As with a lot of my generation, I grew up in an era that propagated a lot of technological advancements. Along with these innovations came new ways to experience stories. Most kids’ first video game consoles included something like a GameCube or, even older, a Nintendo 64. If you were me, you played Barbie: Secret Agent over and over on your parent’s computer whenever you could get the chance.
Nowadays, a majority of games are available for PCs, making them widely and readily available. You can even emulate GameBoy or DS games on you computer, practically eliminating the need for the original physical console. Additionally, with the widespread availability of game-making software, indie studios and developers have been drawn into the limelight, as contradictory that is to their title. As someone who did not grow up playing video games, and was only introduced to them as I got older, the changing availability of games was beneficial to my ability to play them. I can imagine the same is true for many people who can only afford one computer. This inevitably led to me being exposed to many different types of stories that other forms of visual media, such as TV or movies, hardly touch upon, one of those categories being LGBT issues.
The way I experience games, and stories in general, is inherently affected by my identity as a lesbian, and I have no doubt that the same is true for a majority of the LGBT community. You can imagine, then, how when I first entered the world of video games, I was increasingly frustrated with how saturated it was with straight relationships, most of the time not even well-written ones. It took a bit of exploring on my part, as well as simply time, in order to find communities online where people made and shared LGBT video games. I’m very glad my experience has led me to the place it has, because there are some games I have played that I can certainly say have changed my life.
Unfortunately, I cannot speak for everyone or for every instance of inclusiveness in games out there, and my own lesbianism plays as much a role in my broadened understanding as it does in my limitations. As such, most of the games I have to recommend focus on women-loving-women relationships. It’s not that there aren’t any other LGBT stories out there, they just don’t cater to my particular struggles or interests.
The games I’ve decided to beloviate about fulfill several personal standards that make them some of my all-time favorites. A few of these games I’ve played dozens of times over because they’ve resonated with me so deeply. All of them also fall under the category of “visual novel”, or games that involve mostly reading and don’t have any, if at all requirements for gameplay. The biggest defining factor of my choice in these games is that I wish I had known about them when I was still coming to terms with myself in high school. In talking about them here, I hope to spread the potential of someone else having the positive affirmation and validation I would have wanted.
Butterfly Soup (2017) – Butterfly Soup is a game about high school girls falling in love and playing baseball. It’s a wonderful slice of life game that incorporates relatable, memey humor and cute, heartwarming stories told from the perspectives of the four main characters. The game touches very briefly on emotionally abusive parenting as part of certain characters’ backstories, but overall remains very lighthearted. It takes around 3-4 hours to play all the way through, but unfortunately doesn’t have a lot of replayability, as it is a single, contained storyline. There are alternative dialogue options at certain points, but they are easy to explore as the game allows you to scroll back and choose a different option if you wish. Butterfly Soup is technically free from the artist’s itch.io page, but I would HIGHLY recommend donating whatever you can to support the wonderful independent artist who created it – almost entirely on her own! If you can spare at least $5, you’ll get a digital artbook PDF with bonus art from the game and even more on the backstories of different characters.
Gone Home (2013) – Gone Home was the first LGBT-centric game I ever played, and it was also one of the most emotionally impactful. You play as a student returning from college, only to find her home empty on a stormy night. The game does not have a set storyline, or include any actual gameplay, but instead allows the player to explore and unravel the mysteries of the house at their own pace. Some clues are lighthearted and funny, while others are heart-wrenching and sad. I don’t want to reveal any more of the plot at the risk of potential spoilers, so I encourage anyone who’s interested to check out this game. Taking your time, you would spend about 4-5 hours playing it. Gone Home is $15 on steam and worth every penny, as it’s incredibly well-made.
Hustle Cat (2016) – Do you like cats? Do you like coffee? Then I’ve got some good news for you. Hustle Cat is a game about protagonist Avery Grey’s recent employment at a cafe/bakery that doubles as a refuge for cats picked up off the street. Avery soon learns that there is much more to A Cat’s Paw than they originally bargained for, including a little magic and plenty of romance. There are five romance routes of varying genders for the player to enjoy, and Avery’s pronouns and appearance are entirely up to you, which is one of the features that drew me to this game so strongly. The game is $20 on Steam, and the different routes leave room for plenty of replayability, each taking around 2-3 hours.
Love is Strange: Visual Novel (2016) – Although some would say that the playing of the original Life is Strange is required to enjoy this visual novel, I would say that it’s only a bonus. Love is Strange is a visual novel in which you play as protagonist Max Caufield and offers her the love interest of four different female characters from the original game, including Rachel Amber. It is spectacularly written, illustrated, and composed, carrying much of the same vibes that the original game had. Love is Strange is free on its blog site, and each route takes around 1-2 hours to complete. The replay value of this game is also immense, as there are multiple endings to each route depending on the choices you make, much like the original game.
Some of my best experiences with LGBT media have come from video games, and I think they provide the best platform for storytelling, especially such personal narratives. For my own satisfaction, I know that I’ll be keeping my eye on the indie community in particular for more releases that are similar to my favorites. The only AAA game I’m eagerly anticipating is the release of The Last of Us 2, which will feature Ellie as the main character. From the trailer they released recently, it seems clear that Naughty Dog isn’t going to shy away from including Ellie’s sexuality. I can only hope that more big-name game companies follow through on this momentum and decide to include more diverse characters and storylines in their games.
Disclaimer: This is simply a list of games that I have personally played. As such, I imagine a lot of people have already played or heard of them, and if so, then I hope I can convince you to support their amazing developers or to revisit them.
Games about LGBT experiences
Kindred Spirits on the Roof – $35 on Steam, 20+ hours, explicit
Gone Home – $15 on Steam, 5-6 hours, PG13
Dream Daddy – $15 on Steam, 2-3 hours, PG
Life is Strange – $20 on Steam, 2-3 hours per episode, PG13
Life is Strange: Before the Storm – $17 on Steam, 2-3 hours per episode, PG13
Love is Strange: Visual Novel – free on their blog, 1-2 hours, PG
Games with explicit LGBT characters
Undertale – $10 on Steam, 8-9 hours, PG
The Last of Us: Left Behind – $10 for DLC (base game is $20 for the PS3 and $23 for the PS4), 15-20 hours, PG13
Hustle Cat – $20 on Steam, 2-3 hours, PG
Night in the Woods – $20 on Steam, 8-9 hours, PG13
Games with implicit LGBT characters (or LGBT romance options)
Skyrim – $40 on Steam, 30-40 hours of story then open-ended, PG13
Slime Rancher – $20 on Steam, open-ended, G
Stardew Valley – $20 on Steam, open-ended, G
Mass Effect (trilogy) – Each for $20 on Origin, or all three packaged for $30, 70+ hours, mature
Mass Effect: Andromeda – $40 on Origin, 80+ hours, mature
Divinity: Original Sin II – $45 on Steam, 60+ hours, PG13
Dragon Age (series) – Each for $20 on Origin, 60+ hours, mature
Dishonored: Death of the Outsider – $30 on Steam, 5-6 hours, PG13