LGBT video games in spotlight as popular Life is Strange series gives debut to bisexual character
- Life is Strange: True Colours allows players to pursue same-sex relationships as they journey their way through a supernatural version of small-town America
- It is the fourth full-length game in a series that has been praised for its portrayal of characters across the LGBT spectrum
With a bisexual protagonist who wields a mysterious superpower, the new instalment of Life is Strange is the latest in a growing array of video games that place LGBT characters in the spotlight.
Like previous games in the popular series, Life is Strange: True Colours allows players to pursue same-sex relationships as they journey through a supernaturally tinged version of small-town America.
“We really wanted to continue to honour the story of queer characters in Life is Strange,” says lead writer Jon Zimmerman of Nine Deck Games, the US studio behind True Colours.
The latest game follows Alex Chen, a young Asian-American woman who embraces her power to sense other people’s emotions as she investigates her brother’s death in the Colorado mountains. The series is also being adapted into a TV show.
The games have won critical acclaim for the sensitivity of their storylines since 2015 when French studio Dontnod produced the first instalment, which has sold more than 3 million copies alone.
True Colours is the fourth full-length game in a series that has been praised for its portrayal of characters across the LGBT spectrum.
“Back in 2015, I was still ‘in the closet’,” says Mai Torras, a Buenos Aires-based game developer who runs a fan site devoted to the series. Life Is Strange, she says, “helped me a great deal to finally come to terms with a few things about myself”.
For years, gay, bisexual and transgender characters featured mainly in video games made by small independent companies. But larger studios are now also eager to depict a wider diversity of characters, in part to better reflect players’ own life experiences as gaming has become a mainstream hobby for millions worldwide.
Last year, gay rights activists hailed The Last Of Us Part II – a huge commercial and critical success – as the first blockbuster game to feature a lesbian protagonist. Before it developed True Colours, Deck Nine Games worked on Before The Storm, a 2017 Life is Strange prequel which similarly depicts a range of LGBT characters.
“It’s one of the hardest things we do,” Zimmerman says of the studio’s efforts to depict queer characters in a way that feels both authentic and sensitive. The games’ writers are well aware that players’ own experiences with their gender and sexuality can be “connected to great tragedy or trauma”, he adds.
Video game giant Ubisoft had stumbled with its own attempt at introducing LGBT characters in its cult Assassin’s Creed series.
The Odyssey game, released in 2018, offered players the option to pursue a same-sex relationship – but the storyline then forced them into a heterosexual one. Ubisoft’s creative director apologised for the gaffe.
Elizabeth Maler, co-founder of French games publisher Abiding Bridge, says the industry was waking up to the fact that it “has an impact on society” and can play a role in encouraging tolerance.
But some players have accused games like Life is Strange of trying to force political correctness down their throats. “I don’t play games to hear about other people’s political ideas, especially if it’s pushy about it,” read one comment about True Colours posted on Steam.
Gaming culture has long battled with a reputation for jokes at the expense of minorities, not least the LGBT community.
And while studios are increasingly trying to emphasise diversity within their games, critics say the teams developing them often remain overwhelmingly white, straight and male.
“We are still in an industry that remains very sexist and that can be racist, ableist and that isn’t great at integrating marginalised people,” Maler says.