The GLAAD award nominees for 2022 have been unveiled, and once again bring video games into mix with both triple-A titles and indie hitsbeing celebrated for their queer representation. Some belong, while others feel like they’re included purely to make up the numbers and showcase that this medium is doing something in the name of queer people, we promise.
I suppose the same can be said for multiple categories, where groundbreaking LGBTQ+ stories are included alongside run-of-the-mill minor representaion. Representation isn’t linear though, so we should continue celebrating occasions like this and how we can ensure the queer experience continues to be depicted in honest, liberating ways moving forward. That being said, let’s dig into the gaming nominees for this year.
Kitfox Games’ cutesy dungeon crawler is a lovingly queer experience. You play as an avatar with the body type, pronouns, and gender of your choosing; while all the romances can be conceived as gay, straight, or you can opt for the asexual route without smooching anyone at all and instead just befriend a cat.
The narrative also delves into the themes of consent, emotional manipulation, and what it means to put your trust in someone. It’s great to see a smaller game like this receive a nomination, showcasing how far the medium has come in depicting inclusive titles that aren’t afraid to explore the fun and messy reality of being a big gay disaster.
Far Cry 6
This one confounds me a little. Far Cry 6 features the trans character Paolo de la Vega – a talented musician and freedom fighter whose identity is a fundamental part of his character. His father is a drill instructor, banishing him from the family after finding out about his son’s transgender identity. He found a new home in the resistance and his partner Talia Benavidez.
On the surface this has the potential to be a sweet and meaningful exploration of trans identity, but like much of Far Cry 6, it boils down complicated political and social themes into a gritty, violent parody of themselves.
For example, Paolo underwent top surgery without any medical assistance of anaesthesia because he is simply that badass. Get out of here with that rubbish and try to have a queer character who goes beyond being a grim origin story.
Rainbow Six Siege
Yet another Ubisoft title, but this one has a far more positive outlook. Anja ‘Osa’ Jankovic is a transgender operator hailing from Ukraine who was designed by an inclusive group of developers who did a fantastic job of bringing this woman to life.
She feels badass and authentic in a way that few characters in triple-A titles do, while fitting in perfectly alongside her fellow operators. This one’s a winner, and I hope other service games follow in its footsteps.
Unpacking is a lovely little game, but I’d hesitate to call it an inherently queer one. It depicts the act of moving out several times throughout a character’s life, unpacking boxes and placing objects in rooms, apartments, and other such places with all of these items telling a story in themselves. We see how our character grows up and changes with the times, all through minimal dialogue and expertly crafted visual storytelling.
Yet their sexuality is very much a passing mention, with bisexuality clearly hinted at across objects found in certain levels. While I do adore this level of subtlety, a passing mention picking up a GLAAD nomination has me wondering if everyone and anyone is worthy of such an accolade. No shame on the developers, but perhaps we should be aiming higher than a flag in the background these days?
The Gardener And The Wild Vines
This cutesy and underrated pixel platformer features a queer romance at the centre of its narrative, and one between two boys which is a refreshing change in a medium that often focuses on lesbian relationships to avoid making the toxic gamers so mad.
Not many people played this one, and it’s such a sweet little story, so I’m relieved that GLAAD decided to recognise its brilliance even if it fell under our radar. Check it out if you haven’t, it’s a great little time.
Kena: Bridge Of Spirits
Wholesome farmer lesbians is an aesthetic I strive to replicate in my own life, and this is one of the many touching stories found across Kena: Bridge Of Spirits. Once again, this isn’t a major focus of the game and it might pass a number of players who choose not to pay that much attention to the unfolding narrative. A shame, because the tale being woven here is rather lovely, and part of me wishes it was given a bigger spotlight.
Once again, Psychonauts 2’s queer representation isn’t front and centre, yet its reference to a gay wedding between Bob and Helmut is unbeliavably sweet and treated as a facet of normality in a world that is anything but. The dialogue featured here is so sweet and saccharine, and one of many wonderful moments in the long-awaited platformer.
Life is Strange: True Colors
I think my boss is still mad at me for playing True Colors as a straight girl [Editor’s Note: I am. Only gay people are allowed at TheGamer], although it made me feel comfortable in a straight relationship for the first time as a transgender woman, so there is certainly some value in that perspective. Alex Chen is also a canon bisexual, showing blatant attraction to both Steph and Ryan regardless of which romantic path you decide to pursue.
Alex’s journey is inherently queer, it’s one of love, loss, acceptance, and learning to care about yourself in a world that feels set against you. It’s also a bonafide blockbuster, putting who we are at the centre while being unflinching in the face of ridicule. You love to see it.
Rainbow Billy: Curse Of The Leviathan
This delightful queer platformer is all about bringing colour back to a world once rich with it, defined by a story and characters who aren’t afraid to be friendly and queer at every conceivable turn. Some might find it a bit too sickeningly sweet and saccharine, but sometimes that’s exactly what we need.
Unsighted, made by two Brazilian trans developers, is just badass, and not in the schlocky Far Cry way. It’s a sharp and colourful pixel Metroidvania with a number of POC characters all wrapped up in a brilliant combat system and plenty of queer storybeats. Its queerness permeates through the entire experience whether it be dialogue, character relationships, or the game’s fresh and funky aesthetic.
So there’s all of our nominees, and it’s a fairly solid selection. But I can’t help but feel that any experience with even a sniff of queer inclusion has a right to be included, and that doesn’t feel like the right way to celebrate and push the medium forward.
Ultimately, we’re celebrating such minimal strides, and while representation is hardly a linear path forward, we should be using occasions like this to showcase where we currently are, while shouting from the rooftops about where we want to be. There’s a few obvious choices here that deserve to be celebrated, in fact the majority of the games here do, but we shouldn’t be twisting progress into a competition, or we risk hurting ourselves.
We’ll see where we are in 2023, but hopefully it isn’t a case of nominating every single tiny piece of blockbuster representation alongside a select few indie games. Fingers crossed!
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