LGBTQ+ Gaming Week 2021
Welcome to TechRadar’s LGBTQ+ Gaming Week 2021. Throughout this week-long celebration, we’re highlighting subjects and voices throughout the LGBTQ+ gaming neighborhood. Discover out extra here.
In August 2019 I launched my first sport, Grunge, an RPG about 4 queer teenage ladies rising up within the Nineties. Initially, I didn’t anticipate the sport getting a lot consideration, and I used to be profoundly shocked when it received the silver medal on the Melbourne Queer Video games Competition.
After I got here throughout the submissions course of for the GLAAD Awards – an awards ceremony based by a company devoted to celebrating optimistic illustration of LGBTQ+ folks in media – I assumed possibly my sport had a shot, so I utilized for a payment waiver and submitted my software.
When the nominees for Most Excellent Video Recreation have been introduced in January 2020, I wasn’t shocked that my sport didn’t make the listing. I used to be shocked that different video games didn’t. The place was Arcade Spirits, the massively well-liked visible novel through which your character ran their very own arcade? The place was Newfound Braveness, the award-winning fantasy RPG? The place was the gorgeously darkish Knife Sisters?
GLAAD’s tweet announcing the Outstanding Video Game nominees was met with outrage from the queer gaming community, with many criticizing the absence of indie devs on this listing. Whereas these nominations featured some LGBTQ+ illustration – even splendidly written illustration – the video games definitely weren’t excellent LGBT illustration by any means. At the very least, not compared to the opposite indie video games that had been launched that very same 12 months, of which there have been a plethora to select from. In 2019 alone, over 500 LGBT-tagged games were released on itch.io,an enormous on-line market for indie online game builders.
This wasn’t the primary time that it felt like GLAAD had dropped the ball on the subject of indie LGBTQ+ video games. Within the earlier 12 months, Elder Scrolls Online won the Outstanding Video Game award on the idea of getting a single quest that featured a trans lady – the identical 12 months that the episodic visible novel LongStory and critically acclaimed mecha narrative Excessive Meatpunks Ceaselessly launched. This was baffling: how may GLAAD, a company that champions queer illustration, miss the mark for the second 12 months in a row?
Within the months following the nominations, I assumed concerning the hype surrounding Ellie from The Last of Us II, and the way she is likely one of the first lesbian characters to headline a AAA sport. However Ellie isn’t the one instance of a lesbian protagonist in an action-adventure sport, and when taking indie video games into consideration, she’s not even remotely near being the primary. Whereas Ellie is definitely a noteworthy character, the way in which through which TLOU II addressed queer illustration received mixed responses from several critics and fans. A few of the followers expressed pleasure over a lesbian being on the forefront of her story; others criticized the sport for how much its narrative relies on torturing queer characters.
Comparable controversy surrounded the 2020 launch of Dontnod’s Inform Me Why, which was touted as the first game by a major studio to feature a transgender lead character. Whereas Tyler’s inclusion within the gaming world is essential, it’s fascinating to notice how he was lauded by some media shops because the first major transgender protagonist in video games, and even because the ‘gold standard’ of trans representation in some headlines. One article in The Guardian straight up said that Tell Me Why was the first game with a trans main character. However Tyler is nowhere near being the primary essential or ‘main’ transgender character in any online game, having been preceded by a number of others. Madeleine from Celeste, Haru from the Springs collection, and several other characters from 2064: Learn Solely Recollections are only a few of the numerous indie-studio examples.
Whereas main studios are counseled for taking strides to deal with the difficulty of inclusivity in LGBTQ+ storytelling, it looks like queer indie devs are largely ignored. As a substitute, mainstream video games are favored for his or her usually bare-minimum makes an attempt at queer inclusivity and arguably obtain way more reward than they deserve, given the sources they’ve, and the truth that they ignored and even villainized queerness normally for therefore lengthy
What makes good LGBTQ+ illustration?
What precisely defines ‘good’ LGBTQ+ illustration? That’s a query that many writers and avid gamers discover troublesome to reply. The quick reply is just not having characters play into stereotypes or pander to an viewers, however reasonably to create queer characters which can be multidimensional. Constructing on that, it’s additionally essential to replicate a various array of queer experiences, and for having queer characters whose story arcs aren’t relegated to homophobia-related trauma, popping out, or discovering love.
Good queer illustration doesn’t simply come from having one or two queer characters or romance choices. It comes from having queer folks write their very own tales, and incorporating queerness in a multidimensional manner. The most important cause why indies are inclined to have higher, extra well-written illustration is that not solely are they unabashed about together with queer characters of their tales, they’re additionally exploring numerous different themes exterior of popping out and discovering romance.
As a result of so many queer indie video games are made by queer folks themselves, they’re in a position to take frequent experiences and analyze how queerness impacts that have. If you play a sport corresponding to One Evening, Scorching Springs, you’re exploring the anxieties of forming new friendships and getting exterior of your consolation zone, solely from the angle of a Japanese trans lady. With subsequent installments within the Springs collection, you proceed to study Haru’s character. Her arc focuses not on her coming to phrases along with her transness, however reasonably, how she grows to be a extra assured individual total. The wildly well-liked visible novel Craving: A Homosexual Story, recognized amongst followers as YAGS, tackles queer subjects corresponding to popping out and romance alongside the challenges that include navigating college and studying the way to be a supportive buddy, all set towards the backdrop of the ever-changing early 2000s. These tales possess an intimacy that mainstream video games battle to include into their very own narratives.
When main studio video games decide to together with queer characters in a story and exploring their journeys, a whole lot of the time these tales are affected by themes of queer ache; this was a major criticism of TLOU II.
Queer ache itself is just not the issue; however once more, the query is who’s telling the story, and for what goal? Indie video games that discover homophobia and queer ache – YAGS and the extensively praised Gone Dwelling (2013) included – do it in ways in which don’t really feel cartoonish or heavy-handed, exploring the realities of queer folks with much more nuance.
Whereas mainstream video games can completely have well-written LGBTQ+ characters, the difficulty is that they generally lack nuance, or, worse, come across as tokenistic and inauthentic. Many video games – corresponding to those who’ve acquired GLAAD awards and nominations in years previous – are counseled for having queer illustration which is solely restricted to romantic selections. This is what’s known as playersexuality. Playersexual characters are characters who solely have in-game sexuality because it pertains to the participant. Usually, it signifies that the protagonist has the choice to romance a cisgender man or lady, and that’s it; exterior of romantic selections, there are not any references to a personality’s sexuality. We see playersexuality in video games corresponding to Stardew Valley, Dragon Age 2, and Skyrim.
Playersexuality is often falsely equated with bisexuality or pansexuality, and is continuously used as a weak try at integrating range right into a sport’s narrative. The problem with playersexuality is that it may well talk to an viewers that queerness is a selection, and in a few of these narratives it fails to discover how queerness informs an individual’s experiences. Defining your in-game sexuality is approached as simplistically as selecting the colour of 1’s hair, and barely impacts the participant character’s narrative on a deeper stage.
This isn’t to say selections aren’t essential, as they’ll create some fascinating alternatives for storytelling or character exploration when you select to pursue them. However romantic selections shouldn’t be the one manner through which queer illustration is included in a sport. There are video games that function playersexuality, however which nonetheless have unavoidable queer illustration. The fantasy visible novel When the Evening Comes by Lunaris Video games is a wonderful instance of this. No matter who you’re because the protagonist, the encircling characters are queer – for instance, August is a nonbinary character serving as one of many city’s main authority figures, and potential romantic curiosity. Moreover, the romantic histories of different characters, such because the vampire chief Finn and type witch Ezra, are explored within the participant’s conversations with them.
Why is that this so essential? As a result of in most of the mainstream examples, the queer identities of the romantic pursuits are completely depending on the gender and sexuality of the protagonist. However in When the Evening Comes, irrespective of how your character identifies, there are nonetheless absolutely fleshed-out queer characters within the story. Even in choice-centric narratives, indies do higher in presenting sexuality as a actuality of 1’s identification and expertise, reasonably than only a surface-level customizable selection on your character. If a sport’s queer illustration could possibly be prevented by making totally different selections or avoiding sure areas, is that really ‘excellent’ illustration?
Setting the bar greater
Mainstream gaming must do extra on the subject of LGBTQ+ illustration, however that doesn’t essentially imply that including extra queer characters into the story will repair the difficulty. Neither is the answer to flood the market with popping out or coming-of-age tales. It’s about not tokenizing queer characters and tales, however together with them holistically throughout the story. When it comes to hiring it means not simply having queer writers as consultants, however actively using and supporting them in an surroundings that has traditionally been poisonous for them. It means critiquing the methods through which queer tales are being advised, who’s telling them, and for what causes.
It additionally signifies that the business, together with firms, publications, and awards ceremonies, should dramatically broaden their horizons, and take a look at video games being made by queer impartial builders to tell their very own strategy to bettering queer illustration. It means to not cherrypick a couple of profitable queer devs, however to look at the multitude of numerous voices throughout the queer gaming neighborhood and uplift them. It additionally means the business should strategy queer indie video games with a much more open and welcoming mindset, and in flip, being much more self-critical on the subject of AAA or mainstream video games. Oftentimes, indies face extra backlash for the way they write LGBTQ+ characters – the developer behind Celeste notably confronted criticism for how Madeleine’s character was written. Whether or not or not this criticism is justified, it’s one thing that mainstream devs are largely spared, or face to a far lesser extent.
As avid gamers, we will assist the work of queer builders by means of easy means. We are able to write opinions, discuss concerning the points on social media platforms, or contribute to a dev’s Patreon or Ko-fi. We are able to additionally assist organizations that assist or promote the work of queer builders, corresponding to Queerly Represent Me, Qweerty Gamers, and GaymerX.
The queer indie dev neighborhood is immensely gifted, and is producing among the most compelling tales of our time. By selling their work and permitting them to shine, we cannot solely encourage them to proceed creating, but in addition make sure the optimistic inclusion of well-written LGBT+ characters in video games for many years to come back.
Chloe Spencer is an award-winning author, sport developer, and filmmaker at the moment pursuing her MFA in Movie and Tv Manufacturing. She has written a number of video games, quick tales, and screenplays, lots of which deal with LGBT themes or characters. She is at the moment engaged on her subsequent sport which is a fantasy survival horror RPG/courting sim referred to as FEVER. You’ll find extra of her work at chloespenceronline.com, discover her on YouTube, or comply with her on Twitter @chloespencerdev.