The unique challenges that 2021 posed were no match for the persistence of game developers who delivered some of their best stories yet. Learning how to coordinate work-from-home teams and overcome release delays was no small feat, and GLAAD recognizes the time, passion, and effort that the gaming industry has put into making quality games while also prioritizing fantastic queer representation. For the 33rd Annual GLAAD Media Awards, GLAAD has proudly selected ten games that amplified LGBTQ narratives in 2021. Recognized for their boldness, impact, authenticity, and overall quality, these games represent the type of stories that continue to further queer visibility and acceptance.
Check out our ten nominees for the 33rd Annual GLAAD Media Awards below:
Published by Kitfox Games
Developed by Kitfox Games
As a dating sim and dungeon crawler with romanceable characters that can turn into various weapons, Boyfriend Dungeon has a bit of everything for everyone. By deepening your relationship with each weapon, romantically or platonically, the player gains access to a larger arsenal of skills, which provides an ever-evolving experience while exploring the ‘dunj.’ Don’t let the name of the game fool you, though – there are a variety of non-male characters that can be romanced, including the spirited Valeria, whose past is as mysterious as she is, Rowan, a nonbinary mystic who is always accompanied by their bird Crowley, and Sawyer, another nonbinary character who’s a full-time student and hopeless cook. Queerness is ever present, from Valeria’s pansexuality to the inclusion of the two aforementioned nonbinary characters, all of which have storylines that extend far past their queer identities. With characters whose looks could kill – pun intended – and gameplay that’s as intuitive as it is fun, Boyfriend Dungeon is indie innovation at its finest.
Far Cry 6
Published by Ubisoft
Developed by Ubisoft
In Far Cry 6, the revolution is in your hands. Armed with a desire for a better future and an ever-growing arsenal of allies, Dani Rojas, the playable protagonist, is faced with unending hardships created by Yara’s dictatorship. Though originally unwilling to get mixed up with the resistance, Dani’s thwarted attempt to flee to the United States results in them getting swept up with Libertad, a rebel group that seeks to overthrow the dictatorship. Among the other rebels that Dani meets is Paolo de la Vega (voiced by trans actor Xavier Lopez), a DJ, inspiring activist, and trans man who is one of the most tenacious characters that Dani meets. He’s passionate, inspiring others while also making mistakes as he tries to figure out what’s best for the people around him without losing himself in the cause. It’s about time that queer characters are allowed to be loud, flawed, and important, and Far Cry 6 perfects the imperfect hero. These are the complex LGBTQ characters we love to see in the spotlight.
The Gardener and the Wild Vines
Published by Finite Reflection Studios
Developed by Finite Reflection Studios
Climbing dozens of towers, avoiding killer crabs, and trying to not lose his footing in the wind are just a few trials The Gardener undergoes to confess his love to the Prince and save him from the Magician. The Gardener and the Wild Vines is a brilliant twist on the classic fairy tale, and the duo of misfits – a Knight and a Pirate – that accompany the Gardener lean into their clichés while simultaneously subverting them. This unconventional platformer is gay at its core, full of sweet interactions between the Gardener and the Prince, and it also delighted us to find that the Pirate uses gender neutral pronouns. While discrimination is a memory of a bygone era in this game, identity crises are still a source of minor turmoil throughout the story, as the characters grapple with their proverbial roles and the ways they might conflict with their personal values. Happy endings and sappy love stories like the ones in The Gardener and the Wild Vines are sometimes the respite queer gamers need, so while the Gardener’s Prince might be lost in another tower, this game has easily found a way into our hearts.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits
Published by Ember Lab
Developed by Ember Lab
The trailer debut of Kena: Bridge of Spirits caught everyone’s attention with its Pixar-esque animation style and fantastical world creation. In a world where spirit guides are tasked with helping troubled souls move to the spirit world, Kena’s responsibilities are anything but simple. Combat is satisfyingly difficult and the many spirits she meets harbor complex emotional turmoil, but every success is a testament to the characters’ and player’s ability to overcome challenges. A tragic lesbian love story with a heartfelt ending is one of the game’s strongest arcs, which arises when Kena meets the spirits of Hana and Adira, partners that were separated by circumstance and unable to move on due to their grief. Never do they shy away from showing affection, and their admiration for each other’s brilliance and craft makes for a relationship we yearn to see in games. Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a vibrant masterpiece from beginning to end, and it weaves stories that resonate long after completion. Empathy is the greatest weapon that Kena wields, and we loved that care was taken to tell stories that so rarely are treated with compassion.
Life is Strange: True Colors
Published by Square Enix
Developed by Deck Nine
The Life is Strange series is no stranger to iconic games with stellar LGBTQ representation, and True Colors is no exception. By playing as Alex Chen, newcomer to Haven Springs, players can influence her story through dialogue and decisions as she uncovers the mystery of her brother’s death. While getting acquainted with Haven Spring’s occupants, Alex meets Steph Gingrich at a vinyl records store, a delightfully nerdy, spunky, and insightful character who’s now a certified fan favorite. Originally a character from Life is Strange: Before the Storm, Steph’s love for music and tabletop games, and pride in her lesbian identity is just as loud in True Colors, also serving as a potential love interest for Alex. Even if players don’t commit to any love interest, references to Alex’s past relationships with both men and women make it clear that she is bisexual. Life is Strange: True Colors lives up to its name, allowing each character to shine in their own way through the simplistic art style and dreamy, acoustic soundtrack that emulates nostalgia in every song. Steph and Alex are stunningly multidimensional characters who happen to be queer, and sometimes that’s exactly the kind of LGBTQ representation we need.
Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan
Published by Skybound Games
Developed by ManaVoid Entertainment
Including conversations about identity, self-acceptance, and empathy in a family-friendly game is a powerful opportunity for players to learn about themselves and the different types of people around them. Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan combines cartoon styles of the 1940s with modern animation, bringing to life a world that values color and imagination. When the world loses its rainbow under the siege of a Leviathan, Billy embarks on a journey through the seas to bring color back to the monochrome world. Cleverly, the game uses conversation instead of combat, prioritizing a nonviolent means of gaining people’s trust and respect. Underneath the surface, though, is a story about Billy struggling with the loss of their mother and their father’s denial of Billy’s nonbinary identity. Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan offers a vibrant world in which Billy can express themself and process their emotions. Along with having a colorful and queer cast of characters, this game is entertaining, touching, and fit for most ages, certain to charm all who play it.
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege
Published by Ubisoft
Developed by Ubisoft Montreal
Few media empires have spanned so many different types of media as effortlessly as the Tom Clancy works, and though his books, films, and TV shows have all been massively successful, the Tom Clancy video games are a unique phenomenon. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege is a 2015 release that’s only gotten better with time and has continuously introduced new maps, cosmetics, and playable characters, with Operator Flores debuting in 2021. Flores’ charismatic and outspoken personality is made even better by the fact that he’s happily married to his husband, never missing a chance to call home. The introduction of LGBTQ characters didn’t stop there, however, as trans woman and Operator Osa (voiced by trans actor Nicole Maines) was also welcomed to the roster this year. LGBTQ characters are a rare sight in the tactical shooter genre, and Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege’s commitment to including multiple queer characters is a refreshing change of pace. As veterans in the gaming world, Ubisoft’s commitment to inclusion has the potential to encourage other developers to do the same, and we hope to see these characters inspire more queer representation.
Published by Xbox Game Studios
Developed by Double Fine Productions
Action-platformer fans rejoiced when Psychonauts 2 was announced, bringing back a cult classic that enamored players long after its initial release. The sequel kept the cartoonish absurdity of the original, but introduced themes of addiction, isolation, and trauma, surprising players and critics alike with its thoughtful handling of heavy topics. Bob Zanotto and Helmut Fullbear’s relationship is one of the highlights in this adventure, showing the pieces of a marriage that remain after Helmut suffers a freak accident. Their mindscapes are filled with references to each other and their wedding, never shying away from the persistent longing they hold for each other. How to deal with trauma and rediscover hope are important lessons anyone can be taught, but seeing an older queer couple successfully navigate difficult times is especially meaningful for its LGBTQ players. Psychonauts 2 matured with its audience, unafraid to be as serious as it is silly, but the way it has all of us feeling like kids again is one of the best gifts a game can give.
Published by Humble Games
Developed by Witch Beam
Any game that can take arguably the worst part about moving and turn it into something fun, creative, and poignant deserves all the accolades it can get. Unpacking is an unexpected gem centered around an unnamed female main character whose boxes you get to unpack and place within the spaces she inhabits. Though the game has no dialogue, the story unravels seamlessly, showing stages of the main character’s life through the years, and part of the puzzle is trying to figure out how to organize her possessions in each new location. Wordlessly, her queerness unfolds as players realize they’re unpacking the possessions of her new girlfriend. If the ever-present color scheme of the bisexual flag isn’t enough, a depiction of the queer couple together with their child is the last illustration the players are left with. Puzzle games are not necessarily known for their complex narratives, so storytelling through possessions and music is a masterful approach to how simple, yet emotionally striking, stories can be told. Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.
Published by Humble Games
Developed by Studio Pixel Punk
UNSIGHTED is a game best understood by never taking it at face value. Though impending doom in a sci-fi world is not easy to stop, putting the game down is an impossible task. Players meet Alma, an automaton that is trying to solve the shortage of a life-sustaining resource called Anima. A literal timer until one loses sentience and becomes unsighted is an ever-present threat, and sustaining oneself with the limited amount of meteor dust means taking time away from someone else. Alma’s love for her girlfriend Raquel, and Joana’s fear of being without her partner Gabi once her time runs out, are what make the end so terrifying. Yet despite the undoubtedly bleak side to UNSIGHTED, it is also strangely beautiful. This Metroidvania-style game features a plethora of endings, all with the same validity as the next, challenging players to either be content with what they earned and who they saved or open up another save file to try for a different ending. Queerness functions at the same multilayered, disparate complexity, and at times, UNSIGHTED feels like an homage to the sometimes helpless, but often hopeful queer existence. As the time winds down in each playthrough, it reminds us that life and love are ephemeral, but are worth fighting for all the same.
The 33rd Annual GLAAD Media Awards nominees were published, released, or broadcast between January 1 and December 31, 2021. The GLAAD Media Awards ceremonies, which fund GLAAD’s work to accelerate LGBTQ acceptance, will be held in Los Angeles at the Beverly Hilton on Saturday, April 2, 2022 and in New York at the Hilton Midtown on Friday, May 6, 2022. You can keep up with the latest developments by following GLAAD on Twitter and Instagram.