Tuesday, July 16, 2024

The best LGBTQ+ games of 2023

It’s been an excellent game for video games in 2023, especially those with LGBTQ+ characters, creators, and/or themes.

As the years have passed, more and more video game developers are getting wise to the straightforward idea that the more inclusive and welcoming your video game is, the more people want to play it. I know what you’re thinking: it may seem obvious, and even downright simple, that would be the case. But considering that we’re also living in an era where LGBTQ+ laws are being ripped away like chemical strippers do to varnish, queer stories still remain as important as ever.

With so much quality to peruse throughout 2023, the wonderful Ty Galiz-Rowe and I have taken it upon ourselves to do the monumental work of listing which LGBTQ+ video games from this year stood out and why they, if they aren’t there already, deserve a place on your holiday gaming wish list. 

And if we missed anything you think deserves to be on our holiday gaming list, sound off in the comments below!

Gayming Magazine’s Best LGBTQ+ Games Of 2023
LGBTQ+ games 2023
Image Source: Larian
Baldur’s Gate 3

Baldur’s Gate 3 has established itself as one of the best — if not the best — role-playing games I’ve ever had the privilege to play. It’s also one of the more inclusive RPG games this generation, which surprised me considering its rudimentary early access origins.

Suppose you told the Aimee of 2020 that Baldur’s Gate 3 would have a better understanding of gender and sexuality and the importance of that for queer players than, say, Cyberpunk 2077, a game set in the literal future? In that case, I’d have been very skeptical.

But no, not only does Baldur’s Gate 3 give queer players the space to curate an experience that speaks to them, whether it be through character creation or romance, it also embraces an inclusive world in its setting. You’ll come across queer characters whose love for another doesn’t just go beyond the gender binary, but death itself, and find yourself shoulder to shoulder with some of the worst people you’ve ever met but have no choice but to stick by because they may be terrible people, but by Selune’s grace, they are your awful people, and love is strange like that.

With some of the most expertly written companions since BioWare’s Dragon Age and Mass Effect series, Baldur’s Gate 3 has gripped me by the throat and doesn’t look like it’ll be letting go anytime soon. And let’s be honest: I don’t want it to.

– Aimee Hart

Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood cover art featuring witch Fortuna using tarot cards
Image Source: Deconstructeam
The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood

Deconstructeam’s sophomore effort has demonstrated their growth as developers and creatives. While The Red Strings Club was iterating on a mechanic and style that other games had already broached (and doing much to improve it, it should be noted) The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood sought to create its own niche with its customizable, tarot card deckbuilding. Combining that with the narrative proficiency Deconstructeam have already demonstrated, you get a truly special experience.

Beyond that, this game is queer as hell. There are several on-screen sapphic relationships, and a really sweet storyline about a trans woman who has just started her coming out journey. I haven’t seen a game that’s as for the girls and the gays as this one is in a long time.

Ty Galiz-Rowe

Fire Emblem Engage
Image Source: Intelligent Systems / Nintendo
Fire Emblem: Engage

Before officially starting Fire Emblem: Engage, I was certain it would never replace my love for Fire Emblem: Three Houses. So I felt a little sheepish when I realized I was only half-right in that thinking.

Engage hadn’t knocked Three Houses off its pedestal in my heart, but it had massively improved so many features that I played the game not just once or twice, but thrice this year.

Alongside improving gameplay, animations, and overall aesthetic, Engage also excels in allowing queer players to have a same-sex relationship with any of their multiple love interests, regardless of gender. This starkly contrasts Three Houses, which came under fire due to its lackluster romance options for gay male players when it was released in 2019. Not only did it isolate certain players, but it was only a year or so after that romance options expanded to include more gay options, with one option being restricted to one route, and the other requiring players to purchase DLC.

But for me, what makes Engage one of my favourite LGBTQ+ games of 2023 is its surprisingly inclusive message, shared by Intelligent Systems to Nintendo Life in June.

“The theme we chose for Fire Emblem Engage is that whoever you were born as, and wherever you were born, if you live your life as the person you want to be, your dream will come true.”

– Aimee Hart

In Stars and Time
Image Source: insertdisc5
In Stars and Time

In Stars and Time is a great RPG with beautiful art and music I found myself humming days after I had put it down. But more than that, it’s a story that serves as a sort of master example of how to do diverse representation that feels completely natural and essential to the world/story.

For example, one of your companions is a trans man. We find this out as we discuss the religion of the Change God and Craft (magic), learning that our friend decided he wanted to be someone sweet and strong, so he worked out and used Body Craft to become the person he wanted to be. Another of your companions mentions that in her home country, using Body Craft is viewed as a negative thing, but she doesn’t share this belief.

Each of these characters are from a unique place that has its own beliefs, traditions, and cultural norms. We see that one full display as the party interacts, and sometimes it even causes friction, but they’re able to move forward and strengthen their relationships because they all share respect for one another as people, even the youngest among them.

Ty Galiz-Rowe

This Bed We Made
Image Source: Lowbirth Games
This Bed We Made

Much like a tiny gay mouse, I’m easily baited by video games that explore LGBTQ+ communities throughout history. With that in mind, you shouldn’t be surprised that I quickly fell in love with Lowbirth Games debut third-person thriller, This Bed We Made.

Players step into the shoes of Sophie, a hotel maid who occasionally dabbles in a bit of kleptomania. After cleaning room 505, she stumbles upon a mystery that points to murder, love, and deceit. With the help of her acolyte, Sophie must uncover the truth behind 505 and the other neighbouring rooms involved.

Only, as I’ve explored thoroughly in my run-down of This Bed We Made, the circumstances that lead Sophie on an adventure that wouldn’t look out of place as a Scooby Doo episode has less to do with murder and everything to do with a 1950s Canada gripped by the turmoil of ‘homosexual deviancy.’ At a time where homosexual men and women were considered degenerate and dangerous, This Bed We Made seeks to examine not just how they survived but the joy they could still find in spite of such overwhelming odds.

– Aimee Hart

Thirsty Suitors

I’ve been describing this game as “Scott Pilgrim but for modern QTPOC,” every time I recommend it, and I’ve been recommending it a lot. While some of the more “game-y” elements of Thirsty Suitors could use a little more time in the oven (particularly its skateboarding), its writing and character work are top notch, blending camp and magical realism with insightful, often gutting conversations about taking accountability for your mistakes and the past hurt you’ve caused.

Thirsty Suitors doesn’t pull any punches in its writing, whether its dealing with romantic relationships, friendships or family. It’s also extremely specific in the cultures it’s representing, but that doesn’t make it niche in any sense. Anyone with an immigrant family background or parents who expect certain things from them, or who even just has a messy romantic past will probably resonate with this game in some way.

-Ty Galiz-Rowe

Stray Gods
Image Source: Summerfall Studios
Stray Gods: The Role-Playing Musical

Stray Gods: The Role-Playing Musical is one of the more unique games I’ve played this year: an adventure RPG with a musical twist that’ll have you adding your favourites to your Spotify likes by the end of your first playthrough.

It’s also unapologetically queer, with several characters having inclusive and diverse storylines that’ll speak to LGBTQ+ players, and four different romance options to choose from. Did we mention that it’s a musical and is the first of its kind in the video game sphere? It’s one thing to be unique, but to be unique and perfect for queer players? A win/win, if you ask me.

Grace, our protagonist of this urban fantasy tale, feels like a love letter to everyone trying to figure out everything in their mid-20s. She’s a college dropout, barely has any money, and thinks her life is just one big dead-end. Eventually, her life gets turned upside down once she’s framed for the murder of a Greek Muse and given her powers, leaving her no choice but to use them to find the real killer.

Though Stray Gods being far from perfect, its cast of loveable characters and storyline about letting go of preconceived notions and accepting the scary reality of change spoke to me. 2023 has been so dreadful for so many reasons, that, much like protagonist Grace, I often felt adrift. This game pulled me back and gave me the joy to carry on; I’ll always be grateful for that.

– Aimee Hart

Midnight Scenes From the Woods screenshot of Elijah looking into a foggy mirror and seeing a monster behind him
Image Source: Octavi Navarro
Midnight Scenes: From the Woods

If you’re a regular Gayming reader, you probably know that I’m a big horror guy, so it’s not really a surprise that I’d find a queer one to sneak onto this list. Luckily for me, one of my favorite developers, Octavi Navarro, put out an excellent one in Midnight Scenes: From the Woods.

Like the other Midnight Scenes games, From the Woods is a compact, point-and-click adventure game with beautiful pixel art. It follows a seventeen year-old named Elijah who has been checked into a mental hospital to help with his debilitating panic disorder. There he’s subjected to he terrors of indifferent adults and homophobic bullies, but things really get wild when a new boy with a strange past shows up.

Elijah’s story is exceptionally executed, balancing 80’s nostalgia with smart writing, easily relatable characters, and true moments of unease and fear. It’s also just nice to see a game led by queer men, since they’re not often main protagonists.

-Ty Galiz-Rowe

En Garde!
Image Source: Fireplace Games
En Garde!

Is there anything more bisexual than fighting your ex in a beautifully lit park to assert your skill in the art of fencing? Of course there isn’t.

If you feel the same, look no further than En Garde! from Fireplace Games. Set in a vibrant Golden Age Spain, players take on the role of Adalia de Volador, a gallant rogue with rapier-wit; players are tasked with the upheaval of the Count-Duke to free the city from tyranny and oppression. To do that, they’ll need to fight the Count’s goons through rapier combat and slick tricks and skills like kicking enemies into the sea, flipping over their heads, and lobbing grenades into canons to get them to fire.

Not only is the gameplay of En Garde! fantastic and memorable, it captures a level of camp essential to swashbuckling. Adalia is just as witty and heroic as her predecessors, and while her story is not there to highlight the bisexual experience, the fact that she has a same-sex love interest who acts as her rival and inspiration… It makes En Garde!’s narrative is even more fascinating than it would have been if she was male.

And did I mention that a historical figure partially inspired Adalia’s character: Julie d’Aubigny — a real-world bisexual opera singer and duelist? No. Well, now you know.

-Aimee Hart

Desta: The Memories Between queer
Image Source: ustwo games
Desta: The Memories Between Us

For some people, the easiest thing to do is run away from everything that feels hard. Whether that be a memory or an old relationship that a life event has forever changed, a person can only think to turn around and walk in the other direction. It’s not healthy, nor does it do anything but put a plaster over a gaping wound, but at the time? Running is all there is.

But what happens when you stop running? That’s the premise of Desta: The Memories Between Us. Forced to come back home, Desta has some very real anxieties about returning home. Not only do they identify differently now, but they are very fearful of everyone judging them. These fears manifest in Desta’s dreams as a game of dodgeball. If you lose your hearts, you’re forced to go back to the beginning and start again, which can mean new and exciting conversations with people and unique combinations of stats and builds.

Most importantly, following a non-binary protagonist like Desta set in a British, working-class environment touched my heart. It felt as though I was looking into my own life.

All in all, Desta: The Memories Between is a must-play for LGBTQ+ gamers. It’s authentic and goes hard, and it’s a greater game for it.

-Aimee Hart

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