Researchers Talk the Exciting Rise of Queer Representation in Games

Hey, folks! This is Jess Zammit and Alayna Cole (who has written for FemHype before) from Queerly Represent Me, and we’re excited to share some new projects with you! 

If you haven’t heard about Queerly Represent Me, we’re a research organization focused on exploring representations of sexuality and gender in games, and supporting queer folks who love to play games or who work in the games industry. We create resources and speak at conferences about queer representation, and provide links to all sorts of wider reading that cover a wide range of topics.

We also maintain a database of games that feature queer characters and themes. It currently includes over 800 games, and we’re adding more all the time (with the help of our readers who provide tips about what games we’re missing).

Researching awesome queer content has inspired us to create more ways of connecting with our wonderful community — people like you! If you’d indulge us, we’d love to share some of the games we’ve had the joy of researching, the ways they inspire us, and the new projects we’re working on.

Always Sometimes Monsters

What is it? A role-playing game that puts you in the shoes of a struggling writer who, on top of some serious career issues and a lack of financial stability, has just found out that the love of their life is engaged to someone else. As you fight to reach them before it’s too late, you’re faced with moral and ethical dilemmas that test your ideas of who you are and how far you’ll go to keep your life together.

Where can I play it? It was originally only available through Steam, but you can now play it on-the-go from your Android or Apple device.

Why is it rad? Even though it allows you to choose some aspects of who your character is, Always Sometimes Monsters does an amazing job of exploring life’s tendency to throw things at you that you just can’t control. You can choose and name your character from a room of racially diverse options, but you can’t influence the way others in the world interact with your race. You can select the same or opposite-sex partner whose love you’re fighting to win back, but you can’t always avoid the disapproval from those around you who disagree with your choices.

You can also make one wrong choice in your day that can have serious consequences for someone else’s life or send you down a destructive path that’s hard to turn back from. Sometimes sacrifices have to be made, and even those with the best intentions can mess things up sometimes — that’s just the nature of life. Always Sometimes Monsters explores all these deep ethical issues and more, and no other game has managed to make me feel empathy in quite the same way as this one.

How is it inspiring? It was one of the first games I (Jess) played that openly addressed queer issues, and the fact that it did it in such a serious and emotional way showed just how possible it is for games to tell incredible stories that also have the capacity to reach many different people in many different yet incredibly personal ways. It also highlighted a problem: I wouldn’t have found this game if I wasn’t looking for titles exactly like it.

This, and games like it, deserve to be discovered and shared with a wide range of people, which is why I’ve embarked on a Queer Games Journey over on QRM — a journey that hopes to highlight some of the lesser known queer titles out there, so that others might be able to find the type of personal story they’ve been looking for. Always Sometimes Monsters was the first entry in the ever-growing list of games that I’ve been exploring, and it holds a special place in my heart. It set the bar high for the games that have followed, and will follow in the future.

Life Is Strange

What is it? An episodic, narrative-driven adventure game that explores the consequences our choices can have, and the dangers and responsibilities that might come with the ability to rewind time and alter life events.

Where can I play it? Luckily, you can play it on multiple consoles! It can be accessed digitally through Steam or the PlayStation and Xbox stores, and physical copies are also available in shops.

Why is it rad? Though the game’s time-rewinding mechanic is interesting in its own right, the most exciting thing for me is the way the relationships between the characters in this intriguing and, at times, dark story develop. The two main characters, once childhood friends, meet up again at a point when tensions are high, and their quest to solve a mystery brings them closer. As this bond between the quiet, nerdy Max and the punky, rebellious Chloe grows, there’s more than a slight hint that things between them are no longer just platonic. Basically, from a personal standpoint, LiS is rad because it features two bisexual main characters and challenges existing tropes about who bisexuals ‘are,’ while telling a compelling story about friendships between women.

How is it inspiring? I could talk about LiS all day, every day. In fact, the members of the QRM team so frequently brought up LiS on panels at various events that it quickly became clear that we needed to find a way to talk about it in more detail. So, we started a podcast that would allow us to discuss queer games like this one and why they’re so important without worrying about the time constraints of a busy convention.

With the help of special guests, we’re talking about some of the more popular queer titles out there and what they mean for queer gamers (like us!). We wanted to be able to include the community, too, so we’ve opted for a sort of ‘book club’ style; we’ll tell you the name of the game in advance to give you plenty of time to play it before we dive into the detail! Naturally, our first episode was about LiS, and if you want to hear about all the reasons boring bisexual characters are important, you should definitely have a listen.

Killing Time at Lightspeed

What is it? An interactive narrative about a passenger aboard a craft traveling at lightspeed who is communicating via social media with friends back home. Each interaction appears days, weeks, or even years after the original post was created due to the way time passes aboard the ship.

Where can I play it? You can buy KTAL on Steam.

Why is it rad? The player-character’s social media feed is full of discussions about activism, fighting for human rights, and social justice. The game explores sexuality and gender using the analogy of synthetics who are fighting to be treated as equals to humans, and the various people you interact with on social media have different views on the matter. There are worries about some characters and their wellbeing, and the game also addresses the idea of social media abuse and its impacts. If you need a break from the turmoil on your own social media feed and would prefer to exist in a virtual one for a while, KTAL is a clever criticism of the world we’re living in.

How is it inspiring? Playing KTAL encouraged us to explore how queer folks incorporate their own perspectives and lived experiences into the games they create. We started an interview series with queer folks that discusses the issues they face while working in games, and the ways that they allow their identities to permeate their creations. One of these interviewees is John Kane, designer of KTAL, who is also working on a number of other games with queer themes and characters. Interviews can be found here with new queer folks spotlighted every Wednesday!

The Republic

What is it? A pen-and-paper RPG in early access that encourages you to experience what it’s like to be marginalized, and still heroic.

Where can I play it? It’s a tabletop RPG, so with some people either in-person or online! It can be purchased in PDF form on itch.io or Drive Thru RPG.

Why is it rad? Unlike many games that put you in the position of a hero who is accepted by society, The Republic encourages you to consider the perspectives of marginalized people — perhaps like yourself, or perhaps unlike yourself — and understand what it’s like to not feel like the ‘norm.’ The game also helps you to think beyond the aspects of a person’s identity that marginalize them; whether that be race, gender, sexuality, ablebodiedness, etc. and to see the nuances of their overall character, how they interact with others, and how they see the world.

How is it inspiring? Innovative, artistic approaches to game design inspire us to create new opportunities for designers, writers, artists, and other content creators. We’ve recently opened submissions for a zine that we will be publishing in 2018, which is hoping to explore not only the diversity of sexuality and gender that Queerly Represent Me typically focuses on, but also the other forms of marginalization that intersect.

Submissions to the Queerly Represent Me zine close on December 31, 2017. All published contributors will be paid a nominal amount. More information can be found here!

Want to get involved in QRM?

Interviews: We are still seeking queer folks working in games for our interview series. We’ve heard from a lot of people who aren’t sure if they’re eligible, but we’re accepting anyone who identifies as queer (and yes, you’re queer enough!) and anyone who is working in games (including people who work alongside developers).

We also love hearing from people who aren’t established in the industry, so you are definitely eligible if you are making your own games independently or are a freelancer struggling to get work. We’d be honored to amplify your voice and explore some of the difficulties you might be having breaking into the industry.

If you’re interested, please email us! < hello [at] queerlyrepresent [dot] me >

How can people support QRM?

If you like what we’re doing at Queerly Represent Me, you can support us in a bunch of different ways! We have a Patreon, where you can score early access to many of our new projects, as well as a Redbubble store filled with queer merchandise. Even just sharing the word about our work helps us heaps!

Thanks for supporting the work we do at Queerly Represent Me. We couldn’t do it without you!

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