FOLKS we’re still fruitlessly lashing about in the interminable purgatory of the post election, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and, of course, sitting here shitting ourselves wondering if the fucker’s gonna actually mobilize the tanks against us. It’s the worst time of year, unless you’re rich as shit, and your friends Seasonal Depression and Fuck It’s Cold are moving in for the next couple months.
Fortunately, we still have electricity. Which means we have video games! Most games are good. “Good” in the sense that no undue discriminatory, mental, or physical harm was generated in their creation. I’ve listed my reasons for why you should and shouldn’t, so I’m not going to repeat myself here and just be brief: you shouldn’t buy or play Cyberpunk 2077. LGBTQIA+ culture must be protected and championed where ever it can be. That includes turning eyes to artistic works, and that includes LGBTQIA+ video games.
I AIN’T WAITING FOR THAT HUNKA CRAP TO DROP before I start spewing about queer/poc games. I am impatient and I haven’t published anything this month, besides. I searched for LGBTQIA+ on itch.io games, and then grazed. I have paid the recommended price for each of these games where applicable, and I encourage you to also cough up a dollar or two for these developers and others not seen here – many are in dire straits and even a buck for coffee will make a difference in their lives. Rock n’ roll; let’s play some games.
Hot Date 2! by vvspaceship
Hot Date 2 is described on itch.io as “a bullet hell dating simulator.” You are a goblin dating another goblin, and it’s up to you to shepherd these dates towards passionate kissing and then, presumably, consensual coitus. You will do this by “flying” your “ship,” made of thought-bubble responses to questions asked by your date, through thick snarls of moving obstacles that cover the play field. Your goal, in the course of play, is to guide your responses to your date’s face – doing so fills a meter in the lower right corner of the screen. Delivering an undamaged response will fill the meter more, but if your response takes too much damage, you’ll lose it, and the meter will drain. The game is over when the meter drains completely. Should you fill the meter, however, and respond positively to lovemaking, you’ll clear the level and move to a new location to continue courtship. Repeat.
The game and its characters are cute, with a soft, flat look that favors bright, luscious colors, much like Dicey Dungeons. But the game is strict – failure sends you all the way back to the start. Given the already tedious Irritating Stick play style, it’s hard to work up the gumption to try again. I got to the second level three times and lost, and seen enough. I don’t know if the designer intended for the second level to be so difficult. Buy and download this game now!
Stay?! by ejadelomax
Stay? is a text-heavy, choice-based game. You play as three different types of young persons in a fantasy setting that is absolutely another goddamn Harry Potter analogue. The goal, stated on the game’s itch.io page, is to “choose your own happy ending.” You’ll meet a small cast of characters – fellow students, teachers, administration, etc – among whom you will find someone to have sex with. Most choices in this game are presented in the non-too-subtle paragon/renegade fashion: one option is “good,” the other is “complete bastard.” Victory is attained when you’ve finally entered married bliss with the person you want to have sex with (as it is in real life).
The writing’s tempo whisks you along with it. It’s light reading, typical “will they or won’t they” events and dialogues. The violence that happens in it feels like it’s overcompensating for being a fantasy, apologia for being adjacent to a children’s book series. Would these characters’ interactions and relationships still be interesting outside its setting? For me, probably not. The game is unsubtle in pushing you towards what happy ending it would like for you to choose. It plays out like Groundhog Day, and you can keep cycling until you “do everything right.” Out of spite I ground the game into a short loop where I make the exact same choices over and over again, dying in a fire while eating sausage. Just abandoning people over and over again, safe in the knowledge that I’ll die and do everything the same again. It was a weird comfort, having perfect knowledge of events and time so I could maneuver myself into the one position where I never inconvenience anyone, especially myself, and bask in the ecstasy of eternal reincarnation. I could feel the game sigh in exasperation as I woke up in my bedroom for the 7th time. All I wanted to do was die for those sausages again.
Huh. Guess I did find my happy ending. Recommended. You can play Stay? for free and in-browser here!
RUN! by RUNthegame
RUN is an endless runner. It is currently in alpha. You play as a Black person in a grimdark fantasy setting running across procedurally generated platforms attempting to outrun a small black and red cloud that mimics your moves. Though described as endless, RUN features levels with a beginning and end. The end is reached when you approach a waterfall in a bucolic forest. Failure allows you to re-attempt the level.
Okay now that I got the science portion out of the way let’s call this what it is: a Celeste fan game. Celeste featured several events where your character was also chased by a dark force mimicking all your movements, and uses very similar mechanics and controls. It also shares its pixel-art style with Celeste. None of this is a crime, of course. You can support the developer by buying and downloading it right now!
Tranxiety! by t e c g o t h i c a
Tranxiety is a text-heavy adventure game that uses RPG Maker VX Ace elements as well as its engine. There is no combat. You play a trans woman in the process of transition, living her days and experiencing the myriad transgressions and abuse that trans women face every day. The game ends with the woman accepting herself and rejecting the transphobic behavior of her friends, family, and the world she lives in.
So this here has you explicitly playing as trans woman, which itself is something the mainstream has failed to offer. Trans women have appeared in games in positive roles, but few offer the chance to play a self-realized character that is explicitly trans. Characterization is very flat, though – for all characters in this story. But the broad strokes and simplistic dialogue allows the game to keep its laser focus on providing at least a fractional experience of being trans in the real world.
There’s a survey at the start that asks if you’re cis or trans (you can also decline to answer). I answered cis, and the exchange that followed was disbelief that I was lying about being cis and that I easily pass for trans, and I shouldn’t worry about lying to people. It’s clever, and point taken. Recommended. Buy and download Tranxiety here!
Kill the Prince!! by Heiden
Kill the Prince! is a visual novel. The setting is the fantasy kingdoms of Mien and Espington, currently at war. Prince Milford of Mien escapes one night, only to be captured by Espington, who plan to force him and their own princess, Lisette, to marry. You, a thief who was hired to be an assassin, are ordered to stop this from happening.
Being a visual novel means that this will live and die on the quality of its writing. And I’ve never been able to get into VNs. This is partially my fault (I am a tweaked overfed American goober who responds really well to explosions and blood and not so much blocks of text over intimate moments), but also you know what? Many VNs aren’t well-written. At least the ones I’ve played. Yes, I’ve tried to slog through Hatoful Boyfriend and Shibuya 428 and other standouts in the genre, and it never grabs me.
But I like this one. Mainly because the tone is irreverent without being caustic about what kind of game it is. It takes itself seriously but by no means expects you to. It has a gentle sense of humor and a great respect for all its characters, even those in the background. It’s a lean game and can be finished within ten minutes, and even sooner if you’re not the person to exhaust dialogue options.
The anime/manga art style is crisp, and using tone palettes, they manage to create multiple environments without having to commit too much to background details. There’s an air of lightness to everything. Without smothering the player, the game casually invites you to explore and talk. It’s a nice world, even if there are assholes there too. You buy and download the game here!
Man Hunt! by embreate
Man Hunt is an arcade action game with an emphasis on shooting moving targets. It is similar to light-gun games such as Duck Hunt. The player is confronted with four birdlike caricatures of celebrities who are known for their homophobic opinions (Phil Robertson, Sarah Palin, Anita Bryant, and Adam Corolla). The player attempts for a high score by shooting the targets (with rainbows). Multiple targets shot without missing in between will build a combo to increase your score. After the fourth stage, your score is tallied and the game is over.
In terms of substance, there’s not much here other than the cathartic zapping of homophobic dipshits. It seems, if you were willing, that you could use an old Nintendo Wii controller to play this, and it would certainly enhance the experience: playing with a mouse is a bit too easy. The presentation is irreverent without looking away from the words of these people, presented unvarnished at the start of each new level, and it’s important to know that these people in particular said these words, and these words were intended to harm everyone in the LGBTQIA+ community. Targets, once zapped, change into ice cream-pooping unicorns which then scamper away. It’s a short trip, but a fun one. You can download and play for free right here!
60 Seconds ‘Till the Show! by gensuta
60 Seconds ‘Till the Show is an action arcade game. Players must dodge a volley of bullets being shot by roaches while also returning fire. There are a total of 15 enemies, and 60 seconds on the clock. The goal is to eliminate all enemies before the clock runs out.
Okay I really dig this game – sidestepping the shooting gameplay (which is rough, but doable), there’s a beat poetry feel to this. Starting the game opens with a line-by-line read of the plot (you are a girl with your girlfriend and you both want to see the band but oh no there are roaches stopping you), but the tempo of the words and the decadent RESENTMENT this character feels not just toward her roach enemies but seemingly the world at large really grab me. I played and finished this game twice just so I could read the ending dialogue again (and there’s a different one if you fail). This game triumphs on its attitude. This is cool. You can play the game in-browser and support the creator here!
Violent Neighbours! by Black Dog Red Nose
Violent Neighbours is an action adventure game. You control a Georgian man who is part of the LGBTQIA+ community, and must complete a set of tasks, such as going to the grocery store, in order to complete the game. You are surrounded by several enemies (referred to as “far right guys”) who give chase if you move too close to them. If an enemy touches you, the game is over, and you must start from the beginning again.
So it’s hard to know what you’re walking into with Violent Neighbours because the presentation is in that uncanny valley of “nice enough to be a semi-professional production, clanky enough to suggest this is all parody.” For whatever reason – and I hope it’s as simple as “it was the one piece of royalty-free music we could find” – this game is equipped with a single music track. That track is circus music. Menacing circus music. The kind of menacing circus music you play in a cartoon or horror film, say. It’s on a loop. And it keeps getting louder because more instruments start coming in as it plays. Not different instruments! Just… after two minutes or so, they decide to add a second organ. Then more percussion. Now there’s three tubas! WHAT ARE YOU DOING.
If I was playing any other game by any other creator, I’d immediately know I was being fucked with. But I have to be careful here because of the subject matter. The aim of the creator of this game is stated plainly on his itch.io page: many take for granted the ease in which they live their daily lives, so he made this game to illustrate the dangers of LGBTQIA+ people living in Tbilisi, Georgia. Does it achieve this goal? That depends on if one’s experience in Tbilisi truly features being chased by knife-wielding men and soldiers and other such citizens. Which, you know, probably actually does. The game features some statistics concerning how LGBTQIA+ friendly Georgia is, and the numbers ain’t good.
As a game it’s certainly the most challenging I’ve played in this list. You soon figure out a pattern and a path that gets you safely to all destinations. You kite enemies away from entrances and you have a dash ability you can activate. It took me about 10 tries to finish. As an educational tool it’s certainly an entertaining, if harrowing peek into how dangerous are the lives of LGBTQIA+ people in Georgia. Recommended. You can play in-browser and support the creator right here!
In great and small, and in obvious and hidden ways, LGBTQIA+ people face not just discrimination, but violence and threats on their lives almost every day, in every part of the world. And these acts against humanity begin early in their lives, just as they are discovering the person they’re going to become. It’s vital that these young people have a source to turn to for help. I donate to The Trevor Project.
It is vital that this charity (and other LGBTQIA+ charities) as well as these game creators and thousands more are supported. Not just in word, but financially. By being game creators, they are now a part of game history. And the LGBTQIA+ chapter of game history is still young, and there’s a ton of exciting experimentation going on, and the voices are new and many are even hopeful.
It truly is a privilege to be able to use a site like itch.io to play thousands of new games from thousands of new voices. I thank each game creator whose games I played, and I thank you for reading this. You can find me yelling at clouds on Twitter @fishfridaymonwa.