This article was originally published on September 4, 2020, as part of TechRadar's PC Gaming Week 2020.
Representation of minority groups is slowly improving in the PC gaming sphere. Speaking as a bisexual journalist engaged to a trans man, it’s great to see more games featuring LGBTQ+ characters. Now, not all of those characters are necessarily good representation; that is to say, characters that are fetishised, sidelined, abused, or simply harmly stereotypes of the communities they are meant to portray.
So I’m going to take a look at the genuinely good examples this PC Gaming Week 2020. The well-rounded characters whose sexuality or gender identity is just a facet of their wonderful personality. In the spirit of this, I won’t be including playable characters whose sexuality is placed in your hands; this is great in its own right, but functions more like inclusivity than representation. I’ll also be sticking to characters that are identifiably human, so no gay aliens or sexy monsters here.
1. Samantha Traynor - Mass Effect 3
Sam Traynor was one of the few new characters seen aboard the Normandy in Mass Effect 3, putting her at an obvious disadvantage against the sci-fi trilogy’s returning fan-favourites. But she’s an engaging and humorous Londoner, sharp-witted and confident in her sexuality.
Traynor will kindly but firmly rebuff a male character’s advances, but displays attraction to feminine robot EDI and can become a female Commander Shepard’s paramour. It’s one of the series’ more lighthearted romantic subplots, reaching a hilarious peak in the fantastic Citadel DLC, where she saves the day with an electric toothbrush. Yes, you read that right.
The flirty banter between Shepard and Traynor is always sweet, and a certain hot-tub sequence is comedic enough to stick in the memory long after the trilogy’s bittersweet conclusion.
2. Leonardo da Vinci - Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
Friend, confidant, and occasional quartermaster to lead assassin Ezio, the real-life Leonardo da Vinci is portrayed as a gay man in the Assassin’s Creed series, based on historical evidence from numerous sources that backs the claim.
In fact, Ubisoft have effectively confirmed that their iteration of da Vinci is indeed gay, while there is some debate among historians.
Leo makes it plain that women are of no romantic interest to him, and later engages in a relationship with his mentee Salaì, once again backed by historians.
Ezio himself is supportive of the couple; Leo isn’t exactly open with his sexuality, which is understandable given the time period, but he isn’t subject to homophobia over the course of the game and feels like an authentic gay character.
3. Jill Stingray - VA-11 Hall-A
Dystopian cyberpunk bartending simulator VA-11 Hall-A is as weird as visual novels get, and features a whole host of wonderful queer characters. Julianne (or ‘Jill’, as she goes by) is the player character, but expresses her bisexuality regardless of the player’s actions.
Her relationship with ex-girlfriend Lenore is one of the driving factors in the game’s plot, but she also recounts relationships with men on multiple occasions. VA-11 Hall-A is a deeply personal game, and the dialogue sometimes delves deeper into Jill’s sexual orientation; she displays something of a preference for women, but her bisexuality is never brought into question.
4. Makoa Gibraltar - Apex Legends
This larger-than-life Māori man has long been the bane of many an Apex fan's existence - not due to the fact that he is openly gay, but because he's tremendously powerful in-game following a lengthy series of buffs from developer Respawn Entertainment.
Gibraltar's sexuality was woven into his backstory from the start; his eagerness to protect and help people stems from seeing his parents rush to save his then-boyfriend Vincent, trapped under a rockslide.
Apex Legends also features the canonical non-binary warrior Bloodhound, but they aren't voiced by a non-binary actor and fall into the unhelpful trope of dehumanising non-binary characters via masks or mechanisation.
5. Kian Alvane - Dreamfall Chapters
One of the three playable characters in universe-hopping epic Dreamfall Chapters, Kian is a regime soldier converted into a freedom fighter. While he isn’t closeted, he only discloses his sexuality to those he considered to have earned his trust.
Kian isn’t shown to be in a relationship with a man during the events of the games, but he does make it clear that his interests lie with his own gender, turning down several women’s romantic advances.
He does drink his Respect Women Juice, though, as he was raised in the matriarchal Azadi empire and consistently treats the women he meets with deference and politeness.
6. Chloe Price - Life is Strange
Life is Strange (and it’s prequel Before the Storm) is at times a heartbreaking and harrowing story, but the queer representation throughout the entire series has been ever-present and mostly well-written. I chose Chloe over Max for this list because she’s more explicitly queer, with a crush on missing girl Rachel, whereas Max’s sexuality is dictated by the player.
Max and Chloe’s relationship is still masterfully crafted, with Chloe harboring obvious feelings for her even if the player doesn’t reciprocate. Choosing to romantically involve the two makes some later scenes all the more gut-wrenching, but it’s confirmed in LiS 2 that the two of them can potentially escape it all and keep travelling together.
7. Krem - Dragon Age: Inquisition
Bioware has had some ups and downs when it comes to representation, but soldier-turned-mercenary Krem was a good start as their first proper transgender character (although they still should've cast a trans voice actor). He has an engaging backstory and is portrayed in a positive light in Dragon Age: Inquisition, with his gender not even being discussed at first.
His later writing is surprisingly educational for non-trans players. He experiences some genuine doubts about whether people take his gender identity seriously, but is firmly reassured by other characters (including hulking bisexual icon Bull) that he is a real man and deserves to be treated as such.
8. Arcade Gannon - Fallout: New Vegas
Smart, funny, and kind-hearted, Arcade Israel Gannon is a lovely man living in a bleak world. A doctor who works for the benevolent Followers of the Apocalypse, he spends his days healing people and trying to make the ruins of Vegas a better place.
Arcade’s sexuality is something he discusses openly and casually in Fallout: New Vegas; it’s just a small part of his personality, with a lot more time lent to his intriguing backstory and his medical work with the Followers.
He’s explicitly a gay man, having had multiple previous relationships with other men and expressing a desire for a male partner he can trust entirely. Oh, and he hates fascists too!
9. Flea - Chrono Trigger
Yes, Chrono Trigger had a gender-non-conforming character way back in 1995. Flea is utterly uninterested in concepts of gender, generally presenting feminine but using male pronouns. When encountered by the protagonists, he swiftly corrects them when they identify him as a woman, and… that’s that. Going forward, he is referred to with masculine identifiers.
Flea is more concerned with power and beauty than the outdated notion of gender. It’s unclear exactly whether he is gender-fluid or non-binary, but even before the turn of the century, Chrono Trigger’s writers took his gender identity seriously and didn’t play it for jokes. The game hit Steam just two years ago, and it still holds up today.
10. Athena - Borderlands
Athena was a supporting antagonist with limited dialogue and screentime in the original Borderlands game, so it was something of a surprise to see her return as a playable character in the series’ halfway-house ‘Pre-Sequel’ iteration. It was even more of a surprise to see her flirting with the openly lesbian mechanic Janey Springs, and a pleasure to see their relationship fleshed out even further in Telltale’s Tales from the Borderlands.
Athena is a confident, somewhat gruff type, but loves her girlfriend and is shown working through issues in their relationship that are relatable regardless of the player’s own sexuality. The world of Pandora might be a horrible, anarchic place to live, but it’s also a refreshingly post-label universe where nobody seems to have any issue with public queer relationships.
Good representation shouldn’t be hard, and yet we still see bad representation. The most immediate example that springs to mind is Erica, a recurring character in the bizarre puzzle game Catherine. Erica is a trans woman who is repeatedly called her deadname (her now-unused birth name) and subjected to general transphobia from other characters.
Final Fight/Street Fighter’s Poison is often brought up as a great example of a trans character, but was originally made transgender due to concerns about players not wanting to fight a woman, and Capcom has faced repeated pressure over the years to alter the character’s treatment and presentation.
Overwatch has drawn praise from some for confirming both Tracer and Soldier 76 as a gay woman and gay man respectively, but these reveals were done outside the game itself, and Blizzard has done little to nothing to affirm their identities in-game.
The otherwise incredible Transistor made some questionable choices in gay-coding almost all of its villianous antagonists and pitting them against the supposedly stronger heterosexual bond between protagonist Red and her male lover. However, Supergiant Games appears to have learned its lesson with the excellent Hades, starring the chaotic bisexual prince of the underworld, Zagreus.
In Persona 4, ported to Steam just weeks ago, two characters are implied to be a gay man and a trans man, and set up to battle their ‘shadows’, which represent their own fears and doubts about their respective identities. However, the game ultimately fails to commit, reverting to placing the two characters back into their societally assigned categories.
Lastly, Sander Cohen from Bioshock is a dreadful person in every sense of the word. An unstable, antagonistic, murderous ‘artist’, he is even implied to have sexually harassed his male protégés. His orientation is meaningless in context, serving only to draw connotations between homosexulaity and depravity. Less of this, please.
TechRadar’s PC Gaming Week 2020 is celebrating the most powerful gaming platform on Earth with articles, interviews and essential buying guides that showcase how diverse, imaginative, and remarkable PC games – and gamers – can be. Visit our PC Gaming Week 2020 page to see all our coverage in one place.