Toni Oisin H.C. (QSO)
11 Must Play LGBTQ+ Indie Games (and Where to Find Them)
Plus an honorary mention for a game we're really excited about...
I love indie games. It feels ridiculous to say, really, given ‘indie’ isn’t a genre - but I do. I love seeing the ideas that get explored and toyed with away from AAA companies. The innovation bred by small studios, collaborations, and creatives is essentially unbeaten. A bonus of playing indie games, too? The fact that so damn many of them are, in some way, LGBTQ+. Let’s dig into some fantastic LGBTQ+ titles from indie devs that you can dig into right away (plus a sneak peek of an unreleased one that we’re really excited about!).
Stardew Valley is a charming 2D farming sim with sandbox gameplay, dating and marriage mechanics, and the cutest little pixel art cows you ever did see. An extra bonus point is that you can live out your gay farmhand dreams by pursuing any bachelor or bachelorette you want, regardless of the gender presentation of your character. Pretty neat. Remember Harvest Moon? Well, this is kind of like that - but gayer. Sure, you can finally romance similar-gender individuals as of the Harvest Moon reboot, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town, but it really took some time, huh? Stardew Valley allowed gay marriage straight off the bat, on the other hand, before Harvest Moon did. You can play Stardew Valley on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation Vita, Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, and Mobile.
Night in the Woods
Night in the Woods is an immensely gorgeous 2D narrative game set in the mysterious mining town of Possum Springs. You play as Mae, a rebellious bisexual cat (you read that right), as they return to their hometown to find everything different - except for them. A core part of Night in the Woods revolves around the internal politics of Mae’s extremely gay friend group from their teen years as they reconnect with one another, solving a dark secret along the way. It’s kind of like Scooby Doo, only darker, gayer (marginally), and more furry (again, marginally). Scooby Doo-ing asides, it’s a story that anyone who grew up gay and/or trans in a small, rural town can immediately identify with. You can play Night in the Woods on the Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux, and Mobile.
A Summer’s End - Hong Kong 1986
A Summer’s End is a vibrant, neon visual novel following a lesbian romance. It’s a beautiful, aesthetically cohesive narrative piece with branching dialogue and story mechanisms. It’s the first release made by indie developers and new-kids-on-the-block Oracle and Bone Studio. The game is a nice look into stories that aren’t typically represented among LGBTQ+ media - done so with incredibly effective results. The period-setting of the game is achieved impressively too, on multiple levels. Firstly, the art style hits you as evoking 1980s and 1990s comic book titles, with glossy glow effects and saturated candy colours. Secondly, the soundtrack slaps with it’s 1980s influence. Vaporwave who? You can play A Summer’s End - Hong Kong 1986 on PC.
A Year of Springs
A trilogy of short narrative games rolled into one, A Year of Springs follows three stories about women at all different points on the gender-sexuality continuum. The thing that brings them together? The power of friendship. The other thing that brings them together? Hot springs. The adorable, soft art-style paired with some incredibly sensitive and tender storytelling makes every title in the saga a treat to play. The first of the three games, One Night, Hot Springs follows Haru as she tries to navigate attending a hot spring while trans, with her friend Manami. The subsequent games, Last Day of Spring and Spring Leaves No Flowers, although sometimes told from different perspectives, link in to ONHS too, sharing a few core characters. The way the stories are interconnected with one another makes for some really nicely fleshed-out storytelling, while evoking the way that inevitably, all LGBTQ+ friendship groups seem to overlap and interconnect too. You can play A Year of Springs on PC.
A Normal Lost Phone
A Normal Lost Phone is an exploration and puzzle game located entirely in a fictional mobile. You need to test your private investigator skills when you find an abandoned phone which you become tasked with trying to return to its rightful owner. But, who exactly is that? Only one way to find out. Rifle through this mystery person’s texts, messages, emails, search history, and more to uncover the game’s secrets. Is it morally dubious to go through someone’s phone? Sure. But it’s also pretty damn interesting. A Normal Lost Phone manages to give you a peek into an incredibly intimate part of someone’s life, told in an incredibly tender and touching way. You can play A Normal Lost Phone on PC, Linux, Mac, and for a truly immersive experience: iOS and Android mobile systems.
Gone Home is a narrative exploration game about, as you might’ve guessed, going home. To uncover the game’s touching story, you dig up details from the past using clues from the protagonist’s childhood bedroom in their family home. For anyone who grew up queer in the 90s and early 2000s, it’s a warmly nostalgic experience; like revisiting a deep corner of your inner childhood in a safe, controlled environment. The gameplay is completely free from any puzzle mechanics (or combat mechanics for that matter, but that’s perhaps more of a given), making the game really capture the sense that it’s an interactive story: we aren’t gaming in the traditional sense when playing Gone Home. Instead, we’re becoming fully immersed in someone’s personal history. You can play Gone Home on PC, Linux, Mac, iOS, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
It would be ridiculous to do a write-up of significant queer games made by indie devs WITHOUT covering Celeste. Ask any circle of friends that is predominantly LGBTQ+ for game recs, and you’re for sure going to have Celeste crop up at least once. And, rightfully so - it’s a beautifully made masterpiece of a puzzle-platformer. At first glance, the plot of the game is to climb a mountain, despite impossible puzzles and treacherous weather. Once you scratch the frosty surface, though, the game is much more - it’s a story of self discovery and self development as a trans person. The game is a beautiful work of art and an exploration of gender and transness, in addition to being a fantastic play. It really has it all. You can play Celeste on PC, Mac, Linux, Stadia, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
One of the more recent releases in this list, Unpacking is a delightful narrative game developed by Witch Beam. The premise is pretty straightforward: you’re presented with some boxes of stuff that you need to find homes for. In actuality, though, this plays out as a journey through the protagonist’s life, centring on some key moments from her past, starting in 1997. At first glance, the queerness of the game can seem pretty subtle - but if you know where to look, it’s there. While being gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer, or however you may identify, can certainly impact every area of your life, sometimes when you take a step back, it can just feel like a smaller part of a bigger picture. Unpacking captures that feeling: when you see the whole of the protagonist’s room, sometimes the queerness isn’t immediately visible, among all of the other clutter and environmental cues we’re looking out for - but it’s still always there. You can play Unpacking on PC, Mac, Linux, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One.
Spiritfarer is a game about death, dying, and what happens ‘next’. To avoid spoilers, we’ll mostly leave it at that. The game doesn’t shy away from difficult topics that can be otherwise considered morbid, dealing with them in a gentle way - without straying into the saccharine. The game handles LGBTQ+ experiences two-fold. Firstly, the game has explicitly lesbian characters and romance in it, providing the audience with some gorgeous representation. Secondly, a core theme of the narrative is the tried and true chosen family trope. It takes no explanation as to why this would especially strike a chord with LGBTQ+ audiences - and Spiritfarer does it particularly well. You can play Spiritfarer on PC, Mac, Linux, Stadia, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
As soon as you click on the Steam page for If Found…, you’re greeted with tons of reviews saying “trans rights are human rights”. This alone should give you a good feel for the ground covered in this pastellised dreamscape of a game. Set on New Year’s Eve 1993 in Ireland, the game starts with someone called Kasio, a destroyed diary, and a dilapidated mansion. Somewhere along the way, it twists into a story of an all-encompassing blackhole that’s set to trigger the apocalypse - as you do. Tying up science fiction with a sentimental coming-of-age story, If Found… is the perfect visual novel for anyone looking for a little food for thought. You can play If Found… on PC, Mac, iOS, and Nintendo Switch.
Princess in the Tower Block
The only browser-based game in this article, Princess in the Tower Block is a narrative game about isolation, lockdown, and the apocalypse. Sound familiar? Yeah. The plus side to the fictionalised apocalypse offered here that’s maybe missing from our own dystopia is the candy-coloured aesthetics spanning the titular tower block. Aesthetically, it feels like if Barbie made a doomsday bunker - which is, frankly, what I wish my isolation looked like. In a classic point-and-click style, you can explore the surroundings completely to interact with and learn about the world surrounding the tower block, flirt with kindly delivery people, and grow a fifth eye through the magic of infinite HRT. What more could you ask for from a game? You can play Princess in the Tower Block in your browser.
HONORARY MENTION: Spirit Swap
Let’s finish the article off with an honorary mention to a game that isn’t even out yet. Coming out later this year (excuse the phrase!), Spirit Swap is a multi-sensory, adorable, super gay puzzle game. Assist witches and their familiars in liberating spirits through puzzles in this hot upcoming narrative-strategy game. With rave reviews out for it already, I personally can’t wait to see what comes of this title. You can play the demo of Spirit Swap here.
Toni Oisin H.C. is the Head of Audio at QSO Media. Read more of his writing here.