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Games have a long history of ignoring are using bad stereotypes of LGBTQ people much to the sadness of LGBTQ gamers. Using some examples from games released this year I look at some ways they let us down.

Rose Willard, Blogger

May 5, 2017

6 Min Read

This was originally published by me on Medium. You can find the original piece here: https://medium.com/@untangled.rose/how-games-have-failed-lgbtq-gamers-a25aa8d7861a

I’ve been playing games for over 30 years and now I make them. I’ve worked on some big name games as a QA Tester over the last 6 years, I am also a queer trans woman. Games have gone from completely ignoring the existence of LGBTQ people to either severely misrepresenting us or using LGBTQ characters to make transphobic/homophobic jokes for cheap laughs. This has left us with no recourse as a community but to create alternative fan narratives inserting queerness in an attempt to fill that void on our own. We shouldn’t have to do that just to see ourselves in games.

We doand always have, existed in the games community just as we have always existed throughout human historyWe all know games has a diversity problem, only featuring straight white men in the majority of lead roles. The worlds they present are devoid of anything but straight white cis people for the most part. I am sure what I am saying here will be called attempting to insert politics into games which is an odd argument since the choice to not be representative is in itself political. If you are white cis and straight, good news — you get to see yourself be the hero of almost every story.

The start of 2017 has seen the release of several high profile games that have mis-stepped as far as LGBTQ characters are concerned. Multiple people have written about these examples in detail so I will touch on all of them without doing a deep exploration of them though I will include some links to some of these pieces.

Breath of the Wild relied on an old transmisogynistic “guy in a dress joke”, Persona 5 has gay characters that are in it just to make the lead character uncomfortable as a running “joke” and Mass Effect Andromeda had a trans woman that just let you know her dead name (something that is typically not freely given by us to anyone that is not a trusted friend in both our trans status or dead names) and goes on about how she is running from transphobia which thousands of years in the future is still a thing (wow good to know I have so much to look forward to), this is also a long standing trope where our stories are always “tragic”. The gay men’s romance options are also extremely limited, so limited in fact both of the gay men romance options are side characters that are not party members which is a deviation from every other romanceable character in the game.

Now this isn’t Personas first misstep with LGBT characterswe have long been a joke in the franchise which is very disappointing since the gameplay and social aspects of the game are actually really fun. They stumble hard when having anything that is not a cis heteronormative relationship presented however. Atlus, the developer of the Persona series, also made the game Catherine which had a trans character that fell prey to the bad dreams that the men in the game where subjected to which is extremely transmisogynistic. She at least ends up in a relationship with someone at the end of the game,but presenting trans women here as a men instead of a woman is violent transphobia.

For Mass Effect to stumble so hard is baffling. The Dragon Age team did a pretty good job with Krem simply by including trans perspectives while developing the characterWhile some things that were questionable still got throughKrem ended up being pretty good. You figure Bioware would have shared this knowledge with the other dev teams for their games but I guess not. Both of these instances also could have given Bioware a chance for trans gamers to insert themselves into the narrative by having dialog options where they reveal that they are also trans themselves. This would have been a nice touch since trans people are never main characters let alone playable ones.

For decades, many LGBT fans have taken to doing queer or trans readings of games to give them a sense of connection that studios and developers deny them. There is fan writing, art, and even fan created game content depicting characters in non hetero relationships and existing as LGBTQ. Many of these are very well done but this shouldn’t be the only way we can see ourselves in these characters or games. As much as inserting our own stories can feel empowering by allowing us to see ourselves in these stories, they don’t make these games narratives anymore queer or trans. LGBTQ baiting, or just enough subtext in narrative for LGBTQ interpretation is no substitute for actual representation. In order for it to be actual representation it needs to be more than implied or left to the audience to insert themselves.

It’s frustrating that games either erase us from their worlds or, if they do include us, it is either as jokes or tragic figures. It would be wonderful to see us be represented as a variety of thingsheroes, villains, happy and tragic. Our lives are diverse and it would be nice to see devs reflect that in their game worlds. Just having us in your worlds existing would be a step in the right direction. Currently the bar is set so low for having good LGBT representation in games that it won’t be hard to clear. For developers to do this effectively they need to actually have teams that include LGBTQ developers, we exist and are already working on AAA games (Hi I worked on some pretty big games myself).

While games are struggling to include LGBTQ characters, I don’t think they should give up. Krem in Dragon Age: Inquisition was pretty decent as was Janeva from Horizon Zero Dawn. These two characters are not perfect but they are a step in the right direction and clear the previously mentioned very low bar. The only way developers are going to get better at it is if they don’t give up and every time they stumble listen to the community and do better next time. Also hire more LGBTQ POC devs.

For further reading on more in depth analysis on the games mentioned, please see the following pieces:

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