled this any worse.
So, while there is some great representation in gaming, there are things that still need to improve. For starters, the stereotypes and tropes need to end. Not everyone in the LGBTQIA+ community are horrible people. Like I said before, they are normal people that just want to feel seen and heard.
Also, give them a happy ending for once. Far too often in shows, movies, and video games, LGBTQIA+ characters usually meet sad or tragic ends. The Last of Us and Life is Strange franchises are infamous for doing this, no matter how well they represent the community.
Finally, game companies need to continue to hire LGBTQIA+ writers to help bring these characters to life. No one is better suited to craft these stories than people who live these experiences every day. Aside from the good examples I have mentioned already, another one that comes to mind is Parvati Holcomb from The Outer Worlds.
Her original creator, Chris L’Etoile, planned for her to be asexual. Once he left during the game’s development, Kate Dollarhyde, who is also asexual, took up writing her. What resulted was a fantastically well-written character that quickly became a fan favorite with both critics and players. Holcomb to this day continues to be lauded as a character that helps bring awareness to a lesser known and underrepresented part of the community.
While there have been hits and misses in terms of representation in video games, it is far better off than what it used to be. At the end of the day, LGBTQIA+ people just want equality. We’re all human beings; it should not matter what we choose to identify as or who we choose to love. So, to see people just like us in not only video games, but other forms of media as well, is a big step.
Hopefully, well-written LGBTQIA+ characters will continue to become normalized in the years ahead. Based on some of what we have seen recently, it looks to be trending in the right direction.