Queer games won big at the 2023 Game Awards, with Baldur’s Gate 3 – Lanian’s long-awaited D&D-based CRPG – clinching Game of the Year. Baldur’s Gate 3, alongside being one of the most critically acclaimed RPGs ever released, is a veritable wonderland for queer players: there’s a plethora of gay romance options, alongside canon gay content and a nonbinary gender option. (The gays can’t even agree on the best companion to romance: Karlach? Lae’zel? Shadowheart? Astarion? Can’t we have all of them at once?). Meanwhile, Cyberpunk 2077 (which includes canon gay love interests for any gender of character) won Best Ongoing for its new DLC expansion, Phantom Liberty, while sweet, mesmerising open-world adventure game Tchia took Best Game for Impact.
Summations of 2023 in games are consistent on two things: the unusually high quality of this year’s releases, and the bleak working conditions for game developers in an industry that has seen almost 10,000 job cuts this year, including Embracer Group shuttering three studios in six months. Conditions are, as always, precarious and difficult for queer developers: over a third of the games in January 2023’s ‘LGBTQ+ releases this year’ prospectives have yet to be released. But despite the difficulties they face, developers are still managing to create great queer content. PS5 reboot Mortal Kombat 1 finally confirmed that Tanya and Mileena are a couple; iconic lesbian road-trip RPG Get in the Car, Loser! released its third DLC, The Fate of Another World; gay BL visual novel and dating sim Jock Studio received over $500,000 on Kickstarter, ten times its initial goal. And amidst the discussions of BG3, Tears of the Kingdom, Starfield, Super Mario Bros. Wonder and Alan Wake 2, you might have missed some of the queer gems that dropped into this year’s packed schedule.
2023 and Queer Gameplay
Because of the financial constraints of being a solo/indie queer dev (as well as the history of queer gaming culture), queer games tend towards visual novels and text games, but we’ve had an unexpected bounty of queer fighting gameplay in 2023. We got two gay Metroidvanias this year: Paradiso Guardian combines retro Castlevania aesthetics and combat with steamy gay sex scenes, while in Romancelvania, you play as a thirsty bisexual Dracula who has to fight, befriend or seduce the other contestants in a supernatural dating show. Plus, Gayming Magazine’s roundup of the best gay entertainment moments of 2023 shouted out colourful swashbuckler En Garde!, where you can flirt with a rival while swordfighting her. What’s not to love?
We also got a gay deckbuilder this year: Up Multimedia, the devs behind My Ex-Boyfriend The Space Tyrant, dropped OscarWildeCard in March, one of my favourite short games of the year. It’s a fun, characterful game where you must battle to host successful dinner parties against your nemesis: famous wit and socialite Oscar Wildecard. Cards represent guests on your side of the table, and their powers and synergies can be used to try to outscore the other side – lest you be judged unworthy and cast out of the most fashionable building in the city.
There’s one game, however, that takes the cake for stylish, varied gameplay in queer games this year: Outerloop Games’ Thirsty Suitors, a madcap ‘90s-style Scott Pilgrim-esque adventure that combines ‘turn-based RPG battles, skating and over-the-top cooking mechanics’. Basically, you’ve gone back to your hometown and now you have hot exes to fight, gossipy family members to outwit, and delicious South Asian recipes to cook. It’s a gorgeous game both for and beyond its representation, giving a rare substantive and sparkling story to a queer woman of colour; it’s a true joy of an addition to the queer games canon.
Joy, nostalgia, and heartbreak are also easy to find in two of my other favourite releases of 2023. One is Frogsong, an adorable hand-drawn RPG where you play as a little nonbinary frog who wants to become a warrior. (The top Steam review just reads ‘gay frogs.’) It’s an endlessly charming little game, ideal for those who want a relaxed experience. The other is VIDEOVERSE, a game about early fandom nostalgia ideal for fans of Hypnospace Outlaw; you explore a fictional ‘00s social network attached to a fictional retro gaming console, diving into fan art, drama and conspiracy. (It’s also got a custom-built soundtrack from composer Clark Aboud, who’s best known for Slay the Spire.) If you were online in the MSN era, VIDEOVERSE will feel like reliving a past life.
A Good Year for Gay Visual Novels
Visual novel fans ate well this year. We got space yaoi in The Symbiant, whose follow-up comes out in January; a romance between women in time-loop VN Beneath Her Starry Sky; and veteran devs Gallium Games released their newest offering, Guilded Hearts, where an MMO fan pursues love among his guildmates. We also finally got a Fallen London VN, with a murder mystery, and a dating sim, and bats! Here are some of my other favourite VN finds of the year.
Mice Tea is now my second favourite erotic visual novel in existence (the first being Ladykiller in a Bind). Playful, sweet, narratively rich and exploring a wide array of kinks, it’s bisexual catnip – or mouse-nip, I suppose. My other favourite pickup this year was Insert Rich Family Name, a perfectly cathartic gaming experience if you’re experiencing family drama over Christmas: solve your grandfather’s murder, choose to support or backstab your other family members, and pursue a little romance on the side.
I’m a big fan of what visual novels do with fairytales – I’m buying Slay the Princess as soon as I get paid – and Chronotopia: Second Skin is an interesting, dark take on the Donkeyskin fairytale, itself a grittier variant of Cinderella; Chronotopia has a lot of formal tricks up its sleeve and culminates in a beautiful emotional journey. Solace State: Emotional Cyberpunk Stories is also great for people who prefer their VNs serious, sharp, and involving, from the sci-fi side rather than the high fantasy side. Conspiracy, revolution and community are all at the heart of this VN, and Steam reviewer GaryJKings articulates its appeal succinctly: ‘I feel like a lot of left-leaning political games occupy quite a cynical space […] Solace State makes a compelling case for something more hopeful. Like yeah, **** sucks. But what if we wrangled a gang of good friends and actually did something about it?’
Oh, and shout-out to one of my favourite subversions of the VN genre this year, com _ _ et, where you are locked into a particular path until you start to find words and options that have been hidden from you. It’s a short, innovative exploration of heteronormativity that packs a punch.
Looking Forward to 2024
2023 was an incredibly exciting and rich year for games full stop, and for queer games in specific. Luckily, we already have some concrete things to look forward to in 2024, from the promised drop of the Switch 2 (and the Switch rerelease of Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, which includes one of the only canon trans characters in a Nintendo game), to Hades II entering open access, as well as a dizzyingly long list of promised new releases. I’m stoked for Dungeons of Hinterburg, Princess Peach: Showtime, Lost Records: Bloom and Rage…who knows, maybe we’ll even get Silksong this year!
There’s very little information yet about which of this coming year’s big games will have LGBT+ content, however, and the prospectives of queer 2024 games won’t hit until January. So for now, have a pleasant rest of 2023 with this year’s amazing catalogue, and we’ll be back with you in the new year.