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Indie games are leading the charge on LGBTQIA+ representation

Indie games are leading the charge on LGBTQIA+ representation

AAA titles have a lot of catching up to do

Recent years have shown us that LGBTQIA+ representation in the video game industry is definitely improving but it is indie games that are leading the charge for featuring both queer characters and stories. The past year has been a prime example of this and it seems as though indie developers are continuing to raise the flag for LGBTQIA+ representation.

Before I begin, a brief disclaimer: I’m not saying there are no recent AAA releases with LGBTQIA+ characters or storylines. It was seen recently with Baldur’s Gate 3, Cyberpunk 2077 and of course, The Last of Us Part 2 which featured a lesbian character at the head of the game.

Baldur’s Gate 3 allowed the player’s character to romance whoever they wanted, regardless of gender whereas Cyberpunk 2077 featured straight, lesbian and gay love interests who would only show an interest in your character based on their gender or genital preferences.

Cyberpunk 2077 /
CD Projekt Red

Additionally, Cyberpunk 2077 features a transgender side character whose identity is mentioned only in passing. However, in a futuristic world where you can be whoever you want and have access to body modifications, I wish gender had been explored more in Night City. However, that’s a story for a different day.

However, all of this is perhaps unsurprising considering the AAA sphere is still home to a mainly cishet male audience. We only have to take a look back at Starfield which almost sent one Youtuber into cardiac arrest when he discovered it featured a pronoun picker in the character customisation screen.

Between audience reception and the chance of losing revenue, it’s no wonder bigger game developers aren’t too keen on centering the latest AAA release around a queer character or story. It’s the loss of the publisher, however, given how well games like The Last Of Us Part 2 and Baldur’s Gate 3 performed.

At the other end of the scale, indie game developers are proudly flying the flag for the LGBTQIA+ community and a quick look back at the last year of releases shows just that.

Created by smaller teams, there is opportunity to hear the voices of the developers and add their beliefs and experiences into the video games they’re creating. As a result, June 2023 to June 2024 has welcomed multiple stories that explore gender, sexuality, race, religion and everything in between.

A Long Journey to an Uncertain End /
Crispy Creative

For example, June 2023 saw the release of A Long Journey to an Uncertain End which showed us a sci-fi future that is queer and inclusive. The resource-management RPG tells the story of an eclectic ragtag crew featuring a non-binary character, a drag queen and the ability to customise your character in detail. With a selection of pronouns as well as the ability to make them fat or skinny or have a masculine or feminine frame, this title by Crispy Creative did representation right.

The following month welcomed Goodbye, Volcano High, Stray Gods and The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood. Three indie titles all exploring the complexities of gender, sexuality and belonging.

Goodbye, Volcano High is an apocalyptic high school visual novel where you play as an anthropomorphic pterodactyl named Fang. With an asteroid heading towards the planet, Fang and their friends must face the threat and deal with their senior year. However, developers KO_OP haven’t shied away from featuring a queer main character as Fang identifies as an AFAB nonbinary person who uses they/them pronouns.

Stray Gods musical RPG tells the story of modern-day Greek gods and in between breaking out in song, our female main character has the opportunity to romance one of four side characters, two of whom are women. The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood features a cast of incredible and queer women, including a transgender woman pre-transition who is welcomed to the female coven without question.

Stray Gods /
Summerfall Studios

These titles are just some examples of indie titles that follow a queer cast but don’t focus the entire story around their identities. The characters in Goodbye, Volcano have to deal with school and the apocalypse, Stray Gods is a retelling of the Greek pantheon and The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood delves into the world of the occult.

The fact that many of its characters are queer is included seamlessly and shows that a person’s sexuality or identity is not the most important thing about them.

Queer characters also appeared in indie games of other genres such as mystery game This Bed We Made, dating sim Eternights and turn-based RPG Thirsty Suitors which all released back in fall 2023.

This Bed We Made is a prime example of exploring the struggles of the LGBTQIA+ community without making it the main focus of the game. The mystery game set in 1950s Canada tasks the player with uncovering the mysteries in the hotel they work. However, with the title set 11 years before Canada’s Bill C-150 which decriminalised same-sex relationships, this topic adds an uneasy undercurrent throughout the game.

This Bed We Made /
Lowbirth Games

As for 2024, the trend is still continuing with games such as Read Only Memories: Neurodriver and Tavern Talk already making waves for the indie community. Not only that but titles Dustborn, Touchstarved, Pivot of Hearts and High Elo Girls are set to release later on in the year and all tell intriguing stories and also happen to feature characters from all communities under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella.

I hope indie games and their developers continue to break the mould when it comes to representation in the video game community and one day, when we don’t live in a capitalist hellscape, AAA titles might follow suit more regularly. Here’s hoping.

Featured Image Credit: Naughty Dog/Lowbirth Games

Topics: The Last Of Us Part 2, Cyberpunk 2077, Baldur's Gate 3, Indie Games, PC, Xbox, PlayStation