LBGTQ+ Characters in Video Games

Welcome (back)! This is the third post in my series of LGBTQ+ representation in media. The first two posts were about LGBTQ+ representation and journeys in TV shows and movies, and the following posts will be a little different. In this post and the next, we’re going to be looking at other forms of media, namely, video games and animation. I’m a big fan of video games, and I’ve played a fair number of games over the years. I’ve always appreciated games that have LGBTQ+ gameplay, and/or have LGBTQ+ characters in the game world. I’ll be focusing on some video games that I’ve played, and going into their details, so there will be spoilers.

First, I’ll be describing a video game that I love. Life is Strange is an adventure game by Dontnod Entertainment, which can be played on PCs, consoles and mobile devices. In the game, you control the main character in third person (i.e., you can see and move the main character), and certain choices along the way affect how the story turns out. There has been three “seasons” of Life is Strange so far, each with a number of “episodes”. The seasons are, in the order they were released: Life is Strange, Life is Strange: Before the Storm, and Life is Strange 2. I’ve not played Life is Strange 2, so I’ll focus on the former two seasons.

Max Caulfield, the main character of Life is Strange. Episode one is free to play!

Life is Strange is set in the small town of Arcadia Bay, and you play as Max Caulfield, an 18-year old photography student. The main gameplay mechanic, that makes Life is Strange unique, is the ability for Max to rewind time. While in class, Max gets a vision of a violent storm destroying Arcadia Bay. She goes to the restroom, and discovers her time-rewinding ability after she witnesses the shooting and death of a woman. Max rewinds time, and realizes that the woman is her childhood friend, Chloe Price, whom she has not had contact with for many years.

Fan art: Max Caulfield (left), Chloe Price (middle), and a recurring blue butterfly.

Max and Chloe rekindle their relationship, explore Max’s powers, and investigate the disappearance of Rachel Amber, whom Chloe was very close to. The main storyline is very engaging, and a little scary at some points. One important branching point (the story changes based on your decisions), is whether Max and Chloe are just friends, or whether they have a love interest. And at the end of the game, it is revealed that Max can choose to either save Arcadia Bay from the encroaching storm and let Chloe die (from her initial gunshot wound when Max had first discovered her powers), or rewind time to save Chloe but sacrifice the town.

The storm threatening Arcadia Bay.

The game itself is great, and I was fully immersed in living as Max in Arcadia Bay. Some of the choices felt very impactful, although not everyone agrees. Especially since you can make one choice, observe the outcome, and rewind time and try a different option. It leads to a philosophical question about whether choices matter if you can rewind time. I don’t have an answer to that, but I do know that when I played Life is Strange, I had to make decisions about what I wanted Max to do, even if I could try out all the options beforehand. The choices felt meaningful to me, which ultimately is the goal of any game.

If you were wondering about the most important choices I made in this game, I chose that Max and Chloe were a couple, and of course Max would save Chloe. The final decision of the game (saving Chloe or saving the town, or “Bae versus Bay”) was a momentous one, and there’s been a lot of debate online about which is the “right” choice. I love that the game had an option for a lesbian love relationship (they also had a decision point where Max could be straight and like a boy in school), and many characters of the game (not just Max and Chloe) were complex and relatable. The discussions about the last decision in the game also reflect how well-written the game was, such that players still think about it a lot after they finish the game.

There’s been a lot of fan art and cosplay of Max and Chloe, also known as “Pricefield”.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm (BtS) is the second season that was released. In terms of the in-game timeline, it is set, as its title suggests, as a prequel to Life is Strange. In BtS, Chloe Price is the main character that you play as. While Chloe doesn’t have Max’s time-rewinding ability, the game itself is wonderful, and may even be better than the original Life is Strange because of that fact. In BtS, you play Chloe as she gets to know Rachel Amber. To me, it was great to understand Chloe’s character a lot more deeply, and also get why she is the way she is in Life is Strange. Similar to Life is Strange, in BtS you can choose if Chloe and Amber are just friends, or there is “something more”.

Chloe Price (left) and Rachel Amber (right) in Life is Strange: Before the Storm.

No prizes for guessing which I chose, and I’ll say that Chloe and Rachel have a very romantic kissing scene at one point in the game, with a beautiful setting and atmosphere. Chloe and Rachel are dubbed “Amberprice” online, and there’s also been lots of discussion about whether “Pricefield” or “Amberprice” is the better couple. There is plenty of fan art and cosplay for both Pricefield and Amberprice. I love that the games have made such an impact on people, myself included.

Now, we’ll time-travel into the sci-fi future, and talk about the video game series, Mass Effect, which can be played on PCs and consoles. Mass Effect, created by BioWare, is a third-person action role-playing game series set in a sci-fi universe filled with spaceships and aliens. Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, and Mass Effect 3 were released between 2007 and 2012. In the Mass Effect trilogy, you control Commander Shepard, who explores the galaxy and saves it from various threats. In 2017, Mass Effect: Andromeda was released. The sequel is set in the Andromeda galaxy, and you play a different character Ryder. I haven’t finished Mass Effect: Andromeda, so I’ll be focusing on the original trilogy and Commander Shepard.

Commander Shepard from the Mass Effect series.

Being a role-playing game, one of the first things you do before starting the game is to create and customize your character. Besides choosing one of six character classes (i.e., Shepard’s abilities in the game), character backgrounds (i.e., where Shepard was born) and service records (i.e., how Shepard behaved prior to the game), you can also customize Shepard as a person. Choices include Shepard’s first name (the last name “Shepard” is fixed), gender, and physical features (e.g., eyes, mouth, hair, skin).

Character customization in Mass Effect 2.

Some of the customizations are purely cosmetic in effect, i.e., the character looks different, but everything else in the game stays the same. Some customizations affect the gameplay, such as the character class being a melee fighter, a ranged shooter, a supporter etc. BioWare’s decision to only let the player customize the first name of the character was very smart. The other characters of the game are voiced, and they refer to the main character as “Commander Shepard”.

The gender of Commander Shepard also has an impact on the game. First, it affects the voice of the character. The male Shepard is voiced by Mark Meer, and the female Shepard is voiced by Jennifer Hale. Jennifer Hale has a great voice, and she was named “the most prolific video game voice actor (female)” by the Guinness World Records. Second, it subtly affects how the other game characters talk to you. Most of the dialogue doesn’t depend on gender, but there are a few instances where characters may say slightly different things. The tone and words that Shepard speaks also vary based on gender in some cases.

Commander Shepard gives a speech to her team.

In addition, BioWare role-playing games have a tendency, in general, to allow “romances” between the player character and other major characters in the game. In Mass Effect, the player can play a male or female Commander Shepard, as mentioned above. The player can choose Shepard to be whatever sexual orientation they wish, and attempt to “romance” characters in the game. I think it’s great that BioWare offers these options in the gameplay, which adds more representation to LGBTQ+ people, and also gives LGBTQ+ people an opportunity to play a character whose sexual orientation matches their own, if they choose to do so. It also allows players to roleplay a character of a different gender and/or sexual orientation, which can be an eye-opening experience.

Overall, Mass Effect is one of the best games I’ve ever played, due to the character development, role-playing options, and deep connections you make with the other characters through the trilogy. Also, I loved being a strong female character who saved the galaxy three times!

Besides Mass Effect, BioWare has also released several other video game series that have done well. One of these is Dragon Age, which is also playable on PCs and consoles. Dragon Age is set in a medieval-fantasy universe. It is similar to Mass Effect in that the in-game universe is full of depth, the gameplay is interesting, and the character development and storylines are excellent. Also, there is a variety of romance options! I’ve only played part-way through the first game of the Dragon Age series, so I don’t know too much about the overall plot, although I did like the parts I played.

Dragon Age: Origins, the first game in the Dragon Age series.

Besides adventure and role-playing games, I enjoy playing simulation games. The last video game series that I’ll describe is The Sims. The Sims is a video game series by Maxis that you can play on PCs, Macs, consoles and mobile devices (for some releases). In The Sims, you control one or more simulated people (sims) as they go about their daily lives. The sims can range from infants to the elderly. There are also a variety of options to customize the personality of the sims, their interests, aspirations and so forth. Similar to Mass Effect, and many other games, you can customize the physical attributes of your sim family during the creation phase. The Sims has arguably one of the most comprehensive customization options of any game that I’ve played. You can even pick different outfits for your sims, from a wide catalog. Besides the sims themselves, you can remodel and decorate your house with different furniture and accessories.

A sim posing in her nicely-furnished home.

The Sims 4, which was released in 2014, included excellent character customization. They had a “custom gender settings” dialog, where you can customize the sim’s physical frame, clothing preference, and so on. I think it is a wonderful feature, so that LGBTQ+ people can choose to have sims that are similar to themselves, and everyone can create more diverse sim families.

Custom gender settings in The Sims 4.

In The Sims, sims (the ones you control, and the ones you don’t control) develop friendships, crushes, relationships and so on. They can even get married and have and/or adopt children if they so wish. The Sims has been LGBTQ+ friendly in that sims can be of any sexual orientation, sims of the same gender can get married and/or have unions, other sims don’t have homophobia and transphobia, and so on. Also, recently as part of Pride month, gender-neutral bathrooms were introduced to The Sims 4. It is a wonderful world where people are accepting of diversity. However, it is not always a rosy world, e.g., sims do get into arguments and even physical brawls, such as during “Neighborhood Brawl Day”.

Sims of all genders can have romantic relationships and marriages .

The Sims is a fun game where you can create a sim family of your choice, and have them live their lives. You can choose to control every single aspect of their lives (e.g., brush their teeth, get ready for work, make dinner), or you can be more hands-off and watch your sims live their lives, and only nudge them lightly towards certain things. There’s a whole spectrum of things you can do in the game, and the game can even teach you values about life itself. For example, if you play a sim that’s extremely career-oriented and lives their life only fervently improving themselves and their career, when they grow old and die (and sims do age and die), you might end up wondering if life should have more meaning than that. Conversely, a sim that only parties and has fun may not be able to pay their bills! Besides leading a “normal” sim life, some players have come up with various challenges to spice up the game, some of which are a little disturbing. All in all, The Sims allows people to play with a wide variety of playstyles, and it’s great that LGBTQ+ representation is normalized in the game as one of its many features.

Some sims celebrating Pride month.

There are plenty of video games, many of which have LGBTQ+ characters and gameplay, and I’ve only highlighted a few here that I’ve played. There is a Wikipedia page with a long list of video games of different genres, so you can pick and choose the games that appeal to you. I’d like to thank Kaylee and Sarah for proof-reading this article and offering suggestions. I hope you enjoyed this third post in my series, and if you’re interested, please read the first and second posts about LGBTQ+ representation and journeys in TV shows and movies, and following posts about animation and contemporary LGBTQ+ people in shows!

Proud mom, roboticist, software engineer.

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