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Gayming Magazine’s best video games of 2021

Hello, and welcome to Gayming Magazine’s best video games of 2021.

When we first got into 2021, there was a lot of hot debate on whether there’d be enough incredible games coming out this year due to the pandemic. The fact that worrying about that seems like a pretty asshole move, it turns out that not only was that far from being the truth, but I’d even go as far to say that some of the games that will stick with us for our entire lives have released this year.

Because of that, it’s really been difficult for myself and the rest of the team over at Gayming to sit down and decide just which video games have stood out the most for us and put them in neat, top 5, or top 10 boxes. Because in reality? All of these great games have meant a lot to us, and to categorize them feels wrong.

So instead, like good writers who know no boundaries, I’ve decided to be kind to the team and let them talk about any game that meant a lot to them this year and why. With a few of my own picks, of course.

Gayming Magazine’s Best Video Games of 2021

Raptor Boyfriend

Raptor Boyfriend is a game that sounds silly on the surface. You play as Stella, a girl in her last year of high school before college, that returns to her old town, Ladle. It sounds like your typical Twilight intro, doesn’t it? Only this time, instead of vampires and werewolves, Stella’s classmates – and the people she hopelessly falls for – consist of a velociraptor, a fae, and Bigfoot.

Yeah, you can see why people think Raptor Boyfriend sounds silly, right?

But it wouldn’t be fair to say that game is silly. It’s plenty wacky and there are more than a fair few funny moments, but there’s more to Raptor Boyfriend than just getting your smooch on with a velociraptor. The game looks at alcohol abuse, addiction, the role of being a caregiver, and the utter desolate feeling of ending up alone with nobody to turn to.

More importantly, the game embraces having a bisexual protagonist instead of making Stella’s sexuality linked towards the player. No matter what you do or who you hang out with, Stella expresses romantic and sexual interest in both men, women, and non-binary characters, making my own description of her being a ‘tiny, bisexual Tina Belcher’ all the more accurate.

Moreover, Raptor Boyfriend made me question a lot about my life, all while providing a safe sanctuary for me to relive the life at high school I never got the chance to explore for myself – all while being given the option to be hopelessly queer and kiss cryptids. It’d be harder to not love this game.

Publisher: Rocket Adrift
Developer: Rocket Adrift

– Aimee Hart


Chorus

Chorus

OK, hands up if you’d honestly, genuinely heard of Chorus before its release? In fact, hands up if you’d heard of Chorus before right now? Thought so.

For the uninitiated – which is just about everyone – you play as Nara, a scavenger in the remotest corner of the universe. Like most people who set up shop in the galactic sticks though, Nara is on the run, hiding from her own past as an all-too-willing member of the Circle, a galactic cult whose leader, the Great Prophet, aims to bring everyone into his “chorus”, willingly or not. After committing an atrocity that might never be forgiven, Nara ran, tormented evermore by her actions.

Years later, the Circle’s power is almost total, their forces infringing on Nara’s quiet existence. Worse still, the Faceless – creatures from beyond the veil – are infringing on reality, threatening to corrupt material space. To survive, Nara is forced to re-bond with her sentient warship, Forsa (short for “Forsaken”). and reclaim the powers she cut herself off from when she left the Circle.

While Nara is the focus, you’ll actually play the game as Forsa, zooming around astonishingly beautiful starfields, taking out enemy fighters or helping allied ships and civilians transports. This is where Chorus shines, with sublime 360° space combat, three customisable weapon types, and an assortment of psychic powers – known as “Rites” – that make the game play like a cross between Star Fox and Control, allowing you to teleport around battlefields or sling space debris at foes, all while doing a barrel roll.

Is it gay? Not especially, although some might argue that the shaven-headed, vaguely masculine-presenting Nara is subtly queer-coded. Regardless, Chorus is an unexpectedly exciting adventure through a strange universe, with a personal and almost contemplative story questioning religion, faith, and responsibility. Chorus may not have been on many people’s radars, but it turned out to be one of 2021’s finest games – don’t miss out.

Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: Fishlabs

Matt Kamen


Tales of Arise

As a huge Tales of fan, there was something very moving to see new players who haven’t even touched the series before jump into Tales of Arise – a JRPG series that never quite got the fanfare it, in my humble opinion, so rightly deserves.

The Tales of series first began in 1996 and now in 2021, Tales of Arise takes all the lessons it has learned throughout the years to create a JRPG that feels familiar yet utterly new. It is a politically-moving masterpiece, with players take on the role of escaped slave Alphen, a Dahnan who has no memory of who he is, but who still teams up with a Renan noblewoman called Shionne in order to free the world from the shackles of oppression.

It may sound like your typical JRPG plot, and it is for the most part, but what gives the story heart is its wonderful cast of characters – something which the Tales of series has always excelled in – with particular standouts in Dohalim il Qaras, a Renan Lord who quite frankly outshines the majority of the main cast with his emotionally devastating character background and moving development. While you’ll indeed love every single character, I’d be thoroughly shocked if you left Tales of Arise not appreciating the utter love and care Bandai Namco’s team has bestowed on Dohalim.

Outside of my general fangirling, Tales of Arise shows that – much like previous entries – it isn’t afraid to get political. At times it can feel like the game ‘both sides’ the tension between Dahna and Rena before the game ultimately swings towards the liberation of Dahna – regardless of the ‘good’ people that live on Rena. There is talk of reperations, justice and so much more that it makes Tales of Arise feel the most political game.

It’s also incredibly heterosexual (sorry gamers), so for fans who were drawn in by the queer subtext of both Tales of Berseria and Tales of Zestiria, we doubt you’ll get the same sort of joy from this game. But don’t let that put you off completely, because you’ll still love these oddballs no matter what. Especially if you’re after a long JRPG, a fun cast and an even better combat system.

Just make it a bit more gay next time, alright Bandai?

Publisher: BANDAI NAMCO Studios
Developer: BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment

– Aimee Hart


Forza Horizon 5

Forza Horizon 5

OK, bear with me on this one! Forza Horizon 5 is one of the best examples of authentic LGBTQ representation in a game this year. Authentic representation to me is simple, it’s not about flag-waving or making an overtly political statement, it’s about normalising the LGBTQ experience and making it part of everyone’s life. Forza Horizon 5 does this in the most simple way possible, through pronouns!

The Forza Horizon 5 character customisation came as quite the surprise to us all when it was revealed that pronouns would be included along with androgynous styling options and even the option to add prosthetic limbs. It’s simple but incredibly effective in further normalising the use of pronouns in everyday life.

At Gayming, we celebrate a lot of LGBTQ games made by LGBTQ developers and artists. These games typically sit firmly in the indie category and, although are thoroughly enjoyed by the LGBTQ community, rarely do they make an impact beyond that. Incidentally, this is part of the reason we started the Gayming Awards. However, when mainstream AAA games start to embrace steps like pronoun use, that is the sign of a real shift in thinking, and for every hater there will be two people who will be grateful for this change.

I will point out that Horizon is not without its flaws. There’s an especially distressing moment where returning players have their name from their Microsoft account pulled through into the game to begin with, leading to the potential of deadnaming trans players. While I’m sure this is an oversight from Playground Games while aiming to get the game immersion rolling quickly, it’s still something that should be rectified immediately.

Overall though, true societal change is about meeting people in the middle of the road and bringing them over to your side and we need to see more mainstream games embracing inclusive character customisation to show people that you can be who you want to be in any environment.

Publisher: Xbox Games Studio
Developer: Playground Games

Robin Gray


Lake gay

Lake

Ah Lake, never did I think I’d love a game just as much as I love you.

If you recall my glowing review of Lake, you’ll know that this simulation game from Gamious absolutely stole my heart with its enlightening portrayal of queerness and being a woman in the 1980’s. It is far from being accurate, and in truth there’s a lot of times where the game ‘fails’ at being historically accurate, but I’ll be honest: you won’t care, because you’re too busy just existing in the small, remote town of Providence Oaks.

There is just so much I like about Lake that I could genuinely talk about it all day. Instead, let me give you a run-down:

Players take on the role of Meredith Weiss, 30-something business woman who swaps her job in the big city for her dad’s job as the town’s postman. She does this not because she thinks its ‘quaint’ to step into a working class role, but because she just wants to cover for her parents as they explore the big city and enjoy themselves on holiday. If anything, Meredith works a little too damn hard if you ask me.

It isn’t all work, but the majority of the time you’ll just be delivering mail and taking it easy. Seriously, you can’t run at all in this game and its intentional, because why run when much like everything else about Providence Oaks, everything runs slow because there’s very little else to do with zero other places to be. It’s nice and sleepy, and an absolute hellscape for those who dream of a bigger future. I kind of love it.

There isn’t a whole lot of stuff to do outside of work and you’ll easily complete the game in about 5-6 hours if you ‘speedrun’ it, but I recommend taking your time and just trundle through Providence Oaks in your delivery van and enjoy the cute, folksy tunes you can find on your radio. It’s so fun.

And if that doesn’t convince you, just know that this is the only game I scored 5/5 here on Gayming Magazine. Real serious business.

Publisher: Whitethorn Digital, Gamious
Developer: Gamious

– Aimee Hart


Behind the Frame: The Finest Scenery

My games of the year only have to hit a criteria of needing to move me in some way. Whether it’s making me feel adrenaline in a chaotic plot, or making me reminisce about important times in my life- if games can do that, they’ll usually be my GOTY.

However as the year went by and summer was coming close to an end, it seemed like I wouldn’t find that in 2021. Luckily for me, Behind the Frame: The Finest Scenery came to swoop me in, give me a big warm hug, and let me know through a point and click game that time and memories are the most precious and valuable things we own as human beings.

Behind The Frame: The Finest Scenery was released on August 25th 2021, and was developed by Silver Lining Studio and published by Akupara Games and Akatsuki Taiwan. Its a seemingly simple point and click puzzle game where you play as an artist gearing up for art submissions for a prestigious art gallery.

Our yet-to-be named artist starts everyday with a nice breakfast of two eggs and some toast, admiring the art on the walls from the tenants before her, and peeking over to what her neighbor and his fat cat might be up to. Players help write her resume to the gallery she wants to apply to, and finish painting her current project. As each day goes by, players help her find missing tubes of paint she needs – however, finding these missing paints gives a glimpse of the past as you find love letters hidden in the apartment.

I’ve gone back and played a few times because Behind the Frame hits the nail on how exhilarating one can feel when remembering things you’ve forgotten. You know the feeling – you’re cleaning your room and end up finding something you completely erased from your memory, you might send pictures of it to your friends saying “do you remember THIS,” or  maybe facetime your mom so you can reminisce on your recent recollection together. Those little moments are such boosts to our days and we don’t even realize it. Even more so when our memories can push us enough to go back on an unfinished project.

With leaving where I call home, my family, and friends to a place thousands of miles away, looking back and remembering little memories I’ve forgotten has kept me grounded and sane during my move. Behind the Frame: The Finest Scenery has carried my back during my journey to my new home – having to force myself to enjoy sitting, thinking back and accepting thinking of old lovely moments, when coming across old objects while I was packing. This has become a growing habit that came from this game, and it’s something I hope others can gain when playing this as well.

Publisher: Akupara Games, Akatsuki Taiwan
Developer: Silver Lining Studio

– Monti Velez

Aimee Hart

[She/They] Aimee Hart is Editor-in-Chief of Gayming Magazine. She specializes in queer fandom, video games and tabletop, having started her career writing for numerous websites like The Verge, Polygon, Input Magazine and more. Her goal now is to boost LGBTQ+ voices in the video games industry.