THE IMPORTANCE OF LBGT+ INCLUSION IN MAINSTREAM VIDEO GAMES
Spider- Man takes a selfie with one of two Pride flags included in Marvel's Spider-Man. Screenshot captured by Roy Mendez (@royboy456) on PS4.
Marvel’s Spider-Man shocked and excited many gamers, especially those of the LBGT+ community, with its inclusion of Pride flags hanging from a building and painted on a wall in an alleyway within the game’s world.
Though a small gesture, this can mean a lot to the player who is currently questioning their sexuality, has spent years struggling to come to terms with their sexuality, or is dying to see more props to the queer community.
However, there is still a long way to go before moments like these are commonplace. Though it is cool that they end up as headlines across thirty gaming websites, they wouldn’t be something so rare and controversial if they constantly showed up in new games.
Increased and repeated LBGT+ representation in video games empowers and validates LBGT+ gamers. This makes them feel as though they have a voice in the gaming community and helps to normalize queer sexualities and relationships within a community that is still resistant to anything other than heterosexuality.
Relationships as a plot point are often unwanted in video games... People buy games to, well, play them, not to watch people make out (usually). However, the inclusion of LBGT+ romances in video games can make a world of difference for a group of people that goes so often without seeing their romantic lives reflected in their favorite media.
Some games have already began to incorporate LBGT+ romances naturally into the overarching storylines of games in a way that is not distracting or unnecessary, but rather, a key piece in the narrative.
One of the best examples of this is Electronic Art’s The Sims. In the wildly-popular, ridiculously-silly, life simulation series of games, all Sims are inherently bisexual. Players are presented with the option to engage in same-sex relationships; offered even back in the original 2000 game. Since this game is about the progression of life, from young adulthood to old age (if your Sim even makes it that far), relationships are a key factor in the “story” of the lives of Sims.
Two Sims get married in The Sims 3. Video created by BestSimmerReviews.
The fact that these games allowed players to create queer sims without it ever even being acknowledged as a “thing” is a big deal. Your Sim is straight? Cool! Your sim only likes boys/girls? Awesome! Your Sim likes both?! Neat! Your Sim likes aliens? SICK! Whatever you want, my dude!
From my own personal experience, playing games like The Sims during my adolescence, where I could virtually experiment with sexuality, helped make me feel just a little less scared about the feelings and emotions haunting me at the time. Even now at twenty-one, being able to create a Sim and have him fall in love with a man is refreshing and satisfying; especially when they start building a family together.
Lesbian Romance In A Post-Apocalyptic World
The Last Of Us by Naughty Dog is an additional example of a game that has seamlessly incorporated an LGBT+ storyline into a wildly-popular mainstream game. It would seem that in a blockbuster game like this one with a complex narrative and apocalyptic backdrop, including a gay storyline would feel forced and/or irrelevant... but not with Ellie.
Ellie is Joel’s companion in The Last Of Us. Though things start of rocky between them, Joel eventually becomes a father-figure for Ellie and Ellie risks her life to save him when he finds himself on the brink of death by zombie infection. Though Joel is at the forefront of The Last Of Us’s campaign, Ellie gets the spotlight in a downloadable-content chapter set before the events of the game. In The Last Of Us: Left Behind, it is revealed that Ellie had a girlfriend before she became a survivor-on-the-run. (Spoilers for the DLC are contained in the following paragraphs!)
The DLC finds Ellie reunited with her love interest, Riley, as they go explore an abandoned shopping mall that is ruined by the apocalypse. Though their reunion is sweet and filled with happiness, it is cut short when the two are pursued by zombies.
Ellie and Riley didn’t have to be girlfriends; they could have been just friends. But the portrayal of a love between two individuals in a devastating world filled with violence, despair, loss, and hope is a perfect compliment to dreariness of the game's overarching tone. Perhaps the survivors in this new world order are not simply surviving; maybe they can lay the foundations of building new life and happiness despite their circumstances.
Furthermore, the extended gameplay trailer for the Last Of Us Part II shows Ellie kissing a girl during a slow dance. Players are expected to meet her when the game officially releases, hinting at a continuation of Ellie’s romantic life that was introduced in Left Behind.
Ellie shares a sweet moment with a pretty lady before chaos ensues. Video provided by IGN & Naughty Dog.
And of course, this was a huge moment for queer gamers. Reddit user @yourfavecompanion started a discussion thread titled “I’m a lesbian and Ellie means everything to me.” The user provides a touching testimony to exactly how important Ellie being gay is to her, stating how:
“Seeing such honest representation in one of my favorite games means so much to me. I constantly struggle with tiny things that remind me that I am other, but it's things like seeing a protagonist who is like me that reminds me that I'm not alone. Ellie makes me feel valid.”
This user is only one of many, many more that feel the same way.
LBGT+ gamers deserve to see their lives and experiences reflected in video games in the same way that heterosexual, cisgender gamers have for decades now. Games like The Sims, Marvel’s Spider-Man, and The Last of Us are leaps in the right direction. Fortunately, they are not the only games that have ensured that LBGT+ gamers feel welcome playing their game. We just need more franchises to be willing to embrace the queer community in their games, regardless of the risk it may pose.
If more game developers looked at the positive reactions of queer gamers to the franchises that have already taken that risk, they would see that it’s well worth it.