Many video game heroes symbolise courage, be it pointy-haired JRPG protagonists or The Legend of Zelda’s Link, who is literally courage personified. But what about the courage to simply be yourself?
LGBTQ+ representation in gaming is certainly becoming more visible. But too often characters are static tick boxes, identifiable purely for their sexuality and present solely for the hero to romance. Rarely do these characters develop or explore their sexuality in any meaningful way.
As much as we’d all love for it to change, the idea of ‘coming out’ is integral to the LGBTQ+ experience – not only coming out to friends and family, but the process of self-discovery and exploration. It’s the sort of narrative that’s been seen plenty of times in films and literature.
Why do video games so rarely explore coming out?
In the indie sphere at least this is changing. Perhaps the most prominent, and critically acclaimed, example is The Fullbright Company’s Gone Home. Wandering around your family’s deserted mansion, you gradually uncover the story of your sister coming out. Yet by not playing as the queer character, it’s as if you’re a bystander in someone else’s experience.
Elsewhere there are more experimental pieces like Nicky Case’s Coming Out Simulator 2014. Based on his own experience, you’re tasked with deciding how best to approach coming out to his/your (in his words) “hyper-conservative Asian parents”. Even over its short runtime, it successfully reflects the awkward tensions of coming out.
One game that’s bucking the trend is Newfound Courage. Written by Australian-born and Montreal resident Curtis Campion, the game saw full release on Steam back in March. It’s a narrative adventure that sees its hero exploring fantastical parallel worlds, uncovering knowledge from a mysterious institute, aiding a community of colourful townsfolk, and discovering himself along the way as he falls for his best friend.
“This particular story that I told with Newfound Courage I’ve never seen told anywhere else,” explains Campion to us over Skype.
“It’s something that a lot of gay people have experienced or will experience at some point in their lives. I feel like it’s something that a lot of people feel very alone in and that’s probably because there is no representation of this. So I wanted to start pushing the change on that.”
Campion drew on his own experiences to ensure the storyline was as authentic as possible. “The actual romance storyline is heavily based on my own experiences to the point where there are certain scenes where the things that are said and that happened really did happen in real life,” he says. “So I tried to stay as true as I could to that story, because whenever I deviated from that it did feel fake.”
One of the other key considerations was ensuring the game would be accessible to a younger audience who may be debating their own coming out story. “I feel like there’s not a lot of gay content you can see when you’re younger because a lot of it is so sexualised,” says Campion.
He continues: “The gay experience doesn’t start and end in the bedroom. There’s so much more to our relationships and our lives than sex. And I feel like that is so underexplored in literature right now.”
As a result the game has a particularly quaint and positive feel in its characters and writing that was most influenced by the work of Studio Ghibli, for its combination of drama and restraint.
This also informed the pixel art style. As well as giving a timeless feel to the graphics, Campion felt that through pixel art he could “enable people to project more what they thought the characters look like in their head, rather than telling them exactly what they look like.”
The game has so far had a positive reaction from both the LGBT+ and heterosexual communities, though Campion wrote the game for the former in particular. “People love the story, they’re relating to it and in some cases finding solace in it,” he says. “I’ve had some really incredible messages and reviews and discussion forums, there’s a great little community that’s developed out of it.”
Looking more widely, Campion feels that game developers have never been less hesitant to include LGBT+ storylines in their work, but sadly a lot of gamers are anti-gay.
“If there is any hesitation, I think it’s just fear,” he says. “There’s so much risk involved from a game developer’s perspective. You’re going to get some hate, but on the other hand if you don’t do your diversity well you’re going to get attacked for a lack of diversity – which you probably should!”
Authenticity of LGBT+ stories is key. “The best way to write an authentic story is from an authentic viewpoint. So hire gay writers, LGBT+ writers, to write their stories for your games.”
“As long as you’re not tokenising or playing off stereotypes and consulting with the community, I’m sure that developers can create great and authentic games.”