Toni Oisin H.C. (QSO)
6 Great Life Sim Games Where You Can Actually Be LGBTQ+
SPOILER: Most of them are sandbox farming games.
I have always loved life sim and sandbox style games. It’s essentially just an excuse to play with dolls while looking like you’re doing Busy Work on your computer, or doing Hardcore Gaming on your console. While life simulators aren’t a recent trend by any stretch of the imagination - Conway’s Game of Life came out in 1970, a whopping 52 years ago - it’s certainly been a more recent phenomena to actually be able to play as an LGBTQ+ character in these titles. Some games would allow us to be able to completely evade romance arcs or marriage mechanisms, making it easier to evade any arcs of forced heterosexuality, but some games would require we take a walk down straight lane for the progression of lore, or to be able to unlock achievements. Pretty frustrating. While our choices can still be pretty limited, there are a couple of options out there now. Let’s take a look at a number of recent titles that actually let you play as an LGBTQ+ character.
Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town
I’ve always loved Harvest Moon, ever since I was just a young egg. Back in the day, I would obsessively play Harvest Moon: It’s A Wonderful Life while desperately trying to pursue Ceilia with moondrop flowers and fresh eggs. Then, I was mostly pissed off that I couldn't play as a woman farmer. It wasn’t very girlboss of them to force me to be a boy. But, from a gender perspective… It probably did some things I couldn’t understand yet, spending hours on end playing as a cute little farm boy with my name. Incidentally, they did eventually re-release the title with the option of playing as a girl, but - surprise surprise - I didn't end up playing it. Maybe I wasn't that mad after all.
For those who missed it, some drama happened around who owns modern Harvest Moon games, and now half of them are made under the title Story of Seasons. Around abouts the same time the split happened, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town - a revamp of the classic Harvest Moon game with the similar title - came out. Anyway, I was fucking delighted when I picked up Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town last year. It marked the first Harvest Moon(ish) game that actually included the opportunity to be gay. This is the case regardless of the gender of farmer you play as (young me would be pleased; you can play as a girl now), and regardless of which bachelor or bachelorette you choose to date. This includes the debatably genderless Kappa who wants only cucumbers.
You can also adopt a capybara as a pet. Pretty swish.
It would be absurd to write any kind of list about sandbox games, let alone a list of sandbox games which include LGBTQ+ options, without mentioning Stardew Valley up front. The charming RPG has gained massive notoriety since it first launched back in 2016. The game sits somewhere between early 2D Harvest Moon titles and more free life simulators like The Sims, with totally open-ended gameplay and nigh infinite opportunities to customise your 16bit farmer’s little life and homestead. Included in those endless options is the opportunity to woo and romance any bachelor or bachelorette you want, regardless of their - or your - gender. There are 12 regular bachelors and bachelorettes in total, each with their own unique backstory and preferences. Who doesn’t just want to go and be gay in the great outdoors?
Plus, you can become roommates with a cryptid - pretty sure that’s a fundamental milestone in being gay. I don’t think you can actually call yourself gay if you wouldn’t at least choose to live with a cryptid; assuming you haven’t already done so.
Another indie game - with more cute pixel art graphics to beat - TinyLife is a much anticipated life sim, with plenty options for your little pixel people to be LGBTQ+. The game technically isn’t out yet, but if you move fast you can still hop on to its public beta on Itch.io or Steam. The early demo of TinyLife really manages to capture the feeling of the original release of The Sims, but with the benefit of far cuter graphics and far more chances to be LGBTQ+. For starters, everyone automatically uses they/them pronouns, and your tinies can present themselves in any way they (or you) see fit.
Something particularly notable is the explicit inclusion of aromanticism and asexuality as traits in the game, meaning your tinies can be completely exempt from romancing other tinies (or they can experience an altered route for dating), as well as being able to totally avoid the game’s equivalent of getting the Big Horn: Feeling “Frisky”. This doesn’t just operate on an “opt in” basis, either - premade households in Maple Plains City also include asexual and aromantic tinies. Nice one.
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town
Continuing on the farmer theme that we’ve had going for a few entries on this list, let’s take a look at Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town. The successor in the franchise to Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town, Pioneers of Olive Town is a completely original new story in the series. As always, Pioneers of Olive Town is cram-packed with cute little animals for you to take care of, exciting mines to explore, and a fantastic range of crops to cultivate - but, as a new addition, you can now customise your farm with cute little fences and enclosures.
An exciting premise for this title is the promise of over 200 new events, including some as the opportunity to “find love with someone special”. Of course, how special could it be if you couldn’t be gay? You can woo, pursue, and marry any eligible bachelors or bachelorettes regardless of their - or your - gender. With all new candidates who haven't featured in any previous titles, that's a pretty exciting prospect.
Rune Factory 5
A sibling series to the Harvest Moon franchise, Rune Factory is essentially what happens if you make Final Fantasy into a farming sim. As well as managing and running a whole ranch, Rune Factory games always give you the opportunity of exploring the badlands surrounding the village. If you’re the kind of person who, like me, tends to enjoy life sims up until you completely lose track of what to do (much like how I navigate my real life), then Rune Factory games are perfect. Once you’ve sown your turnips and brushed the cows, you can go dungeon crawling with a sword and shield.
Rune Factory 5 is no exception to the Final Farmtasy* vibe, but this is the first title where you can marry a character of the same gender as you as a part of the game’s romance mechanism. You can date any of the 12 marriage candidates you want to, with no limitations set by gender. Plus, you get a really cute little illustrated cutaway scene for your wedding ceremony. Fuck yeah.
*I nearly said “Farmer Fantasy”, but I’m fairly certain that game exists too, and is probably pretty gay, but I’d suspect it has a pretty different vibe to this one.
The Sims 4 (or, technically, just about any game in The Sims franchise)
I’ve played The Sims since its very first instalment. I bought The Sims 1 base game, along with a copy of the Makin’ Magic expansion pack, for about a fiver in the early 2000s from my local supermarket - and I have barely put down the franchise since. I suspect being about 10 years old and playing as a lesbian sim in The Sims 3 probably mentally unlocked some doors for me (you know how it is). An embarrassing number of hours (and cash) later, and we find ourselves on the most recent edition of the franchise: The Sims 4.
I’m hesitant to praise Maxis and EA too much, for an absolute litany of reasons. However, despite that, something nice is that it’s kind of always been possible to be some shade of gay in The Sims, ever since day one. LGBTQ+ sims in The Sims 4 are awarded all of the same privileges as their cishet companions, from marriage and children and beyond. Over the past couple of years, they’ve introduced free patches to make the gender and pronoun systems on the game a little more inclusive, too. It’s nice to be able to escape our very scary real world sometimes by playing in an equally scary, but at least gay and trans friendly, world made entirely out of glitchy graphics and wicked whims.
Toni Oisin H.C. is the Head of Audio at QSO Media. Read more of his writing here.