One of the biggest video game news stories of 2016 came right at the end of the year, with the revelation that Tracer from Overwatch is a lesbian. For queer gamers like myself, this was gratifying; any positive representation is a boon, but Tracer is one of the most identifiable and popular characters from a huge AAA release.
While Tracer is a wonderful character who helps keep LGBTQ people visible within the media landscape, much of 2016’s queer representation was underwhelming—or even faced pushback from gamers. Here are the LGBTQ characters in video games during 2016.
Warning: some story/character spoilers
Main character Zachariah Mancer can romance one of his male companions in the game.
Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear
The expansion to Baldur’s Gate is the first of the series to feature a transgender character. Mizhena has a brief role and explains to the main character that her named was picked after transitioning.
Gamers reacted to Mizhena poorly. Some reactions were transphobic and railed against the game for including her. Others applauded the choice to include a trans woman but found her writing token and lacking any substance. In response, the developer Beamdog announced an expansion of Mizhena’s story, saying “it would have been better served if we had introduced a transgender character with more development.”
The player discovers through reading notes that a character named Dave had an unreciprocated crush on Dan.
Kindred Spirits on the Roof
This visual novel, translated from Japanese, has received coverage for being the first visual novel with erotic content to be released—uncensored—on Steam. It’s entire premise is a relationship between two female ghosts who want to sleep together for the first time and decide to convince the main character to help them foster other “yuri” couples (or women-loving-women relationships) so they can observe them.
Ladykiller in a Bind
This erotic visual novel—full title My Twin Brother Made Me Crossdress as Him and Now I Have to Deal with a Geeky Stalker and a Domme Beauty Who Want Me in a Bind!!—features crossdressing and BDSM and lots of scenes demonstrating enthusiastic consent. It’s been well reviewed, and despite the wackiness of the title and its general premise, it has some positive representation of both BDSM and queerness.
Langrisser Re:Incarnation Tensei
As Ares, the player can unlock perks by confessing feelings to men (and women).
Blizzard has gone on record saying there are multiple LGBTQ characters in Overwatch, but so far only Tracer has been confirmed. A holiday-themed tie-in comic showed her to be in a relationship with a woman named Emily.
It remains to be seen who else in the roster of Overwatch characters identifies as LGBTQ, but hopefully we’ll find out more in 2017.
So that’s the list of games featuring LGBTQ characters released during 2016. Seven games.
There were hundreds of games released and dozens of AAA titles, and of those, seven featured LGBTQ characters, most of which could barely be called minor. It says a lot about the state of the industry that two of my entries on this list are comprised of just a sentence each.
This is a crucial time, politically and personally, for LGBTQ people. We’ve fought for rights and protection of rights in 2016, from striking down transphobic bathroom bills even as more are written to pushing back against homophobic violence and rhetoric. The Pulse nightclub shooting happened in 2016. The incoming administration has an unambiguously anti-LGBTQ agenda. It’s very easy to feel hopeless and marginalized
Looking around the video game industry, at the many beautiful and inventive releases in 2016, and seeing only seven LGBTQ characters is marginalizing.
As an industry, things need to change. There is no medium with perfect LGBTQ representation, but last year’s ratio is dismal. Representation is important as a vehicle of humanization, and as something that queer people desperately need for affirmation and visibility.
But on a less vital level?
This is boring.
It’s boring to write hundreds of stories without basic diversity. It’s boring to fill games with primarily straight white—and cisgender—men. It’s boring to shove women in battle bikinis, to imperil them or kill them off as a catalyst for a male character’s journey. It’s boring to make epic fantasy RPGs and to populate them with nothing but mythical creatures and white people. It’s boring to make people of color your stock villains and thugs, and to design levels in the Middle East purely to portray war and violence.
It’s unimaginative and unrealistic that so many characters are straight and cisgender.
On a monetary level, it doesn’t make sense. Queer people buy video games. They’d buy even more if you gave them a reason to.
Let’s do better in 2017.