10 Early Examples of LGBTQ Representations in Video Games

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For whatever reason, representation in video games has become a remarkably contentious subject in recent years, regarded with cynicism and apprehension – mainly thanks to the efforts of certain conservative minded individuals who view inclusivity and diversity as some kind of transgender conspiracy intent on riding the world of heterosexual protagonists.

Regardless, LGBTQ representation in gaming isn’t a new phenomenon by any stretch of the imagination; in fact, throughout the 90s, homosexual and transgender characters were featured frequently in popular media, including video games. Moonmist is a great example – the first game to ever include a homosexual character, though their sexuality was only ever implied.

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Dracula Unleashed – released seven years later in 1993 – was the first to include a gay character in a speaking role, and The Orion Conspiracy was actually the first game ever to use the word homosexual in any context whatsoever, which is pretty remarkably given the industry’s continued reluctance to indulge in similar representations nowadays in 2017.

There are so many positive examples of pioneering representations in video games, and some equally counterproductive ones as well. Resident Evil Code: Veronica for instance, included a transgender character, Alfred Ashford – who is revealed as a “cross-dressing freak” and sexual pervert towards the game’s conclusion. Blazing Dragons – the classic point-and-click adventure game – is another example, repeatedly using homosexuality as a comedic device.

Those examples aside, here are ten pioneering representations of LGBTQ characters in video games…

  1. Earthbound (1994)

    Tony is Jeff Andonuts' best friend in Earthbound – a playable party-member, and reoccurring character semi-central to the game’s narrative. He’s also gay according to series creator, Shigesato Itoi, who confirmed the character’s sexual orientation in an interview in 2008, stating “in a normal, real-life society, there are gay children, and I have many gay friends as well. So I thought it would be nice to add one in the game, too”.

    There are other homosexual characters included throughout the game – including another child in the clubhouse – but, none are featured as prominently as Tony. His sexuality is never portrayed stereotypically, but there’s still plenty of evidence suggestive of his sexual orientation. His near-obsession with Jeff is completely endearing; his temperament is also noticeably different when Jeff’s around, compared to when he’s not included in your party.

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  2. Chrono Trigger (1995)

    Square Enix’s 1995 role-playing game, Chrono Trigger includes a major villain named Flea, who has been described as gender non-conforming and gender-fluid. Certainly, throughout the game, the character’s gender is ambiguous; they’re referred to using masculine pronouns, but s/he makes several remarks which suggest their gender really isn’t very important to them: “Male… female… what’s the difference? Power is beautiful, and I've got the power”.

    Most importantly: Flea’s identity is never a point of mockery. In Chrono Cross, the character is confirmed as male despite his/her outward rejection of gender constructs, sometimes sporting vibrant pink hair and typically female clothing. Glenn (Frog) also describes the character’s appearance as an illusion; they’re gender icon is male, for instance. Regardless, s/he is clearly uninterested in appearing conventionally masculine - so, deception or not – s/she doesn’t conform to prevailing social expectations, making her remarkably unique. 

  3. The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery (1995)

    Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within was ahead of its time in many ways, a genuine triumph in interactive storytelling and compelling point-and-click style gameplay. It’s portrayals of women and homosexuals were equally progressive; Grace Nakimura in particular is considered a watershed character, setting the standard for portrayals of women as strong and capable individuals.

    In the game, the principle antagonist, Baron Von Glower is portrayed as sexually invested in the titular protagonist, making numerous advances throughout the game. Eventually, Gabriel himself becomes somewhat receptive, admitting a certain admiration towards the character which is suggestive of romantic entanglement. Similarly, King Ludwig – a historical figure featured prominently throughout the game – is thought to have been a homosexual.

    In this respect, the game engages with homosexuality symbolically through lycanthropy, which allows for a more measured, considerate approach to the subject.

  4. The Orion Conspiracy (1995)

    The first game to use the word homosexual in any context, The Orion Conspiracy is about a father’s investigation into his estranged son’s murder aboard a space-station in the future. His investigation eventually leads him to Steve Kaufmann, his son’s romantic partner who accuses the protagonist, Devlin McCormack of purposely alienating his homosexual son.

    Though ground-breaking, The Orion Conspiracy’s references to homosexuality – as well as its depictions of violence – earned the game a “teen” rating from the ESRB. Regardless, the game approaches the subject with surprising maturity; the protagonist initially has great difficulty accepting his son’s alternate life, but eventually comes to regret his own prejudices.

    The universe of The Orion Conspiracy is inhuman and unforgiving – civilisation controlled by corporations and corrupt governments – but, the central narrative is an empathetic one. It’s about a grieving father learning to accept his homosexual son in a world where most people only seem to care about themselves.

  5. Fallout 2 (1998)

    Before Mass Effect, Skyrim and The Witcher 3 started portraying homosexual characters in constructive and normalising relationships, Fallout 2 was breaking new ground by being the first game to include same-sex marriage as a playable option. In the game, players could choose between two separate spouses, Miria or Davin, depending on personal preference. Interestingly, Davin was actually a more effective party-member, encouraging male players to go with the homosexual option.

    The trend would continue in 2004 with the release of Fable, which allowed players to marry multiple non-playable characters, including males and females. Bethesda Softworks and BioWare have since pioneered this particular area; Skyrim, Dragon’s Age, Mass Effect and Fallout 4 all allow players to romance an array of NPCs regardless of race or gender. Despite their resilience to include same-sex relationships in Tomodachi Life, Nintendo have equally changed their views on the subject, promising to be more inclusive going forwards.

  6. Final Fantasy VIII (1999)

    Adel is a downright sinister villain in Final Fantasy VIII with no moral compass whatsoever and no motivations beyond self-gratification. She’s completely power-hungry and manipulative, which makes her truly compelling as a secondary antagonist, delighting in untold chaos and destruction. Her appearance is masculine; indeed, in the North American version of the game, Adel is described as a female with characteristically male features.

    In the French version of Final Fantasy VIII however, Adel is described as being intersex, with most characters referring to her using masculine and feminine pronouns, interchangeably. This could have been excused as a translation issue; however, in Japanese, the word “mahou” meaning witch/wizard is unisex, applicable to both male and female conjurers. In Arabic, the name ‘Adel’ is an alternate transliteration of the name ‘Adil’; in Nordic Countries, the name is a shortened version of the name, Adolf – and both names are typically masculine.

    Adel is a villain, yes; however, unpleasant characters and well-written characters are not mutually exclusive, and Adel is as memorable and compelling as villains come. 

  7. Star Ocean: The Second Story (1999)

    Star Ocean: The Second Story allows players to choose between two playable characters, Claude or Rena – each of which is given a number of relationship options. Rena for instance, can involve herself in a relationship with another female party-member, Precis – which would result in any number of alternate endings depending on various relationship dynamics.

    Interestingly, there are an estimated eighty-seven possible endings, several of which require players to actively pursue gay and lesbian characters. That said, these same-sex relationships were more platonic than romantic – mainly because the game wanted to maintain its “E” rating from the ESRB. Regardless, Star Ocean: The Second Story was the first game in the series to be released outside of Japan – so, even if those relationships were watered down somewhat, they were reaching a significantly larger audience nonetheless.

  8. Persona 2: Innocent Sin (1999)

    Released on PlayStation, Persona 2: Innocent Sin includes two prominent gay characters, one of which happens to be the protagonist, Suou Tatsuya – who is able to pursue a relationship with another male character over the course of the game, Kurosu Jun.

    Alternatively, Tatsuya can choose between two female characters, Lisa or Maya – neither of which makes as much sense, narratively speaking. After all, Tatsuya and Jun are estranged childhood friends who have maintained an emotional connection over the years despite Jun’s association with the principle antagonist – making him a more appropriate choice.

    There are other LGBTQ characters included throughout the series as well – including an intersex fortune-teller, Sumaru Genie – but, none are as significant as Tatsuya and Jun. They’re relationship is easily the most plausible, as well as genuinely compelling; they’re contact combo is especially devastating as well – which is another deciding factor.

  9. Final Fantasy IX (1999)

    Square’s Final Fantasy IX includes a genderless race called the Qu – whose cartoonish, exaggerated appearance somewhat rejects gender constructs and preconceptions. In the game, they’re referred to as ‘s/he’ throughout, including the playable character, Quina Quen – whose sexuality and gender are never revealed despite their apparent pansexual dimensions.

    Quina’s appearance is comical, undoubtedly – the tongue in particular – but, s/he is easily one of the most endearing characters in the game. Quina is sympathetic and adventurous, positively delighting in new experiences – sometimes to a detriment. Later in the game, s/he is given the option of marrying a male character, Vivi – which might qualify as the first pansexual marriage ever depicted in a video game, seeing as how neither character is particularly interested in sexual intercourse. 

  10. The Sims 2 (2001)

    That’s right, The Sims broke new ground in 2001 with a televised commercial in which two male characters are shown going on a date together. Astounding, really – it took that long to normalise same-sex relationships in video games, enough anyway to advertise them on television as a central component to the experience. In the game – if story progression is enabled – Sims can pursue same-sex relationships entirely autonomously.

    Unfortunately, this was removed by Nintendo from the GameBoy Advance and DS versions of The Sims – neither of which allowed for same-sex relationships. Nintendo have since changed their tune on this particular issue, promising to include homosexual relationships in Tomodachi Life 2 despite claiming they were a “political statement” in the past. Regardless, Maxis, Electronic Arts and The Sims beat them to the punch by over a decade.

    The Sims has always been a remarkably inclusive series. In fact, The Sims 4 released an update mid-2016 allowing players to create gender-neutral and transgender characters, expanding gender customisation options significantly – which is always a good thing.