By Aud Traher
One of my long standing gripes with video games is that when they do include Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender ( LGBT) people we are either props, eye candy , jokes or a same-sex romance option is thrown at us like a dog’s worn out chew bone. The characters in these games never really seem to have their gender and sexuality affect them in any real way. It never molds or shapes who they are and how they deal with the world in any tangible way.
Games made by members of the LGBT that focus on LGBT issues and lives is one cure for that problem. As of now there are not very many available, but what is available is free to play and often with very good design ideas and other elements well implemented.
Games like Dys4ia, Mainichi, and A Closed World are all games that are working to fill a void that mainstream gaming is ignoring.
In Dys4ria a flash game hosted on Newgrounds.com and created by Anna Anthropy you play out an autobiographical account of part her transition journey in this case her quest to start hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
The best way to describe it is a series of often Wario Ware-esque mini games. In one section you have to dodge negative comments hurled at you from a giant floating mouth, in others you have to sneak your way around opening and shutting bathroom stall doors as you guide you character past to the empty stall.
At other times it is more of an interactive art piece where you read, listen, feel and then press enter to move onto the next section. The game/art piece takes its art direction from old school graphics and the bright neon’s of old Atari games. It is brightly candy colored but that belies its nature as a powerful statement about transitioning and the medical hoops and obstacles trans* people have to jump through.
Mainichi is another trans* themed game this time by creator and activist Mattie Brice. In the style of old Japanese Role Playing Games (JRPG) like Final Fantasy 3, and Chrono Trigger. The graphics are one of the best parts of this game. You really can connect with the protagonist as she gets dressed and ready to meet a friend for coffee.
There are great little touches, like being able to choose whether you spend your free time before the meet up napping or playing a video game, that are just great. Once you have gotten ready, the game takes you outside and into the real heart of things. The game plays out differently depending on the choices you made back in the apartment; did you bath and put on make up and a nice outfit? Alternatively, did you instead choose to go as is? Depending on what you did you will face various levels of street harassment as you make your way towards the coffee shop. Everything from catcalls to transphobic shouting can happen as you progress past the NPC’s. When you get to the shop and settle in with your friend what they say to you is possibly the best part of this game, if you dressed up, successfully passed as female and got the barista to flirt with you the friend chides you for getting your hopes up and worries about you disclosing your trans* status. If you chose not to dress up and simply grabbed the drinks the friend chides you for not trying hard enough. Either way you cannot win. This part really is fantastic and hits home for me and other trans* people, the sense of never being good enough, that no matter what we do we can never win.
“Have you ever been so frustrated, so fed up with where you are, that you just want to throw it all away and run off to somewhere new? In A Closed World you play as a young person who has decided to do exactly that. This console RPG-like game puts you in the shoes of a young resident of a village just outside a forest that everyone says is a place of no return. Supposedly home to hungering demons and a beast that would destroy the village, the forest is forbidden and nobody knows what’s on the other side. However, our hero’s beloved — tired of the oppressive attitude of the villagers — decided to go there, as anywhere would be better than home. Now it’s your turn to follow after. Are you willing to risk everything to find out what’s on the other side?”
What follows is a fantastic, JRPG style game that deals with queer issues in a subtle, clever and powerful way. You navigate your character through the forest looking for clues as to where your beloved has gone and encounter monsters you have to defeat. These monsters do not bite you or throw fireballs; instead they hit you with anti-queer assumptions, ideas and doubts. You use things like logic, passions and ethics to fight back against the monsters and keep your composure bar (the name for the in game health meter) full. If the enemy does damage your composure you can opt to take a deep breath to regain a bit, but sacrifice a turn. The “fighting” in this game is by far the best part and really for a short flash based game complex and satisfying. The graphics are smooth and slick and the sound design superb. I was left wishing it was not just a flash game and wanting more.
These games, made by LGBT people for LGBT people and allies show that games can address queer issues, have queer characters and not only get them right but make them fun and supremely engaging for players. Games like these allow us to not only see our stories and ourselves in video games, but to tell our stories in a way that can easily educate others. I hope that the great minds behind these games will continue to create and hopefully someday the mainstream gaming industry and culture will take a queue from them and try to create content as good as these games.