By Blair Durkee, Associate Director of Gaming, and Annabelle Cook, GMI Gaming Jr. Associate
An exciting and jam-packed year of gaming made for fierce competition in this year’s Outstanding Video Game category for the 34th Annual GLAAD Media Awards. The games released in 2022 continued to raise the bar for LGBTQ representation and inclusion in a sector of the entertainment industry that grows and evolves every day. This year’s GLAAD Media Awards nominees for Outstanding Video Game reflect the continuing efforts from developers at Indie and AAA studios to create multi-dimensional and authentic LGBTQ characters and stories.
We are excited to share the ten nominees for this year:
Published by The Game Bakers
Developed by The Game Bakers
Though Haven may draw you in with its vast and mysterious world, it’s the intimate, personal moments that will stick with you long after the game ends. The exploration, combat, and survival elements are a blast to play, but they serve more as interludes between the compelling domestic scenes of co-protagonists Yu and Kay, whose contented companionship and achingly tender interactions are the true star of the show. In 2022, the Couples Update introduced the option of same-gender couples, allowing players to experience Yu and Kay as two women or two men. New character art and voiceover are included in the free DLC, turning the heartfelt chemistry of Haven into a deeply authentic depiction of queer romance that few games – if any – have been able to offer. Given how rare it is to see same-gender couples in media who are just allowed to be happy together – not plagued by incessant conflict and strife, not sidelined by the narrative, not stifled in their freedom of romantic expression – Haven feels like nothing short of a revelation, demonstrating once and for all how stories of queer romance can be told without compromise. We only hope that other game developers take note.
Published by Electronic Arts
Developed by Respawn Entertainment
Few games juggle lawless territory and gritty characters with the same style and finesse as Apex Legends. With a focus on gunplay and specialized character abilities, this battle royale has quickly established itself as a household name in gaming since its debut in 2019, sporting an active monthly player base estimated to be in the range of 60 million people. Joining the game’s already-extensive roster of LGBTQ characters in 2022 was Catalyst, a transgender woman (voiced by transgender voice actress Meli Grant) who charmed fans with her witchy abilities and gothic aesthetic. Her defensive playstyle certainly offers a much needed counter to the popular scan-based legends, but the way she champions her identity and raises the standard for trans characters is perhaps her greatest feat. Respawn Entertainment took care to ensure that Catalyst’s look, lines, and backstory were authentic, while remaining true to the Apex Legends culture. Apex Legends endeavors to be full of inclusivity, fun, and flair, and we’re happy to say that it excels on all fronts.
I was a Teenage Exocolonist
Published by Finji
Developed by Northway Games
Saving your home is no easy task for a teenager, but that’s exactly what you’re expected to do in the deliciously tragic world of I Was a Teenage Exocolonist. This is a game that dabbles in a number of genres, using a time loop to house an interactive narrative-based game with minor deck-building mechanics. The gorgeous watercolour-esque art and a handful of unique romanceable characters is only made better by how inclusive this game is. Though a number of trans, ace, and poly characters grace the screen, child-prodigy Tangent is perhaps one of the most memorable. Equal parts brilliant and troubled, Tangent’s experiences as a transgender woman inform her choices without consuming her character, and her storyline holds the key to one of the more world-changing endings. I Was a Teenage Exocolonist succeeds at crafting relationships in a doomed world, and its collection of LGBTQ characters offer a range of diversity rarely seen in most games. Each playthrough reveals something new, and for them, you’ll want to save (or destroy) the world again, and again, and again…
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands
Published by 2K Games
Developed by Gearbox Software
The creative minds at Gearbox Software have graced gamers with yet another critical hit. When tabletop shenanigans and the familiar off-kilter humor of the Borderlands series unite, you get Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, a Dungeons & Dragons-inspired game that combines smooth gunplay and high fantasy. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands brings back the chaotic energy that Borderlands fans know and love, along with a queerness that exists in every facet of the world. This rambunctious universe features gay pirate skeletons, a major nonbinary character (voiced by nonbinary transmasc voice actor Ciarán Strange), and one of the most inclusive character creators we’ve seen in a video game. The loveable and unhinged Tiny Tina may be a full-time demolitions expert and a part-time Bunker Master, but she’s also an LGBTQ gaming icon, so it comes as no surprise that the worlds she creates are just as queer. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands challenges other games to be just as visibly, loudly, and proudly inclusive, and is making sure LGBTQ gamers know they will always have a place at the table.
World of Warcraft: Dragonflight
Published by Blizzard Entertainment
Developed by Blizzard Entertainment
The call of the Dragon Isles beckons the heroes of Azeroth in Dragonflight, the latest expansion for World of Warcraft. In many ways, Dragonflight is a return to fundamentals for the nearly two-decade-running MMO, focusing heavily on player freedom and core game mechanics. In other ways, it’s a profound reimagining of the types of characters and stories that make up its world. When news of California’s lawsuit against Blizzard Entertainment exposed its toxic and discriminatory workplace culture in the summer of 2021, many workers at the company bravely stood up and fought for change, through walkouts, protests, and internal advocacy. And in spite of the pain that still lingers from those revelations, both inside the company and in the hearts of Blizzard fans, they carry on that fight to uphold the values that Blizzard has long claimed to champion. If Dragonflight is an opening salvo in that struggle for a brighter and more inclusive future for the company, it’s a mighty impressive one. The vibrant diversity of the development team and player community is reflected in the game more than ever. Importantly, LGBTQ characters – who are too often sidelined and overshadowed – are front and center. From Thomas and Miguel, the married gay couple who guide players through profession systems, to Narman and Dawa, two Centaur lovers who enlist the assistance of players in their marriage proposal, Dragonflight’s queer storylines are bold and celebratory.
Published by Studio Drydock
Developed by Studio Drydock
Managing a farm and joining a witchy coven is just a fraction of what players can do in the hit life and farming sim Wylde Flowers. When Tara Wylde moves from the big city to the cozy town of Fairhaven, she quickly realizes there is more to the town – and herself – than meets the eye. Her newfound magic abilities are a joy to explore from a gameplay and plot standpoint, but the relationships she creates in Fairhaven are what make this game truly memorable. The humans, witches, and werewolves that Tara meets each have their own unique story to tell, and we loved how unapologetically queer many of the characters are. Even if Tara decides to not pursue a romance with any of the eligible suitors, she can ensure that Francis and Angus’ wedding goes off with a hitch, or cheer on Kim and Amira as they finally realize their feelings for one another. Fairhaven proves that it is the quality, not the quantity of friends that matters, and that possibilities can feel endless when creativity runs free. Wylde Flowers reminds indie developers that magic can bloom in small places, and we hope that’s a lesson taken to heart by games and the industry alike.
Need for Speed: Unbound
Published by Electronic Arts
Developed by Criterion Games
It’s not easy to stand out in a sea of iconic arcade racers, but Criterion Games brought their A-game when they released Need for Speed: Unbound. The mashup of realistic city sights with animated driving effects and character designs adds a breath of fresh air to the iconic series, and Lakeshore City’s racing scene provides an unexpectedly fitting vehicle to showcase a plethora of personalities. Among the characters we meet is Justicia, a social media influencer, racing rival, and trans woman played by trans voice actress Sena Bryer. She exudes trans excellence with the platform she’s built and how she outraced us many, many times, but she’s also an example of how big name developers are prioritizing authentic representation. Outside of Justicia’s inclusion, Criterion also added voice pitching for player characters, LGBTQ positive car decals, and casual queer iconography on the streets of Lakeshore itself. Need for Speed: Unbound ensures queerness is seen, heard, and listened to, so no matter how you ride, it feels like everyone wins.
Published by Humble Games
Developed by rose-engine
A retrotech horror game with android lesbians was the 2022 masterpiece we didn’t know we needed. SIGNALIS truly is the gift that keeps on giving, and it took the indie horror community by storm when it offered cosmic dread, secret endings, and hidden lore that the dedicated fanbase is still trying to uncover and decipher. At the center of SIGNALIS is a surprisingly tender sapphic love story featuring Replika technician Elster trying to find her significant other after their shuttle crashes. Though rich in eldritch terrors and complicated puzzles, SIGNALIS captures the longing and affection between Elster and her partner, breathing life into the silent characters and bleak world we encounter as players. Themes of identity, love, and loss are deeply intertwined with Elster’s journey, and the existential crises it elicits are melancholic and poetic. It’s rare to find a game that effortlessly lands each and every emotional ending, but SIGNALIS captivates from beginning to end with a love worth living, fighting, and dying for.
Published by 2K Games
Developed by Supermassive Games
An 80s-inspired supernatural horror game doesn’t seem like a traditional setting for a queer romance to blossom, but The Quarry treats its players to exactly that. Supermassive Games is known for its choice-based gameplay and punishing mechanics where one wrong choice or failed quick time event can be the difference between life or death. Players are introduced to the awkward, but charming Ryan (played by out queer actor Justice Smith), whose connection with fellow summer camp counselor Dylan is treated as neither a joke nor a secret. They can kiss, connect, and confide in each other, displaying a profound emotional intimacy in their shared moments of peril. The Quarry is unafraid to embrace the silliness of college-aged kids and monster horror while still making a game that terrifies at the right moment. Summer camp might have harbored some unwelcome and spooky surprises for the counselors, but the positive reception towards Dylan and Ryan’s relationship goes to show that queer rep never goes out of season.
Desta: The Memories Between
Published by ustwo games
Developed by ustwo games
Desta: The Memories Between gives dodgeball a new existential meaning in its stylishly crafted roguelite. This team-up between Netflix and Ustwo games graced players with dreamy level designs, surprisingly complex turn-based gameplay, and relationships that become more nuanced and intriguing as more rounds are played. At the forefront of the story is Desta, a nonbinary protagonist whose identity is interwoven seamlessly into the dream world they must learn to navigate. Desta: The Memories Between reminds us that relationships have never been linear and that loving someone is different from knowing them. Standing up to past crushes or coming out to old friends can be complex and awkward, but this game balances both with tact and grace. In a world that can be inhospitable to queer identities, a game that fosters reconciliation is more important than ever, and Desta’s growing support system reminds us that we deserve friends and family that affirm our identities, choices, and dreams. Sometimes hope is the greatest thing players can take away from the games they play, and Desta: The Memories Between has plenty of it to give.
The 34rd Annual GLAAD Media Awards nominees were published, released, or broadcast between January 1 and December 31, 2022. The GLAAD Media Awards ceremonies, which fund GLAAD’s work to accelerate LGBTQ acceptance, are currently scheduled to be held in Los Angeles at the Beverly Hilton on Thursday, March 30, 2023 and in New York at the Hilton Midtown on Saturday, May 13, 2023. You can keep up with the latest developments by following GLAAD on Twitter and Instagram.