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October 24, 2017 8:12 PM   Subscribe

There is One Good Thing About 2017: Lots of Queer Women In Games [Waypoint] “2017 has been an infuriating, sad, disgusting year, politically. But it has also been a great year for games, and maybe the greatest year so far for games starring or about queer women. Prey (my GOTY pick thus far) was amazing for so many reasons, not the least of which was a very cute and well-done relationship between two women in a main quest storyline (and, again, the protagonist if you picked a woman character). Life is Strange: Before the Storm leans heavily into the gay. Butterfly Soup, which I wrote about a bit a few weeks ago is a hilarious visual novel about four young queer Asian-American women who play baseball. At least, from what I've played, that seems like a higher-than-usual percentage of mainstream games featuring queer women front and center. In all of these instances—outside of Life is Strange—we're talking about queer women of color.”

• Recent LGBTQ Visibility in Video Games Focused On Women, Relationships [Remeshed]
“Incidental or more involved, queer characters are slowly being introduced to a medium that only had sparse or negative portrayals before now. We’ve created an environment where LGBTQ gamers can now watch subtext become text and see themselves as heroes—even in long-running franchises or in games from large developers. Even as this article was being worked on, we saw the release of The Division in which a female doctor NPC casually refers to her wife. We’re moving past one-note portrayals and are starting to get games that provide a glimpse into queer relationships, showcasing a variety of LGBTQ characters with different personalities, issues, and moral alignments. We’re also starting to see a shift where queer characters show up in stories that are not about their difference, and have narratives that reflect their experiences without dwelling on them. We shouldn’t stop here. Gone Home, The Last of Us, and Life is Strange may all have lesbian and bi female characters, but each depict young women surviving a degree of trauma at the same time they discover their identities. Examples like older, confident Athena are much rarer. We also need to have a conversation about why creators seem to be more comfortable with queer women than men, or why the medium has yet to see big-budget, validating portrayals of transgender women. ”
• Why I’m afraid video games will continue to 'bury its gays' [Polygon]
“A quick warning: This post will contain spoilers for Life is Strange. Was Chloe in love with Rachel? Did Rachel reciprocate her feelings? Did Max harbor a crush on Chloe? These feelings were hinted at, but never confirmed. Such queerbaiting, which is the allusion to queer feelings without consummation or even explicit confirmation of the relationship, are often perceived as a betrayal of sorts by queer audiences. Any romance is merely implied, and never realized. Plus, the companies involved often get credit for hinting at the relationship by framing it as a positive form of queer representation, but never have to come under any heat by actually showing or even stating an actual romantic relationship. The poster child for this trope in pop culture? Castiel and Dean Winchester from the stupendously long-running teen TV series, Supernatural. They often trade longing looks and ambiguously gay quips without addressing any romantic feelings nor acting on the relationship. The fans noticed. But Life Is Strange contains an even more painful trend: Rachel is ultimately found murdered, and Max is forced to choose between killing an entire town or sacrificing Chloe. And now with the announcement of a prequel, Life Is Strange: Before The Storm, players will soon be taking a more intimate look into the life — and imminent death — of Rachel and Chloe. For queer fans of the series, it may appear that the lead characters will never have their happy ending. That’s heartbreaking. Yet, it fits right into a long tradition of dying LGBTQ characters.”
• Can You Be Gay?: Queer Representation in Video Games [OutWrite]
“In video games, you can be a world hero. You can be a humanoid plant that explores and brings justice to the universe. You can be a two-dimensional square with a range of human emotions. But can you be gay? This is a question that my friends and I ask a lot when talking about what we can or can’t do in particular video games, and it goes to show how precious any queer representation is in video games, as the form of media is slowly learning to consider audience members other than those who are cisgender, heterosexual, and male. As an example, more often than not, female armor in games is still oversexualized and impractical; you know what I’m talking about. When there is queer representation in video games, however, it tends to fall under these two categories: queer relationships as a player option, and canonically queer characters. The first type of queer representation, where the player is allowed to have queer relationships in their game, is present in games where dating or marriage is an integral part of the game. [...] The option to be queer in a video game is great, but it’s easy for people to overlook if they aren’t actively looking to bring queerness to their game. It’s more “queer tolerance” than it is “queer representation,” and it casts queerness to the side rather than accepting it as a normal part of society. It also disregards the fact that queer people can exist beyond their dating choices and should not be defined solely by those choices.”
• The Video Game Characters You Never Knew Were LGBT [Kotaku]
“When it comes to LGBT representation in video games, things may be slowly improving over time. But there's a long way to go before LGBT playable characters are normalised, rather than a rare surprise. One aspect of this that's especially noticeable is that, while more LGBT characters are showing up in games, their LGBT status is often separated out from the main game itself and presented in secondary 'non canon' forms — comics, twitter statements from creators, or short stories. I want to point out some of my favourite LGBT characters that you might not know are LGBT, and how in some cases a game has sidelined this information on a standard playthrough. It's interesting how many come from enormous franchises and how well-hidden their LGBT status is — and wondering how many fans of these games are even aware. There can be a thin line between inclusivity and tokenism. [...] While many know these characters as LGBT, that knowledge isn't a result of the piece of media they star in. It's part of a trend with LGBT representation in video games where it's considered going far enough to have gay characters confirmed outside of the source media, but not within the main story. For a great non video game example, look at the way J.K. Rowling confirmed Dumbeldore from the Harry Potter books as gay via a tweet. It's attempts to throw in inclusion that isn't supported by the base text of the piece of media. It's progress, sure, and I'm happy we have more queer characters to look to in games. I only wish that they weren't being shuffled in at the edges, left to spinoffs, or confirmed as such outside of the game. ”
• What Tracer Being Queer Means For Video Game Representation [Odyssey]
“It would be one thing if a less popular character was declared as gay, but with Tracer, Blizzard has sent a message to the entire gaming community that LGBTQ+ people deserve to be represented, and that we can be heroes just as easily as straight people can. Since the comic's release, the reception to Tracer's sexuality has been mixed. As expected, LGBTQ+ fans are ecstatic about it, myself included. Many "Overwatch" players, however, particularly those we could classify as "gamer dudebros," are upset with Blizzard's decision. I've seen several heterosexual men lamenting over the "loss" of Tracer recently, talking about how she's dead to them or how making her gay is "unnecessary." Many of them don't understand why Blizzard had to turn Tracer into a WLW or why us LGBTQ+ folks are so excited. What they don't seem to comprehend is how many straight characters there are in video games compared to the severe lack of LGBTQ+ ones. As with most media, there is no shortage of heterosexual representation in games. We're not "stealing" Tracer by having her as part of the LGBTQ+ community-- we're simply happy to see ourselves star in a game for once, when we're often completely absent. Besides, when most of the discourse about Tracer so far has been straight boys drooling over her butt, I'd prefer seeing her as a beacon of LGBTQ+ representation any day.”
• Queer Representation in The Last of Us is Vital [Rogues Portal]
“Ellie’s presence in The Last of Us is, in and of itself, a huge deal in gaming. A main character who is a teenage girl in a dystopic zombie game? Yes. Even better, there are points within the game that you have to play as a teenage girl to further the story. It makes me truly giddy. Fast forward to when Naughty Dog released the “Left Behind” DLC. You play Ellie again and we get a deeper glimpse into her life before meeting up with Joel. This DLC follows Ellie and her best friend, Riley, who grew up together in a military boarding school. Riley has just come back after a couple of weeks, to let Ellie know that she’s a part of the fireflies. The two go out on one last adventure, full of silliness and inevitable heartbreak. Both are bitten, but Ellie doesn’t turn, which is why Joel and she set off on their adventure in the original game. [...] The Last of Us: Part II has the potential to change all of that. If Ellie is truly the main character of this game, this means that everyone has to play as a queer woman. Dudebros who get mad at the idea of female inclusion in video games have to play as Ellie. The idea of this truly makes me giddy from head to toe. In order to play this extremely successful (and well written) video game means you have to “play gay”. One character is certainly not enough, but it’s a start.”
• From 'Zelda' to 'Overwatch' – Why Gamers Love to 'Ship' Their Favorite Characters [Rolling Stone]
“If you're wondering why some fandoms derive such joy from pairing characters off, consider that people are basically just filling in the gaps left by video game storytellers. Games often prioritize action over the inner lives of their characters, if they give their characters any kind of inner or romantic lives at all. What's more, queer people especially are so underrepresented in games that it's hardly surprising that people would seize upon hinted-at relationships in the absence of gay relationships in games' official fiction. In a medium that mostly caters explicitly to straight men, everyone else ends up making up their own entertainment. Shipping, fanfic and fanart create a vibrant space for people to explore not only the imagined romantic lives of favorite characters, but also their own romantic preferences. In that context, the awesome variety of fan-made art and stories around Overwatch makes more sense: Overwatch's characters have such a wide variety of body shapes, personalities and clothing styles that there's something there for everyone, and a huge variety of combinations to explore. Fans currently do a much better job than any video game developer of creating believable, entertaining, relatable relationships between characters.”
posted by Fizz (13 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
The reason, of course, that many games are confirming characters as LGBT only through lore outside the game is that you can then still make money in homophobic countries. See also Tracer's big reveal comic, which was blocked if you were in Russia.

This is why it's cool to see companies like Arkane make these relationships a core part of the storyline. But I also wonder how they translated it for those markets. Did the couple in Prey also exist for the Russian localization?
posted by Four String Riot at 9:26 PM on October 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

I like that Bolt from Crypt of the Necrodancer is genderqueer* and I only wish I was anywhere near good enough at the game to play as them.

*albeit confirmed externally, because like half the characters in the game have no internal descriptions at all
posted by one for the books at 10:21 PM on October 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yay Prey shoutout! The relationship between Danielle and Abby made me really really happy, it was an unexpected highlight in a game already pretty full of great stuff.

In possibly related news, I tried really hard to save as many people as possible in Prey but there was exactly one human character that I killed with extreme prejudice and if you played the game you'll understand who and why.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 11:08 PM on October 24, 2017

I feel like Ladykiller in a Bind should be included in a roundup of queer games released in the last year. Previously.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:57 PM on October 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

Mainstream and AAA games are getting better at featuring a certain segment of queer people: young, attractive women. Notice how much more often it's a male-gaze titillating lesbian than a hairy fella? Yeah. I wonder why that could be.*

*(No I don't: Least challenging for the traditional gamer audience and they get to tick TWO diversity boxes at once!)
posted by Dysk at 2:53 AM on October 25, 2017 [5 favorites]

That's absolutely true - and there's more to be said about the phenomenon of young queer generally femme women being treated as male gaze titillation than fits into this comment/my brain right now - but frankly, I'll take it and hope it's a step in a sane direction. My favorite AAA queer representation out there is still in Dragon Age, which has a range of genders and expressions thereof. But even the palatable femme queer girls in Life is Strange are portrayed as being at least human. They aren't props or background material.
posted by fast ein Maedchen at 3:42 AM on October 25, 2017

I was amused to see, at the top of the Rolling Stone article, Samara from Mass Effect--but lumped in with Hanzo as if she were in Overwatch. The article namechecks Garrus more than once, but doesn't mention the non-canonical same-gender ships in the franchise, which has kind of a weird history WRT LGBTQ representation. The first game had Liara, a member of a monogendered race who was a romance option for either male or female Shepard. (There was some debate in the community as to whether the asari were really female, simply because they presented as such and could all bear children; this was lampshaded in the third game, in which one of Liara's parents, Matriarch Aethyta, identified as Liara's father (as the non-childbearing parent) and, when Shepard told her that she would be known as the other mother on Earth, Aethyta called Shepard an "anthropocentric bag of dicks.")

Then some conservatives latched onto the "alien lesbian sex scene" and made a stink about it, and Mass Effect 2 had no LGBT romance options in the main game. (There's one bisexual character, Jack aka Subject Zero, who mentions having both male and female partners in the past, but when FemShep starts the dialogue path that would lead to romance between DudeShep and Jack, Jack cuts her off--it reads very much like that would have been an option for FemShep as well, but was edited out after the game was already in production. Samara, the only asari squad member, isn't interested in romance at all, and another asari who can take Samara's place depending on your choices will have sex with either DudeShep or FemShep, but kills them in the process.) Apparently Bioware decided that trying to appease a few panty-sniffers who didn't even play the game wasn't a good look for them, so they restored the romance option with Liara in a DLC, and in the third game, introduced both lesbian and gay characters--the first same-sex option for men in the franchise--and retconned Kaidan Alenko as bisexual, as well as bringing back the het options from the first two games.

Andromeda was looking pretty promising, as well; more same and opposite sex romance options, a bit of side dialogue that formally made the asari genderqueer (they went along with other species' use of feminine pronouns for them mostly because they didn't really care), and in one of the updates (before they shut the single-player development down, the fuckers) made Jaal, the Andromeda Galaxy native squadmember, bi.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:25 AM on October 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Shoutout to Stardew Valley.
posted by Emily's Fist at 9:08 AM on October 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

From the Last of Us article on Ellie and Riley.
The Last of Us: Part II has the potential to change all of that. If Ellie is truly the main character of this game, this means that everyone has to play as a queer woman.
This would be pretty amazing. To just have it be a normal thing and by default, not a secondary option or choice.
posted by Fizz at 9:38 AM on October 25, 2017

Ladykiller is great.

Mae from Night in the Woods is also queer in some undefined way. It's not a big element of the game, but the only time she shows some kind of romantic interest is when she starts flirting with a girl she meets at a party, then draws her in her journal later.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:55 AM on October 25, 2017

Mainstream and AAA games are getting better at featuring a certain segment of queer people: young, attractive women.

If you consider "mainstream" as "on Steam" then Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator and Coming Out on Top which do not have too many young attractive women.
posted by robertc at 9:39 AM on October 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

One more to add to the list: Tacoma.
posted by zompist at 5:02 AM on October 27, 2017

If you consider "mainstream" as "on Steam" then Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator and Coming Out on Top which do not have too many young attractive women.

Those are games about dating men. That's rather different to having gay blokes as just incidental in games not specifically about that.
posted by Dysk at 5:43 AM on October 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

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