Queer-friendly video games can be a hard thing to quantify over the course of nearly 40 years, multiple genres, and fantasy stories where sex and gender might not work exactly the same as they do here on earth in 2018. However, this is a rich history to draw from with a diverse array of characters. Here are 15 games from across the spectrum, ranked. There are many more both mainstream and independent games with queer themes and characters, but this sampling has gotten the attention of the gaymer community.
This point-and-click tongue-in-cheek game is blatant in both its title and the stereotypical cartoon animation. Pecs, abs, and other chiseled muscles pervade the futuristic landscape, and you can even unlock a mode where the boys are all presented in undies. Available for Mac/PC/Linux, this 2013 title has game play that has been positively described as "perfect" and "like a Sierra game."
From a premier name in erotic gaming, Robert Yang's most recent work, The Tearoom (2017), is a historically and politically charged public bathroom sex simulator about anxiety, police, and what clandestine meetings such as this mean to gay men. Other prominent works of Yang's include: Succulent (2015), wherein the only gameplay is a man sucking on a popsicle with hip-hop go-go boys dancing behind; and Hurt Me Plenty (2014), a short motion-control game exploring spanking and other light BDSM. In June 2016, these plus another of Yang's creations were updated for HD and released as Radiator 2. But Yang isn't the only one exploring these themes. Christine Love's Ladykiller in a Bind also aims to, with its plethora of characters across a spectrum of genders and sexualities, teach about kink and consent.
This 2013 game about the zombie apocalypse features several queer characters. Burley Bill, who is a sometimes ally to the main characters Joel and Ellie, had a male partner, Frank, who dies during the introduction. He later finds a note from Frank saying that he no longer loves Bill anymore, but that in no way negates their previous relationship. It is also revealed in the main story's prequel that Ellie had a relationship with another girl, Riley, when they share an on-screen kiss.
Grand Theft Auto has been a bastion of bad behavior throughout the franchise's existence, and Gay Tony is no exception. With gaming's strained history of LGBT representation, you might wonder why such an antihero could land on this list. But since GTA's whole shtick is the seedy side of life, a gay character should be no exception. While you play the nightclub kingpin's bodyguard and not Tony himself, it is pretty significant that the entire episode is named for him. There have been other characters in earlier video games that were even more villainous. Though these portrayals might not have been favorable or fair, it's worth noting their existence as characters of power. They include Birdo/Birdetta, the pink, red-ribbon-wearing, egg-shooting dinosaur from Super Mario Bros. 2; in the original manual, this character was said to “think he’s a girl […] He’d rather be called Birdetta.” There's also the flamboyant leather-clad boss Ash in Sega's side scrolling fight game Streets of Rage 3, who employed go-go boys to back him up. There's also Poison, a scantily clad trans woman named for the '80s hair band who has appeared in several Capcom games, most notably Street Fighter.
A cyberpunk throwback title of 2015, Read Only Memories is a puzzle game exploring the future Neo-San Francisco. There are all kinds of queer characters, and you can even pick your pronouns. Unfortunately, its creator, Matt Conn, who also founded GaymerX, a queer gaming convention, stepped down from both GaymerX and MidBoss, the company that produced ROS, amid allegations of sexual harassment and worker abuse.
Quite obscure in comparison to the other games of this list, 1989's Caper in the Castro is a murder mystery/puzzle-solving game, developed by C.M. Ralph and credited as the first LGBT game. In it, players take on the role of a lesbian detective, Tracker McDyke, searching for a friend, drag queen Tessy LaFemme, who has gone missing from the Castro. Early enough for advertisements to tout animation, graphics, text, and sound, it ran on Macintosh Hypercard 1.2, which is a pretty nerdy little tidbit.
This series original features a queer couple, Athena, a badass treasure hunter, and her more cerebral mechanic girlfriend, Springs. In Borderlands 2, NPC character Tiny Tiny’s gay sexuality is revealed when she admits to a crush on two other female characters in the game known as Moxxxi and Maya. In general, strong women rule throughout the franchise, with multimedia journalist Jessie Gender counting at least 14.
As a beloved children’s cartoon that even adults love, Steven Universe came to consoles last October with Save the Light. Although many point to the gems Ruby and Sapphire, a romantic pair constantly fused together as Garnet, as the show’s queerest aspect, the show and the video game have both incorporated LGBT themes so subtly and beautifully that they permeate the whole universe — even as it deals with other topics throughout the storyline. In the sequel to 2015’s mobile game Attack the Light, Grumpyface Studios worked more closely with the show’s creator, Rebecca Sugar, to develop original stories this time around. But the main philosophy remains the same: Our relationships with the ones we love make us stronger.
In 2015’s Life Is Strange, Oregon teen Max Caulfield can rewind time. She also has an ally, and perhaps more, in childhood friend Chloe Price. Based on the choices you make throughout the game, the storyline can be more or less blatantly queer, which you can see in this clip of the girls sharing a kiss. But by the end, it’s pretty clear that the two had romantic feelings for one another. In last year’s follow-up Before the Storm game developers attempt to explore this more explicitly with a prequel focused on Chloe and Rachel Amber, a character who goes missing at the beginning of the first game. LIS has come under fire for queer-baiting and perpetuating tropes of unhappiness and death for queer characters, but it is an undeniably powerful and intense game featuring young women at its core.
A Cathari female and knight in the Jedi order, Juhani was the first lesbian in the Star Wars universe way back in 2003. At the time, another female Jedi, Belaya, described Juhani as “a dear companion to me for many years. We spent many nights together alone under the stars.” Despite the ambivalence in revealing their past or current relationship status, if you are playing as a female character, you can romance Juhani. Early versions of the game allowed male players to also court her, but this was identified as a bug and corrected.
Lena “Tracer” Oxton is probably the most well-known and oft-played character of this first-person shooter, partially due to her game-changing teleporting and recall abilities. She got arguably more famous when her girlfriend Emily was introduced in a tie-in comic book. Representatives of Blizzard Entertainment, its developer, have told audiences that she’s not the only LGBT character, but so far no others have been confirmed. Buff Russian Zarya maybe?
Although the whole point of The Sims is that you completely control your own world and character — and therefore there are no explicitly queer characters — it is that same open nature that makes it so revolutionary. Factors like its widespread appeal beyond traditional gamers, its longevity, and its encouragement to forge all kinds of relationships earn it the number 4 spot in this countdown.
This popular RPG has given you the ability to have same-sex relationships from the beginning and has a plethora of queer characters. But the game really started to shine beginning with the third in the series, which came out in 2012. Game writer Patrick Weekes said Samatha Traynor and Steve Cortez “represent the first time BioWare has written full romances that are exclusively for same-sex characters,” but even in the original Dr. Liara T’Soni, an Asari, an all-female race that can reproduce with both genders, could have lesbian scenes with a female Commander Shepard. In the more recent Andromeda, Hainly Abrams is introduced as the franchise's first trans character. It also includes two pansexual squad members, a lesbian doctor, a gay engineer, and two bisexual side characters. With so many queer characters of both human and alien races, Mass Effect might just be the queerest franchise out there.
Also from BioWare, the 2015 Inquisition featured Dorian, who was called a “breakout” gay character. His sexuality wasn’t merely a player's option but his identity, with his backstory of running away from home after his family tried to make him straight. Perhaps even more groundbreaking is the character Krem, a trans man. Though he never uses those words, the male-presenting Krem reveals that he was born female without any hesitation or shame. He even banters with Bull, a large qunari with big pecs, about binding, before saying that in his culture trans people exist and that “they are real men, just like you or me.”
Dream Daddy may not be your traditional video game. It’s for Mac and PC only, there is no console version, and it’s really more of an “interactive novel.” But this irreverent dating simulation is queerer than queer. It got so much attention last year that collectors’ editions sold out quickly. In it, you play a single dad who moves with his daughter to a sleepy town called Maple Bay, where everyone else is also a hot single gay dad — be they Teacher Dad, Goth Dad, or Bad Dad. Its over-the-top camp combined with bad puns and other “dad jokes” struck just the right chord to reach a segment of the population far beyond that of the traditional gaming audience.