The games industry has not always been good at portraying LGBTQ+ relationships and identities, but thanks to the efforts of small studios, indie developers, and LGBTQ+ creators, that’s beginning to change. Not only do we have enough games with strong LGBTQ+ themes on the Nintendo Switch that we can actually make a list, but all of these games are exceptionally good. We’re spoiled for choice!
But what exactly constitutes an “LGBTQ+ game”, anyway? It’s more than just a game that has some representation in it — it’s a game that’s proudly representative, that wears its queerness on its sleeve.
For example, we’re not counting games like Overwatch, which has LGBTQ+ representation in characters like Tracer and Soldier 76, but who were both confirmed to be gay in material outside of the game, and we’re not including Miitopia, Harvest Moon, and Story of Seasons, because even though they let players marry characters of the same gender, they call it “best friends” — which is pretty dismissive in 2021.
Some of the games we’ve included, like Undertale, are also “queer” in the sense that they prioritise community, non-violence, intimacy and tenderness over conflict and inflicting pain on others, or in their presentation, aesthetics, and fashion. These games also include explicit LGBTQ+ representation, but we wanted to look at queerness from multiple angles, too.
However, please be aware that, for many of these games, their LGBTQ+ content is a plot point, and so there are a lot of spoilers in here. Happy spoilers, but spoilers nonetheless!
Although Night in the Woods‘ plot is predominantly about the mysterious goings-on in Possum Springs, and protagonist Mae Borowski’s own personal demons, the actual day-to-day of the game involves Mae and her friends being gay and doing crimes. No, literally — that’s their catchphrase: “Be gay, do crimes”. With a portrayal of a loving gay relationship between Gregg and Angus, plus Mae’s own pansexuality, Night in the Woods paints a picture of a group of friends who aren’t afraid to be their most authentic selves.
Publisher: Humble Games / Developer: Happy Ray Games
Imagine a game like Harry Potter, but set in a world that’s both welcoming and proud of its trans, pansexual, non-binary, gay and queer characters, and you’ve got Ikenfell, a Chrono Trigger-style RPG about saving the world from magic gone wrong.
The teens at Ikenfell’s wizarding school range from “discovering their sexuality” to being out-and-out flirts, which is a refreshing take on the “all teens are nervous about kissing” trope. It’s also one of the only games we’ve ever played to feature neo-pronouns, with one of the teachers using xe/xir.
Undertale‘s most overt LGBTQ+ reference is the “best ending”, which — spoilers — involves the absolutely WONDERFUL lesbian relationship between Alphys and Undyne, which you can easily miss unless you’re doing a pacifist run.
Various other low-key queer representations abound, from Mettatron’s gender presentation to the main character’s use of they/them pronouns, and on top of all of that is the game’s “queerness” in the way it presents non-traditional alternatives to the machismo and conflict that video games are normally centred around. It is both textually, and thematically, queer — and that’s one of the reasons it’s so dang popular.
Publisher: Matt Makes Games / Developer: Matt Makes Games
Celeste is a brilliant, punishingly-hard platformer by many of the folks who worked on Towerfall. Its story is mostly concerned with protagonist Madeline’s mental health struggles as she attempts to climb a mountain, despite her self-doubt.
Not only does the team that worked on it represent many of the letters in the LGBTQ+ acronym, but Maddy Thorson — the game’s director and designer, who is non-binary — confirmed that Madeline herself is trans. In fact, it was the making of Celeste that helped Maddy come to terms with their own gender feelings!
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Publisher: ConcernedApe / Developer: ConcernedApe
The Story of Seasons games and Harvest Moon games have historically been more than a little bad at representing same-sex relationships. Many of them will let you have same-sex marriages, but the fact that these are known as “best friend ceremonies” in Japan gives you an idea of just how progressive this really is.
Stardew Valley, a game heavily inspired by Harvest Moons of the past, is less shy about its LGBTQ+ representation.
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive / Developer: Annapurna Interactive
Gone Home is one of the first narrative games that is told almost entirely by found objects, as Katie Greenbriar returns home to her family’s empty house. By walking around and finding various diary entries, cassette tapes, and pieces of paper, Katie can put together what happened: her sister, Sam, fell in love with another woman, and after being rejected by her family, decided to run away with her.
While we never get more information than that, and Sam’s story is never expanded upon, it’s presented as a happy ending to a game that’s filled with worry and fear about why the house is deserted.
Publisher: Plug In Digital / Developer: Plug In Digital
What would you do if you found a locked phone belonging to a stranger? If the answer is “I’d go through all the texts and emails, but I’d feel REALLY bad about it,” then perhaps you can indulge your curiosity harmlessly with A Normal Lost Phone.
You find the phone of Sam, a teenager whose life you slowly unwrap as you go through their correspondence with friends and family. Eventually, it will become clear why Sam has abandoned the phone: to start a new life away from their homophobic and transphobic family, and live authentically.
The House in Fata Morgana begins in an abandoned house, as you — an amnesiac mystery person — explore the memories of the mansion. Travelling through time, you watch stories of abuse, grief, heartbreak, murder, and at the centre of it all, a witch’s curse — but eventually you’ll come to the truth of the whole thing. Fata Morgana is a tragic story of rejection, othering, and discovering one’s true identity, even if it means losing everything else.
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