Everyone deserves to see a reflection of themselves in the media they consume. For a long time gamers weren’t given that chance. Video game characters tended to be pretty uniform, ranging from the everyman to a silent protagonist upon which the player could place their own identity.
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But things have changed. Gaming as an industry has exploded, and the range of genre and form within the medium now allows for a greater range of characters and identities to be represented on screen: both those that we play and those that we interact with. And, while Pride month may be over, that doesn’t mean you should forget about these great LGBTQIA characters from video game history.
Ellie, Dina, and Lev – The Last of Us II (2020)
One of gaming’s most famous gay characters is Ellie from The Last Of Us (2013). A teenager in the first game, her sexuality is hinted at before being explored further in DLC prequel The Last of Us: Left Behind (2014). Here we see Ellie accompanying her female friend Riley, for whom she displays romantic interest and shares a kiss with at the emotional climax.
In The Last of Us II (2020) an older Ellie is dating a woman named Dina, who is bisexual or pansexual, and the two raise a child together for a time. This game also features Lev, a young trans boy who is ostracised and hunted by his community and forms an alliance with Abby, the game’s other playable character.
Parvati Holcomb – The Outer Worlds (2019)
The Outer Worlds features non-playing character Parvati Holcomb, a crew member and engineer on the player’s ship. The player can discover that Parvati has a crush on another engineer, a woman named Junlei, and a companion quest results in the two becoming a couple. Parvati is a biromantic asexual; someone who experiences romantic feelings for more than one gender, but has little or no interest in sexual intimacy.
The Outer Worlds won the 2020 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Video Game for the inclusion of Parvati, with GLAAD calling her “perhaps the most prominent example of an authentic asexual character ever seen in a major studio title.” The game’s narrative designer Kate Dollarhyde is also a biromantic asexual woman, which likely has much to do with why Parvati feels so genuine.
Kainé – NieR (2010)
NieR companion character Kainé is a fierce young woman with a tongue sharper than the dual swords she wields. Whilst Kainé appears human her left arm and leg, which she hides under bandages, are possessed by a Shade — the enemy creatures of the game. She is intersex and identifies as a woman.
Due to her non-binary nature as both a human/Shade and an intersex woman, Kainé lived her life as an outcast, shunned by others who saw her existence as a bad omen. She later adopted a hyper-feminine appearance, with long hair and revealing clothing, which also helps to prevent further possession of her body as the Shade are weak against sunlight. Kainé is well loved for being unapologetic about who she is, and how she wishes to be perceived.
Tracer – Overwatch (2016)
One of the biggest online multiplayers, Overwatch is a team-based shooter where players can choose from a host of colourful characters. One of the most popular of the bunch, Lena Oxton — or Tracer — possesses a speed ability and wields two rapid-fire pulse pistols.
In tie-in webcomic Reflections (2016) Tracer was revealed to have a girlfriend, Emily, who she shares a flat with in London. Michael Chu, the lead writer of Overwatch, later confirmed that Tracer identifies as a lesbian. Tracer and Emily are still together as of 2020, where they appear together in the comic Tracer — London Calling.
Flea – Chrono Trigger (1995)
Flea is a major villain who appears in Chrono Trigger, the first instalment in the Chrono RPG series. While the magician is referred to as male, he sports a more traditionally feminine look with his skirt, bustier, and long pink hair. Flea is actually a gender-fluid or gender-nonconforming shapeshifter, and is famous in LGBTQIA gaming history for his resonant line “Male or female, what difference does it make? Power is beautiful, and I’ve got the power!”
In the original Japanese version of the game Flea uses more feminine speech signifiers, such as manner of speaking, long vowel marks, and heart icons in his speech, although this was changed for the English localisation.
Ciri – The Witcher III: Wild Hunt (2015)
Cirilla “Ciri” Fiona Elen Riannon has appeared across media as a major protagonist in The Witcher series, most notably in The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, where you take Geralt of Riva on a cross-country adventure to track her down.
Ciri is also attracted to women, as demonstrated during Wild Hunt main quest The Calm Before the Storm. Here Ciri develops a friendship with male character Skjall, who expresses romantic interest towards her. When asked about her feelings toward Skjall, one of the dialogue options has Ciri respond that she prefers women.
Max – Life Is Strange (2015)
The story-telling adventure series Life is Strange is full of great LGBT characters, but the stand-out has to be lead character Maxine “Max” Caulfield, an 18-year-old student who discovers she can rewind time and alter the course of events in an attempt to save her hometown from destruction.
One of the main plot strands of Life is Strange is the development of the romantic relationship between Max and her childhood friend Chloe. Max’s feelings for Chloe are extremely important to the storyline; it’s not until Chloe’s life is threatened that Max discovers her ability to rewind time.
Leonardo Da Vinci – Assassins Creed II (2009) & Assassins Creed: Brotherhood (2010)
The Assassin’s Creed series is loosely based on important events in history, featuring real historical figures such as Benjamin Franklin and Queen Victoria. One of the most enduring of these characters is Leonardo da Vinci, who appears in Assassin’s Creed II and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.
A lifelong friend and ally of the protagonist Ezio Auditore da Firenze, Leonardo plays an important role in the aforementioned games. They also heavily imply that he is gay – something which chimes with historical record – as he tells Ezio “women provide little distraction”. During The Da Vinci Disappearance (a downloadable content addition for Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood), after rescuing a kidnapped Leonardo, Ezio tells the artist that he approves of Leonardo’s relationship with his pupil Salaì, a younger man whom Leonardo lived with in real life.
Sam and Lonnie – Gone Home (2013)
Gone Home is a bittersweet coming of age story set in the mid-90s. Players take on the role of Katie Greenbriar, a young woman who travels to her family’s rural home to find the place empty, and her family missing. A quietly touching narrative exploration game, Gone Home tells the story of Katie’s 17-year old sister Sam, who has left her a note on the door – “Don’t go looking for me”.
As Katie explores the house Sam narrates what happened to her through voiceover. As her story unfolds we learn about Sam’s girlfriend Lonnie, how the two desperately tried to escape the homophobia of rural 90s America and families who didn’t understand or accept them.
Krem – Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014)
Cremisius “Krem” Aclassi is a member of the Bull’s Chargers, a mercenary group that the player spends some time with in Dragon Age: Inquisition. After being outed as a transgender man and forced to desert the army Krem is saved by the Iron Bull, leader of the Bull’s Chargers, and quickly rises through the ranks to become their lieutenant.
Krem is notable for being one of the first major trans characters in an AAA game who is not treated as a stereotype. The creators put a lot of effort into making his character, realising that the best way to do thus was to ask trans and genderqueer people for their input. Seems obvious, but in 2014 this was a pretty big deal.