One of the things I get asked about a fair bit of the time is, what games I would recommend if someone wanted to get into gaming and my answer is usually a fair bit of silence. Not because I don't know of games that would fit the bill, I just never know where to start. The answer changes depending on what kind of person I'm talking to, what their interests are, and their comfort with the fine motor skills required to play certain games. So, I wanted to start a series where I recommend some good as games and explain a bit about who I'd recommend it for and why. Because I've been thinking about it and writing about it so often, I wanted to start with games that actually address Queer themes. Let me get the honorable mention out of the way, go play Dream Daddy.
1. Gone Home, PC
Gone Home begins when you arrive at your family home June 7th, 1995 after a year abroad but, curiously, no one is home. Your mission is to find where everyone is and what happened in your absence. Gone Home is an incredibly short, pacifist game where gameplay consists of moving around the family home finding clues and eventually unraveling the mystery of what occurred there. Rather than relying on combat or puzzles, Gone Home invites your participation in the form of exploration. You must go through the possessions of your loved ones and piece this broken narrative together by the strength of your own observation skills.
For various reasons, I can't explain precisely why and where Queer themes pop up in Gone Home, because I really believe it is a game where you should go in knowing as little as possible. But, I can say that it is central to the plot. Gone Home is a story that is about family and the secrets we keep and it is foundational to the history of Queerness in video games. This game doesn't any skill other than a basic understanding of movement mechanics to be able to play. On Steam I have 1.4 hours played and I was able to see the ending. For these reasons, I think Gone Home is universally a game worth playing. Both of novices and for veterans in search of a good Queer-centric narrative.
2. Night in the Woods, PC
Night in the Woods is an exploration based adventure, platformer which treats its Queer characters with respect. Three out of four of the game's core characters are Queer and its treated just as a fact. Gregg, Agnus, and Mae get to live their lives without the normal treatment of Queer characters in pop culture, by this I mean, they are not killed, closeted, or otherwise erased from the narrative. I must say, that was pretty fucking refreshing after playing games, like Life is Strange or the entire Persona series, which treat their Queer characters like shit. Night in the Woods also let's their characters to sit comfortably between labels, Mae doesn't really have a way of describing her sexuality concretely and that is perfectly okay in Possum Springs. Night in the Woods in so many ways recognizes that life is messy and that doesn't mean it needs to be tidied up.
I've actually written about Night in the Woods a lot in my review, so if you're interested in reading that, here is a link because, I'm going to try and be pretty brief here. Night in the Woods, like Gone Home, is a game which doesn't require a lot skill to play but, I'd say it is a bit more difficult, as there are parts of the game which include simple platforming. But those segments are brief and there aren't any real consequences for messing up. It's really included more as a exploration element, if you're interested. Night in the Woods is a thoughtful game which I have no qualms recommending fully to anyone.
Night in the woods took me 7 hours to finish my first playthrough, but requires multiple playthroughs to see absolutely everything.
3. Life is Strange, PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox One, PS4
Yeah, I just got finished saying that Life is Strange treats its Queer characters like garbage, and I'll double down on it, yeah, 100% accurate. But, I feel like in order to understand and to better appreciate the games that handle Queerness better, this is really the best modern example, in a video game, of tiptoeing around Queerness. Maxine Caulfield, the main character, is a bisexual teenager but, this fact is shrouded underneath 10 metric tons of ambiguity. In other words she is sterilized and the game never fully leans into the implied romance between her and her crush. On top of that, the game shoehorns a male love interest.
This being said, that's the jaded gay girl in me speaking. Life is Strange, in a more charitable reading, depicts a girl who questions her sexual orientation and is in the midst of experimentation. This phase of Queerness is barely ever depicted in video games with any sort of sincerity (Bully), and I think it's also worth playing for that reason. Life is Strange is also, like the other games in this list, has a low skill entry for players. The game relies far more on your ability to react quickly than Night in the Woods or Gone Home, but every failure or success you encounter in Life is Strange is part of the total narrative so, doing everything right the first time, actually, isn't the point. It drove me up the wall.
I have 11.4 hours logged on Life is Strange on PC and I have played the game to completion, without collecting all of the collectibles. Also, the first part of the game is free.
4. Pyre, PC, PS4
Pyre is a Queer game with a Queer narrative structure and a dogged grip on liminality. I mean a lot of things by this but, to begin with I mean is the game is non-linear, anti-establishment and authority, and insistent upon your interest in learning about the story it has to tell. I wanted to mention that because it's part of my recommendation but, anything I say about Queer storytelling is far longer of a post than what I have time and space for here. The other reason why Pyre is notable is its approach to gender.
For starters, Pyre doesn't really ever pin down the player's stated gender and instead chooses to focus on pronouns. Just because you choose he/him or she/her doesn't mean that Pyre starts referring to you as a man or woman, respectively. It means that they will continue to use the correct pronouns that you've chosen. This is interesting on its own for its breaking down of the connection between pronoun and gender. Pyre assumes nothing about your gender and instead allows the player to insert whatever they want.
Secondly, Pyre includes the pronouns they/them, which is something that isn't really done in video games for a lot of bullshit reasons. Beyond that, the way that Pyre allows the player to choose their pronouns is rather admirable as well. Within the first few minutes of the game the Nightwings find the player wasting away in the desert and save him by pulling him into their wagon. It's then when Hedwyn says, "Is (insert pronoun) breathing?" you click on the pronoun in order to change it to your preference before continuing on with the story. This is to say, a pronoun which exists outside of the gender binary is being applied to a person before the person specifies it. What this means is that, Pyre exists in a universe where gender is considered to be a fluid thing rather than strictly binary. Now regarding skill caps, I don't regard this as a difficult game but, it's certainly the most advance on this list but, there are no game overs in Pyre, every loss the Nightwings incur becomes woven into the tapestry of the story. I'm not sure exactly what ending you would get if you lost every match you played, but, presumably, you'd be able to see an ending of the game.
I also wrote about Pyre in a review if you want to read more, spoiler alert, it's straight up one of my top 5 games period. Also, I beat the game in 12 hours.
5. A Lot of the Choice of Games, PC, iOS, Android
Choice of Games is a California company which produces a ridiculous volume of text-based, multiple choice games. So think those choose your own adventure books but, easier to use. Because of the low amount of assets needed to make these games, many of the writers allow for a stunning amount of freedom regarding sexuality and gender. You can be, essentially, whoever you want to be, within the confines of the setting, in most of these games. I included these games because they are cheap, even sometimes free, and accessible as long as you have access to a functional smartphone or computer. The skill entry of these games is nonexistent, given you are capable of reading long chunks of text.
I really like these games and gravitate towards them because of their creativity but, the writing is sometimes suspect. Think about them like you'd think about a trashy novel.