The acronym LGBT is used to represent the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community. Essentially, it represents those who are attracted to others of the same gender (whether exclusively or not), as well as those whose gender does not align with their birth-assigned gender.
As public acceptance of LGBT people has become more common in society, so too has representation of LGBT characters in video games. Although initially uncommon in early video games, LGBT people and their experiences have become increasingly present since.
While it is increasingly common for characters to be explicitly established as LGBT, many are not, but have evidence which can be used to reasonably establish them as such. This can take a number of forms, such as a character stating attraction to others of the same gender, a character stating a desire to be a different gender, or acting in less-sensitive manners, such as acting stereotypically flamboyant. Alternatively, some characters receive direct confirmation outside of a game's material, such as direct developer statements, or can be assumed as being LGBT due to being licensed from a source material where they were established as such.
As well, while video games increasingly broach the subject of LGBT people respectfully, not all portrayals are positive. Some characters are established as LGBT primarily for sexual appeal, such as with the lesbian protagonist of Fear Effect 2, or for the sake of jokes at the character's expense.
History in Video Games
Video games in the 1980s and 1990s typically lacked LGBT characters. Those that did exist were often solely joke characters, or portrayed via misguided stereotypes. One example of this is Super Mario Bros. 2, wherein Birdo is described as a wishing to be a woman, and preferring to be called Birdetta, despite future Mario titles continuing to use the name Birdo.
LGBT characters would often be censored or accidentally created in localization to the United States, often due to Nintendo and Sega's then-highly restrictive rules about in-game content. For example, a number of flamboyantly gay characters were removed from Streets of Rage 3 when the game was brought to the US. Similarly, when Final Fight was brought overseas, Capcom altered the backstories for Roxy and Poison to make them transgender, under the belief that doing so would avoid potential backlash against letting players beat up women.
Despite these missteps, a number of early video games did feature positive portrayals of LGBT characters, especially games released on non-console platforms where major publishers held less control over in-game content. As far back as 1989, LGBT developers created games such as Caper in the Castro and GayBlade. Both games featured themes and locations directly influenced by the LGBT community, such as gay protagonists, settings built on real-life LGBT communities, and homophobic antagonists, from a mysterious figure poisoning a gay community to real-life conservative politicians.
Since the 2000s
Since around the early 2000s, the gaming industry has quickly started to become more favorable towards LGBT presence in video games. LGBT characters have been given increasingly noteworthy roles in major releases, such as in the Last of Us series and the Dragon Age franchise. This increased prominence is especially notable in indie development, wherein LGBT developers have become increasingly common, sometimes directly developing games about their experiences with being LGBT.
A common occurrence in modern titles is for romance options be available regardless of the player character's gender (sometimes referred to as "playersexual".) Featured in RPGs such as Mass Effect, the playersexual method has seen a widely positive response, but has also received some criticism for often making it entirely player choice as to whether characters are openly gay or not.
Additionally, many character creation systems have begun to include gender-neutral options or outright remove gender-locked traits, to more readily accommodate transgender and nonbinary players. Some games also allow the player to choose what pronouns the player character should be referred to by.
As internet-enabled games have become more common, so too has developers supporting LGBT communities in their games. Many online games feature pride flag cosmetics, or highlight their game's LGBT players. However, some also frequently struggle to accommodate LGBT players, often censoring words such as "gay" and "lesbian" in attempts to prevent in-game harassment, making such topics difficult to discuss in-game.