For too long, “queer” seemed a conspicuously absent profile trait in the video gaming world. But the recent confirmation that Tracer, the Overwatch character adorning the cover of 2016’s release, identifies as lesbian, it seems the virtual landscape may finally have updated with the times. Here’s a list of some of the most boss LGBT characters to grace a console.
Hotshot pilot Tracer got billed by Overwatch developers as one of the biggest game-changers in class-based shooters thanks to her teleporting and recall abilities. When a comic book delving into the backstories of characters came out in December, it also showed the character to be groundbreaking in another way when it revealed she had a girlfriend, Emily, at home. “From the beginning, we’ve wanted the universe of Overwatch to feel welcoming and inclusive, and to reflect the diversity of our players around the world,” the Blizzard team told Entertainment Weekly in a statement.
That’s right. The magenta creature found in many a Super Mario Bros. title boasts the honor of being the video gaming world’s first transgender character. In 1988’s Super Mario Bros. 2, the egg-spitting beast gets described as a boy “who thinks he is a girl.” In the Japanese version of Mario Kart Double Dash, a description of the character (called Catherine on all Japanese releases) states that she “appears to be Yoshi’s girlfriend, but is actually his boyfriend.” Pronoun insensitivity aside, the character has represented as a major part of the Mario pantheon of characters for nearly three decades now.
When the character first appeared in the 2009 release of Tekken 6, many wondered if Leo was the franchise’s first transgender character, partly because of norm-bending garb and partly the ability to use items that either male or female players could equip. A full name would later be revealed as Eleonor Kliesen, seeming to confirm a birth gender, but the character’s appearance remains deeply androgynous, and debates continue today as to the character’s sexual identity.
Introduced as a villain in the 1989 arcade game Final Fight, transgender female thug Poison was among many baddies named for '80s rock groups in this fighter. She fought alongside trans accomplice Roxy in the Japanese release, though North American versions of that game replaced the villains with male characters to avoid depictions of violence against women. Poison has since become part of the Street Fighter franchise.
The gender-fluid character Flea appeared in the 1995 role-playing game Chrono Trigger, making clear to players that gender identity is a fungible thing. In what has been described as the greatest pro-trans dialogue in gaming history, Flea says, “Male or female, what difference does it make? Power is beautiful, and I've got the power.”
While not initially the most sensitive of video game protagonists, the star of the 1992 PC game Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender finds himself actually changing his gender mid-game as he deals in a society where men are treated as breeding stock.
While he’s murdered at the start of Sierra’s Police Quest: Open Season, investigating the life of Officer Bob Hickman drives the plot of this point-and-click adventure released in 1993. At one point, main character Det. John Carey discovers Hickman in fact frequented a West Hollywood gay bar, the Short Stop, and was secretly a cross-dresser.
Another gay corpse who drives the plot, Danny McCormack is the estranged son of Orion Conspiracy main character Devlin McCormack, who investigates his son’s murder and discovers the truth about his Danny’s sexuality when he encounters his late son’s boyfriend Steve Kauffman — who also gets murdered. Yeah, this is not a safe galaxy for LGBT folks.
The main antagonist in 1995’s The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery, Baron Friedrich von Glower operates a men-only social club. He seems to pursue lead character Gabriel Knight in a flirtatious manner. While the character’s sexuality is never made explicit, the clear symbolism of lycanthropy and homosexuality — never mind that title — bleeds through the screen.
Phantasmagoria 2, a mature-themed and largely forgotten Sierra adventure game, happens to feature the first playable video game character who is not explicitly heterosexual. Curtis Craig admits to a variety of sexual experiences and desires, such as exploring the S/M scene with coworker Therese and feeling attraction to out best friend Trevor.
One of the characters in fighting franchise Guilty Gear, Bridget may appear to be a tween anime heroine of the Sailor Moon variety, but a backstory reveals the character expresses as female only because he was raised that way. In fact, Bridget just likes cross-dressing in a sexy nun outfit and will politely correct you (and maybe pummel you with his teddy bear) if you use the wrong pronoun.
Dragon Age: Inquisition introduced a major character named Krem. Born the daughter of a tailor, Krem joined the military and hid his birth gender for years before coming out as transgender in one of the most unapologetic storylines in gaming. Best of all, developers say the game is selling fine despite any concerns about dismissal by the hypermasculine gamer world.
One of the most stunningly progressive moves by BioWare came with the 2012 release of Mass Effect 3, where the main protagonist could choose to start a same-sex romance with the existing character of Kaidan. While the sentinel could always become a love interest for a female Shepard in the first Mass Effect game, the chance to hook up a male Shepard and a presumably bisexual Kaidan entered game play later (at least as far as a dedicated storyline), but boy, was the wait worth it.
As the Last of Us series has progressed, Ellie has moved into the role of protagonist as she has aged in the series. She also has matured in her romantic desires, and in downloadable content for the Left Behind installment. Creator Neil Druckman has confirmed the character is gay, even though when she was created as a 14-year-old in a post-apocalyptic world, that wasn’t necessarily planned.
As his nickname indicates, the reigning king of Liberty City nightlife in the Grand Theft Auto franchise indeed likes dudes. Based in part on gay Studio 54 co-proprietor Steve Rubell, Gay Tony makes his first appearance in GTA IV and eventually inspires his own downloadable content package, The Ballad of Gay Tony.
Persona 4’s Kanji is never explicitly revealed as gay over the course of the game, but given his flamboyant personality, his family backstory, and a narrative climax that revolves around accepting himself for who he is, there are few other conclusions to draw. “There’s no official answer” to the question of Kanji’s sexuality, according to developer Yu Namba, but Shadow Kanji sure seems gay. At the very least, Kanji’s story offers a direct parallel to the queer experience.
If Fable players help farmer Giles and son Rupert, they will eventually unlock a quest to help Giles find his son a wife. But rather than attaining that intended (and completely patronizing toward women) result, Rupert instead reveals himself as gay. The quest then turns toward helping dad come to terms with his son’s true self.
The Australian cryptologist Dr. Weir in the alien game XCom remains an outsider in the World War II–era setting for more than one reason. Jordan Thomas, the game’s narrative director, says Weir is a closeted gay man dealing with world leaders in a conservative time.
While text parsers may appeal only to a limited number of historical gaming enthusiasts, Moonmist offers something to LGBT history enthusiasts as well. The 1986 release from Infocom includes what is believed to be the first lesbian character to grace the digital universe — Vivan Pentreathe, an aloof artist having an affair with a married woman.
OK, so the gay English butler may seem a bit of a cliché, but add a penchant for stick-fighting martial arts and you have a gaymer icon on your hands. Eagle, part of the Street Fighter universe since the dawn of the franchise in 1988, is a Freddie Mercury–loving gentleman and a bear of a fighter who has appeared in three installments of the game so far.
Ash, a Village People-derived boss from Streets of Rage 3, appeared in the Asian version of this 1994 release but was censored from American versions when the title was released for the Sega Genesis. But kids with a Game Genie soon figured out how to unlock this fabulous villain and revel in the stereotypical madness while humming “YMCA.”
The main character of Bully, Jimmy Hopkins gave people across the political spectrum reason to cry foul about his behavior. The left could hate that this game let you greet schoolyard violence with more schoolyard violence. The right could despise that the protagonist could earn an “Over the Rainbow” achievement for kissing 20 boys. Rockstar Games for the win.
The Mass Effect series deserves more than one spot on this list for being so fabulously gay-friendly. From the first installment in the series, a female protagonist can get it on with Liara T-Soni, an alien from an all-female race with the ability to copulate and reproduce with those of any gender. Don’t get too nitpicky about interspecies biology, folks. She’s a doctor.
The erotic puzzle game Catherine introduces Erica as a sunny waitress at the Stray Sheep who maintains long friendships with many of the game’s other characters. In one ending, it’s revealed the character is transgender.
The episodic Dreamfall series lets you choose to play as one of several protagonists, including Kian Alvane, an Azadi apostle and assassin. As the character grows and questions many of his beliefs, it also gets revealed in the third chapter that he is gay, something that prompted developer Red Thread Games to post confirmation on a Steam forum after the episode was released.