This year was huge for inclusion in gaming. Yes, we got our standard white guys. But we also got trans characters, queer characters, characters of colour, disabled characters and characters with mental illness. Diversity is always a tough topic in gaming circles, but, when it does happen, we should celebrate and hold it up as a positive example!
Alternative heading to this article: The top ten games this year that featured someone other than a white, cisgendered, heterosexual, 20-40 something year old, grizzled man with stubble, a flask of whiskey and a tragic backstory relating to a child/wife/car/mother/dog. (Cigarettes optional).
Looking for a definitive list on diversity, representation and inclusion? Look no further. I’ve got my top ten for you right here, as well as some honourable mentions. Let’s launch right into it.
# 10 – NieR: Automata
What is it?: It’s hard to find anyone who HASN’T heard of NieR: Automata at this point. NieR is set in a dystopian future where androids called 2B, 9S and A2 fight to take down powerful machines and take back their world.
It was released in March this year from developer Platinum Games and publisher Square Enix.
Inclusion: Lesbian Robots. Female lead character (for a bit). A race of until recently, entirely female robots. Gender weird robots?
Why I love it: I’m always a sucker for cute robots. I’m even more of a sucker for an entire colony of robots that are pretty much all lesbians. It’s hard to walk far in the main bunker in NieR without bumping into some lesbian romance blossoming, or romance already well established. Even your operator, Operator 6O, has a bit of a cry over her lesbian love rejecting her.
Plus the robots were all female until recently. I’m not even sure these robots understand the concept of gender? Either way, I’m counting it as a win for gender weird robots.
Bonus points: NieR also has an extremely player inclusive fighting system. You can engage in combat as much or as little as you want, and customise what you do and don’t want to do. Turn auto aim on, or auto shoot, or auto dodge and play your way. This is great and engaging for a much wider audience than if the combat was mandatory.
# 9 – Assassin’s Creed: Origins
What is it?: More of Assassin’s Creed, naturally. This time it’s set in Egypt in 48BC, and goes into the origins (hence the name) of the conflict between the Brotherhood of Assassins and the Templar Order.
The main playable character is Bayek, as well as his wife Aya who you play for boat combat. You’ll play as these two as they work to protect the people of the Ptolemaic Kingdom.
It came out October this year, from Ubisoft.
Inclusion: Lead character is a man of colour, with a playable wife who is a woman of colour.
Why I love it: It’s nearly impossible to find any male people of colour in games that aren’t there as either cannon fodder, the ‘mystical voodoo’ enemy, in jail/on the run from police, or straight up ‘savages’. And yes, I am looking at you Resident Evil 5.
Having this husband wife duo who are both fleshed out characters that aren’t white was really refreshing. For such a high profile game series this is well past due, and very, very welcomed. Super glad Assassin’s Creed (even if I don’t love the series as a whole) took these steps forward.
Bonus points: A lot of media outlets represent Egyptian people as white. it’s a weird thing that seems to happen time and time again. Thank god they didn’t do that here and stuck to historical accuracy. Do these people even know where Egypt is?
The game is available for Xbox One, PS4 and PC and can be picked up from the offical website.
# 8 – Ticket to Earth
What is it?: This sci-fi battle/puzzle/RPG came out in March and still has episodes coming. Four main characters are thrown into a world of turmoil, mutants and a corrupt government.
It’s from an 8 person dev studio called Robot Circus in Melbourne, Australia.
Inclusion: Lead character is a woman of colour, and a lesbian.
Why I love it: Rose, a woman of colour, is a lead character for starters. But going further, she’s in an established, lesbian relationship with Xen, a tech wiz. This pairing is the emotional focus of the story.
All this is packaged in hybrid gameplay between battlefield tactics, puzzles and RPGs. With a gorgeous art style and beautiful writing, these two characters really come to life. It’s so good to see well fleshed out female characters in love.
The game is currently available on PC and iOS and coming to Android eventually.
# 7 – Prey
What is it?: A standard sci-fi story. Humanity is doomed, someone tries some spooky science to save it and naturally, it all goes to shit. Fight aliens, hide from that coffee cup which might actually be an alien and uncover the truth about yourself.
Prey came out in May, developed by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks.
Inclusion: Player character of Morgan Yu is of Chinese/German decent canonically. Female Morgan Yu is queer.
Why I loved it: It’s frustratingly rare to ever get to play as Asian characters that…well, actually look Asian. Mostly people get made to look Caucasian with an Asian accent (whatever that means) and that absolutely does not happen with Morgan Yu.
The game overall is actually pretty diverse on skin colours, backgrounds, and names. The only trouble is…you don’t really see a lot of these people throughout.
Which is a bit disappointing, but understandable with all those aliens running around.
Prey was a pretty big name game. And I was surprised and delighted when I found that if you play as a female Morgan, she is canonically queer and had relations formerly with Chief Engineer Mikhaila Ilyushin. Male Morgan has the same relationship, it’s just nice they didn’t change that based on gender.
The game is available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One and can be found on the official website.
# 6 – Night in the Woods
What is it?: It’s the story of a college dropout trying to return home to an aimless life of before college. But things are never that easy.
Night In the Woods came out in February this year developed by Infinite Fall.
Inclusion: Bisexual protagonist, confirmed gay characters.
Why I loved it: Dark humour, queer protagonist and teenage/early adult angst. Night in The Woods goes into a lot of the stresses and anxieties that are felt by my generation (primarily) and it’s nice to see.
To a younger generation the narrative tropes of ‘Oh no! My nice house got broken into and my life plans are slightly disrupted‘ or ‘I had such a good life before all this‘ are such a disconnect that it was nice to have a game like Night in the Woods that just felt more real.
Not to mention queer characters that are nicely written.
The game is available on PC, PS4 and iOS. Check out the official website.
# 5 – Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
What is it?: Hellblade is a journey. A female Celtic warrior called Senua is on the quest to bring her dead lover’s soul back to the world of the living. Visions and voices haunt her as she journeys through a beautiful viking setting.
Hellblade came out in August this year from Ninja Theory.
Inclusion: Properly handled character with psychosis, female lead, Celtic/Viking roots and mythology.
Why I loved it: It’s really hard to sum up why I loved this game succinctly. Accurate portrayal of mental illness in a non-judgemental light and the mental health adviser being the first person in the credits.
The team talked to actual people with psychosis, as well as neuroscientists. This was the first time anything like this had been made, and made so well.
Also the game has proper Celtic and Viking mythology with clear love and research and a female Celtic warrior. Well researched and accurate Viking and Celtic mythology is so rare in games that I nearly cried to see it done so well.
Bonus points: Hellblade actually had me rooting for a heterosexual couple to be able to be reunited once more. Do you know how rare that is?
Check it out on PS4 or PC. Also, check out Jen’s article on how this game affected her mental health.
# 4 – Life is Strange: Before the Storm
What is it?: A prequel for the well loved game Life Is Strange. This follows Chloe Price and her friendship turned romance with Rachel Amber before she went missing. It also covers Chloe reacting to her dad’s death.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm released at the end of August by Deck Nine.
Inclusion: Lesbian love story.
Why I loved it: It’s so much less ambigious than the first game. The first one was a bit about ‘yeah, they might be queer or REALLY close friends.’
Before the Storm makes it a central plot that Chloe is in love with Rachel – but only if you choose that route at the end of the first episode.
A major, well loved game going super gay in its sequel/prequel? Thank you gay gods!
Anti Bonus points: There’s a bit of a sad lesbian trope persistent throughout this series. But there’s a realness to this story and a plot that isn’t often explored. How many big name queer protagonists can you actually think of?
The game is available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Check out the website.
# 3 – A Normal Lost Phone
What is it?: A Normal Lost Phone is based on the idea that instead of handing in a lost phone, or calling someone on the phone, you as a rational person start snooping to find the person.
It came out in January this year from the developers Accidental Queens.
Inclusion: Transgender women, bisexuality, the coming out process.
Why I loved it: The only reason this isn’t further down the list is because the game does feel weirdly voyeuristic.
I loved it, don’t get me wrong, but snooping through a queer person’s phone is a reality far too common for young queers.
It wasn’t written by trans people, but it was made in collaboration with trans people. But without going too deep into the spoilers, a prominent character in this phone’s history is going through a transition and coming out to their family.
The journey within goes through a lot of intimate details which is both fascinating, but a bit unnerving.
It was beautifully written, and is a perfect phone game as well. It’s a bit hit and miss with reviewers, so try it out for yourself.
Check it out on Steam.
# 2 – Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator
Many of you may have thought this was going to be number one, especially those who have read my earlier article on it. No, as much as I love Dream Daddy, it’s only taking number 2 here.
What is it?: Dream Daddy is an incredibly sweet dating simulator where you try to date other dads in your neighbourhood. It’s not perverted, it’s not making fun of queers. It’s gentle, sweet, lighthearted, and more dad puns than you can shake a stick at.
It came out in July from the Game Grumps.
Inclusion: Trans character, trans playable character, men of colour characters, fat playable character, gay characters, bi/pan characters, good dads, gender divergent characters.
Why I loved it: TRANS DAD TRANS DAD TRANS DAD – sorry.
I mean, you get to date a trans dad if you want. There’s a trans character in a game everyone! And he doesn’t die horrifically, or get beat up for being trans, or have his whole character revolve only around being trans.
Also, you get to play a trans dad. Trans and queer dads with so much beautiful tiny details. If you want more info, absolutely look into my take on Dream Daddy from a trans mans perspective, linked above.
Check it out on Steam.
# 1 – Dishonered: Death of the Outsider
How could it not be Death of the Outsider as number one?
What is it?: Head back to the world of the first two Dishonored games and take on the role of Billie Lurk- Aka, Megan Foster. Meet up with Daud again for the biggest assassination attempt yet- Kill the Outsider.
It came out in September, from Arkane Studios.
Inclusion: Megan is a woman of colour protagonist, who is missing an arm, and an eye, but still kicks an incredible amount of ass. Also, canonically bisexual.
No really, they properly stated it in an audio log in Dishonored 2-
“I’ve loved a number of women and even a couple of men, but I’ve never loved anyone like my Deirdre. After I left home, those first years on the streets, she’s all that kept me from the bottom of the river. I could sleep on a pile of garbage under a leaky awning as long as she was with me, sharing a tin of potted meat or a bottle of brandy that we nicked during the day.”
How sweet is that!
Why I loved it: LOOK at how beautiful that is to see on a cover! Megan was my favourite character in Dishonored 2 and she got her own spin off game?? Where she gets amazing void disability aids?
My favourite bisexual in the whole series, who’s talked openly about being bisexual?
Christmas came early for me. If you were trying to tailor make a character for me, you’d just have to make her trans and you’d have ticked all my boxes.
I’m so, so happy this got made. I hope to see a lot more queer women of colour on my box art.
Bonus points: Dishonored took itself from the grizzled dude with a tragic backstory, to a harden woman with a tragic backstory, to this.
Holy hell, this is some character development, but for a series.
The game is available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One and can be found here.
I’m just going to list these real quick with the reasons why!
- Uncharted: The Lost Legacy for putting 2 badass women of diverse backgrounds in the prime positions.
- Destiny 2 with Devrim Kay, the first canon gay character in Destiny.
- Hollow Knight with ‘The Knight’, for a gender neutral main character who uses they/them pronouns.
- Agents of Mayhem with Hollywood, who is a queer man.
- Pyre, for the inclusion of gender neutral pronouns- though in game characters may misgender you with he or she, so it’s a little too close to home there.
- Miss Fischer and the Deathly Maze, for canonical happy, not dead lesbian characters.
It’s been an amazing year for diversity. If you’d told me five years ago that Dishonored would feature a bisexual woman of colour with only one arm (with a cool void arm replacement) as their main playable character, I would not have believed you. It just wasn’t possible at the time.
The industry is making leaps and bounds to more inclusive stories and settings, and I can’t wait to see what next year will bring.