Jess’ Queer Games Journey

undertale

A few years ago, I made myself a ‘to-do’ list. Not the practical, productive kind, before you start offering praise and congratulations for my organisational skills. No, my list had three headings: ‘games to play’, ‘movies to watch’, and ‘television shows to watch’. Ticking things off this list was a way of calming my anxious mind, and making me feel like I was doing something with my life, even when I was being traditionally ‘unproductive’. The problem (that clearly I should have seen coming) was that the list just kept growing. The world refused to stop churning out new media to let me catch up (rude), so it all became a little overwhelming, and my calming activity stopped being so calming. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your outlook) at the end of last year, a virus corrupted all the files on my computer and I lost that ‘to-do’ list. All that work was gone. All those hard hours of doing ‘not-much-but-sort-of-something’ were going to have to go unrecognised. But when I sat down at the beginning of this year, ready to create a new list, I had a better idea – why not record all the things I had done, instead of the things I had left to do? I used to cross all these things off this list, but I wasn’t making another list to look back on and use to make me feel like I’d achieved something. So this year, with the help of PlayWrite, I’m doing something a little different. This year I’ve decided to write a list of the games I have played, and because I’ll always be a games critic at heart and that’s hard to shake, I’ll be writing a little about each title.

But wait, there’s a twist. Because I still love lists, and crossing things off a pre-existing list still makes me feel good, I’ve set myself a goal. Last year, a wonderful resource was created that identified games exploring ‘gender, sexuality and relationships’, meaning that all the games I’d probably want to play anyway are now collected in one place, on one handy list. Queerly Represent Me, as the database is known, now includes more than 700 individual titles – and my goal is to play through every single one of them. Some of them are big, some small, so obviously this will take me more than a year, but the journey has to start somewhere. I’ll update this list as I go, and even if only a few people join me on this quest, I’m hoping it will help to encourage others to give these wonderfully diverse games a go.

Note: I first began making small steps towards this goal when QRM first started. I also spend a lot of time playing games. So, to give myself a head start, I’m going to cheat a little and include some games I played in 2016 before I knew I was going to be keeping track of this.

Update: In an exciting turn of events, Charlie has joined me on my journey to help me be more accurate when it comes to representations of gender and gender identity! Charlie is a super rad trans masc nb human whose opinions I respect greatly, so I’m thrilled to have them on board.

So, in rough reverse chronological order (to make it easy for everyone to follow) here are the queer games I’ve played so far:

 

Rising Angels: Reborn

Released: October 2013
Played: May 2017
If I was going to choose any character in a spaceship crew to play, an academically-focused strategic officer going on her first mission would be pretty high up on my list. This visual novel granted my wishes by putting me in the shoes of Natalie Puccile – and it was great fun trying to help her guide her team through an exploration gone wrong. Obviously it wasn’t always easy and I ruffled a few feathers along the way (and maybe killed a guy, but nobody’s perfect) but overall I found the characters mostly likable and there was a bit of a cute romance thrown in for good measure. I chose to pursue Zuri, the blundering security officer, and in doing so was forced to shift my priorities and make some really tough choices about the kind of officer (and partner) I wanted to be.

You should play this if… you want to enjoy a cute space exploration narrative that seems to be the start of an ongoing series. There are a few options for potential romantic partners (male and female) or (as far as I’m aware) you can choose not to pursue anyone at all, so hopefully everyone can follow a path that works for them on some level. Obviously you can only play as a female character though, so sadly there are no m/m options. This one’s free on Steam, so if you have access to that platform and it piques your interest, it’s worth taking a look!

 

Dream Boyfriend: Astral Days

Released: 2016
Played: June 2017
I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started this game, but creating a boyfriend and ‘training’ his personality wasn’t really it. You’re given a guy, and for plot-related reasons, you’re told you need to essentially make him a functioning person. He goes to work to gain experience and goes on dates with you to make him gain a personality. Also, you can dress him. And other people can dress him. And sometimes he makes you play a mini game where you tap on hearts that appear from… nowhere? Honestly, I think it was all a little too strange for me. But you do have the option to tell the game what pronouns you want him to use for you (which can be none – just your name) which allows for m/m relationships.

You should play this if… you’re interested in customizing a character and experimenting with giving him a personality? It’s hard to say, because this game was just not for me. There is a cool clothing-related aspect to it that allows you to gain experience attached to certain items of clothing if that’s something you’re interested in. The idea of molding a guy into what I wanted made me a little uncomfortable, so I didn’t stick with the app for too long. But there could definitely be a lot of cute elements here for someone more keen to interact with their own virtual boyfriend!

 

Mass Effect: Andromeda

Released: March 2017
Played: May 2017
I had a whole lot of feelings about this game, and I wrote about them for Hyper. I know it’s been criticized for a lot of technical issues, but narratively this game was just what I wanted it to be. It’s obviously on this list for a few reasons – one of which was the inclusion of a poorly written trans character, but I understand that Bioware are working to correct their mistake. They did a better job of the same-gender relationship options, and I damn well loved my romance with ‘rogue academic’ Peebee. Seriously, who doesn’t want to date someone with a title as amazing as that?

You should play this if… you played the original trilogy, because I personally think it was a great way to continue on the story. Or if you just want to participate in a cool space adventure. It’s a pretty long game though – you’ll want to set aside a fair chunk of time.

 

Chef’s Quest

Released: November 2016
Played: May 2017
I love match three games, and Chef’s Quest is a fun one to play on the go. Plus you get your own little restaurant that you can customize just a little, which is a nice touch. This game made it to QRM because some of the diners that eat at your restaurant are same-sex couples, but you don’t actually spend much time looking at who it is you’re serving.

You should play this if… you like match three games and/or games with cooking-themed elements. There’s something satisfying about seeing the ingredients you’re ‘cooking with’ (matching) being chopped and thrown into that pan at the bottom. I’ll probably keep going with this one for a while.

 

Mainichi

Released: November 2016
Played: May 2017
Mainichi is a short game, but a pretty effective one. It takes you through an overview of the day in the life of its trans developer, and gives an idea of some of the things trans people (especially trans women and trans feminine people) have to worry about that cis people take for granted. It made me aware of some of my privileges as a ciswoman, and even though it’s pretty repetitive, I played through the whole game a couple of times to see what would change. It turns out the choices you make effect the way people react to you during your day, and it was absolutely interesting to see.

You should play this if… you are a person who likes games and has a little bit of time to spare. Mainichi is really short, and I firmly believe that everyone can get something out of it. Just make sure you play through a couple of times and make different decisions to see what changes – and that you go in ready to be reminded that sometimes, people are jerks. This game needs a trigger warning for transphobia – some of the comments made by characters (including friends of your character) may be upsetting to some.

 

Romance Detective

Released: 2014
Played: April 2017

I would have been enthusiastic to play any game about solving crimes, but one with lesbian main characters? Heck yeah I was excited. Having female protagonists is a bonus in itself, but when you add the romance element, it just becomes even better. Sadly, the game is pretty short (maybe half an hour?) but the story that plays out is pretty cute, the dialogue is fun and the characters are likable.

You should play this if… you want to see cute lesbian love interests solve a crime. There aren’t too many gameplay elements here, it’s mostly a lot of clicking to get to the next screen, but if visual novels are your thing then I’d definitely recommend it!

 

Liar Liar

Released: March 2016
Played: March 2017

This one is short. REALLY short. It does warn in the description that it has ‘shallow characters’ and ‘shallow plot’, and it delivers… exactly that. It’s about a girl unashamedly setting out to kill her boyfriend and anyone that gets in the way of this goal. Strangely, this doesn’t include all the characters she encounters, and there was just a little more casual murder here than I would have liked, but hey. I’m willing to admit this just wasn’t for me.

You should play this if… you want to kill fifteen minutes of a lunch break or something, perhaps? There’s a hint at some kind of lesbian romance there very briefly, but I wouldn’t say it’s worth playing for that.

 

CUPID

Released: March 2016
Played: March 2017

It took me about four hours to do one playthrough of this free visual novel, and to be honest, I only understood what was going on for maybe the last half an hour. It isn’t usually clear which character is speaking at any given time, plus sometimes it flashes back to a previous point in the timeline without warning or explanation, so it’s not so easy to follow. There are some good ideas here, and some hints at romance, but I was mostly just raising my brow and desperately trying to comprehend. It wasn’t terrible, but I’m not tempted to explore the other pathways or unlock alternative endings. If anyone is curious and does decide to play, I got an ending called ‘dawning’ (I think).

You should play this if… you are particularly interested in very dark, somewhat gruesome tales about… mythical creatures? That’s probably the easiest way to describe it. It’s also possible that you’ll have a better handle on the plot than I did, so if it particularly piques your interest and you have some time to kill… at least it’s free?

 

Episode: Choose Your Story

Released: December 2013
Played: January – February 2017

This is the broader app behind the Demi Lovato: Path to Fame story, and many other similar endeavors. There’s one about Mean Girls, one about a star I’ve never heard of (so probably a Youtuber) and some other ‘featured’ stories I haven’t tried. Unlike Choices, which has main stories that feature queer content, from what I’ve experienced the queer content in Episode seems to largely come from the user-generated stories. They’re all of varying levels of quality/readability, but given there are hundreds of options, I’m sure there’s a story in here for everyone.

You should play this if… you’re willing to wade through some duds to find some interactive stories that really grab you. Luckily, Episode is pretty generous with the keys you need to unlock new chapters, and you can read the first chapter of any story for free (without using keys, that is – the stories aren’t pay-to-read) to see whether or not it’s your style.

 

The Sims

Released: February 2000 (Original)
Played: Ongoing

This probably should have been the first one I ticked off the list. It was almost certainly the first one I played. With every generation of The Sims, these games get more inclusive (for the most part) so the possibilities are becoming endless. Of course, I’m still going to follow my tried-and-true strategy – make a sim, buy a block of land, make money by writing/hacking until their career actually makes them money (or I get bored and use cheats), repeat. Somewhere in there there’s usually a partner. Often it becomes a long-lasting female-only multi-generational event.

You should play this if… you like point-and-click adventures and would enjoy one that’s a little bit queer (in many senses of the word). Just know that it is short, so if you’re looking for a more meaty experience, maybe give it a miss. It touches on some dark themes, so be a bit careful if you’re particularly triggered by death.

 

Belladonna

Released: February 2015
Played: February 2017

Though it was short, I enjoyed the time I had with Belladonna. It’s a dark, gothic point-and-click adventure (my favourite genre) and includes a love story (of sorts) between two women. It’s a bit text heavy and the actual gameplay is a bit lacking, but it’s quite a pretty game and there’s some good voice acting here. The relationship itself isn’t particularly inspiring, but it’s a cute little game, and I like what the developer tried to do.

You should play this if… you enjoy manipulating the relationships of others, and feel like it might be better not to do it with real people. Or, if you like pretending you’re on Grand Designs and creating mansions that you will never be able to afford. Plus there are always the pets expansions – they’re always the best ones. On that note… when is The Sims 4 going to get a pets expansion?!

 

MARVEL: Avengers Academy

Released: February 2016
Played: Ongoing

I’ve been playing this fairly consistently for more than a year now, mostly ‘cause it’s a fun way to kill time and learn a little more about Marvel’s comic heroes. This one’s on the list because of the inclusion of Union Jack (a gay man), whose sexuality is openly acknowledged in the app, so yay! There are also a few lesser-known heroes that feature fairly prominently, but some of the more well-known ones are hidden behind pay-walls. They do pop up every so often though, even if you don’t recruit them, so there’s that?

You should play this if… you’re particularly interested in Marvel heroes, and you like the sound of building a little academy for them to interact in. It’s a good one to play in short bursts. Mostly the game itself just involves sending heroes on missions, reading their dialogue about those missions, then waiting for them to return to collect the loot. There’s mild strategy involved in deciding who to send out when, however, and there are frequently in-game themed events that shake up how the gameplay works! It’s enough to keep me entertained, anyway.

 

Miitomo

Released: March 2016
Played: March 2016 (then reopened in February 2017)

Miitomo was such a fleeting thing. I played it when it first came out, and haven’t touched it since about a month after that. I won’t deny that it was fun answering silly questions and seeing my friends’ responses, plus my Mii was damn stylish for awhile there. The customisation was a good way to explore identity and find “the” look that you wanted to use to represent you to all of your friends. I opened the game to take this screenshot of my Mii, who is accompanied by her laptop and some random fire that she is apparently too gangster to be surprised by. For some reason, that’s how I want to represent myself. My wardrobe is almost entirely blue, so I guess there’s that little bit of accuracy there.

You should play this if… you just want to play around with a look for your Mii, and take silly screenshots of that Mii. They’ve also apparently added a feature that allows you to customise your in-game room, so that might be fun for awhile. Sadly, I don’t think you’d get the same amount of joy out of it that I did when it was first released, because nobody’s really playing it anymore. But if you can find joy in it, go for it. It’s a cute little game.

 

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

Released: July 2003
Played: Late 2016

I kind of wish I’d played KotOR back when it came out, before I played Mass Effect. It was great, but I did unfortunately spend a lot of the time thinking about how similar some of the locations looked to those in ME. It was cool having the Star Wars elements there and learning a little about the SW universe that I had no idea about before, but it was a little bit of a slog. Not by any means a bad game, just not my favourite. Had I played it ten years ago, I think my response would have been different.

You should play this if… you’re a Star Wars fan, or a BioWare fan wanting to go back and check out a title from the old vault. Or if you want to see the first canonical lesbian from the Star Wars universe, Juhani – she’s a fairly interesting character. She’s romanceable by a female player-character, but it’s a bit of a finicky one to unlock (partly due to some known glitches). Luckily, if you’re particularly keen to make it work, there are always guides!

 

Silent Hill

Released: January 1999
Played: January 2017

So, this is on the list because people think Cybil is a lesbian. Hey, she might be, who am I to know? I haven’t asked. Mostly what I felt when playing this was concern for the main character Harry’s state of mind. I know that’s one of Silent Hill’s themes, but when someone is surrounded by walls covered in blood, a floor with blood spatters and some random bodies hanging from the ceiling and their response upon examining the blood-stained newspaper in front of them is ‘nothing of interest here’… I have a lot of concerns.

You should play this if… you’re a brave soul and/or you just like survival horror games. Or, let’s be real, if you like fairly terrible voice acting, because it’s not great. This game is pretty old now, so the scares are less scary, but it’s still pretty tense and there’s some gore in it. I only got through it by playing in a room full of people, but I’m weak. If you have any small amount of courage, you’ll probably be fine. Again, not overt queerness here, but whether or not she’s a lesbian, Cybil is pretty cool?

 

Lux-Pain

Released: March 2008
Played: December 2016

This was a bit of a strange one. It wasn’t until about halfway through that I even realised there was a romance mechanic, because it’s clearly not the focus of this whole thing. This is actually a game about seeing the spirits of people and using them to… solve crimes? Solve a mystery? But maybe the spirits are memories? It’s all a little confusing. Fun, but confusing. The mechanics aren’t particularly well explained, which doesn’t help, but the characters are colourful and there are some interesting undertones.

You should play this if… you don’t mind wading through some confusing mechanics to get through a slightly weird story. Okay, very weird. But there’s some unique elements here if you’re particularly keen on the subject matter (maybe do a bit of external research), otherwise you could probably give it a miss. It does drag a little. There are some queer ~vibes going on between some of the characters, but nothing in this game was clear enough for me to work out what the actual relationships were supposed to be.

 

Ninja Pizza Girl

Released: September 2015
Played: October 2015

Including this one is really cheating, but I reviewed it upon its release. It’s a great serious game (especially for teens to play) but runners and I are not friends so I was too scared to go back and play it again, even for the purposes of this article. Don’t take that as a bad sign – I’d absolutely recommend it if you’re a more patient person than I am, and I think everyone should play it at least once.

You should play this if… you are (or have) a teen who may or may not be struggling with mental health issues, or who knows someone who is. This one really nails the themes of bullying (which can be super relevant to members of the queer community) so I wish everyone would give it a go. It might make us all into nicer people.

 

Demi Lovato: Path to Fame

Released: Ongoing
Played: October 2016

I owned up to playing this in front of a room full of people at PAX last year. It was an embarrassing time. But you know what? I played through all three seasons of this. My career could have been better, I was terrible to my family and I almost cheated on my fiancee with a French woman who looked freakishly like my character, but I regret nothing. It’s not the greatest representation, but it’s a bit of fun, and a good way to kill some time. The soundtrack is almost entirely Demi Lovato songs though, so… I hope you like them?

You should play this if… you have no sense of shame and/or don’t plan to announce your deep dark secrets in front of a group of people that you want to respect you. Or just if you like Demi Lovato or her music and you want to play through a fun light-hearted ~journey to fame.

 

Choices: Stories You Play

Released: Ongoing
Played: Late 2016 – Present

Choices is actually a collection of stories, most (but not all) of which have optional queer love stories embedded in them. There are several genres to choose from, and some of the stories even include puzzle elements like solving riddles or remembering pieces of important information. From the moment I started playing (reading?) Choices stories I’ve been hooked, and I can’t objectively tell you whether or not they’re great because I’m too in love with half the characters. Okay, mostly Kaitlyn (pictured). She has a really sweet (and very realistically done) coming-out story, and even if you don’t choose to date her (there are two guys to choose from too) it’s a nice story to experience.

You should play this if… you want to kill some time with some fun little interactive novels filled with likable characters and over-dramatic but engaging plots. They’re not literary masterpieces, but they do make me smile. It was nice to feel like the queer options weren’t just shoehorned in, too – they’re fully developed paths. You could also just play this because Kaitlyn’s cute, I won’t judge you.

 

Quantum Break

Released: April 2016
Played: December 2016 – January 2017

I came across the queer content in Quantum Break accidentally, before it was included in the database. It’s just one comment in one document that many players might not even see, but it was still a nice touch. A positive response to a same-sex relationship without it being a big deal?Groundbreaking. The game is also gorgeous and a whole lot of thought has clearly been put into the narrative, so I’d probably recommend it even without that little detail.

You should play this if… you just want to play a fun AAA title with innovative time-manipulation mechanics. Don’t be in it just for the queer content. It does have a great story though, and it is absolutely gorgeous, so give it a try. Oh, and if you do – I really suggest you try to read all the in-game documents. There’s a movie script in there that could really be the next blockbuster hit.

 

Undertale

Released: September 2015
Played: January 2016

Honestly, I finally played Undertale because I was sick of everyone assuming I already had. It didn’t take long to work out why. It’s hard to talk about it without spoiling some of the things that make it great, but I can say that never have I felt so unsure of what was coming next as I did while I was playing this game. The mechanics are so unique that I found myself completely oblivious to how I’d have to approach the next battle, because everything was ever-changing. I was in a world of the unknown, and I kind of loved it. I say kind of, because sometimes the fact that things are a little wacky and unnatural makes them into nightmare fuel, and at times this does nearly cross that line. Nearly.

You should play this if… you have enough patience to make it through a dynamic but frustrating experience. Undertale’s combat is ground-breaking in a lot of ways, and most of the time it’s a ton of fun – but it isn’t easy. The game was enjoyable enough that it made me want to persist through those more frantic tests, but if you want to make it to the end then you’re going to need to be constantly adapting. Having said that, the diverse and bold cast of characters is more than worth the trouble, and the challenges never feel insurmountable. It’s about getting a little better every time you try.

 

 Firewatch

Released: February 2016
Played: February – March 2016

I wrote about Firewatch back when it first came out, and you can read the full review here. Spoilers: I loved it. This is another one that doesn’t have the queer content at the forefront, but there are so many other things going for the game that it didn’t matter to me. There’s still a love story of sorts here which is perfectly told by amazing voice actors, but that’s only one of the reasons I’ve been recommending Firewatch to everyone for the last year.

You should play this if… you like games. Or stories. Or games with great stories. Or just great dialogue. Or… okay, no, I’m sorry, I want to force this game on everyone. I will say that it’s not one for those who can’t handle a bit of a slow pace – this game is full of tension, but it isn’t really action packed.

 

Always Sometimes Monsters

Released: May 2014
Played: January 2016

I actually started ASM back in 2014 when it was first released, so really, getting to the end has been a journey of its own – and damn, what a journey. I went through the full spectrum of emotions with this game as I laughed, cried, related and then had a standard existential crisis, which I can only assume is what the devs were hoping to achieve. There’s enough customisation in this that I really felt connected to the character I chose, and to my significant other (whose gender the game allowed me to select). Filled with clever dialogue, difficult choices (with real consequences), and crushing hopelessness mixed with some cautious optimism, this is definitely one that I’d recommend. I can’t say I’ve ever played anything like it.

You should play this if… you’re looking to play an RPG with a twist. At its heart, Always Sometimes Monsters feels like a love story, and it’s a love story that allows you to be queer – it even includes some nice little touches that make that experience feel realistic. A bit of a trigger warning, there are some homophobic comments made by NPCs that some might find upsetting, and the game can get quite bleak at times, so maybe proceed with caution.