LGBT+ representation is incredibly poor in the media and if you don’t believe me, you can look at the most recent Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or better known as GLAAD, report. In films representation was deemed to be ‘poor’ or ‘failing’ from all the major studios. TV representation isn’t much better either as only 6.4% of regular characters are LGBT+.
However gaming, in my opinion, has always been ahead of the curve with this; although there aren’t any official GLAAD reports although Gaming in Color is a great documentary about LGBT+ representation. This year’s E3 was pretty good in that regard. In the Last of Us 2 trailer that debuted at E3, we witnessed Ellie kissing a woman in a non-hypersexualised and non-exploitative manner. It was just a kiss like any old kiss should be; between two people who clearly love one another. At E3 Ubisoft also announced that you can be gay in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey which is amazing for a mainstream title to do that. By contrast, we look at recent film releases like Thor Ragnarok and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom where they have openly admitted to cutting out scenes that made it clear that some of the characters are LGBT+. Throughout the years gaming has been relatively progressive from an LGBT+ and this article is going to focus on some of the key examples of representation, both good and not so good, throughout the generations.
In 1988, Birdo was introduced in Super Mario Bros. 2. In the instruction manual it stated that Birdo was male but felt as though they were a girl and they wanted to be called Birdetta. Now this was relatively progressive for the time as Birdo is essentially transgender. However, the manual was insensitive with the use of pronouns and referred to them as a ‘he’.
Throughout the years Birdo has evolved as a character for the better in terms of representation and as of Super Smash Bros. Brawl their gender has been described indeterminate, meaning that they are intersex. At least this way they are not misgendered and incorrect pronouns are not used.
Real progress in terms of transgender representation was not made until the early 2010s with Dragon Age: Inquisition representing a real sign of progress. Krem is an openly transgender character and all the other characters are wholly accepting of them. Iron Bull actually leaves the party if the player chooses to be transphobic. Bioware quite clearly made strides in terms of trans representation in this sense and condemned transphobia.
On the whole, Bioware has been pretty good when it comes to LGBT+ representation with both the Mass Effect series and the Dragon Age series due to the fact that it did allow for same-sex relations to occur. Unfortunately, however, Mass Effect: Andromeda (the most recent in the series and probably the last due to its critical and fan reception) was criticised for actually taking a step back when it came to same-sex relationships, particularly male ones.
Other gaming series have been more consistent when it comes to same-sex relationships though. For example, The Sims series has always been particularly forward thinking when it comes to same sex relationships. All the games within the series have allowed for same-sex relationships to be formed and technically every Sim is bisexual. Each entrance in the series has improved its perspective on same-sex couples.
In the first game, same-sex couples could not get married but could move in together and adopt children; being married in this game didn’t really affect gameplay. In the second game, same-sex couples still could not marry but there was the option of a ‘Joint Union’ which essentially meant the same thing except it wasn’t called marriage; it basically reflected how civil partnerships were more accepted at the time than same-sex marriage.
The Sims 3 did introduce same-sex marriage; in fact, in several countries The Sims Freeplay has been wrongly banned due to the fact that it allows same-sex marriage. Moreover, you could use cheats in both The Sims 2 and 3 to allow same-sex couples to have biological children. The Sims 4 did introduce this into the base game and it also allowed for transgender sims to be created as they removed the gender restrictions from the Create-A-Sim part of the game.
There are also further examples of same-sex relationships within video games. Fallout 2, which came out in 1998, was the first game ever to feature same-sex marriage. This game actually allowed same-sex marriage 3 years before the Netherlands did which was the first country in the world to do so.
Fable, a franchise which I miss dearly, also allowed for same-sex romance to occur. The representation of same-sex couples and relationships improved significantly with each new entry into the franchise much like The Sims has. In the original Fable game, a same-sex couple didn’t receive a wedding cutscene but this was integrated into the game in Fable 2. In Fable 3, same-sex couples were allowed to adopt children.
There have also been some particularly notable gay characters within games in more recent years, one of which is Bill from The Last of Us who GLAAD recognised as one of the most interesting LGBT+ characters of 2013.
This leads me to my inspiration for writing this article, The Last of Us Part 2 trailer that was revealed at E3 (side note, what is it about LGBT+ romance and post-apocalyptic games). This trailer was a perfect depiction of a female same-sex romance as it wasn’t hypersexualised, fetishised or done with an overly dominant male gaze. Instead, it is portrayed like any other kiss would be between a couple.
When I watched the Sony livestream I was so proud that Naughty Dog and Sony actually did this on one of the most anticipated games of the year. It is particularly important to note that female same-sex relationships are rarely explored in any entertainment medium, especially those featuring younger women. Moreover, the reason that many blockbuster films tend to exclude same-sex relationships is because they are worried that they will severely limit their overseas earnings due to some countries not being accepting of the LGBT+. Hence why I was so impressed that this was the key focal point of the trailer.
We were aware of Ellie’s sexuality from The Last of Us Left Behind as the creator of the series, Neil Druckman, confirmed that Ellie is gay. This is particularly important as Ellie is roughly 14 in that game and that is around the age that a lot people start to question and realise their sexuality. Her character development from TLOU: Left Behind to TLOU: Part 2 feels organic and not forced based on this trailer. Perhaps the romantic aspects of Ellie’s life will break up the more graphic, violent and horror based sections of the game as the trailer suggests as the kissing scene frames Ellie’s more stealthy scenes and encounter with the hunters.
Her relationship represents hope in the bleak world she has grown up in and offers the player (no matter their sexuality or gender) something to relate to, a desire to love and to be loved. It will be interesting to see how thoroughly developed Ellie’s sexuality is developed throughout the game and whether or not her love life will suffer a tragic fate due to the grim reality of the world they inhabit. Perhaps this kiss is merely Ellie dreaming of what her life could have been like but I’m hoping that isn’t the case and that it is real and not some kind of dream sequence.
I hope this article has helped some of you learn more about LGBT+ characters and themes within our beloved video games. Chances are you’ve played some of these games and you might have never fully realised that it is representation for a group that is need of media representation.
This is why I am so excited for TLOU: Part 2 even though I didn’t like the first game that much, controversial opinion I know. Ellie’s sexuality is depicted in such an organic and realistic way even though the world she inhabits is apocalyptic. If anything, the game’s setting just makes it even better as she has truly found love and acceptance in a world without hope; the same sadly cannot be said for many members of the LGBT+ community today as many have to deal with physical and verbal abuse or even face death in some countries.
On a lighter note, I sincerely wish that everyone has had a great Pride month and it was very befitting that the TLOU: Part 2 trailer was released during it as well as the news about Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.