Hi Gay! Gaming LGBTQ+ representation in 2022

LGBTQ+ representation within video games may be on the rise, but are current efforts enough?

Peter Lennon
21st June 2022
Images: The Fullbright Company and Extremely OK Games
In the 2010s, LGBTQ+ representation in the gaming industry began to make a slow turn, with indie games, such as The Fullbright Company’s 2013 exploration game Gone Home. While Gone Home came under fire for whether it should be classified as a video game due to its focus on exploration over interactivity, the now-gaming classic paved the way for a more allegorical experience. Set in Oregon in 1995, you play as 21-year-old Katie Greenbriar, who has just returned home from university only to find the house empty. As you explore the house, you discover that Katie’s 17-year-old sister Sam has recently fallen in love with a girl from school, creating a rift between Sam and her parents through her coming out.
Sam's bedroom with a pirate flag and pictures of girls stuck to her locker.
Image: The Fullbright Company

Although it seems that you are experiencing the rift within the family externally – you are seeing the house and story through the eyes of Sam’s sister – Gone Home places the titular building front and centre as an allegory for Sam’s internal turmoil. It is no coincidence that the Greenbriar household is lit like a haunted house, drawing strong horror elements into an empty building. Even the exploration elements of searching the house for certain keys to open locked doors echoes the survival-horror aspects of Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2.

Coming out is a unique experience – sometimes people’s reactions can be unpredictable or unexpected. What Gone Home encapsulates so well is the confusion and unrest of the mind during this period; things that should be familiar (the home) are thrown into chaos, with or without a threat.

Ellie from The Last of Us.
Image: Naughty Dog

Unfortunately, representation in AAA games is lacking, with The Last of Us’ Ellie being the exception, rather than the rule. Even strongly queer-coded games can’t get over themselves enough to portray something explicit – no Tomb Raider, Lara and Sam aren’t just “really good friends”.

This is perhaps encapsulated by the endurance of “the gay button”, as termed by American game designer Anna Anthropy. “The gay button” refers to game design that includes LGBTQ+ representation but keeps it dormant until it is activated by the player. This was notoriously done by The Sims 3 in 2009, which forced players to actively initiate homosexual relationships before the Sim would be “converted” to homosexuality and pursue these relationships autonomously.

Other role-playing-games also engage in this practice, such as Bethesda’s iconic The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The open-world fantasy allows players to marry whomever they want – man or woman – regardless of the player’s own gender. While it’s a liberating fantasy that every person you flirt with will immediately reciprocate, none of the other married non-playable characters are in LGBTQ+ relationships themselves. As somewhat hilarious it is to think that the player character functions as an LGBTQ+ awakening for all NPCs in the world of Skyrim, the community would be utterly non-existent if the player exclusively pursued heterosexual relationships.

The Sims 3.
Image: EA

The turn for LGBTQ+ representation in video games continues to be a slow one, but the success of indie darlings like 2018’s Celeste, whose titular character is transgender, and Ellie’s leading role in The Last of Us Part II all signal continuing progress as we make our way through the 2020s.

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AUTHOR: Peter Lennon
English Literature undergraduate. Although I primarily write for the Courier's Film section, I do love helping out in the Televsion and Gaming sections as well. I also organise and host livestreams/radio shows as FilmSoc's inaugural Head of Radio. Twitter: @PeterLennon79

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