Pushing Buttons: Video games have always been weird – here are my favorites | Games
Welcome to Pushing Buttons, folks. In case you were wondering where I was, I was on secondment from video games for a week to cover Glastonbury. Thankfully, more than a decade of E3 coverage has prepared me well for the perfumed crowds and the inevitable liveblogging technical issues. Thanks to our ever-brilliant games correspondent Keith Stuart for covering for me as I recovered my head after the festival.
Pride events took place in London last weekend, and among the million people lining the streets for the 50th anniversary of the event were parade contingents from PlayStation, Microsoft and Square Enix, among others. game publishers and developers. Thanks to the industry’s entirely justified reputation for toxicity, people might not think of video games as a particularly gay-friendly medium – but they’ve kind of always been queer, to borrow the title of book by scholar Bonnie Ruberg. I am one of the millions of queer people who have found community through games: 21% of the UK video game workforce not identifying as straightaccording to a survey by industry body UKIE (Association for UK Interactive Entertainment).
In honor of all the LGBTQ+ talent working in the gaming industry, and because queer people don’t suddenly cease to exist when Pride Month ends on July 1st, I wanted to share a few of my favorite queer storylines in video games. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are some of the games that have moved me or made me feel seen over the years.
The Last of Us: Left Behind
Until this title came out in 2014, most of the gay romance I’d seen in games was either implied or optional. Sure, you could romance a same-sex character in Mass Effect or Dragon Age; you could marry your Sims of the same sex; a few characters in the games were obscurely coded queer or had implied relationships. But The Last of Us: Left Behind was the first hit game that showed me not only a genuine friendship between two teenage girls, but also what happens when that friendship becomes something more. It blew my mind at the time to see this story in a video game. I wrote about it for IGN when he came out; it was one of the first times I’d had the courage to write explicitly about queer themes in games, and how important they are to those of us who have never really seen ourselves in them.
I could easily write a few thousand words about the impact that transgender Anna Anthropy, freelance game designer had on the gaming scene in the early 2010s. I had never played anything like Dys4ia – a collection of experiential mini-games about transitioning. The first time I played Queers in Love at the End of the World – a 10 second text game about the strength and purity of queer love, about what we would do and what we would say to each other if the world was here to end – I was at a work event where it was housed in an arcade machine, and I had to step away from all my co-workers for a while because it made me cry.
I hope it’s not a spoiler, given that this game is almost ten years old, but I was convinced Gone Home’s story of a secret teenage romance would end in tragedy. I had been conditioned by the TV shows and movies of the 1990s and 2000s, where gay characters usually ended up dead or miserable. So I was relieved and moved by his happy ending. Gone Home is influential for several reasons: it was part of a wave of indie games that asked questions about how games tell their stories and answered those questions in their own way. These are the handwritten notes and mixtape covers I remember most fondly.
This haunting and ethereal coming-of-age story is set in rural Ireland in the 90s. You experience it by reading and erasing the pages of the protagonist’s diary. Kasio is transgender and coming out – like all of his friends. They are at a stage in their lives that we all remember well, queer or not. If Found… has such a strong sense of place and time, and the hand drawn art makes it real and lived.
Did you expect a game about Greek gods not to be super gay? Hades is one of the best roguelikes ever made, in my opinion – a game about trying to escape hell as Zagreus, the son of Hades. After each failed attempt, he finds himself back in his father’s chambers in the underworld, but what makes it so easy to persist with Hades are his brilliantly entertaining renditions of characters from Greek mythology, most of whom are fabulous. And Zagreus himself can romance three characters of different genders, all at once if he chooses, like the bi-polyamorous sex god that he is.
Wait: there are others I approve of, including another teen romance, The Last of Us: Before the Storm; Dream Daddy, a surprisingly wholesome dating sim about setting up cute dads; and all the NSFW work of anarchic and erotic game designer Robert Yang. And, of course, The Last of Us: Part II, a historic game in many ways – lesbian representation being one of them.
what to play
Speedrun game inspired by the recently mysterious anime neon white have been enlarged. I’m a sucker for a game that defies categorization, and this is one, described as a “game for monsters” by its designer Ben Esposito. Ten masked sinners in white suits have been plucked temporarily from hell to purge some demons for God, and now there’s a contest to decide which of them can stay in heaven. It’s sort of a parkour shooter, but also… a card game? And a visual novel? Watch the trailer and you will agree that it is super intriguing. He has enormous teenage energy, in a good way.
What to read
The Sega/Creative Assembly team has announced their new game: a multiplayer shooter called Hyenas, in which teams compete to steal stuff from spaceships. Every time a multiplayer-only online game is announced, I suck my teeth in: it’s an overcrowded genre, the success metrics are very unforgiving, and many of them sink without a trace.
The new Sims 4 expansion will send players and their Sims back to high school – perhaps not a place fondly remembered for The Sims’ huge queer fanbase, though this could be an opportunity to rewrite our suboptimal teenage experience through the first wish-granting simulator Game.
It’s been a horrible week on gaming social media as Monkey Island creator Rob Gilbert vows to stop posting about the upcoming sequel as people continue insult him about it, and one of the developers behind God of War: Ragnarök publicly ask people to stop sending dick pics. Huge sigh.
Business Intern interviewed a hardcore Nintendo fan who spent $40,000 (£33,000) on company stock just so he could ask at an official shareholders meeting if there would be a new F-Zero game soon . Now this is the commitment of a series. (As expected, he didn’t get a clear answer.)
What to click
F1 22: A mind-blowing racing game sullied by money grabbing – review
Simon Parkin explains why Neon White is an exhilarating speedrun through a celestial dreamscape
Melbourne startup raises $9m for mental wellness game based on houseplant care
Block of questions
A question from the reader Lawrence: Can you recommend a non-turn-based JRPG? I enjoyed Kingdom Hearts fights but I could do with a little less Disney!
I no longer have a life that leaves time for Japanese RPGs, but they used to be one of my favorite genres – the last one I completed was Persona 5, so I reached out to wealthier friends in time for some up-date recommendations. They invented an existential cult classic Deny automata; Sprawling and grandiose anime-influenced Bandai Namco epic Tales of Arise; or last year’s ambitious and stylish sci-fi action RPG Scarlet Nexus, featuring a group of well-dressed telekinetic fighters. Enjoy!