By Alex Wakeford
Universally Speaking emerges from the E3 buzz to celebrate Pride Month!
Today, we look back at three landmark moments for the representation of LGBTQ+ characters in gaming.Here at Universally Speaking, Localisation and Culturalisation are among our primary specialist services. We use native, in-country experts across the world to not only translate a game into different languages, but to ensure that the heart of the narrative is fully communicated.
As such, we are at our best as a hub for international talent; removing sensitive geopolitical and cultural blockers.
We seek to be advocates for equality and expression of individuality, fostering a safe and comfortable office culture for everybody here. Race, gender, sexuality – these are things to embrace, bringing unique and powerful perspectives that enrich our talent and culture.
Naturally, we must push to move forward with the vital task of intersectional inclusion and breaking down barriers, but there also comes a time to reflect on some of the great successes of the past.
While this list is by no means comprehensive or entirely representative of the identities in the LGBTQ+ family, these are some of the landmark moments in the industry for representation.
Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014)
“Krem would be an Aqun-Athlok,” the Iron Bull explains, resting on a wooden crate next to his band of Chargers. “That’s what we call someone born one gender but living like another.”
“And Qunari don’t treat those ‘Aqun’ people any differently than a real man?”
“They are real men.” Bull’s expression hardens with a rarely seen sincerity. “Just like you are.”
Cremisius Aclassi, commonly known as Krem, was introduced in Bioware’s Dragon Age: Inquisition, the third game in the acclaimed role-playing fantasy series which went on to become 2014’s Game of the Year.
Bioware has always been known as a studio that pushes the boundaries for inclusion in video game storytelling, something that has typically revolved around sexuality – until Inquisition, which broadened that to gender identity too.
Krem is a trans man, assigned female at birth but identifies as male, introduced as the second-in-command of the Iron Bull’s Chargers – a mercenary band the player can recruit early in the game.
Colleen Perman gave Krem his fantastic face using the character art team’s head-morph system, John Epler nailed his animation and body language, Caroline Livingstone and Jennifer Hale found a great voice for a trans man in a world without access to transitional procedures, and Melanie Fleming made absolutely certain that Krem was gendered appropriately in all languages.
Patrick Weekes, ‘Building a Character: Cremisius “Krem” Aclassi’ – 4/10/2014
The latter point of ensuring Krem was appropriately gendered in all languages is something that serves as a great example to us at Universally Speaking, where Localisation is one of our premier services.
We take pride in going further than just translating text; we value the importance of storytelling, of communicating the essence of a narrative and the emotions behind it, because we respect the impact stories such as this can have for trans people.
Krem naturally captured the hearts of Dragon Age’s fanbase and quickly became not simply a beloved character, but an icon for trans representation – that is essential to capture not just in English, but on an international level.
With Bioware reportedly working on Dragon Age 4, which is all but confirmed to be set in Tevinter (Krem’s homeland), could we look forward to seeing him return in a more central role?
Horizon: Zero Dawn (2017)
Set on a post-post-apocalyptic Earth, Horizon: Zero Dawn follows a hunter named Aloy who journeys across this 31st century landscape, fighting dinosaur-like robots on her quest to learn the truth of her past and discover what happened to the world.
Throughout the game, there are plenty of men and women – from commoners to kings – who express interest in Aloy. These advances are often met with varying shades of disinterest and cluelessness, even when prompted to pick a response from the dialogue wheel.
Indeed, the primary male characters around Aloy notably value her not as a potential romantic pursuit, but simply for being lucky to call her a friend.
“When we met, I thought I was a big shot talking to a pretty girl hidden away in the middle of nowhere. Now I see that I was just lucky to get a minute of your time. Try not to forget about me while you’re out there changing the world.”
Perhaps it’s the Bioware fan within me talking, but this is always the point – before the endgame – where the romance with a character gets more… intimate.
I had played Horizon: Zero Dawn for well over forty hours to get to the end, and it was here that nothing resembling romance (even with those Aloy had grown closest to) had materialised.
Aloy literally just goes to bed.
And there’s a fascinating catharsis in that, seeing her finally get a quiet moment to herself to rest before she must face the immensity of the next day’s battle. That relief is quantified by her taking stock of herself, giving the player a moment to reflect on their own journey with her.
This subversion of the internalised expectations that comes with a scene like this, based on its peers in the genre, comes as a bold moment in the writing that foregrounds Aloy’s asexual and aromantic nature.
CHLOE PRICE & RACHEL AMBER
Life is Strange (2015) and Life is Strange: Before The Storm (2017)
“I swear to thee: we shall fly beyond this isle – the corners of the world our mere prologue. I’ll seek to make thy happiness so great that e’en the name of liberty’s forgot.”
This quote comes from a scene in the second episode of Deck Nine’s Life is Strange: Before The Storm, where the player – as Chloe – must improvise their way through a school stage play of The Tempest by William Shakespeare.
While this moment is wrapped in a great deal of mythology for the series, referencing a lot of the themes and events of the overarching story, at its heart is simply two struggling teenagers trying to tell each other how they feel.
Partly we wanted to visit the spectacle of theatre as a means of talking about high school, both because it’s a thing that happens (often badly!) in schools everywhere, but also as a metaphor for the imprisonment of high school, the imprisonment of this particular time in a young person’s life. For Rachel, performance has a freeing quality to it. For Chloe – or so she thought at first – the thought of performing on stage felt perhaps like the opposite, something frightening and forced, where she is scrutinized and staged. But in practice, Chloe found a freedom on that stage to trust, to hope, that she had yet to feel.
Zak Garriss, ‘11 questions we had for Life is Strange: Before the Storm’s narrative director’ – 26/12/2017
Life is Strange has tremendous appeal because it goes straight for the jugular with very real emotions that people struggle with, capturing some of the harshest realities of growing up.
From the age of fourteen, Chloe loses her father in a car accident; her best friend Max (the protagonist of the first game) moves away and loses touch with Chloe; her mother gets a new boyfriend, eventually remarrying; she drops out of school, getting involved with some of Arcadia Bay’s less savoury characters…
It was a landmark moment in the gaming industry for telling brutally honest, emotional stories with queer characters, foregrounding a generation that isn’t normally focused on in games.
Every aspect of Before The Storm captures this – from the emotionally raw performances, to Chloe’s diary entries which give us further glimpses into her thoughts, to the hauntingly ethereal soundtrack by Daughter.At the same time, there are moments of great levity too where the player can engage in some lengthy Dungeons and Dragons games with Stef (herself an out lesbian) and her friend Mikey.
It’s a story about the need for support, for understanding and love, which Chloe finds with Rachel.
While their story is bound for tragedy in the end (though it does notably manage to dodge the Bury Your Gays trope), the journey is one of those stories that many will carry with them for a very long time – many of whom have lived some aspect of it themselves.
These are just a select few examples of LGBTQ+ representation in games, of characters who are fully realised – who are happy and comfortable with their identity – and do not exist simply to be the brunt of tragedy or sexual objectivity.
Being LGBTQ+ can feel incredibly isolating; more than ever now there is a need for positive, aspirational characters. While we’ve come a long way over the years, there’s still a long way yet to go.
With the mantra of ‘EMBRACE. EMPOWER. EDUCATE,’ Mermaids is a charity dedicated to supporting children, young people, and their families to help raise awareness of gender nonconformity and dysphoria amongst professionals and the general public, so they might live happier lives.
You can check out their site and even donate to them here: