LGBT Characters and Representation in Video Games
Video games, like any medium of storytelling, can fit in all areas of the political and social spectrum. They are as varied as the people who create them. The "typical video game character" might bring about of images of spiky haired, muscled men with guns and/or swords, and big chests and scantily clad women, with connotations being exclusively heterosexual. However, some video games have made huge strides in their portrayal of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) people. Let's take a look at some games or characters with positive or ambivalent portrayals that are significant to the industry.
Super Mario Bros. 2 (1988)
Though a somewhat silly character (then again, this is Mario, what character isn't silly?) Birdo was introduced in Nintendo's Super Mario Bros 2. Birdo is apparently transgender. The actual game manual states, "He thinks he is a girl and spits eggs from his mouth" and prefers to be called "Birdetta." After that, Nintendo was inconsistent in reference to Birdo's gender, but she could be considered the first transgender character to come from Nintendo, and perhaps the first significant transgender character in video game history.
This Nintendo title features a character named Tony, who, according to the game's creator Shigesato Itoi is gay. "...There’s a gay person in MOTHER 2 (note: Earthbound's name in Japan). 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.” Tony is apparently attracted to his best friend Jeff, who is one of the main characters. Though this game is not well-known among casual gamers, more people may recognize the series through Ness, the main character who is also featured in popular Nintendo fighting game Super Smash Bros.
Final Fantasy VII (1997)
Cloud Strife, protagonist and one of the most popular video game characters of all time, will go on a date through the course of the game with whatever character the player had treated the best. Cloud is usually paired with female party members Aeris or Tifa, as they have the highest affection scores by default. However, male character Barret Wallace is also an option. Additionally, at the beginning of the game, there is a section where Cloud must crossdress, and can claim to the local slum lord that Barret is his boyfriend.
Star Ocean: The Second Story (1999)
This RPG allowed players to choose to play either the male character Claude or the female character Rena. Both have the possibility of going on dates with same-sex party members - Ashton for Claude, and Precis for Rena.
The Sims (2000)
The highly interactive normal life simulation game The Sims became a hit when it was released in the year 2000, allowing gamers to buy or build houses, make friendships, families and enemies while working, playing, and building up skills. Though no official gay characters existed, every single "Sim" (human) was completely bisexual. Under the philosophy of granting players the freedom to do as they wish, same-sex flirting was not only allowed, it was possible to do anything short of marrying - even options for adopting babies was possible. The Sims 2 allowed players to enter same-sex "joined unions" and The Sims 3 finally gave the title of marriage to all couples regardless of sex.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003)
Juhani is a jedi in this award-winning RPG who only female avatars can pursue in a romance subplot, and that also marks her as the first openly lesbian character in the Star Wars universe. Even without romancing her, it is indicated that she has had sexual relations with other female characters.
Fable and its successors allow the main character to pursue romantic relationships with NPCs of either sex and even marry.
Main character James "Jimmy" Hopkins can kiss other characters to regain health, including - you guessed it - other boys. Though this is completely optional, it alludes to Jimmy's bisexuality. If Jimmy managed to kiss enough boys in Bully: Scholarship Edition, an achievement called "Over the Rainbow" can be unlocked.
Assassin's Creed (2007)
This critically acclaimed game features a character and assassination target named Abu'l Nuquod, who struggles with being "different" and at one point is seen caressing a male guard. When the main character Altaïr asks him if his actions were about vengeance, he answers, "No, not vengeance-my conscience. How could I finance a war in service to the same God that calls me an abomination?"
Mass Effect (2007)
Bioware's sci-fi adventure includes an optional love interest Liara, a humanoid alien from an all-female race. Liara can be romanced by either a male or female Commander Shephard. The sequels to Mass Effect expand the same-sex options, and later titles include both lesbian and gay options for the player.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 (2008)
One character, Kanji, has a "shadow self" - a sort of subconscious alternate persona - that indicates Kanji is gay, saying that he hates girls and likes boys, and resents society's strict definition of masculinity. Though Kanji's sexuality is left to the conclusions of the player, Kanji is shown genuinely struggling with and questioning his sexual identity, a rare situation in a video game that makes him a significant LGBT character, especially for a Japanese game.
Dragon Age (2009)
The Dragon Age series has been a breakthrough in the portrayal of gay or bisexual characters. Despite being a high fantasy action game, the player can design a character and choose to develop romantic relationships with four possible characters (in both the first game, Origins, and its sequel, Dragon Age II.) In Dragon Age: Origins, two of the four options, one male (Zevran) and one female (Leliana) were completely bisexual. Gay romances with either character also featured some unique lines that separate it from simply being a copy of the straight romance. Dragon Age II took this a step further. All four romance options were now completely bisexual, and again, had some unique lines for gay romances. Furthermore, some characters will flirt with the protagonist regardless of the chosen gender, and there have been several NPC same-sex couples.
Elder Scrolls: Skyrim (2011)
Another game that allows players to sleep with or marry characters of either gender, and one that was lauded with praise and earned incredible success upon its release.
Though this is not a complete list of all LGBT characters in video games by far, it is true that games remain overwhelmingly straight. However, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender characters do exist, have existed since the rise of video games, and are appearing in more titles every years.