Culture Feature

4 LGBTQ+ Indie Games to Check Out

TLOU2 is far from the first video game to feature a lesbian protagonist.

The Last of Us Part II is one of the first large, mainstream video games to feature an LGBTQ+ protagonist.

Reviews are mixed on whether the LGBTQ+ representation in TLOU2 is inspiring or harmful, specifically when it comes to how the game portrays trans characters. Predictably, the game has also received a lot of homophobic backlash from straight gamers for simply including LGBTQ+ characters in the first place, perhaps showcasing why it's taken so long to get this kind of representation in AAA games.

But TLOU2 is far from the first video game to feature a lesbian protagonist. LGBTQ video games have thrived in the indie scene for a long time. Oftentimes these shorter games feel more personal and have smaller development teams, some consisting of only one or two people! In fact, the first ever LGBTQ+ game was created by one person.

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Gaming

VIDEO GAMES | Gone Home is Coming to the Switch!

Everyone's Favorite Exploration Into Being a Queer Teen is Coming to the Popular Nintendo Console!

Deanna Pe

Oh, Gone Home.

The Fullbright Company's masterful walking simulator is probably one of the only walking simulators that I enjoyed from start to finish. Whether it be the crazy amount of content that this game gives, or the simple yet effective way it is shown to us - this game rocked my world. As a queer person, it gave me a sense of validation. As a gamer, it told me a deep story that most AAA titles can't even accomplish with super huge budgets. And for that reason, I feel like this game is never going to go out of style and has firmly planted itself as a classic in the gaming world.

The Living RoomDeanna Pe

As such, it's not surprising that it's actually getting a port on the Nintendo Switch.

Thanks to publisher Annapurna Interactive and iam8bit, the game will release on the platform on Aug. 23rd for $14.99, along with a physical and vinyl copy of the game's soundtrack!

For those that don't know (or didn't read the first sentence), Gone Home is a walking simulator that takes the player through Katie Greenbriar's journey to figure out just what happened while she was away. Throughout the game, you investigate every intricate detail of your house, and find out more and more about your family - especially your little sister. The game was groundbreaking upon it's release, due to it's intense and captivating storytelling with such limited gameplay. It won a BAFTA and a Game Developer's Choice Award the year of its release.

The Family PortraitDeanna Pe

Almost nine months ago, I wrote an article, discussing this game's importance beyond that of just having really good storytelling. It's also a game whose main storyline focuses on a queer teenager. A female-identifying queer teenager. Now, the landscape has changed a lot since this game came out. Queer characters are becoming a much larger in both gaming and pop culture at large. But that doesn't mean that Gone Home hasn't paved the way, or that we're even close to where we need to be.

I can still count on my hands how many queer characters in video games I actually know. Let alone how many characters actually got an ending that wasn't incredibly tragic or nonexistent. But, it's always important to cherish the games that really reinvented the wheel. Gone Home proved that it didn't need to have flashy gameplay or a huge budget to tell a groundbreaking story that the gaming world had never seen before.

That's why, on it's 5th Anniversary, it is still getting talked about. This. Game. Matters. And now, a whole new generation of gamers are going to get to experience it. So, be on the lookout and make sure that if you haven't played this game, that you definitely check out it's Switch version!


Shann Smith is a queer gamer, writer, and occasional performer based in New York City. He loves writing about video games as much as he likes playing them, and you can see some of his other work through Popdust on his page!


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Gaming

VIDEO GAY-MER | What are some great gay couples in video games?

They are few and far between, but I've managed to narrow down a few of my favorites.

In the world of queer gaming, we have to latch onto the canon queer couples that we're given.

We don't see a lot of them, and when we do, we love them with all of our hearts. Admittedly, half of the time one of them dies or they're barely there, but even then they matter a little bit. They matter much more than the queerbait-y, kind-of-sort-of-barely couples that we're given (coughcough Life is Strange coughcough).

It's hard to pick some, because you have the think about exactly what counts as "canon." Like, Life is Strange is not canon - it's hinted at and never followed through. Sorry, but that ending where you pick Chloe doesn't count. So, in the end, these are the main criteria for this small list:

1. They have to be a romance between two out characters.

2. Neither can die - because killing queer characters for pain is annoying. Queer people die/have died enough in real life.

3. If they are optional - then they have to be a romance-able option that affects your character.

4. If they are side characters, then they need to be a major driving force in the game.

And with that, here are a few of my favorite couples.

So, what did you think of my list? Did you agree? Did you not agree? Well, if you did, wonderful! If not, tell me why in the comments. Or, better yet, tell me what you think your list would be! I'd like to hear more from you guys.

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Gaming

VIDEO GAY-MER | Life is Strange and the plight of queer women

Life is Strange is just one of the many examples of queer women's troubling treatment in the entertainment industry.

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS!

There are few games that have elicited such an intense emotional response from me. A lot of games I play are too high fantasy or too different from the life I'm living. The characters are familiar, but not in a "Oh, I know someone like that kind of way," so emotionally, I can pull myself away from them and simply enjoy. That is not the case with Life is Strange.

I did not know what expect. A few people told me to write about it, and honestly, I dreaded starting it up on my Xbox One. Episodics can be so... long and dull - the whole "butterfly effect" system is often contrived or a little white and black. So, as I began my adventures as Maxine "Max" Caulfield, I was pleasantly surprised.

[S81YI31512556766] Max and Chloe hydra.cdn.sqexeu.com

THE GAME

In Life is Strange, as Max, you are an aspiring photographer/student at Blackwell Academy, who - after having a vision of a devastating tornado - develops the ability to go back in time. And with help of her best friend, Chloe, you embark on a dark journey down and twisted rabbit hole into the secrets of the world around you.

To say that Life is Strange's story is great would be an understatement. It takes its episodic platform to new heights, bringing a level of emotional development for the characters that a lot of video games don't capture. This is due to both the writing the game's overall cinematic feel. Plus, the game's "butterfly effect" actually has a lot of weight - as most of the choices you make are almost never amazing choices.

I enjoyed every second of developing Max and her relationships with the people of Blackwell. And honestly, it was almost a perfect experience... until I got to the end. The ending of this game hurt, and not in a good way. It became one of the many, many examples in a long line of straight people's ability to use queer women to generate tragedy.

[8VE9D51512556766] Max staring out at the storm hydra.cdn.sqexeu.com

THE CHARACTERS

First, let's talk about Max. Max is a character that grows based on your decisions - which means you can choose Max's love interest. You do this by either choosing to pursue things with her male friend, Warren, or with Chloe, her best friend and the main instigator of the game's plot. I can't say for sure exactly what choices determine this, but in the end, I chose not to romance Warren at all.

Then you have Chloe, the other half of the game and the queer love interest. Chloe basically drives most of the plot forward. You save her from getting shot with your powers, and this leads to uncovering one thing after another. She's Max's polar opposite - displaying a confidence and a drive that Max slowly gains throughout the game. And, the small moments, when she and Max are alone are adorable. And Chloe is an amazing character with a tremendous amount of depth.

Discussing these two characters in terms of sexuality is both interesting and frustrating. On one hand, they are both clearly meant to represent bisexuality and/or pansexuality, due to their mostly fluid nature when it comes to attraction. The obnoxious part of this is that the same-sex attraction is much more hidden and hinted at, whereas the straight attraction is boldly stated. And, neither of these characters discuss their sexuality - which, while not necessary, annoyingly ambiguous. I like to think of them both as bisexual.

Max and Chloe's relationship starts strained. Five years prior, Max and her family moved away to Seattle. Max is only just returning to Blackwell at the beginning of the game. During this time away, she has not attempted to contact Chloe - which Chloe is justifiable bothered by. However, as the plot unfolds, you see these girls develop one of the closest and most poignant relationships I've ever seen. This makes the ending all the more offensive.

[I4UP7A1512556766] Max (Left) and Chloe (Right) holding hands. hydra.cdn.sqexeu.com

Why?

Because the entirety of the game's outcome relies on killing her or not.

The violent storm that Max has a vision of? It's a result of her screwing up reality by saving Chloe about a million times - and the only way to keep from destroying an entire town is by letting your best friend/potential lover die. And let me tell you something, as a queer person, who played through that ending - I was seething.

At the end of the game, after going through a nightmarish (and incredibly annoying) level. We are taken to a large Lighthouse - where most of the storm visions take place. Chloe carries you up to the top of the Lighthouse's cliff, and you realize that this massive storm happened because you went back and saved Chloe so many times. Chloe, realizing what this means, produces a photo for Max to use to go back in time and let her die.

You're left with an ultimatum, you either let Arcadia Bay die (an entire town, mind you) or you sacrifice Chloe and save everyone. And of course I'm going to save everyone, because I'm not a sociopath! Not to mention, but choosing to kill the people of Arcadia Bay, you are throwing away all of the work you've done with the other characters. And believe me, you do a lot with the other characters.

[375TEC1512556766] Max and Frank, the local drug dealer. hydra.cdn.sqexeu.com

The game makes you choose to kill Chloe and if you've taken the time to do the more romantic path with her, both of you share a kiss before you go back in time. This is so cruel to queer women, and perpetuates the same obnoxious trope: All queer women must die. As the credits rolled, I slammed my controller down and had to take more than a minute to relax myself.

I realized how tired I was of seeing these same things over and over again. Why do queer people - especially women - have to sacrifice themselves to save society? Why does wanting to save them come at the cost of hundred of lives? What's up with that?

Not only do you have to choose to kill Chloe, but you are forced to listen to it happen and watch Max's grief. I felt disgusted having to sit through it, because it's not fair. The entire game relied on Max's relationship with Chloe - Max would have never started on this journey without Chloe. And we have to kill her? Why is this always the twist that people use? Why do we have to kill another queer woman? Is it for the tears? Because let me tell you something, queer women are getting enough shit in real life for me to have to sit through it in a damned video game.

So, in the end, Life is Strange now sits in a Hall of Infamy with Orange is the New Black and The 100 as a form of media that killed off it's queer woman for no real reason. And I have never been more disappointed.

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Gaming

VIDEO GAY-MER | Gone Home: A Powerful Exploration of Queer Youth

A simple game that encapsulates a slice of the queer youth experience.

WARNING: There are spoilers in this article!

In 2013 The Fullbright Company released their debut game: Gone Home, an intimate, exploration simulator. It took the gaming community by storm with it's simplistic gameplay and queer-focused story. After the console edition released, I decided to revisit this game. I wanted to know if it was still as relevant as it was at its release, and if it still holds up as a good game. Luckily, I was not disappointed.

I chose Gone Home, because I wanted to play a game that focused on a queer female character. Not only are queer women horribly represented in most media, but they are almost non-existent in games. The few we have are either dead or aren't explored enough. Gone Home is the opposite - Samantha's story is explored in detail, and it's the emotional crux of the entire game. This is a huge deal. I'm still shocked that it exists in a world where queer woman are killed off to generate cheap drama. That's what makes this such an important title.

In Gone Home, you control Katie Greenbriar. You are coming home in the summer of 1995 from a year abroad and find your house empty. A cryptic letter from your sister hangs on the door. With that, you spend the night searching for clues throughout your sprawling family home. Every time you find a new clue, you're greeted to a voice over of your sister, Samantha. She tells you her story.

Samantha's letter to Katie.

You never play as Samantha - you hear everything about her second hand. This caught me off guard at first, but it's effective. Her story is a pretty generic, queer trope now: A young person falls in love with someone of the same sex, faces adversity from her parents, and runs away. That's true - it is a generic trope that gets old - I'll admit that. Still, it's used over and over again because it's something most queer people experience at some point. There are those lucky few that don't, but it's a universal feeling. By playing as Katie, though, you experience this through a new lens. You experience the aftermath, and you have to piece it back together - and that's intense.

I have to say that the relationship that you walk into is an intricate one. Samantha and Katie were close - after all, Samantha wouldn't say the things she said if they weren't. This makes the little action you have in the game burst with tension. Also, you never learn anything about Katie, so you make your own assumptions. The only real fact is that you and her had a close relationship. How do you know? She writes to you - and she leaves behind (maybe on purpose?) a lot of clues for you to find. Other than that, you are left to answer your own questions. Did you always know that she was bisexual? Or a lesbian (it's never made clear in the game)? How was your relationship with your parents? What was it like growing up with her? This elevates the game past it's barely-there gameplay.

Samantha's room, found upstairs.

At the start of the game, I found it boring. There are no real mechanics. You pick things up, you unlock doors, and sometimes, you can listen to a tape. You interact with the environment - it was a change from the RPGs and action games I'm so used to playing. I began writing it off as another artsy exploration simulator - not that they are bad, but they are plentiful. But, curiosity got the best of me. I could not stop playing this game until I knew everything. Hell, I still don't know everything (I only got through one play through before I started writing). It's got good replay value, because there's just so much that you can miss in the first run through. Thus, I was able to look past my own initial boredom and fall in love with this game

On a personal note, this is one of the only games I've played that encapsulates a very real aspect of being a gay sibling. It reminded me a lot of my own relationship with my brother and cousin.. At times, they were the only person who could be there for me. The thought of not having them during these times made me feel for Samantha. I remember falling in love with a boy, and wanting to run off with him. I remember the sting of my parents' rejection and feeling so angry at them because of it. But I had people who I could go to. Sam didn't. I know her. I know her what she's feeling, and to experience that on this format is nothing short of groundbreaking for me.

White, straight men dominate the video gaming industry. I am a white, gay man. I cannot comment on what it's like to suffer as a woman in the queer community. I cannot definitively say that this is an amazingly positive experience for a queer female gamer, because I'm not one. I can say that this game still holds up as a beautiful representation of queer youth. Samantha is a teen girl who falls in love with another teen girl - and their ending is not fraught with sadness and pain. Depending on who you are, the ending could be seen as more beautiful than tragic (I don't want to give it away, but don't worry, no one dies). That's big deal and I feel like this game give you a refuge from a world that thinks you're disposable.

The attic, which is locked throughout most of the game.

Gone Home defied my expectations. I sat for hours playing through this house. My domestic adventure gave me a beautiful look into a queer teen's life and family.

So, is this game still relevant? Yes, I can confidently say that this game is one of the beacons of hope in an ocean full of poor representation. It's not a perfect representation, but there never is. Does the gameplay still hold up? Again, it bored me - but the curiosity and the exploration eventually draws you in. My verdict: Gone Home is a timeless exploration into family and queer youth, and every queer gamer should play it.

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