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Many of us started playing video games during the crucially formative years of our lives—the time when we learn a lot about ourselves, our interests, our personalities, and our gender and sexual identities. Just like how the movies and television shows we watched may have helped influence our preferences (Megan Fox in Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen’s Holiday in The Sun movie was more interesting to me than any of the boys), so too did some of the video games we enjoyed in our youth.
Maybe you found yourself lingering a bit longer than normal on Cortana in Halo 2 scenes, or agonized over who to romance in a Dragon Age game. Perhaps a specific character’s gender expression helped you understand more about yourself. Whoever they are, and whatever the reason, these characters opened our eyes to greener, gayer pastures.
We know about gay video game characters, like Ellie in The Last of Us, and several people in the Life is Strange franchise, but what about video game characters that made you gay? Let’s take a look.
Whenever I went to my cousin’s house for holidays, we’d play Fuzion Frenzy, Xbox’s very aughts version of Mario Party. The game (whose soundtrack is still inexplicably burned into my brain) featured several playable characters, and I’d always fight tooth-and-nail to ensure I got one of the three girls: Jet, Naomi, or Geena.
At first, I thought it was because I wanted to feel represented while playing an assortment of minigames set in the near future where “the city is a battleground where you compete against your friends.” But eventually, I realized it was because I had crushes on them—and now in my thirties, I know that they each represented my “type” of woman.
Geena’s white cropped tank top, baggy blue pants, and more butch attitude reminds me of all the New York girls I’ve fallen for. Naomi’s flirtatiousness and matching set is the woman I’d let cut me in line at the bathroom at Elsewhere. And Jet’s fuchsia catsuit and devil-may-care attitude is the girl whose roller derby games I diligently attended.
Realizing I was gay thanks to Mass Effect was a process of elimination. The original game, stuck in its very heteronormative ways that BioWare tried to justify, only had two love interests for male Commander Shepard. Ashley Williams, the space racist whomst loved the lord, and Liara, the naive and perhaps obsessive scientist. I played that first game so many times before Mass Effect 2 launched, and as I sorted through what my canon playthrough would be to transfer to the next game, and while I did the space war crimes and the politicking, deciding who my Shepard’s love interest would be was a separate issue.
Eventually, when you realize you are not interested in the ladies in the room, your brain does the Scott Pilgrim vs. The World gag of switching a flip in your brain and getting it. Then, I started looking at Kaidan Alenko, and while my Shepard and Kaidan wouldn’t be allowed to enter a romantic relationship until Mass Effect 3, you bet your ass I played every moment of the first two games with that framing in mind.
My Shepard was a hardened renegade with a soft spot for the soft-spoken, sensitive soul of the Normandy, who is also ripped and has a tragic, tortured backstory but overcame it. I love an “I can fix him” story, but it’s nice to have a guy who fixed himself. Now I’m the problem in the relationship, and I think that’s beautiful. — Kenneth Shepard, staff writer
For Sikh media and games critic Veerender Singh Jubbal, Resident Evil’s Chris Redfield was something of an awakening.
“Chris Redfield in Resident Evil 5 allowed me to understand my bisexuality moreso. His design was so different than previous iterations, and that large muscle-bound hunk was something I was attracted to. I loved the game series already, but that design was something I remember talking about to classmates…saying ‘Yeah—he has huge muscles in that trailer,’ [with] enthusiasm as something I was looking forward to,” Veerender wrote in a Twitter DM.
“As a young brown Sikh kid I already saw the many issues with the game in racial lenses as I was aware of xenophobia/racism…but it was the initial point to help me make me realize my queerness alongside the Yu-Gi-Oh! series—whole other topic.”
So the first game where I explored the option of romancing the same sex was Fallout 2, you can get married and explore the wasteland with your beau. She’s not all that useful, to be honest, and has never been the companion I’ve picked on replays. Yet at the time, as an impressionable teenager, it was mind-blowing, right? To be honest, though, I didn’t make a ton of it at the time. It was more, oh, this seems like some good mischief, let’s see where it takes me, let’s see how long I can keep her alive, even. It wasn’t charged.
It wasn’t until Dragon Age, which I played as an adult, that the romance choices in games started signifying something different to me. Morrigan, the mysterious witch who joins your party early on, almost feels like a fake romance choice. She’s designed to grab your attention, there’s a recent (unfortunate) quote by one of the DA writers that really lays bare how much she’s meant to be the sex appeal option. There’s one in every game, really, Mass Effect had Miranda. But the way Morrigan is written, the coyness at her center, made me feel like I was getting away with something. Playing as a man probably contributed to that feeling, because IRL what I was doing was gay as hell but in the game, it was extremely straight. I’m sure it helped that the game forces you to choose between love interests, if you’re leading them both on, something that only enhances the drama.
Mostly I appreciated that Morrigan is written in a way that makes it obvious she knows you’re looking, as it turns out, by the end you find out she was making sure of it the entire time. When the betrayal comes, it was weirdly satisfying: yes, I didn’t get what I wanted, but Morrigan having it her way was true to her character. And what’s gayer than yearning and tragedy, really? — Patricia Hernandez, editor-in-chief
Video game characters can also help us realize more about our gender identity and expression. Rikka, the editor-in-chief at 9to5Toys, found herself in Overwatch’s resident gamer girl, D.Va.
“Back when Overwatch came out I was obsessed with playing as D.Va. After the first hundred hours of playing as exclusively her it became very clear that it wasn’t just that I thought the cute mecha pilot was cool, but that I was getting a little too much euphoria out of instalocking her every game. I came out to myself maybe six months after the game released and she was definitely one of those final pieces of the puzzle to make that happen,” she wrote via Twitter DM.
“In Banjo-Kazooie when Gruntilda becomes a baddie that shit fucked with me on a molecular level,” Stefanie, a UX designer, said on Twitter. She’s referring to the witchy character’s transformation from crone to total hottie after she steals Tooty Kazooie’s beauty. And she wasn’t the only one who felt this way, as multiple people took to the replies to agree, calling the yassified version of the witch “mother.”
Is it surprising that the late ‘90s version of a hottie had an impossible boobs-to-waist ratio? No. Is it hot? Yes.
Jack from Mass Effect is a character who sets off the common queer internal struggle of: Do I want to date this person or be them or both? With her shaved head, full-body tats, and semi-terrifying attitude, she is very much a queer icon in every sense of the word. As freelance editor Carli Velocci says, it’s “a real shame” that Mass Effect 2 won’t let you romance the buzz cut babe.
Unfortunately, Jack was meant to be pansexual but was changed late in the sequel’s development, as confirmed last year by former BioWare writer Brian Kindregan. “It was actually very late [in development] that [Jack’s romance] became a male/female-only romance,” Kindregan, who was the main writer on Jack’s story, explained. “She was essentially pansexual for most of the development of that romance.”
It’s so damn obvious that Jack was written to be into everyone that it’s even more frustrating we couldn’t have space sex.
While Cloud Strife may seem like an obvious and safe option, Final Fantasy VII’s melancholic super bully Sephiroth took my heart in unexpectedly warm ways. He’s brutal yet poetic, gentle yet menacing, soft yet terrifying—all while haunting you with his immortal existence. Sephiroth is sexy scary, the type of guy to recite nihilist philosophy to you before pinning you to a wall to have his way. He’s giving Vicious from Cowboy Bebop but make it BDSM, and that makes me sweat.
The moment Sephiroth made his debut in Square Enix’s 1997 turn-based RPG, I was in love. Sure, I gawked at his semi-exposed chest, his pale torso wrapped in straps and blanked by a leather trenchcoat, but I was really enamored with his disposition. This is a tragic character, one first heralded as a beacon of exceptional bravery before descending into megalomaniacal madness. It’s frightening and yet, it’s somehow beautiful and sensual as well. Sephiroth does things to me and continues to own property in my head space, probably more than he does Cloud Strife’s, and I don’t mind that at all. — Levi Winslow staff writer
Are there any video game characters you feel deserve to be on this list who aren’t here? Tell us in the comments below.