June is officially Pride Month! Movies, TV and books all have tons of LGBT+ representation to celebrate and reflect on the experiences many people go through. However, as a relatively new art form, gaming sadly doesn’t have the same diversity in queer stories and it can be hard to find notable examples of games with good queer representation. To celebrate the month, here are some games that get LGBT+ stories right, and also happen to be exceptional games.
6. Coming Out Simulator (2014)
Based on a semi-real story, Coming Out Simulator is initially introduced by its sole creator, Nicky Case, sitting in a coffee shop. But it doesn’t take long for the game to flashback to a night in 2010, where a younger Case needs to come out to his homophobic, Asian parents.
The player controls the dialogue in a way that’s not too dissimilar from TellTale’s games; however, Coming Out Sim is only about 20 minutes, so you’ll see the consequences of your words immediately. And, trust me, there will be consequences. Coming Out Simulator left my stomach in knots when I was 13. Replaying it years later, I didn’t expect to feel the same way. This is partly due to the naturally awkward position the game puts the player in. But the writing always manages to be so brutally real, it’s hard not to feel stressed in this situation.
Despite sometimes getting heavy, Coming Out Simulator is still a great game to play in Pride Month. Not only does it accurately depict an uncomfortable experience that many LGBT+ people go through, but it’s also, ultimately, optimistic. The brief experience is tense, but also darkly funny and proud. The best part is that it’s available to play for free.
5. Fable II
Unlike the other games on this list, Fable II doesn’t revolve around an LGBT character; instead, Fable II allows players to live out their queer fantasies themselves. Almost every NPC in the game is available to romance and a large proportion of them are also bisexual. This means that players might not have much of an emotional connection with their spouses, or one night stands (we don’t judge here), but the stories they can craft for themselves is why Fable II is worth it.
Maybe you’ll marry 6 people, then kill a few like King Henry VIII. Maybe you’ll settle down with one partner, have children, but keep them in the slums with minimal monthly allowance. Perhaps you’ll marry an NPC from a poorer background and eventually move them into Fairfax castle where they can finally live in luxury. There’s not just a ton of variety over who you can marry, but also how you can attract them. Different NPCs have different personalities, so while one man might love material gifts, another woman may enjoy the toilet humour and fart ability that Fable II graces you with.
It’s all done with a tongue-in-cheek humour, but Fable II really is a one of a kind RPG. Unrivaled personality, morality choices and a surprisingly sombre story make Fable II worth playing, over a decade after its initial release. It’s a game that lets you be who you want, so finger crossed that we won’t need to wait another decade for Fable’s next instalment.
4. Mass Effect Trilogy
Intergalactic politics, epic space battles, philosophical conundrums and… sex with aliens. While Bioware’s Mass Effect trilogy is grand in scale, it remains beloved thanks to its cast of unforgettable characters, many of whom you’ll be able to romance. While the first game only has one lesbian romance option, the later two sequels open up your options and include many more queer relationships.
Of course, this isn’t a feature unique to Mass Effect. Other RPG series like Dragon Age also include same-sex romance options. However, none of them leave a lasting impression like Mass Effect does. Part of the reason why is how believable all of Mass Effect’s party members are. Your companions contribute to the story, but more importantly, they’re impacted by it. These characters are products of the universe they exist in. For example, the conflict between the Geth and the Quarians is made personal when you recruit Legion and Tali, two characters with personal stakes in this historic and complicated feud. Your actions effect those around you and you can’t help but fall in love with them all.
The biggest reason why Mass Effect’s romance options are generally superior to other games is because these relationships can last through all three games. The previously mentioned Tali is a party member throughout the trilogy, so in many ways you’re committing, or not committing, to a character long-term. They won’t forget your actions and words, and you won’t forget them.
3. If Found…
If Found… is a recent release that shows how much potential mobile gaming has and it also happens to star a transgender character at the centre of its story. Kasio’s coming of age story is depicted with refreshing realism and respect to the experience of trans people. The pain and struggles are present here, but this is by no means a depressing or stressful experience. While If Found… is moving, it’s also overwhelmingly positive, funny and comfortable. However, the game’s main themes of identity and belonging ensure that If Found… can be universally relatable.
The game is also told with visual flair, an intimate soundtrack and unique mechanics which compliment the story. If Found… would have been a must-play even if it didn’t feature a story that’s been ignored for too long in games. In a month dedicated to pride, I can’t imagine a better game to play then one about finding a place to belong.
2. The Last of Us: Left Behind
How can 2013’s The Last of Us, a tale about depravity, brutality and the end of the world, be a good game to celebrate pride? Well, it’s not. As amazing as Joel and Ellie’s story is, the game’s DLC, Left Behind, is what you’ll be wanting to warm your heart with.
Left Behind cuts between events in the main game and events that took place several months before. Half of the game takes place with Ellie fighting through an abandoned, snowy mall, hoping to find medical supplies. The other half follows Ellie and her best friend, Riley, breaking curfew to act like kids in another abandoned mall… except this one isn’t full of clickers and murderous bandits. This back and forth allows for amazing pacing as players are still treated to intense combat sequences, but these are broken up with Ellie and Riley messing about, playing games and getting into trouble. The combat encounters are even better than they were in the main campaign, since you’ll be able to pit clickers against human enemies and resources are even more scarce.
Despite the fear that clickers might induce, Left Behind is still a joyful LGBT story. Ellie and Riley become more than just friends and being a part of their relationship is an amazing experience. Their interactions are incredibly human and perhaps more entertaining than anything in the base game. They tease each other, reminisce, argue and joke. Unlike the main game, Left Behind puts many of these interactions in the player’s hands. For example, in the campaign, Joel and Ellie talk to each other during gameplay, but you, the player, are never given moments to connect with Ellie. Left Behind marries character development to its gameplay as you’re able to play games against Riley and so much more that I won’t spoil.
While The Last of Us can be an emotionally draining experience, it’s worth it because of the glimpses of humanity, hope and beauty that characters find in each other. Left Behind features these moments more consistently and profoundly than just about anything I’ve ever played.
1. Gone Home
Gone Home is video game storytelling at its very best. After a year abroad, the player arrives at their family’s new home. While you might be expecting a warm welcome, you’re instead greeted by an ominous letter from your sister, 17 year old Sam, warning you to not go looking for her. The house seems almost abandoned with moving boxes littering the environment, an upsetting voice message left on the phone machine, lights flickering on and off, and you’re surrounded by the sounds of rain and thunder. It’s a perfect setup, but the best thing about it is that it allows you to discover the story at your own pace, in a way only games can. There aren’t any cutscenes, just an environment for you to explore and soak in.
There’s never been a more intimate setting in a video game than the Greenbrier house. Maybe that’s because exploring the place where people live, sleep and eat is intrusive in itself. However, Gone Home is simply designed with intimacy in mind. It’s a nostalgic time-capsule of a 1990’s residence. X-Files tapes, references to Street Fighter II and punk-rock music can be found scattered across the house. But the narratives found in these abandoned objects are why Gone Home is so resonant. Even if an item doesn’t include any text, it’s still building a story. Finding condoms next to a book about revitalising your sex life gives you an awkward amount of information about your parent’s marriage, for example. And Gone Home is brimming with these sorts of side stories and environmental storytelling.
I haven’t touched on why Gone Home is a perfect game to play in pride month and I won’t divulge too much, since it’s best to experience this game with fresh eyes and clear ears. Just know Gone Home is an exercise in empathy, asking you to connect with fictional people on an intimate level. Moving, nostalgic and domestic, games don’t get much more human than this.