We’re well into 2014 at this point, but who says end of the year lists have to be released before the end of the year? (To be fair: probably everyone)
From controversies to conventions, 2013 was a wonderful year to be a gaymer. The discussion surrounding queer issues in gaming took over the industry. Samantha Allen took gaming journalism to task with her open letter to the industry, inspiring outlets like Kotaku and Polygon to address their community standards. Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games series finally launched, and was met with the unfortunately expected push back though also plenty of support. AAA publishers joined in with EA hosting their Full Spectrum event in NYC, an open forum on LGBT issues in video games. Even NFL players got in on the action, with Brendon Abayandejo leading Full Spectrum, and former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe even doing an interview with us here at GayGamer.
It wasn’t all positive, though. Same sex marriage (and more specifically the lack of it) was by far the year’s hottest button. Games like Saints Row 4 didn’t even shrug at the notion of same-sex marriage, making no big fuss over its inclusion. But many games weren’t so quick to include equality. Fire Emblem: Awakening was a massive hit for the Nintendo 3DS, but despite featuring marriage as a key gameplay feature (not to mention past entries in the series allowing for same-sex, non-married, pairs) same-sex marriage was not featured. In fact it was specifically denied in the game’s manual. Nintendo took more flack by patching a glitch in Japan-only release Tomodachi Collection: New Life that allowed players to bind their same-sex Mii couples. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn saw massive controversy when same-sex marriage was not only left out of the game’s re-release (despite developers claiming they would look into its possibility) but was not even allowed to be discussed on the game’s official beta forums.
We can’t talk about 2013 queer gaming controversies without talking about the entirety of the PAX debacle, sparked this time around by Mike Krahulik’s transphobic tweets and his later apology. Then there’s the newly announced Diversity Lounges that have everybody all a twitter.
There was also plenty of controversy within the gay gaming community itself, as the battle between r/gaymers and gaymer.org finally came to a head. The latter, one of the first of many gay-centric gaming communities, shut down earlier this year alongside an emotional note from its founder Chris Vizzini.
And of course, you can’t talk about gay gaming in 2013 without talking about the first ever queer-centric LGBT gaming convention GaymerX, founded by Matt Conn. Following its massive Kickstarter success in 2012 the gay gaming convention packed the halls of Hotel Kabuki to capacity. With gender neutral bathrooms, panels ranging from indie game devs to BioWare, and an entire sensitivity trained staff keeping watch, the attendees of GaymerX found themselves in a safe space where the focus was on one thing and one thing only: gaming.
GaymerX wasn’t even the *only* queer gaming con in 2013, as Mattie Brice followed it up with QGCon, the Queerness and Games Conference, in Berkeley last October.
But the biggest moments in gay gaming weren’t just in the community, they were happening in games as well. Whether they featured prominent queer characters (playable or not), created opportunities for gamers to express themselves outside of heteronormative gender roles, or otherwise explored non-traditional themes, here is a collection of 2013’s gayest games.
10. Mass Effect 3: Citadel DLC
Mass Effect 3 is already one of the easiest go-to titles when one thinks of gay content in games, namely because players can choose to make their Shepard queer if they like. This was fully realized only in Mass Effect 3 when same-sex romance options were included for both male and female characters. The Citadel DLC offers players one last opportunity to interact with their favorite characters; a chance to bid them farewell. And it was full of heartfelt moments, like ManShep and Kaidan’s sensual lunch-making. It was also full of classic BioWare sex scenes. ‘Burning off calories’ indeed.
9. Tomb Raider
Rhianna Pratchett, Tomb Raider’s head writer, said it herself: She’d love for Lara Croft to be gay. And so would many others. The Square Enix-led reboot of the franchise explored a lead female character in a way that few AAA games have ever tried. In an interview with Kill Screen, Pratchett spoke about how she wanted to write a dynamic female character that wasn’t just a man with boobs. And Lara’s intentionally ambiguous relationship with her best friend Sam had many gamers wondering if this new Lara had more than a little queer in her. We even saw the most adorable LaraxSam couples cosplay at GaymerX:
8. WWE 2K14
This game makes the list for one not so little reason: Darren Young. As the first ever openly gay WWE wrestler still active in the sport, Darren also carries the distinction of being one of, if not the, first ever playable gay characters in a sports game. While this distinction went largely unnoticed in mainstream news and gaming outlets, it’s quite the momentous turn. Beyond that, he’s one of very few playable characters in all of gaming that is gay by default. You don’t customize him to be gay or choose for him to romance same-sex partners, he just *is* gay no matter what the player says. Say what you might about pro-wrestling games, but that is HUGE.
7. RuPaul’s Drag Race: Dragopolis
Speaking of playable queer characters. So Much Drama! Studios sashayed its way into our hearts this year with their delightful endless runner for mobile platforms, based on everybody’s favorite drag fest: RuPaul’s Drag Race. Developer Jeff Meador noted how intimately World of Wonder, and RuPaul herself, worked with the game’s creation. Even gaymer drag queen Pandora Boxx was made playable, making her dream of being a game character come true! This game has been my go-to 2013 time-killer, and who doesn’t love a game where you take breaks from battling demons to pose for impromptu photo shoots?
6. My Ex BF the Space Tyrant
Few games feature gay characters at all, let alone feature them as main characters, let alone make the whole game centered around gay themes. We’re starting to see more indie game devs explore queer issues and next year will bring Ultimate Gay Fighter and Read Only Memories into our lives, but where would those titles be if not for a little trailblazer known as My Ex Boyfriend the Space Tyrant? With tongue planted firmly in its cheek the game puts a gay spin on the adventure game genre, injecting campy space adventures with…well…camp. While our own Gavin wasn’t personally blown away by the title, he did note the significance of it even existing at all. Even mainstream gaming outlets like Polygon were excited to see what it brought to the table. And most importantly this game reminded all of us to support indie games, because that’s where the biggest leaps for queer content are being made.
5. Rogue legacy
This dungeon crawler saw its fair share of controversy when it was released earlier this year. Upon dying players immediately find themselves taking control of one of their initial character’s heirs, each one with a pre-assigned genetic trait that may or may not affect gameplay. Color-blindness renders the game in black and white, nearsightedness shrinks your field of vision, and vertigo flips the entire game upside down. And then there’s the gay trait that does….well, nothing. Okay, it *does* change the sex of the hero’s end-game lover, and one instance of statue-interaction, but beyond that being gay in this game offers no notable pluses or minuses. While it’s undeniably problematic to include ‘gay’ in a list primarily composed of disabilities and abnormalities, the overall message, as reinforced by the game’s developers, was that being gay doesn’t mean a thing. Which is ultimately quite refreshing.
4.The Last of Us
The Last of Us has been racking up plenty GOTY awards around the internet, but I wonder how many of those list-makers would be surprised to learn that it featured one of the most well developed, fully-realized gay characters gaming has ever seen? After all, it even surprised us gays. Our own Sam Einhorn spoke with the Naughty Dog Creative Director Neil Druckmann about the creation of Bill. He spoke about how subtley Bill’s story was presented, and the importance of including small details that act as undeniable proof of the character’s sexuality. He speaks of how developers are writing into their own experiences, and that he sees no reason we couldn’t see a gay character leading a big title one of these days. He even mentioned that at one point they toyed with making Joel gay, and was keen to point out that Ellie’s sexuality is not explored at all and therefore open to interpretation.
Whenever that queer gaming hero arrives, hopefully they’ll be as well developed and fully realized as little ol’ Bill was.
Anna Anthropy, the prolific pixel provacateur, released a number of fun games this year. Her games defy expectations of what games are ‘supposed’ to be, embracing simple gameplay mechanics and more recently Twine-software for story based choose your own adventure style games. But of all her work this year the game that stood out the most was one called Triad. In Triad players maneuver three different people into a bed built for two. While the notion of even making a SINGLE queer character is still taboo in AAA games, Anthropy is already exploring the mechanics of polyamory and non-traditional relationships in her games.
Bonus points for the amazing score, written by past Anthropy collaborator Liz Ryerson.
2. Animal Crossing
It’s no secret we here at GayGamer are huge Animal Crossing fans; we dedicate a weekly feature to it for Nook’s sake.
The series’ newest entry Animal Crossing: New Leaf for Nintendo 3DS brings with it a veritable ton of new gameplay features, including the ability to freely express one’s gender via hairstyles and clothing. While the game does denote certain clothing and accessories as being male or female, it does not prohibit females from wearing male items and vice versa. Similarly after getting a certain number of gendered haircuts, Harriet the hairdressing poodle will let players get any style they want regardless of their sex. What all of this equates to are some of the most fluid gender presentation possibilities AAA gaming has ever seen. Avatar creation isn’t perfect; skin tones are limited to standard light-skinned (unless you go tanning), and the game *does* force you to choose a gender in the beginning, which for many is a very difficult question. However the ability to freely express one’s self beyond those initial rigid guidelines is wonderfully handled.
Now let’s add to all of that the way NPCs interact based on personality instead of gender. Plenty of gaymers have found their same-sex neighbors seemingly having crushes on one another or even on the player. The reason for this is that the animals in Animal Crossing: New Leaf primarily build relationships based on personality types (and therefore interests) and without sex playing a role in how they perceive each other. Bonding over shared interests and personalities? What a novel idea!
Who would have thought Nintendo would make one of the queerest games of the year?
1. Gone Home
Gone Home seemingly came out of nowhere, took the world by storm, and has since been claiming top spot after top spot on various GOTY lists. And for damn good reason. Playing as Kaitlin Greenbriar returning to her family’s home, you discover a story of young love and familial turmoil, largely surrounding younger sister Samantha. Without giving too much away, as players guide Kaitlin through the dimly hit household they discover alongside her what is ultimately a coming out story. And an incredibly well realized one at that.
Gone Home is the ultimate example of show don’t tell, as it conveys one of gaming’s best developed storylines through gameplay mechanics and interaction rather than through text or ham-fisted dialogue. It tells a rich and complex story largely without words and with very few bells and whistles. As our own Gavin put it:
“Environmental storytelling is cropping up more and more in games as the desire for stronger narrative is finally being matched by the technical abilities to deliver it. The potential has always been there, with most games only content to have a humorous poster adorn a wall when the same space could have been used as world-building flavor, but games like Gone Home act as an example for the technique done correctly. In the end, we have a couple light rigs and a few smart prop placements to thank for the strongest coming out narrative video games have yet seen.”
This is also a game that benefits from multiple playthroughs. Speeding through the game from point A to point B, as has become popular in gaming of late, fails to properly convey the game’s narrative. Gone Home isn’t simply about accomplishing tasks and moving on to the next sequence, rather it asks players to slow down and take in what is around them. It asks players to truly experience and empathize with Kaitlin and Samantha, rather than just observe them as they chug along to the next plot point. And that’s the kind of game, queer content or not, that I am happy to play again and again.
So there you have it.
What do you think? Any titles I might have missed? Let us know in the comments section, and be sure to let us know what your gayest games of 2013 were as well.
2013 was a pretty busy year for gaymers, and let’s hope that 2014 is even busier.