With Pride Month here, it’s a good time to look at representation in video games. Video games haven’t always done the best at LGBTQIA+ characters and sometimes they can downright miss the mark, intentionally or unintentionally. That said, the representation is out there and sometimes it’s quite meaningful and well done. With that in mind, the team discussed which video game characters embody LGBTQIA+ representation for them.
(LGBTQIA+ flag design by Daniel Quasar)
Question: What video game character embodies Pride representation to you?
Tracer - Ozzie Mejia, Celebrating Pride
One of Overwatch's greatest strengths has been its diverse cast of characters, from a hyper-intelligent gorilla all the way to a pro gamer in a mech suit. On the surface, none of these characters have anything in common and should be a motley crew, at best. Instead, people look at Overwatch as the world's greatest heroes and Tracer is arguably the face of the team.
When encountering characters in shooters, they're often gruff, edgy, over-the-top, or exaggerated caricatures. Tracer, on the other hand, comes across as the most likable human being. When Blizzard eventually confirmed the character's sexuality back in 2016, Tracer became more than the face of Blizzard's shooter. She became a gay icon, someone who would proudly wave the Pride flag and someone who would also encourage others like her to do so, as well.
Ellie - Donovan Erskine, Contributing Editor
I know that Ellie isn’t exactly the “role-model” type, especially after her actions in The Last of Us Part 2. That said, I wanna focus more on the younger Ellie we get in the first game. I appreciate when LGBTQIA+ characters aren’t defined by their sexual orientation, gender, or preference. Instead, it feels more like a natural part of who they are.
In The Last of Us, Ellie is a hopeful young girl forced to grow up and mature far too early. Though her sexuality doesn’t really come up during the main game, it’s revealed in the Left Behind DLC, when we see her with Riley. Though Ellie was far from the first LGBTQIA+ character in games, she’s one of the handful to be featured in a blockbuster game on the caliber of The Last of Us.
Birdo - Blake Morse, Co-EIC
While some may see this as some sort of cop-out, I can assure you that I am 100% sincere in choosing Birdo. For starters, it’s more than likely that this is the first example of a transgender character in gaming ever. Secondly, Birdo is from a family-friendly Nintendo game, and even beyond that, a character in the company’s flagship Super Mario Bros. franchise. Even if it started out as Doki Doki Panic in Japan, Nintendo adapted these characters officially into further Super Mario games and the universe as a whole. All throughout, Birdo isn't enforcing a negative stereotype or being done in an exploitative manner. They simply is who they are.
I legit loved Super Mario Bros. 2 as a kid and Birdo was one of my favorite characters before I was even aware of the concept of gender identity. I even feel like Birdo’s explanation of them trying on a bow and it just feeling like the right thing for them is an endearing and empowering concept. Everyone should be able to do what makes them feel right and comfortable in their own skin and if we can accept that for an imaginary character like Birdo, we should be able to accept it and respect the decisions and identities of real people in our lives too.
Osiris and Saint-14 - Sam Chandler, Time travel love
Osiris and Saint-14… two characters the Destiny fanbase have longed to see since they were first introduced in the lore back in the original Destiny. We read all about their escapades, their travels, and the tribulations and fights they experienced against the Darkness.
But, it wasn’t until Destiny 2, that we started to get a different understanding of their relationship. Osiris, obsessed with the Vex, and Saint-14, a Fallen-slaying hero defeated by the Vex, were these legendary characters we could only imagine. When we eventually met Osiris, we started learning more about the love he had for the Saint. And when we found the Saint’s tomb, it was a bittersweet moment. We finally got to “meet” this character, albeit in a manner we never anticipated.
Players thought that might be the end of it, but Bungie had other plans. Players actually got to travel through time and save Saint-14 from his fate. We got to bring him back to the Last City, to reunite him with Osiris.
From that point on, we learned more about their relationship. We learned about Saint’s recommendation that Osiris pursue poetry, of Saint-14’s acceptance of overseeing his loved one’s precious Trials, and of the bond they share.
And finally, the community received the most important bit of information: the writer for Osiris and Saint confirmed that the two were gay. These characters are fantastic, and I’m so glad I get to fight alongside them in Destiny 2. I’ve loved their stories before I knew about their own love, and I’ll love their stories long after the Destiny servers are shut down. For those interested, there’s a Google doc that outlines some of the lore that showcases their relationship. I love it all.
Ellie - Bill Lavoy, Co-EIC
For me, Ellie embodies Pride representation. What I really appreciate about Ellie is that her life in The Last of Us and The Last of Us Part 2 is so much more than her sexual orientation. Ellie gives gamers a lot of reasons to connect with her, whether it’s her resilience as kid, her need for vengeance as a young adult, or her journey as a person who is in love.
While there are other games out there that have beautifully written and playable LGBTQIA+ characters, The Last of US and The Last of US Part 2 are massive games that have reached a huge audience, and within that audience are a whole lot of people that could benefit from spending time with Ellie. Some of those players are LGBTQIA+ and need to connect with a video game character who is like them in some ways, and some just need more exposure to diverse characters to help them become better, more accepting people. Ellie is a meaningful and relatable character, amazing in both regards.
Madeline - TJ Denzer, appreciates who you are and the courage it takes to be you
Coming out is f***ing hard and scary. As a bisexual, I know that. As the proud spouse of a recently out trans partner, it’s still a process I and mine face. It’s not just fear of the acceptance of others, but all of the confusion and uncertainty within yourself that you face as you come to terms with it. Maybe that’s why when it comes to this subject, Madeline from Celeste is not only a great representation of LGBTQIA+ identity, but a comforting representation that we are not alone in our struggles.
When Celeste creator Maddy Thorson not only confirmed Madeline’s trans identity, but shared the story of how Madeline’s story was an extension of their own feelings in coming out, I felt intensely connected to that. Throughout Celeste, there are themes of fear, insecurity, body dysmorphia, a battle with one’s unfamiliar self, the doubt, and… at long last… acceptance.
Not only do I feel Madeline’s story and the entirety of Celeste is an amazing game, but I also feel it’s one of the most real and thoughtful representations of trans and queer identity I have ever seen in video games. If you are going through that struggle, if you have been through that struggle, and/or if you want to understand that struggle, I feel like this game is required reading.
Ellie - Greg Burke, Head of Video
I really liked Ellie's story arc and relationship throughout The Last of Us Part II. It felt real, organic, and not forced. Everything flowed well, and it felt really down to earth. I hope we see more of this in the future.
Birdo - Steve Tyminski, Stevetendo Show host
The question this week is “What video game character embodies pride representation?” If I had to go with one, I think I’ll go with the first time I remember hearing about something like this, Birdo from Super Mario. For those who are unaware, Birdo is a male enemy who is convinced he’s a girl. This was a big deal back in the 80’s as representation wasn’t as accepted as it is now. Nintendo has never really cared how they’re perceived and doing something like this with Birdo is par for the course for them as you can also look into Paper Mario: the 1000 Year Door for a similar situation with Vivian.
Tingle the reincarnated fairy - Bryan Lefler is proud of his differences
I admittedly haven’t played a lot of recent games with LGBTQIA+ representations but the first and most important character I can remember that celebrated their differences is Tingle from the Zelda franchise. Upon meeting Tingle for the first time early in Majora’s Mask, you’re greeted by a cheerful man in his thirties that has angered his father by claiming to be a reincarnated fairy and acting much younger than his age. Tingle would only grow to be more flamboyant with each appearance and wasn’t received very well in the West at first.
As a bisexual teenager, I had not come out at all for fear of being ostracized and Tingle was the first time I could remember interacting with a character that was so comfortable with being different. Most of my friends couldn’t stand him at the time but I was immediately drawn to his gleeful insistence of celebrating non-conformity. Characters would eventually become much more nuanced and complex as technology and game design changed over the years, but Tingle was there at the beginning of 3D gaming to show me that being different should be lauded and appreciated.
Riley from The Last of Us - Dennis White, Community Manager
I really enjoyed the way Ellie and Riley’s story was told in The Last of Us: Left Behind DLC. I connected with Riley’s character and the angst of feeling like the situation you are in is somewhat out of your control. The playfulness of the earlier segments of the mall scene reminded me a lot of one of my favorite films Moonlight: A film that includes a similar coming-of-age story and a very soft moment where both teens spend an intimate moment together.
The fact that Riley has agency in this portion of the game even as a supporting character is what makes her cool to me. She likes Ellie a ton, but she also has aspirations with The Fireflies that she’s willing to leave for. Even though the ending is bittersweet in this case, I appreciate Riley being key to Ellie’s journey and it’s a touching display of a budding romance between queer characters that really stuck with me afterwards.
These are our favorite representations of Pride and the LGBTQIA+ community in video games. Who are yours? Let us know in the Shacknews Chatty section below!