By Blair Durkee, Associate Director of Gaming, and Annabelle Cook, Gaming Jr. Associate
The video game industry saw highs and lows in 2023, which makes celebrating the many outstanding releases with LGBTQ characters that much more important. This year’s Outstanding Video Game nominees for the 35th Annual GLAAD Media Awards reflect the care and commitment of video game developers to tell moving stories that increase LGBTQ awareness and acceptance – and allow LGBTQ players to see themselves in the games they play. Behind every exciting game nominated is a talented team of creators, and these nominations are also recognitions of employees, current and former, who helped create these games that have touched the hearts and lives of millions of LGBTQ players around the world.
We are excited to share the ten nominees for this year:
Baldur’s Gate 3
Published by Larian Studios
Developed by Larian Studios
In the summer of 2023, Larian Studios made waves with its promotional livestream of Baldur’s Gate 3, (yes, the one that got them banned on TikTok), and the game has been the talk of the gaming world ever since. This long-awaited continuation of the beloved computer role-playing game (CRPG) series based on Dungeons & Dragons’ Forgotten Realms quickly gained a fervent following for its innovative and imaginative world that transforms with every player decision. And between all the moments of magic and mayhem, Larian offers its LGBTQ players an unparalleled queer fantasy with LGBTQ characters and storylines at every turn. There is nothing more epic than seeing the glorious Dame Aylin wreak havoc on the battlefield with her lover Isobel at her side. The gorgeous trans woman Nocturne, husbands Lunkbug and Beldron, and pansexual companions that help the player on their journey are more than just flavor in the vast world. Baldur’s Gate 3 is a high fantasy game that does more than just welcome queer people. It embraces us and weaves our stories throughout the vibrant and dynamic world it crafts. For CRPG lovers who tire of LGBTQ characters being constantly pushed into marginal, tokenized roles, this is the revolutionary step forward we’ve all been waiting for in this genre.
Goodbye Volcano High
Published by KO_OP
Developed by KO_OP
What does hope look like at the end of the world? This is the question that Goodbye Volcano High poses in its exploration of teenage life in the face of certain cataclysm. The game may revolve around the lives of dinosaurs, days before the asteroid that wiped out most life on Earth, but it also explores themes of queer youth struggling with direction, identity, and relationships. Fang is a nonbinary student whose friend group is slowly breaking apart, and now they have a limited amount of time to mend their relationships. Depending on the player’s choices, Fang can spend time with various characters, including Rosa, a transgender woman and fellow student who bonds with Fang over their complicated relationships with their families. Despite the looming threat of extinction, Goodbye Volcano High never accepts futility. Instead, Fang consistently faces the terrifying unknown with burning defiance. This is a game that dares players to love and be loved regardless of what the future might hold, and that is a message that all LGBTQ players can take to heart.
Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores
Published by Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developed by Guerrilla Games
Few games can compete with the sprawling beauty of Horizon Forbidden West, so we were thrilled to return to its world in the DLC expansion Burning Shores. Primarily serving as an extension of Aloy’s story, Burning Shores also introduces us to Seyka, a woman from the Quen tribe who is on a journey to rescue her sister. Aloy’s stoicism and defiant independence are part of her charm, and there are few opportunities for her to express her vulnerable side in between fighting machines and traversing dangerous landscapes. Seyka is the first to bring out a different side of Aloy, and what blossoms from their mutual understanding is the opportunity for romance. This marks the first time that Aloy has expressed romantic feelings toward a companion, and though the Horizon series is full of LGBTQ characters, the confirmation that Aloy herself is queer is monumental for such a high-profile AAA game. Burning Shores is an unmissable expansion, and it only makes us more excited for what the Horizon series may have for us in the future.
Little Goody Two Shoes
Published by Square Enix
Developed by AstralShift
Underneath its dreamlike aesthetic, Little Goody Two Shoes tells a story that is tantalizingly nightmarish in all the right ways. Elise, the game’s rebellious protagonist, is a young woman who is willing to sacrifice just about anything to get the luxurious life she yearns for. Unfortunately for her, a mysterious demon is all too eager to exploit that fact. Building relationships is Elise’s best chance to survive the game, and Rozenmarine, Lebkuchen, and Freya are three girls her age that she can romance and confide in. Horror has long been used as catharsis for queer trauma, and Little Goody Two Shoes uses the terrors of witch hunts and the vast unknown to explore what it feels like to be ostracized from a world that is afraid of what it doesn’t understand. The most important thing about Elise’s story is that she has the possibility for several good endings, and each romance is equally fulfilling and touching, allowing for the characters to grow as much as individuals as they do as a couple. Little Goody Two Shoes is not for the faint of heart, but for the horror fans out there, this is a chilling dream that you’ll long to get lost in.
Published by Blizzard Entertainment
Developed by Blizzard Entertainment
The world can always use more heroes, and Overwatch 2, a team-based competitive shooter with a memorable roster of unique characters, takes that to heart. Among the playable characters introduced this year was Lifeweaver, a Thai researcher and support hero who made headlines when he was revealed to be pansexual. But Overwatch 2’s support for the LGBTQ community didn’t stop there. For Pride Month, the Midtown map got a Pride makeover, and even more importantly, Blizzard released a short story confirming that two existing heroes, Baptiste and Pharah, are bisexual and lesbian respectively. Overwatch 2 was released in the throes of a major labor movement after employees brought to light the company’s repeated dismissal of workplace harassment. The game’s tagline “A future worth fighting for” feels more important than ever for both its passionate LGBTQ playerbase and the workers whose inclusive and impactful contributions are a testament to their persistence and talent. The world isn’t perfect, but Overwatch 2 gives its players the all-important reminder that we can leave it better than we found it.
Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical
Published by Humble Games
Developed by Summerfall Studios
There are few things in life more queer than Greek mythology and musical theater. Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical harnesses both in this tale of redemption and sacrifice. The story follows Grace as she inherits the power of song from a dying Muse. With her newfound abilities and status, she must prove herself to a guarded world that sees her as both an outsider and usurper. Stray Gods is chock full of catchy musical numbers, alongside its trans and queer inclusion. Though a number of romanceable characters fight for Grace’s affections, one stands out amongst the crowd: Grace’s long-time friend, Freddie. As the only mortal romance option, she understands Grace’s struggles in a way that others do not. Nothing feels more right than Grace realizing that her love for Freddie is deeper than she realizes, and their relationship feels reminiscent of the friends-to-lovers journey experienced by many queer women. Stray Gods hits every emotional note, and though each route through the game offers different outcomes and storylines, one thing remains constant: this is a game that will leave you singing its praises.
Published by Kepler Interactive
Developed by Awaceb
To call Tchia a mere coming-of-age story would be an understatement. This powerful epic, inspired by New Caledonia, puts players in the role of a twelve-year-old girl, Tchia, who goes on a rescue mission after her father is taken prisoner by Meavora, god of the depths. Though she gains a number of friends on her journey, her growing affection for Louise, a girl she meets in Weliwele Village, is one of the game’s most memorable storylines. The tender depiction of Tchia’s self-discovery is important for LGBTQ youth in a time when they are increasingly under attack by a vocal minority of anti-LGBTQ activists. The game makes it clear that Tchia’s budding relationship with Louise is a highlight of her personal growth. The team at Awaceb has deftly incorporated the somewhat heavy themes of injustice and introspection into a game fit for older children, without sacrificing any of the weight that its story carries. The future is in the hands of our youth, and Tchia reminds us not to undermine their ability to carve their own path.
Published by Annapurna Interactive
Developed by Outerloop Games
Skateboarding, cooking, and breaking hearts – Thirsty Suitors has it all. Broken relationships and cultural divides may be daunting topics, but Thirsty Suitors rises to the challenge with resounding success. Jala is the epitome of a “disaster bisexual,” and her relationship misfortunes come back to haunt her when she must confront each of her exes in a Scott Pilgrim vs. the World-esque way. The beauty of Thirsty Suitors is in its boldness. Characters talk without shame about what it means to be trans and queer in immigrant households, offering perspectives on what LGBTQ solidarity looks like within and between different cultures. Jala herself uses cooking South Asian dishes with her parents as an opportunity to talk about her and her aunt’s queerness. The game’s stylish art and frenetic gameplay make reconciliation feel gratifying and fun, which is a mighty accomplishment for a story that deals in heavy topics. Thirsty Suitors is, at its core, a promise that with enough compassion and understanding, generational trauma is a cycle that can be broken and acceptance can be found.
This Bed We Made
Published by Lowbirth Games
Developed by Lowbirth Games
Centering queerness in a 1950s period piece is a daunting task, but This Bed We Made does so in a way that is both honest and heartfelt. Sophie is a maid at the Clarington Hotel in Montreal who stumbles upon a web of secrets after snooping in the belongings of hotel guests. Piecing together fragmented letters and secret codes unfolds a mystery of intrigue and forbidden love. This Bed We Made may revolve around fictional characters, but the stories it tells are entwined with very real LGBTQ history when Canada criminalized queerness and associated queer culture with deviancy. Sophie is more than just a character that learns about the lengths LGBTQ people must go to be together. She discovers her own queerness over the course of the game and can romance her coworker Beth depending on the player’s choices. This Bed We Made makes one thing clear: LGBTQ people have always existed and found ways to live authentically regardless of the hostility we face. As we work toward a better future, we must never forget our past, and this solemn yet hopeful glimpse into queer history is more timely than ever.
Too Hot to Handle 2
Published by Netflix Games
Developed by Nanobit
The popular mobile game adaptation of Netflix’s reality television series Too Hot to Handle brings all the scandal to its drama-filled second season. Though a summer island of sexy singles may seem like the perfect setting for temptations to run wild, Too Hot to Handle 2 challenges its contestants to forgo physical desires and prioritize meaningful connections. The result is a surprisingly in-depth game about what it takes to build genuine romantic and platonic relationships. Perhaps even more surprisingly, Too Hot to Handle 2 shatters the heteronormative conventions of reality TV by putting LGBTQ storylines front and center. Over the course of the season, players can spend time with Santiago, an aromantic character who has a knack for horoscopes, and Elodie, a trans woman who is eager to explore romance now that she is living as her true self. And the game’s most prominent couple consists of two women, Cassia and Elena, whose adoration for each other makes for one of the most heartfelt depictions of sapphic romance we’ve ever seen. Too Hot to Handle 2 may seem like an unlikely place to look for LGBTQ representation, but that’s exactly what we love about it. If you love romance, competition, and queer-inclusive games, this is one you won’t want to miss.
The 35th Annual GLAAD Media Awards nominees were published, released, or broadcast between January 1 and December 31, 2023. The GLAAD Media Awards ceremonies, which fund GLAAD’s work to accelerate LGBTQ acceptance, will take place in Los Angeles on March 14, 2024 and in New York City on May 11, 2024. You can keep up with the latest developments by following GLAAD on Twitter and Instagram.