As many of us know, RPGs have not historically done the best job with representation, particularly for members of the LGBTQIA+ community. But things are getting better, and there are still some examples from older games that stand out. So here at the end of Pride Month, we want to celebrate LGBTQIA+ representation by taking a look at a number of games that resonate with us, either through their characters or narratives.
It should be noted that while all of these examples have moments that worked for members on staff, we recognize that many of them are imperfect and that other people may take something completely different away from them, and that’s okay. We’ve also listed some other games that we feel have moments of strong representation. This list of write-ups and the additional games noted below are also in no way exhaustive, and we’d love to hear from you on anything we may have missed!
Intro by Zach Wilkerson
by Mark Tjan
Although not perfect in its execution of sexual self-discovery, Persona 4 was, for me, a step in the right direction, exploring the characters of Kanji and Naoto in ways that were decidedly not cisheternormative. It definitely helped me feel like Atlus were starting to recognize that gamers weren’t just cishetero boys and men, and that a much queerer demographic was into their Jungian dystopias. Suffice it to say, I experienced a lot of the self-loathing and questioning Kanji goes through when I was growing up, and seeing a reflection of that in my favourite RPG series made me smile. While his dungeon was more on the stereotypical side, his resolution to embrace his queer feelings hit home for me, just as I was starting to explore and understand my own.
by Wes Iliff
It’s rare for a game to tackle the gender binary. It’s rarer still for a game to do so without making a big deal of it. Ikenfell’s cast is filled with people from across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, but rather than focusing on that, the game simply allows these characters to exist as part of a story, going beyond representation and well into acceptance. Ikenfell takes the kind of joyful fantasy you’d expect from a story about youths attending a magic school and applies it to gender identity and sexuality. It asks, “if we can accept a world with magic and fantastical creatures, why can’t we accept one where anyone can be implicitly accepted for who they are?” With very few missteps, Ikenfell navigates otherwise choppy waters by allowing players to live in a world where the waters simply aren’t choppy.
Ikenfell manages this feat without being insensitive; the effort put into respectful representation is front and center in the credits, where three “writing & sensitivity” staff members are featured prominently. The game reminds us that, no matter how difficult the road might be, accepting who you are is a fundamentally happy experience. Existing as yourself brings clarity and confidence. Ikenfell is a game I played as I was figuring out what being non-binary meant for me, and few things have filled me with as much confidence and joy about acknowledging who I am as the time I spent exploring a mysterious school alongside my diverse crew of friends and classmates.
Final Fantasy VII Remake
by Mark Tjan
There’s always been a bit of queer content in Final Fantasy VII, but while the original expressed it through awkward and discomforting stereotypes, Remake decided to lean the other way. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to see the premiere RPG series embrace queerness in its characters. Andrea Rhodea, in particular, is a gift; he’s a progressive depiction of a queer entertainer that infuses so much life into the Honeybee Inn. What’s even better is that he’s not there just for show. While another game might have someone in the background, coded or unlabelled as queer, Andrea comes right out and tells Cloud that “[t]rue beauty is an expression of the heart. A thing without shame, to which notions of gender don’t apply.”
I’m not going to lie, I cried. It was an affirming moment, delivered with a sincerity I’m not used to hearing from video game characters.
Dragon Age Inquisition
by Matt Warner
Though I could have picked the entirety of Dragon Age: Inquisition, the story arc of Dorian Pavus is one that I am drawn to. Because I teach sexual health, people frequently share topics that pertain to the LGBTQIA+ community with me. So when I was introduced to Dorian and his story arc, I saw a reflection of real life and the stories I had heard. As is too often the case, Dorian isn’t accepted by his family for who he is, and even more tragically, his father attempts to “correct” him. Through all this, however, Dorian stays true to himself and chooses to “fight for what’s in [his] heart.”
Though not everyone in the LGBTQIA+ community reconciles with their estranged loved ones, we see that Dorian finds himself as a person and his family comes to accept their son. To me, this signifies hope for all individuals who are unsure of their sexual identity or have had negative experiences. Dorian’s arc shows that we all have the chance to grow into who we want to be, and that society can grow and accept people for who they are.
by Alana Hagues
I have never felt as validated by a video game as I did while playing Timespinner. I had already been out as bisexual to all of my friends and family for a few years when the game released in 2018, but I always felt a bit uncomfortable with that “label.” I thought being bi had to mean something in particular. But in addition to being a tight and beautiful Metroidvania, Timespinner taught me that it’s okay to define your sexuality on your own terms.
LGBTQIA+ characters are the norm in Timespinner, and they’re treated no differently from anyone else. Data files and diary entries casually reveal lesbian rulers and polyamorous lovers, and trans characters don’t need to define their identity to anyone. Lunais, the main character, is also bisexual, just like me. And when asked about who she’s interested in, she just says it. She doesn’t need to say it to define herself; instead, she confidently embraces her sexuality. Because she’s grown up in a world where it’s normal and she is accepted.
So I vowed from that day on to follow Lunais’ lead and shape my own definition of my sexuality.
Dragon Age: Origins
by Wes Iliff
Coming to terms with your sexuality can be difficult. In my school days, I knew I felt slightly different about gender than other kids, but being surrounded by conservative family members and the ambient homophobia of the ‘90s meant that those thoughts never saw much daylight. Thankfully, RPGs offer ways to explore your identity in a safe space, allowing you to test your boundaries and gauge your reactions to new experiences. And boy, did Zevran in Dragon Age: Origins elicit some reactions.
Zevran was practically lab-designed to activate unknowing bisexuals. His flirty nature with anyone he meets helps to lower your guard, and you accept that this is just the personality of this charismatic man. But the painful past that led him into the life of an assassin is compelling, making you want to talk to Zevran and learn more. His cavalier attitude toward sex makes it easy to, perhaps accidentally, slip into a casual relationship. But seeing him struggle with genuine attraction turns him into a mirror for players struggling with their own. We often say how much representation matters in games, but few series demonstrate that as practically as Dragon Age. I’m hardly the first person to come to terms with themselves through the series, but Zevran will forever feel special because he is the one who helped me find my way.
by Alana Hagues
From Zagreus dating the God of Death Thanatos or the eldest Fury sister Megaera (or both!), to the embodiment of the Void, Chaos, using they/them pronouns, Supergiant’s Hades takes the LGBTQIA+ side of Greek myth and runs away with it. And although it’s never been stated explicitly that Achilles and Patroclus, two soldiers in the Trojan War, were ever in love in The Iliad, the subtext is extremely obvious. Achilles wants his ashes mixed with Patroclus’ for goodness sake! And in Hades, when Achilles dies, he agrees to train Hades’ son, Zagreus, in exchange for allowing Patroclus passage to Elysium.
Thus, a long sidequest is set in motion, where Zagreus tries to reunite the two lovers. There are misunderstandings, musings, trauma, and honest, heartfelt love. Never once are their feelings called into question, and the two are allowed to love openly. Achilles yearns, and Patroclus is resigned to fate until the two are finally reunited. It’s a beautiful relationship that flourishes because of the wonderful writing and empathetic voice acting. In the House of Hades, you will never be judged for anything but your fate after death.
by Wes Iliff
The ‘90s weren’t particularly kind to the LGBTQIA+ community. “Gay” was used as both an insult and a punchline in popular culture, serious health concerns were attributed to the community, and violence against LGBTQIA+ folks was both common and quietly accepted. While we still have a long way to go, we’re better off today than we were thirty years ago. That’s why it stands out when a creator in the ‘90s would craft a gay character and treat them with dignity, respect, and humanity.
When you first meet EarthBound party member Jeff Andonuts, he’s at a boarding school. His roommate, Tony, cares about Jeff in a manner very familiar to anyone who has ever had a childhood crush. Tony does everything he can to aid Jeff, even ignoring his own upcoming birthday to help Jeff break out of school. When Tony is captured, his instinct is to call for Jeff. He even writes a letter to Jeff about how badly he wants to see Jeff’s cheerful face. All of this adds up to a character who wears his heart on his sleeve, though players in the ‘90s generally overlooked it.
In 2003, series creator Shigesato Itoi laid it out plainly:
“Well, for example, there’s a gay person in [EarthBound]. A really passionate friend who lives in an England-like place. I designed him to be a gay child. 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.”
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age
by Cory Tischbein
If you ranked JRPG series for their inclusion of LGBTQIA+ themes, Dragon Quest would sit low on that list. Not one of the dozens of Dragon Quest games released before 2018 even mentioned — let alone featured — an explicit LGBTQIA+ character or storyline. It isn’t too surprising given Japan’s sociopolitical climate and the regressive opinions that a key member of the series development team has espoused.
But the series’s longtime avoidance of LGBTQIA+ themes is exactly why my mind was blown to discover that one of the most vaunted queer characters of recent past is a Dragon Quest character! Throughout Dragon Quest XI, Sylvando is the hero the silent protagonist should be; Sylvando acts bravely in the face of danger, puts his neck on the line to protect his friends, and serves as a beacon of strength for everyone around him. To boot, Dragon Quest XI thrusts Sylvando into the spotlight through a heartwarming storyline involving his dad that drives home the importance of acceptance — a crucial lesson for the empowerment of LGBTQIA+ people. Although Sylvando’s sexual identity is only conveyed through abundantly clear coding — and he embodies a few dubious tropes — he’s still a stellar role model for a very lucky generation of LGBTQIA+ gamers in need of a hero.
AI: The Somnium Files
by Alana Hagues
AI: The Sominium Files is a bit of a fraught entry in this list. There are several queer characters in the game, some leaning heavily towards stereotypes, and also jokes about gender used as an attack. But there’s an extremely earnest, prominent message at one point in the game. One evening, main character Date and his adoptive daughter Mizuki are sitting at Marble, a gay bar in Golden Yokocho. Referring to the genderqueer owner Mama, Date asks Mizuki if she’s frightened of her. Mizuki’s response?
An impassioned speech about the LGBTQIA+ community.
I hadn’t seen anything like this in a video game prior. A lot of the representation I value is nuanced; queer people being accepted in their virtual worlds, and that’s how I want it to be for all LGBTQIA+ people. But in AI, the game acknowledges the community’s struggle. Mizuki is proud of them and looks up to them. She is aware of the empowering side of being a part of a community and acknowledges the shared struggle. This level of empathy is something I’ve barely seen towards us, and it’s a sentiment we deserve.
by Stephanie Sybydlo
Undertale throws your player character into a deep and dense underground kingdom. To escape this unfamiliar world, you need to ally yourself with its monstrous inhabitants… or do the opposite and face the consequences. Although a few foes stand in the way, most of them aren’t so bad; some start with a bit of an attitude but can be easily won over – even bosses!
And such is the crux of Undertale‘s conceit. Building relationships instead of burning them down leads to entirely new story opportunities where you learn about characters and even help them mend relationships with each other. Encapsulating our feature best is the relationship between the Underground’s most dutiful knight, Undyne, and chief scientist/nerd Alphys. Their meet-cute was in a cozy garbage dump, and after hours of chatting, Alphys introduced Undyne to cool stuff like anime, eating ice cream, and making puzzles together. They call each other just to chat about the weather (FYI: the Underground has no weather). But Alphys has been a royal scientist with a dark secret and thinks so highly of Undyne that her insecurity divides them (and who knows if Undyne lives to see Alphys again, should the player choose to fight her instead). Choose love; help a lonely couple enjoy anime together!
Tangentially, a special mention has to go to the player characters, Frisk and sequel Deltarune‘s new hero Kris, who have no official gender – players can project themselves if they please (and many do), and the game only references them as they; something I especially enjoyed and I truly wish more games with androgynous/silent heroes would do. (I’m looking at you SMT!) And while Frisk is quiet, there’s never a point where their gender would matter or change anything… and that’s kinda the point, no?
Mass Effect Trilogy and Mass Effect: Andromeda
by Audra Bowling
The Mass Effect series has been progressively evolving when it comes to covering LGBTQIA+ content, starting with Liara as a romance option for both male and female Shepard in the first game. This potential romance can carry over into the second title, which adds further bisexual romance options. However, Mass Effect 3 has always stood out to me in terms of the original trilogy’s LGBTQIA+ representation. Steve Cortez’s story of learning to live again after the tragic death of his husband was particularly moving, and I loved how the Omega DLC presented the complicated feelings between Aria and her former lover Nyreen Kandros.
Mass Effect: Andromeda’s LGBTQIA+ representation wasn’t always flawless, but BioWare included it and made changes in an effort to improve, such as altering Hainly Abrams’ dialogue to make the reveal of her personal information more believable and patching in Jaal as a romance option for Scott Ryder. Avitus Rix’s desperate search for the missing Turian pathfinder Macen Barro and their relationship was also a standout subplot. The Mass Effect series has continuously tried to do better with LGBTQIA+ representation. I certainly hope that continues with future installments.
Baten Kaitos Origins
by Tyler Trosper
Baten Kaitos Origins‘ Guillo breaks the binary mold often found in JRPGs. Fused with the powers of a male and a female sorcerer, the magical puppet simultaneously speaks with both masculine and feminine voices. However, with no memory of their past, Guillo forms their own identity. Guillo is Guillo. They wear heels. They have a major crush on the protagonist, Sagi, and see fellow party member Millie as a rival for his affection. Many times, Guillo even threatens to eat her (jokingly, one hopes for a creature without a mouth).
Even after learning about their past as a weapon, Guillo still chooses to be their own person. Part of being in the queer community is forming your own identity despite society’s expectations. Beginning life as a mechanical doll, Guillo’s identity does not fit into existing norms, and his growth and development starts from there. Even though Guillo’s gender isn’t directly stated, their journey of self-discovery is one many people make, especially in the LGBTQIA+ community.
by Audra Bowling
Draco Firestarter from Loren the Amazon Princess is a standout character with cheerful mannerisms belying the prejudice he faces as a half-elf. The scene-stealing Draco is a supportive ally to the player character and a potential romance option for Saren, the male player character, only. They share a surprisingly gentle and heartfelt courtship as Saren realizes, first through their friendship and later on as he develops feelings for Draco, that he is attracted to men. While it’s obvious that Draco has romantic feelings for Saren, he’s understanding and respectful of his love interest’s need to take time to process his emotions.
I adore most of the relationships in Winter Wolves’ games and how they often incorporate LGBTQIA+ themes, but I was especially drawn to Althea’s and Chalassa’s story in Tales of Aravorn: Seasons of the Wolf. The two meet as slaves, with Chalassa reluctant to trust because of her turbulent past, but they eventually develop a genuine bond. Their romance is made all the more memorable due to the effort required on the player’s part to ensure they get a happier ending. Althea and Chalassa’s relationship is realistic and touching. I loved the care and mutual respect depicted between them!
Night in the Woods
by Caitlin Argyros
College dropout and rebel feline Mae Borowski returns to her hometown Possum Springs to find that things are different than she remembers them. As she rediscovers what life is like at home and stumbles upon a disturbing mystery in the process, she also reconnects with her best friends and comes to grips with the fact that they’ve grown up and moved on while she was away.
Two of those friends are Gregg (a fox) and Angus (a bear), a gay couple who have been together for a long time and plan to move away from Possum Springs once they’ve saved up enough money. Each of these characters is sweet and endearing on their own, but they are simply adorable as a couple. It’s immediately apparent how loving the two are, from their frequent displays of public affection to the way they talk about each other. Both Gregg and Angus come from abusive families, and they each believe the other saved them from a miserable existence. Their relationship isn’t perfect, of course; Angus worries about Gregg’s tendency to commit “crimes,” and Gregg worries that he will ruin things with Angus. But it’s hard to believe that such a devoted couple wouldn’t find a way to make things work, even when Mae’s return kind of throws their dynamic into chaos.
Speaking of Mae, she’s pansexual, and there are a few other queer characters you can encounter in the game, though they serve fairly minor roles compared to Mae and her friends. All in all, though, the representation in Night in the Woods is fantastic, simply because it feels both earnest and natural.
by Nilson Carroll
There are a few issues I have with Flea, a shape-shifting genderqueer villain from Chrono Trigger, in terms of queer representation in video games. Designed by legendary mangaka Akira Toriyama, Flea presents as feminine but identifies with masculine pronouns and wields dark, magic powers. Flea represents a stereotype in media that queer people are villains, enchanters, people who are mystical but who should not be trusted. The revelation about Flea’s gender is also played up for laughs (of course). Flea can be read as queer representation, but it’s not exactly positive. It’s important to move away from this inherited idea of “androgyny equals villain.”
The fact that Nintendo of America let the infamous line, “Male…female…..what’s the difference? Power is beautiful, and I’ve got the power,” through its Japan to America censors already makes Flea notable, but why I would choose to write about him is personal. As a very young kid in the 1990s, I was enthralled by Flea’s speech. What did he mean? Around this time, there were two instances of queerness in media that unlocked something for me, an episode of the Simpsons with John Waters, and Flea’s (very short) cutscene.
It had never occurred to me before that gender is fluid and that it does not need to exist within the binary system our society believes in so harshly. This is the power of Flea and his speech. He doesn’t offer us explanations (he doesn’t owe us any), but merely plants the idea in our heads that what we believe is wrong. Especially for young kids, everything is divided into genders, schoolrooms, toys, clothing stores. This is how it is, but it doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be.
by Audra Bowling
Gnosia is an incredible visual novel where you have to root out the traitors amongst an eclectic group of space travelers, two of whom happen to identify as non-binary. Plus, players can even choose to have their own avatar be non-binary if they so prefer! Raqio is a complex character who comes across as haughty but, like the rest of the Gnosia cast, has a surprising amount of depth to them. The other non-binary member of the crew is Setsu, the game’s secondary main character who arguably serves as the story’s true hero. It isn’t common for games to feature non-binary characters in their cast, let alone have three of them potentially feature so prominently. Gnosia does so in a very respectful manner for the most part, although it isn’t all perfect, as there is an unfortunate shower scene involving Raqio at one point. However, aside from that unnecessary narrative mishap, Raqio and Setsu are standout characters in an incredibly memorable cast, both of whom help pave the path to the eventual true ending of Gnosia in surprising ways.
The Outer Worlds
by Jonathan Logan (with assistance from Caitlin Argyros)
Finding good, unambiguous aspec representation in a video game can be challenging, especially in a way that doesn’t feel tokenistic. But with Parvati Holcomb in The Outer Worlds, wonderfully voiced by Ashly Burch, Obsidian not only puts her asexuality front and center, they also arguably made her the best character in the game!
Coming from the small, rundown town of Edgewater, Parvati had been put down her entire life by a system that depended on her technical expertise but never respected her for it. Many townsfolk saw her as “cold,” citing her lack of sexual interest in her romantic relationships. But after the start of The Outer Worlds, her internalized shyness and lack of confidence begin to give way to someone who confronts her fears and loneliness head-on. She forms close connections with the rest of the crew of the good ship Unreliable and begins to realize her potential as a chief engineer of a starship. Her dedicated side-quest where you help her plan the perfect date with Junlei Tennyson, the captain of the colony ship Groundbreaker, is one of the most wholesome and heartwarming quests I’ve ever experienced in an RPG. By the end of the game, Parvati has realized her dream of being a respected engineer, found a loving partner, embraced her identities as asexual and homoromantic, and has become tremendously accomplished at bashing folks with a massive hammer.
Part of Parvati’s authenticity comes from the fact she was written by Kate Dollarhyde, herself an asexual narrative designer at Obsidian. Despite the promise of a new crew in The Outer Worlds 2, I sincerely hope they revisit this delightful character in the sequel. Simply put, I’m a fan!
by Kyle Seeley
Before queer representation in gaming was more common, 1998’s SaGa Frontier gave us Asellus. One of seven playable protagonists in the original, her story and character development stood out as having more care and purpose put into it than others, dealing heavily with themes of identity.
A formerly-normal 17-year old girl, Asellus, awakens to find twelve years have passed without her aging a day. She soon learns that in order to save her life, she’s received a blood transfusion from Orlouge, a possessive and tyrannical mystic lord (a long-lived vampiric race), and will become one of his more than one hundred princesses. Asellus escapes and begins a journey of empowerment and self-discovery, earning trustworthy allies who accept her for who she is.
Asellus’ frequent rejection of her half-mystic identity serves to tell the story of a young queer woman coming to terms with her sexuality. Eventually, Asellus grows a romantic attraction for White Rose, another of Orlouge’s princesses. Only after the two have been separated by Orlouge is Asellus able to admit her own feelings for White Rose, accepting that she can’t change who she is—a meaningful message for anyone to take to heart.
More Games Noteworthy for LGBTQIA+ Representation
We enjoyed getting the team together to write about the 20 or so games above, but as we said, this is (thankfully) not a fully exhaustive list. We also polled the RPGFan crew for a list of additional games that feature notable LGBTQIA+ representation, even if we weren’t writing a full paragraph about them. Check these out below:
- Dark Deity
- Disco Elysium
- The House in Fata Morgana
- Life is Strange, Life is Strange: Before the Storm and Life is Strange 2
- NieR Replicant and NieR: Automata (go read Alana’s fabulous feature about them!)
- Persona 2: Innocent Sin
- Planet Stronghold
- Read Only Memories
- Stardew Valley
- Tell Me Why
- VA-11 HALL-A
- Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest