Games

2017's Queer Game Characters Gave Me Hope

From 'Prey' to 'Butterfly Soup' to 'Dream Daddy,' queer characters showed up and made 2017 a little more tolerable.

by Danielle Riendeau
Dec 26 2017, 3:00pm

Illustration by Sunless Design

Welcome to Waypoint's Pantheon of Games, a celebration of our favorite games, a re-imagining of the year's best characters, and an exploration of the 2017's most significant trends.

By now, you’ve probably read a bunch of pieces about how fantastic 2017 has been for games. I’m here to tell you that not only were so many games very good, a non-zero number of them were also very queer.

It’s not like we’re there yet, or anything close—queer men, and especially queer men of color, are still ridiculously underrepresented in games. But I found a great deal of meaning in the queer characters who showed up this year. That includes the first big-budget queer women of color protagonists, the sexy Dream Daddies of Maple Bay, a Life is Strange game that finally embraces its queer themes all the way, and every single person in Butterfly Soup.

Arkane gave us not one, but two games with queer women of color protagonists, in Prey and Dishonored: Death of the Outsider. These are both fantastic games beyond that fact (both in my personal top three), both immersive sims with excellent ideas how to evolve the genre.

To my memory, Prey is actually the very first game with the murky-but-still-somewhat-useful AAA label that explicitly has a queer woman of color protagonist. (That is, if you play as a woman.) And itwas directly inspired by Gone Home in several aspects of its story, with a very cute romance subplot between NPCs, and lady Morgan has a satisfying plot regarding ex-girlfriend Mikhaila.

Death of the Outsider, meanwhile, is a distilled, shorter Dishonored game with all of the things that make that series great—incredible level design, interesting powers to use and test against that design—and this time, a fascinating, complex, and queer protagonist in Billie Lurk. You can read more about Billie this week in an upcoming story about her role as an arbiter of justice.

Tacoma (disclaimer: I'm friendly with the game's Creative Director) also featured some rad space lesbians, in power couple Natali and Roberta, who shared one of the cutest queer spaceship moments that I may or may not have replayed a few times. It also featured Andrew Dagyab, a queer dude stuck in a job at one megacorp, looking for the best way to support his husband and child back home.

Image courtesy Fullbright

I’m not going to give Life is Strange: Before the Storm a pass for its use of scab labor. But, it did finally give fans of the first game the full gay treatment (should you choose to play that way), with a believably awkward, exciting, terrifying relationship between its main characters. It really captures teenage romance and the weird-as-hell feelings that accompany it beautifully,

I cannot forget the daddies. The sexy daddies of dating game Dream Daddy came from all walks of life, but all of the characters were dudes who cared deeply about their kids (dads), and handsome devils (daddies) looking for something a little more exciting to do in the sleepy town of Maple Bay. Visual novels with queer characters are nothing new—but the daddies enjoyed some crossover buzz this year.

Frequent contributor Kate Gray enjoyed Dream Daddy for its wholesomeness, and Patrick (Waypoint’s official and only dad) played the game and praised its writing, enjoying the humor and inclusive nature of Game Grump’s dating sim:

“And though I'm a straight white man who can't claim to know much about the ins and outs of queer relationships, Dream Daddy never feels condescending or hateful. It's touching, treats its characters like human beings, and goes out of its way to represent all sorts of situations, whether it's someone currently in a (troubled) marriage with a woman, a whiskey-slinging loner with a penchant for aggressive moves, or a recently divorced father of three trying to figure out if there's time to make relationships anymore. Some are black, some are white. Some are big, some are small. One might be trans.”

This isn’t to say that the game was dreamy for everyone" Paste’s Kenneth Shephard had some issues with the game’s portrayal of romance among men, and it's a sharp reminder of how far we still need to go when it comes to representation.

Then, there’s Butterfly Soup. This is the funniest, most touching experience I had with a game this year, the story of four young queer Asian-American women who love each other—and the sport of baseball. They play ball, they fall in love, they deal with difficult family situations, and they struggle to live authentically against the backdrop of the hateful Proposition 8 campaign in California—which successfully banned equal marriage in the state for several years.

I don’t want to hype it up too much, but I think it’s also extremely funny.

I don’t want to say “and that’s it,” because, of course, there were more games with queer characters—particularly in smaller and more personal spaces. But LGBTQ characters are still a tiny little minority in the sea of bigger games that dominate the conversation in the game industry.

I’d argue, though, that their presence meant something. To me, and I’d be willing to bet I’m not alone in this.

I’m going to borrow the words of Katherine Cross here (with a disclosure, she’s a personal friend), from her GaymerX East remarks this year, on the importance of community and making art to the practice of hope in difficult times.

“The love in this space, the affirmation, the capital C Community—that is true. It's a glimpse of a world we know is possible, and you must hold fast to that truth, to what you know in your heart amid all the noise and infighting and horizontal hostility that you know is there. Cut through the haze to the core of love and truth and self knowledge that we see here today. That is why you do it. Whether it is making games, drawing art, writing, or organizing conventions like this. Or even simply showing up."

These characters—in larger games and smaller—gave me a little bit of hope this year. They helped me to show up.