Video games have undoubtedly suffered a few generations worth of gatekeeping with who the medium can cater to, who can be represented in their contents, and who can be innovators in the field. In the last decade however, we’ve seen the beginnings of these hurdles finally being overcome. When using an artistic commercial media to provide human beings with a vicarious experience of others, video games are truly the most immersive, and these games have allowed players from all walks of life to spend time in the shoes of characters emblematic of the lives of people in the LGBTQIA+ community. While some of these publishers and titles have problematic tendencies, which we try to address and analyze in this list, they ultimately are the most progressive we’ve seen from the medium until now. This is our playlist of the greatest video games to celebrate pride all year long. And we hope to see even more games with even stronger representation from video games very soon. – TYF Games Editor Evan Griffin
Ikenfell: PC, macOS, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, MacOS
Tell Me Why: PC, Xbox One
Secret Little Heaven: PC, MacOS, Linux
Arcade Spirits: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft PC, Linux
LIFE IS STRANGE (2015) – Switch, Xbox One, PS4, PC, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS
Dontnod Entertainment’s Life Is Strange blew the gaming world away. The 2015 episodic adventure featured a strong and captivating story that showed gamers how deep friendships could be (and depending on their choices, what could lead to being more than friends). Plus, the game included a time travel/rewind mechanic that changed how episodic gaming could be told.
Life Is Strange focuses on Maxine “Max” Caulfield returning to the fictional town of Arcadia Bay. She discovers she has the power to rewind time and unknowingly saves her childhood friend Chloe from being murdered. The 5-episode series follows them putting the mystery together of why she would be murdered, the conspiracy within Arcadia Bay, and the disappearance of Chloe’s friend, Rachel. The series also covers other characters and their connection to both Max and the mystery within the town.
What makes Life Is Strange so captivating is the heartwarming friendship between Max and Chloe. You feel their deep connection and the nuances that develop over each episode; sometimes being best friends and other times moving closer toward a romantic relationship. Life Is Strange adds layers to their history, so when the player is faced with big choices, it makes it hard to choose.
The ambiguousness of their romance makes them a popular ship-worthy couple. Their sexualities aren’t fully defined, but they’re supported and embraced as being welcomed layers to their characters. Regardless if you choose to have Max be with Chloe or Warren (or ship Chloe with Rachel), their journeys feel grounded and realistic to their developments. Even with all the rewinding thrown in. [Justin Carreiro]
Celeste (2018) – Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, Google Stadia
Maddy Thorson’s Celeste is one of the most influential indie games of the decade. It succeeds as a challenging video game, as a marker for adaptive accessibility in controls, and as a portrait of introspection and mental health (namely conversations about anxiety and depression) through interactive media. Most notably it’s also a piece of art that, both in and out of the narrative text of its gameplay, tells a story about a person grappling with gender identity and exploring their sense of identity on the gender spectrum.
While the main game does not explicitly indicate Madeline’s gender exploration on its surface, the same was true of Thorson as they collaborated with friends and peers on developing the charming nostalgic puzzle game in 2018, unknowing themselves that they were trans-non binary, nor that the game’s main character was a trans woman. Following the game’s release was a DLC update that gives an ending with visual cues indicating the main character’s trans status: a flag at her computer, a bottle of pills, and a more androgynous appearance in her youth in a family photo. The gaming community flared up in excitement because of these details, but the silence from the development team on confirming these assumptions also invited criticisms. A year later, Thorson addressed the conversation and wrote a Medium article where they revealed both they and their main character are trans, with the exploration of their identities inextricably linked through the story’s writing.
“Celeste is a game written and designed by a closeted trans person who was struggling with their gender identity, scored by a trans woman, with art and code and sound and other labor from their inspiring and irreplaceable friends. These are the perspectives that we approached this from, and I think that the game reflects that beautifully. I would never claim that anything I have ever done is perfect. I do think that we captured and preserved a few pieces of ourselves and a moment in time pretty nicely, and Madeline’s transness is one part of that.” – Maddy Thorson
Once Thorson knew their truth, they sought to execute it subtly, but clearly, with tact not otherwise shown in the video game medium. While games with higher profile publishers might feel the need to either lean into the characters’ place in the LGBTQ community or remove it entirely, Celeste was made with the intention that Madeline would be characterized as her own complex person, and not defined by the label of her gender identity. Whether intentionally or not, Celeste now exists in the world as a piece of art that showcasing a person’s journey with their gender identity; not only for trans representation but also for a player outside the community to be able to identify with these vulnerable moments in such a critically lauded and well-crafted game cements how essential Celeste’s placement is on this list. [Evan Griffin]
Night In The Woods (2017) – PC, MacOS, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
When it comes to representation in a game like Night In The Woods, the point is in how normal the idea of representation is. Protagonist Mae’s sexuality casually makes its way into a moment in the story, in a perfectly relatable awkward encounter at a college party, with no lamp-shading needed. Even more so, OTP Gregg and Angus are constants throughout the game and serve as pillars for Mae while maintaining their own closeness with no suggestiveness. Beyond depicting a believable relationship between two gay men (anthropomorphic status notwithstanding) Night In The Woods depicts its LGBTQIA+ characters as an accepted and perfectly normal part of life. What’s even more notable is that NITW purposefully reflects a region of the US that often is perceived as a place where a community isn’t present, but there absolutely is. Truthfully, this shouldn’t even be a big deal because the community is perfectly normal, but we’re not quite there yet in games. Titles like Night In The Woods push us closer to that goal. [Travis Hymas]
Paradise Killer (2020) – Switch, PC, MacOS
Given that there is a hell of a lot going on in Paradise Killer, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the relationship aspects of the game require a bit more digging to uncover than other games. The game deals with nigh-immortal demigods, it shouldn’t be surprising that investigator Lady Love Dies has had her fair share of lovers; and like all good noir experiences, the tension with some of them is thick in the air. As you discover more about LD’s past alongside her suspects, it becomes clear that she has some history with the cast – and it’s not entirely straight or monogamous. By the end of the game, you can guide LD into romantic encounters with two characters separately and while they’re clearly not paying off in long term relationships, the game simply presents both instances as valid and non-conflicting. This also happens as LD looks back longingly on her long since gone monogamous relationship, but never presents her flirtatious nature or sexual exploits as a betrayal of that nature. Many video games still treat relationships as achievements or a binary choice, so seeing the flexibility Paradise Killer affords its lead and cast is a welcome change of pace. – [TH]
Gone Home (2013) – PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Gone Home is an interesting entry on this list as its LGBTQIA+ themes are the central focus of the game AND it’s the biggest praise that the game has received. The game stands as one of the best LGBTQIA+ video games due to its strong story, amazing atmosphere, and good representation at explaining the queer experience, as well as the experience of being rejected by families for being LGBTQIA+. It’s an emotional story that will pull you in.
Gone Home takes place in 1995 and focuses on Katie, a woman who comes home from overseas to her parents’ new home in Oregon. The house is abandoned, but Katie finds a note from her sister Samantha telling her to not investigate what recently happened. The players explores the house to find out the events of what affected the family, like her parent’s marriage troubles, her dad’s failed writing career, and more importantly, her sister’s discovery of her sexuality. Sam’s development and her newfound romance becomes the main focal point of the story as Katie uncovers each new clue and note left behind.
The story in Gone Home feels raw, real, and emotional. You get a deep look inside Sam’s mind as she discovers who she is, learns about her feelings, and how her parents reject her. It’s a powerful plot that showcases this experience some LGBTQIA+ people have dealt with in their lives, and it’s done in an eloquent way that gets its point across without any distractions or outlandish tropes. After completing Gone Home, you feel like you’ve experienced a journey and it will affect you right in the emotions. – [JC[
The Sims 4 – PS4, Xbox One, PC, MacOS
The Sims is the perfect series that gives gamers a way to truly express themselves and create the life they want. Before the gaming world started including more representation, The Sims opened up new ways for players to live their authentic lives, especially if they couldn’t in the real world. Anything was possible in the virtual world, and with every new expansion, the stories being told could change and be more elaborate.
Marriage, romances, employment, and kids are just some of the things that can be incorporated into your Sim’s life. And as of 2016, The Sims expanded their character creation model to be more gender fluid in The Sims 4. The updated creation screen allows players to create Sims that better represent them, from clothing to facial features to gender non-binary/trans representation. Plus, the series has included LGBTQ+ characters in their ongoing stories and characters that come within the purchased games’ pre-populated areas.
The Sims is an important series as it has helped players to find and embrace themselves for being who they are. The virtual world within The Sims is welcoming, ever-evolving, and it’s free of discrimination. – [JC]
Fire Emblem: Three Houses (2019) – Nintendo Switch
Intelligent Systems did a wonderful job with creating the most accessible entry in the Fire Emblem series with Three Houses. The evolution of the SRPG game’s social rank system was sorely needed and did wonder with propelling players through the lengthy campaigns, and many players even going back in for multiple playthroughs to see all sides of the story, and experience the world as Byleth’s both genders while acting as a professor at the Garreg Mach Monastery. The game grapples with themes of dismantling a patriarchal society and fighting for the weak, and the students prove themselves to be generally mature and complex young adults, increasingly more personable as they get to know their professor and war general. While Three Houses aren’t the first time the series introduced romance mechanics, it is the first to allow several characters to be romanced by male or female Byleth in a playthrough, technically making these character, on paper, bisexual. The challenge here is that Intelligent Systems didn’t go out of their way to provide different types of dialogue depending on the romance. While it’s arguable that this means Byleth is treated with equal respect as either gender, such reasoning feels like reaching. This is especially true when considering the same-sex relationships available for players to pursue in the game are reduced to five women and one man. While Lindhardt is a delightful character in his own regard, to be pursued as the game’s only Male/Male relationship leaves much to be desired.
Having Edelgard as a main character throughout the game, with players able to pursue a genuine relationship with her through the Black Eagles arc is Three Houses’ greatest feat. Her cold exterior is unsheathed as she engages in more personal conversations while she and Byleth profess their love all the while liberating Fodlan from the iron grip of the church of serros by smashing the heart of a corrupt dragon. That’s true love right there. The fandom, however, wished another of the game’s main characters were included in the available same sex relationships: Claude. The leader of the Golden Deer house and prince of the Leicester Alliance, Claude Von Reigan exudes an energy that could make anyone swoon when caught off guard, and has been a fan favorite since the game’s first trailers. It feels like a disservice to the writers of the character that he’s not able to romance the player in a Golden Deer run in a Male/Male relationship, and even his English dub voice actor, Joe Zeija agrees. Nintendo gets points for this game being the first game they’ve truly published with serious, effective bisexual characters, however there’s a lot of room for improvement. [EG]
Undertale (2015) – PC, MacOS, Linux, iOS, PS4, Xbox, Switch
TobyFox could never have known that the just what kind of phenomenon his little homage to Homestuck and Undertale was going to be both when he first launched and superseded his kickstarter, and when the game finally launched in September of 2015. In a post gamergate world, the reach of video games was expanding. The darling pacifist RPG exploded in popularity about the time that GameFAQ’s conducted its greatest game of all time contest that winter, drawing ire from people who had never played the darling indie or are outside the community.
What makes Undertale resonate so much with its players? Is it the positive and wholesome same-sex relationship between Undyne and Alphys? Is it the ghosts and Metaton as metaphorical inserts for the trans and non-binary community? Is it the general tone of accepting others for who they are and use of they/them pronouns across the board?
All of these things denote the trappings of a piece of media that resonates with a community who has to come to their own conclusions on its queer coding, as Tobyfox has provided very little input on the matter. Whatever the case, Undertale has become one of the most explosively popular pieces of medium as a canvas for the LGBTQIA+ community as a world of comradery and acceptance, with countless alternate universes devised by the fandom to supersede the game itself. The reality, and what makes this important to note, is how the need for a community like Undertale’s to create this content and subtext with characters they like come from a fervent need to have media reflect a group of people who are often ignored. It is certainly not the place of writers on the internet to armchair analyze the reasons for this, but nonetheless it should be considered by game designers that the community spun from Undertale’s foundations were not made so in a vacuum, but generation spanning need for reflection and representation in content. [EG]
The Last of Us Part II (2020) – PS4
Relationships are super complicated. Relationships in the post-apocalypse are another beast entirely. When considering relationships in the future, we often imagine things to be forward-thinking and progressive, like in Star Trek. The Last of Us, however, takes place in a near future where everything is a wasteland, and every person’s primary need is survival. Ellie and Dina’s relationship is progressive to players, but not the game’s world: their passionate dance, their dedication to one another when Ellie emarks on her quest for vengeance, their joy in raising a child together in the game’s third act. These small details are normal in this game’s vision of 2033. No other characters make the pair’s bisexual nature their business save for a crotchety bartender with one foot in the grave and the other in the pre-apocalypse. But for every small moment of reprieve between the two characters, what makes this character arc a success is that both Ellie and Dina have real human baggage and complexities they bring into each other’s world. Even Dina keeps secrets, and creates hard decisions for Ellie when the time is necessary and the quest for vengeance goes to far, resulting in an ending that leaves Ellie looking back on a nearly perfect life in the rear view mirror as the heartbreak of an empty farmhouse is all that is left of Dina when she returns from getting closure with Joel’s murderer, Abby.
The game also features a prominent trans youth character, Lev: a skilled archer who has been excommunicated from the Seraphite’s cult, and acts as the Ellie to Abby’s Joel in the game’s second storyline. While accessibility settings should have been made available for removing triggering events for players with histories in the matter, The Last of Us Part II is the highest profile video game to feature the plight of a child coming out as trans and the resulting push back they can receive from their loved ones. Even so far as suffering being dead named with malice when encountered by people who knew them pre-transition, allowing reach for these issues to become apparent to members in the gaming community who were previously uneducated on the impact of these social cues. [EG]
Hades (2020) – Xbox Game Pass, Epic Game Store, Steam, Nintendo Switch
Supergiant Games (Bastion, Pyre) have never been strangers to inclusive representation in their games. Thankfully the fact that everyone in greeky mythology is extremely hot makes their latest entry even easier to do so. The son of Hades and Persephone, Zagreus, fights his way to the surface world in a doomed quest to free himself his father’s control and meet his mother, and when he returns to the House of Hades after death, he gets to cozy up to allies and adversaries by gifting them nectar when he visits them. The game then rewards players by unlocking dialogue where the characters get much more personal with Zag. two of these conversation timelines can result in something more intimate: one with Megara the Fury Sister, and the other is Thanatos, death incarnate, twin brother of Hypnos and biological son of Nyx. Even though they were raised as step brothers, Zag and Thanatos clearly have a past, and their passion becomes clearer as the game’s events go on if the player chooses to delve deeper. This isn’t a one off occurrence either. Supergiant made sure that the game was filled with a variety of dialogue between Zag and the Gods of Olympus throughout his escape attempt, even one moment receiving compliments from Aphrodite on his sexuality.
Presenting an openly bisexual main character in a popular video game is huge, and he’s not even the only character in the game blessed with quality representation. Achilles and Patrocles’ history of loving sacrifice is revealed throughout the game’s events as Achilles works in service to Hades in exchange for Patrocles’ safe passage into Elysium. Even further, one of the of the games most powerful gods, Chaos, is characterized as non-binary, both in visual character art and in the game’s text as they assists Zagreus on his quest. To have these forms of representation provided in a considerate, casual and creatively engaging way throughout a wildly popular game that is also fun to play is a huge step for representation in gaming. [EG]
Prey (2017) – PS4, Xbox One, PC
Prey is one of those games where the plot doesn’t feel like it happens to you, but you observe it, even if there’s a severe lag. That’s okay — the paranoia and constant environmental awareness you must have as you’re accessing the ship and fighting aliens that feel like a strange ghost-demon hybrid is enough. The game encourages you to read through journal entries and listen to audio logs to build an emotional connection to the larger crew, and there’s enough heartwarming and casual conversations that integrates plenty of LGBT characters into the cast of Prey. The importance of seeing characters with diverse sexuality merely exist cannot be understated. Even if Prey is primarily a horror-action RPG, it can help introduce and reinforce the concept of LGBT people existing in any world, even if the premise isn’t exclusively about the queer experience.
On top of this seamless integration, Morgan Yu is canonically queer if played as female (If played as male, this makes one of the minor characters gay as well). Prior to the game she has a relationship with another female character, who remains the same despite the selected gender for Morgan. This helps to deepen the contextualize Morgan’s character and explore Morgan’s emotional capacity which directly ties into the greater themes of Prey. Ultimately, the queer experience ties into the human experience. [Amanda Reimer]
Mass Effect 3 (2012), Legendary Edition (2021) – PS4, Xbox One, PC
Part of the Mass Effect allure is the paragon/renegade system and how the franchise kept track of choices from the first installment to the third, allowing for multiple unique experiences and playthroughs. This also included the ability to enter romantic relationships with characters, playing a romantic arc through multiple games (if your partner happened to be introduced in the first game).
There are many queer human/human romantic relationships in this franchise. While the inclusion of species such as the Asari are important as they embrace the rejection of strict categories and boxes when it comes to gender expression, its still important to point out that a human/alien relationship isn’t equal to a completely human queer relationship, at least when it comes to sci-fi. A relationship with Shepard and Samara simply isn’t as representative as a Shepard/Chambers romance. Thankfully, there are many options for female Shepard.
And while there are limited options for male Shepard, it’s important to note that Mass Effect 3 was released in 2012, 3 years before gay marriage was even legal in the United States. While the quantity is still clearly affected by the male gaze, Mass Effect 3 was ahead of its time upon release and gave players plenty of choices and opportunities to explore complex, diverse queer stories. [AR]