As some of you know June is Gay Pride Month across the US, and many cities have been powering through parades and festivals, celebrating LGBT people in all walks of life. Even Gawker author Rich Juzwiak has taken part by producing a interesting list of queer cartoon characters. So I'm here with part two of a little queer game history. Think of it as Gayme History 101:
Since the inital release of 'The Sims', developers have added opportunies for LGBT players to be included in their worlds. Lionhead charged ahead with Fable, allowing same-sex marriages between the player and NPC's. Bioware has a history of strongly supporting LGBT characters, allowing gay relationships in their Mass Effect and Dragon Age. Despite the increase in same-sex possibilities, the option is often open-ended, simply open-world mechanics that allow romance without complex character building. There are examples of characters taking deliberate and story driven steps in their sex or sexuality.
Nintendo had still maintained a policy of censoring their own titles with western releases, retcon-ing characters, like Vivian of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, so she was a woman in the English version, but whose gender was ambiguous (or could have been a trans woman) in the Japanese. There are many instances where games didn't even make a western release, leaving queer characters away from Western eyes. In the Japan-Only title, Captain Rainbow, Birdo was given another chance at gaming stardom, and during the game was a given a gender queer personality, flying in the face of Nintendo's recent attempts to white-wash her. It's representative of how differently social acceptance has grown between countries around the world, especially Japan, where transgender and transvestism are apparently widely accepted,but gay and lesbian relationships are outside their normal social scope.
Today many major developers are standing out and standing by decisions to make games more inclusive, taking steps to add diversity within their gaming worlds. Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony gave the world of gaming its first true queer main character, "Gay" Tony Prince and Bioware wrote the first lesbian Jedi, Juhani, into Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Even when faux pas are made, steps are taken by many to rectify the mistakes. Nintendo's most recent life sim, Tomadachi Life, was put under fire for not including same-sex options but swiftly rebuilt a good standing with it's audience with a promise of inclusivity for the future. Gay character's aren't relegated to sidekick anymore and don't have to always be the protagonist. Ubisoft has confirmed that the villain in Far Cry 4 is also gay, as well as being an insane asshole.
Many developers, like Bioware and Ubisoft, have come out publicly in the support of their team's decision to be inclusive in all respects, not only for gay characters but all characters. There is some truth to the fact that the medium as a whole isn't nearly as inclusive as it could be, but good progress has been made on including positive racial, gender, and LGBT roles. It can be particularly difficult to add gay or transgendered characters to a story; a writer shouldn't want to shoehorn in a characters sexuality without meaningfully adding to the exposition. Valiant efforts have been made and payed off for many in the gaming industry.
As the art form of gaming grows it will improve, producing a variety of characters that players around the world can enjoy and understand, regardless of their origin or orientation. I am proud to be gay, proud to be a gamer, and proud of the direction games are taking. It's pushing boundaries and perspectives, and even when it missteps, I can count on community members to stand for what's right.
Edit: There are many fellow commenters bringing up many more queer games and game characters in the comments which I didn't include (or didn't know of) in my write-up, like Poison, a trans character from Street Fighter (Thanks Exovedate) and the SimCoptor controversy (thanks zhirek). Feel free to chime in in the comments!