5+: LGBTQ Characters in Video Games

Well, I promised that this list would come and here it finally is.  Making a full list was certainly more challenging than I expected.  Not only is sexual diversity few and far between, but actual positive role models are even harder to find.  Many appear as either simple villains (see: Flea from Chrono Trigger) or are used as a one-note joke (see: Birdo from the Super Mario series).  For this list, I wanted to highlight characters that carry inspiring stories with them.  Granted, a straight guy like me probably isn’t the best judge for this topic, but that’s why this series has always been open to constructive criticism.  If you feel that there were any major omissions or if you disagree with any inclusions.

Axton (Borderlands 2)

Originally, Axton was going to be just another straight white male to headline the cast of playable characters of Borderlands 2 as the accessible Commando class.  That changed when the developers had difficulty making his flirtatious quips during combat only trigger in reaction to female characters.  Rather than further pursue this, they decided that the character worked better as bisexual and made it canon.  It may seem like a small change, but it’s still a progressive move.  Plus, how many games not only have an LGBTQ character as one of the playable leads, not including customizable characters, but also don’t make a big deal out of it?

Bill (The Last of Us)

Subtly goes a long way. When you first meet Bill, you wouldn’t necessarily guess that he is gay. He’s rough, gruff, and the idea of pissing him off more than he is by default is scarier than the ravenous clickers roaming the wild. However, when your group finds the body of his missing partner, his reaction makes it abundantly clear that their relationship was more than just an alliance of convenience. It is easily one of the most somber moments in a game laden with tragedy… Which really makes it a shame that Naughty Dog decided to throw all subtly out the window in the very next scene with Ellie looking through a pin-up magazine of men that she swiped from Bill’s stash on the way out. It goes from a subdued yet impactful scene to someone screaming “DID YOU CATCH THAT? BILL IS GAY!” Still, the parting moments with Bill are some of the most engaging I’ve seen in a game in a long time.

Luis Fernando Lopez and Hercules “Gay” Tony Prince (Grand Theft Auto 4: The Ballad of Gay Tony)

Someone who goes by the nickname “Gay Tony” probably doesn’t require too much explanation, but my inclusion of Luis Lopez probably has a lot of you confused. Luis is clearly heterosexual and I’m not about to call that into question. While Luis himself isn’t homo/bisexual, his relationship with Tony carries a valuable LGBTQ narrative. Despite having the flamboyant Tony as his best friend, business partner, and father-figure and working as a bouncer at one of Tony’s gay nightclubs, Luis shows a clear discomfort with being associated with homosexuality. He repeatedly states that he doesn’t “dance with dudes”. He even says this when Ray Bulgarin, another straight man, offers him a chance to join in on his jam session. It’s just a few guys goofing off in private, but Luis still feels the need to enforce his heterosexuality. Again, I don’t doubt that he is straight, but he still displays social pressures on him to enforce his heterosexuality anyway.

Leliana (Dragon Age series)

‘Devoutly religious’ and ‘openly gay’ aren’t things you usually hear of going together.  Given most homophobia seeks religious justification, people who do fall into both categories can only be open about one or the other.  Then there’s Leliana from the Dragon Age series.  Most of the supporting characters in the series are made bisexual in the interest of making them romance options for all players, Leliana’s love of women is integral to much of her personal story.  Just as important to her character is her religious belief, but these matters never come into conflict with each other.  Dragon Age is a world of fantasy that reality could learn from.

Kanji Tatsumi (Persona 4)

We’ve discussed the fascinating psychological explorations of Persona 4 a few times here and one of the game’s most intriguing characters is local punk Kanji Tatsumi. We’re first introduced to him through a newscast about how he single-handedly clobbered an entire biker gang with his bare hands. He seems like the kind of guy who could come face-to-face with shadows haunting the Midnight Channel and make them run home to mama. However, things take a turn for the unexpected when he is whisked away to the Midnight Channel and his nightmare turns out to be a steamy bathhouse with his shadow-self speaking thinly-veiled innuendos with an effeminate tone. It turns out that Kanji is a closet homosexual and his delinquency is the result of him trying to cover up his true feelings through excessive masculinity. Even when he does accept his true nature, it is only the beginning of his character arc as he continues to sort through his issues throughout the course of the game.

What characters are missing from this list?  Leave a comment below and you may see it featured on a follow-up article.  Speaking of, I have an important, if sad, announcement to make.  I’ll be graduating soon and my days with NextLevel Gaming are numbered.  I won’t be gone immediately and I hope to get a few more articles out before I move, but I want to thank everyone who enjoyed my work here.  Here’s to whatever we have left and looking forward to the future.

Nick Connor

I'm an English major and History minor at UW-Parkside. I'm a big fan of Mega Man, Deus Ex, Okami, Civilization, Kingdom Hearts, and Team Fortress 2.

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One thought on “5+: LGBTQ Characters in Video Games

  1. Kanji Tatsumi (Persona 4)

    Not actually gay. I liked what you said in the antagonists article, “They take the secrets that people hide even from themselves and exaggerate them.” This was the part of the story where Naoto was interrogating Kanji right before Kanji became the next victim to the midnight channel. The gay shadow-self portrayed Kanji’s confusing attraction to Naoto, who everyone on the investigation team thought was a male at that point of the story, and exaggerated them along with his hobbies (sewing as his mother ran a Textile shop). ‘When confronted on top of the “men’s only” Steamy Bathhouse, the Shadow outright said its preference was for a male partner, saying it hated women because it felt that women tend to gossip, spread rumors and lies and ridicule him because of his sewing hobbies.’ Throughout the story, the main characters joke about Kanji’s sexuality several times.

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