Mid-September doesn’t just mark a change in seasons, leaf colors, and Starbucks orders: it also means #BiWeek, a celebration of bisexuality and bi+ sexualities! This year, the Sidequest team decided to consider bisexuality in video games.
What are your favorite bi video game characters, canon or otherwise?
Melissa Brinks: I feel like a cliche saying Max Caulfield but like: it’s Max Caulfield. I appreciate that her orientation in Life is Strange is dependent on player actions; I know that irks some people because she, unlike Chloe in Life is Strange: Before the Storm, does not use the word “bisexual” to describe herself, but I think, in some ways, that’s representative of how different the two characters are from one another. Max is quiet, understated—distant, even. Chloe is at once more sure of herself and extremely unsure of herself. Max not feeling like she needs to put a word to her sexuality rings true to me, as I was a distressingly similar teenager.
Alenka Figa: Dream Daddy, with all its joyful, emotional moments and flaws, has been pretty thoroughly discussed at Sidequest, but I am here to be a Robert stan. I’m not sorry, I love him, I even own this beautiful Knife Dad print by Cathy G. Johnson. While Dream Daddy never uses terms like “gay” or “bisexual,” Robert is a widower who is untroubled by his attraction to men. His trouble stems from a different source—grief and estrangement from his daughter for sure, but potentially other vices or traumas that don’t come up directly in the game. He’s put up thick emotional walls, and is only just reaching a point where he’s ready to ask for help and actually start facing his problems.
Robert’s storyline is one of the more complex ones in the game, which makes him fun to pursue. However, he’s also an older man who, if this was a game that DID use queer language, would be secure in his sexuality. As I am getting older I’ve become more and more interested in stories about older queers, and I love characters like Robert who, despite their age, are still flawed and struggling. It’s comforting to see complex, compelling, older bisexual characters—I think it’s a character type rarely present in media.
Emily Durham: I love Mae from Night in the Woods! She’s canonically bi, a rebellious punk twenty-something, and I identify with her so much. Also Isabelle from Animal Crossing is bi and no one can tell me otherwise.
Zainabb Hull: ISABELLE IS BI! My favourite character is Zevran from Dragon Age: Origins who, to this day, represents my ideal partner. He’s flirty when you meet him, respecting your autonomy and independence, but once he’s fallen for you, he’s a dedicated romantic. As an assassin hired to kill your player Warden who is pretty easily convinced to join your party instead, Zevran is my favourite bi disaster.
Latonya Pennington: Ayla from Chrono Trigger gave me bi vibes when I played the Nintendo DS version for the first time last year. If you have female characters in your party along with Chrono, Ayla will say, “You strong, too. Ayla like strong person. Man, woman… Both like!”
Other than Ayla, I don’t know that many bi video game characters. The only other character that come to mind is Bartz from Final Fantasy V. He has what I call “Li Shang syndrome,” thinking that Faris, a pirate presumed to be male, is gorgeous. Later it is revealed that Faris is female, and Bartz still thinks they are pretty. Though frankly, I see Faris as a trans man.
What games have you played that allowed your orientation to be fluid, rather than straight by default?
Melissa: I know this is an unpopular answer in the realm of discussions of playersexuality—a concept referring to characters who are attracted to the player, with no defined sexuality outside of that single attraction—but I’m going to be honest: Dragon Age 2. I say this because I started off romancing Isabela, and when you get midway through her romance route, she says she’s not really the relationship type. My Hawke was the relationship type, so they parted on that note, and she picked up a relationship with Anders. Anders tells a male Hawke that he and Karl, a character met in Act I, were lovers; he, like my Hawke (and also Isabela, who sleeps with Fenris if Hawke doesn’t pursue either of them), is also bisexual.
Again, I know a lot of people point to Dragon Age 2 as emblematic of playersexuality, but I disagree. It’s not a perfect representation (why does Anders only tell a male Hawke that he and Karl were lovers?), but Anders and Isabela, at least, have always been bisexual to me, not playersexual—both have relationships with people of the same or different genders outside of their relationship with the player character. I appreciate that sexuality is fluid enough in Dragon Age (particularly with everything else going on!) that Hawke could move from one partner to another, each of a different gender, without anyone making a fuss about it.
Alenka: I recently played Speed Dating for Ghosts, one of many games from that giant anti-racism bundle that was up on itch.io. Your avatar or ghost-sona doesn’t have any identifying characteristics—you don’t have a gender, a death backstory, or anything, and the game instead focuses fully on the stories of the ghosts you date. The dateable ghosts are all a variety of genders and ages, which I really liked; one of my favorite stories was about an elderly woman whose husband is still alive, but has recently gotten sick. It felt very appropriate that gender wasn’t a factor in a game where all the characters are dead. What even is dating when everyone in your life is a ghost? In a way, the game had sort of an opposite Dream Daddy effect for me—instead of wondering why no one referred to themselves as gay or bi, it felt right that everyone stopped giving a fuck once they were all dead!
Emily: Dream Daddy may have been discussed ad nauseam for all its flaws and features, but I gotta throw in here that I really appreciated that your player character isn’t necessarily just gay. Right at the beginning of the game, you have a conversation with your daughter, and you get to choose during that conversation whether your partner from before you became widowed was a man or a woman. And, I absolutely love that nearly every Daddy you can date is canonically bi, all of them (by definition) already having children of their own. Not to mention that Damien is canonically a trans man, so you can choose to date a transgender person. Which, just. *chef’s kiss*
Zainabb: I agree with Melissa; the Dragon Age series was one of the first I encountered that actually felt like characters had their own sexualities, with Zevran being very explicitly bi in Origins and (disappointingly, to my queer female Warden) Morrigan being unexpectedly very straight. While I’m aware of the criticisms around playersexuality in Dragon Age and Mass Effect, it was actually playing as a female Warden, hoping to romance Morrigan, and finding out I couldn’t that made me feel that my party members each had backstories and sexualities of their own, and made my own player character’s queerness (which is not defined by the game) feel more real, too.
I never managed to get through the first section, but I appreciated that Always Sometimes Monsters allowed you to choose different types of relationships at the beginning of the game and didn’t lock you into any particular sexual orientation as you progressed.
Latonya: I envy all of you for the games you have. Maybe it’s because I mostly play mobile games and handheld JRPGs, but I don’t know that many games that let your orientation be fluid. The closest I’ve gotten is playing Stardew Valley, where characters are playersexual and is the first game that has let me date almost anyone I want. I do wish they would’ve been more specific with some of the NPCs orientations, though. I know two or three of them could be gay or bi. (And thanks, Melissa, for introducing me to the term “playersexual.”)
What can video games do to improve sexual and/or romantic orientation for their characters?
Melissa: I think the biggest thing is to treat bisexuality like an orientation. This sounds obvious, but what I mean is that bisexuality is not the absence of an orientation to be filled in by the appearance of a potential partner, but rather, an identity in itself. So if a character never talks about their attraction to anybody but the player and never mentions past relationships, that’s not treating bisexuality like an orientation; it’s a convenient method of pleasing the player by letting them live out a romantic fantasy. This doesn’t mean that a character has to mention that they’re bisexual with every breath they take, but some acknowledgement of romantic life or interest outside of the player goes a long way.
Alenka: Melissa, yes, I agree, and I think there are really fun, potential ways to do that! I want to see characters make bisexual finger guns in a game and then call them that and joke about it, or refer to themself or an ex as a chaotic bisexual. I think we all have this experience of waiting for a character’s past partners to be mentioned, or hoping for some kind of “confirmation,” and it’s exhausting! If your character is bisexual and they know it, have them name that and identify it.
Melissa: Yes! Those little humorous touches about community in-jokes (my personal favorite is not being able to sit in a chair properly) let players know that this is media by and for bisexual folks, not just trying to capture some abstract spirit of bisexuality. I like that little wink-nudge as an acknowledgement that bisexuality is also fun and interesting, not like… a source of sadness or distress, you know?
Those little humorous touches about community in-jokes let players know that this is media by and for bisexual folks, not just trying to capture some abstract spirit of bisexuality.
Emily: Without getting too much into the discourse around bi vs. pan and whether they’re the same or different etc. etc., I just. I wish that more games let you be genderqueer or included more genderqueer characters. It’s great that more games are letting you be bi where the game defines it as you’re a cisgender person who gets to date either cisgender men and/or cisgender women, but gimme more options, y’all. There are so many more people out there to date than just the cis!
Zainabb: Yes to all of this! I think it’s really important for games to name and identify different sexual and romantic orientations, instead of just implying orientations through the (mostly cis) genders of existing or previous partners. Give us jokes and fun and the occasional actual label!
Most of all, I really agree with Emily, as always having to play or romance cis characters in games is one of my least favourite things about my favourite types of games. Look, I appreciate more overtly queer relationships and characters, and I do think video games as a whole are getting better on queer representation. But so far, I’m seeing a lot of limitations to what types of queerness are being represented. As Emily says, being bi isn’t just about—or for—cis men and cis women, and when my player character can only be a man or woman (dating other men and women), I’m not represented even in my queerest attempts at video game romances.
I would like to be able to play nonbinary and genderqueer characters who get to date bisexual, pansexual, lesbian, gay, queer, asexual characters of all or no genders. I would love to see games that have canonically, explicitly bisexual characters who date trans, genderqueer, nonbinary characters, and that this is depicted as totally normal because bisexuality, like any sexuality, is just fluid like that. I would like to see a healthy balance between giving the player freedom to choose their romantic and sexual partners while still establishing and upholding characters’ own orientations; and I would like to see more games where you might not be able to choose who you date (if it’s that kind of game) but where you are queer “by default.” I’m thinking Gears of War but everybody is queer and there’s loads of bi and lesbian in-jokes as you chainsaw monsters.
Latonya: I agree with all of you, but especially Emily and Zaniabb. I’ve wanted to play a nonbinary/genderqueer character forever, and I want to be able to romance whomever I want and wear whatever I want, too. I’m tired of being locked in by allocishet gender binary options. I’d love a premium mobile RPG with options similar to a Choice of Games interactive novel. One of their games, Heart of the House, let you choose your pronouns and whether you want a queer romance with sex or no romance at all. To have an action RPG like that would be awesome.