Mid-September is Bi Pride Week, a time to celebrate bisexual folks and bisexualities, and recognise the glory and chaos of the bi community! This year marks the 25th anniversary of Bi Week so the Sidequest squad is talking about all things bi in games.
Who’s your favourite bi character in gaming? (Headcanons and OPs are welcome!)
Melissa Brinks: A lot of answers popped into my head when I read this question but I think there’s one clear answer for me here: Max Caulfield from Life is Strange. It’s not because she’s the best representation of bisexuality, nor because she’s the best character—it’s purely because the way her sexuality appears to her in the game, almost by surprise, so clearly mirrors my own experience as a weird, awkward, artsy bisexual teen that I can’t help but feel for her, you know? Max is not a person who has anything figured out. She doesn’t even realize that she has a crush on her friend for most of the game, at least how I played it. I think back to a younger version of myself who could totally understand her feelings toward boys because those feelings were “normal” and expected, but who was so confused about why she sometimes felt an intense urge to be really close friends with particular girls who just happened to be pretty and interesting, and I see that same awkward… not denial, maybe, but uncertainty. I think it’s refreshing to see somebody who doesn’t understand her own feelings.
Alenka Figa: Because he is so obsessed with Kiryu I think it’s text that Majima from the Yakuza franchise is bisexual, but if you wanna fight I guess we can. I love Majima. He’s a weird man who went through a big years-long trauma and came out the other side having firmly decided to march only to the beat of his own weird, wild drum. He’ll fight streets full of dudes just to back up his friend, and he’d rather show up to important meetings with wheelbarrows full of cash to make a point than be a consistent and reasonable business partner. He’s also maybe not great bisexual representation, but I think having the resilience and confidence to be your own, aberrant self is something bisexual people have to do a lot and I respect that.
Cress: Baldur’s Gate 3 is out and yet my mind could only think of Balthier from Final Fantasy XII. He’s poised, suave and a consummate professional in his work alongside Fran. He has a slightly flirty attitude towards everyone, never fully revealing his feelings unless you gain his trust. As you go through the story, you can find little hints to possible liaisons with people in his past but it’s purely subtext. For myself at least, I always read him as bisexual and his ride or die partnership with Fran was really refreshing—being not quite romantic and not quite platonic either. And he’s a frickin’ Sky Pirate!
Zainabb Hull: Zevran from Dragon Age: Origins remains my absolute favourite bi in games. Similarly to Melissa (although in a totally different way), Zevran has always resonated deeply with me—I appreciate his openness when it comes to romantic and physical relationships, but also his capacity for deep feelings if you build up trust with him.
Which games do you think do a particularly good job of representing bisexuality? Why?
Melissa Brinks: I don’t think this is the first time I’ve passionately defended Dragon Age II on this topic, but I’m going to do it again. Is it my favorite thing on earth that Anders doesn’t reveal that Karl was his lover if Hawke is female? No. But, on the other hand, I kind of love that Anders’ relationship with a male Hawke is different from his relationship with a female Hawke—it’s not a simple palette swap! Bisexuality, for many of us, is more complex than just “I am attracted to people of the same gender and different genders in exactly the same way.” I can only see things through my own eyes, but that definitely isn’t true for me; I can say with certainty that I am attracted to different kinds of people in different ways. My relationship with a woman would likely be different in many ways from the relationship I have with my husband—not better, not worse, but different. I appreciate that Dragon Age II allows for difference, even if the way it plays out is a little disappointing.
Also, shoutout to Isabella and Fenris for hooking up if you don’t hook up with either of them. They’re bisexual too! Just because they’re attracted to the player regardless of the player’s gender doesn’t mean they aren’t also attracted to other people. I get it—bisexuality should be more than “attraction to whoever the player character is.” But I actually think Dragon Age II gets unfairly maligned for “playersexuality” when in fact its bisexual love interests have love lives outside of the one they can have with the player.
Alenka Figa: I didn’t always focus well when watching my wife play Disco Elysium, but I think a lot about Harry and his fascination with the “homosexual underground.” In particular—and here is your Disco Elysium spoiler alert—when he asks Kim if he is a “member” and gets a simple, “well yes” which just blows his mind. Kim is also not local to Martinaise; he can’t possibly be part of some special underground or community. He’s just queer, which means Harry can also just be bi—he doesn’t have to do anything to just be. I’ve definitely been hit with that, “well have you dated people of both genders?” justification bullshit before, so that particular revelation hit home. It’s a big, relatable moment and one I imagine hit home for a lot of other bi players as well.
Cress: I second the Dragon Age series from the little I’ve played. Dragon Age Inquisition had a good roster of characters with their own lives, including ones that weren’t interested in the player character. I fell off of it (sorry), but I enjoyed that even if I flirted with a character like Iron Bull, he wasn’t interested in flirting back right away. It made him feel more real, that he wasn’t waiting around for my character. He already had his own romances and if you worked to get to know him you might be so lucky to be one of them.
How can games improve bi representation?
Melissa: An understanding of what bisexuality is would be a great start! It sounds like I’m being flippant, but for people who aren’t bisexual, it can seem like bisexuality is purely 50/50 attraction between different genders (which suggests a nonexistent gender binary—another misconception!), or that bisexuality is some sort of “consolation prize,” watered-down form of queerness, or that, if a bisexual person enters into a long-term relationship with somebody, that they have “chosen” their preferred gender. Bisexuality is complex, just like any sexuality; it’s not easily distilled into concrete preferences or stereotypes because bisexual people are, in fact, people.
So when I say an understanding of what bisexuality is would make games better, I mean understanding that it’s not just “attraction to my own gender, and also other genders,” but often preferences within those spaces. I’d love to, for example, see bisexual characters in games that include romance who aren’t attracted to the player character! I’d love acknowledgement of bi history, including the unsavory parts—the fact that bisexual men face additional stigma and blame for the AIDS crisis, for example, or that (PDF download) bisexual people tend to face more health struggles than monosexual people.
There seems to be a misconception that being bisexual is “easy” (not to mention the idea that bisexuals are themselves “easy!”), and I’d like to see more games include the complexities of multi-gender attraction and present a picture of bisexuality that is about more than just who is having sex with whom at the exact moment the game takes place.
Alenka Figa: I agree with everything Melissa said, especially including characters who are bisexual but not interested in the player character. Something I think about a lot, and have written about before but for a defunct website, is how people “wear” their sexuality differently. For some people it’s important that those around them know their labels, but for others sexuality is a smaller factor in their life, and might not come up until relevant. A good example outside of games is the TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, in which a character has a big bisexual awakening resulting in a pretty incredible song (note: the link contains spoilers for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) and later another character just also happens to be bi, no song required. There is a lot of diversity in how queer people experience and express queerness, and that’s honestly very easy to work into stories. Characters can just be bi!
That doesn’t mean creators shouldn’t think through what it means for a character to be bisexual. Depending on the setting and context within the game, that might mean they’ve faced stigma and erasure. I don’t know of a game that really explores those issues, although I bet there are some queer dating sims I haven’t played (yet) that do. In fact, if those games are out there please tell me about them!
Cress: Heavy agree to the points above. My personal take is I’d like interaction or romance to change slightly depending on the context of the queer relationship. If it seems like my character can just be palette swapped into any of the romantic routes available, it just feels less meaningful. To Alenka’s last point, a person’s journey through their own bisexuality deserves to be told!
Zainabb: This is all gold, and I totally agree! I’d also like to see more nuance in terms of how romantic and sexual attraction are portrayed—I’d love to see more characters who are biromantic but not bisexual, or vice versa, for example.
I think it’s also vital for the games industry to treat actual bi workers better too. I think bi characters can become more nuanced by hiring more bi folks (from a variety of backgrounds and experiences) to work on narratives and game design. And bi representation is, frankly, only meaningful if the industry is fostering healthy and safe working environments for real-life queer folks to thrive.
Your friend wants to play a game that gives chaotic bi energy. Which one game would you recommend?
Melissa: Not to repeat myself, but I have to say Dragon Age II! The game is kind of messy, but aren’t we all? When I think of chaotic bisexual energy, I can’t help but think of this cast—specifically Anders. Everybody in Dragon Age II is a bit chaotic (and most are bi), but everything about Anders is the bisexual chaos I crave. Loves his cat? Yes. Hates the state? Yes. Possessed by the literal spirit of justice corrupted into vengeance by righteous fury? Yes. Whomst amongst us hasn’t been there, am I right? Maybe it’s just my personal love for Anders talking, but the messiness and complexity of Dragon Age II makes it my picture-perfect chaotic bi game, warts and all.
Alenka: I’m gonna be honest, I think I just have to agree with Melissa again. I have not played a ton of Dragon Age (AKA watched my wife play Dragon Age) but I’ve seen enough to know that it has the most chaotic bisexuality to offer of games within my knowledge.
Cress: My partner is currently playing Baldur’s Gate 3, and while I’ve only seen bits and pieces, I think everyone should play it (I will soon). Pure chaos is beaming out of that computer screen up into the AM’s.
Zainabb: I hopped on the Baldur’s Gate 3 bi-wagon after hearing all the comparisons with Starfield. While I don’t care for Dungeons & Dragons or the combat in this game, I can confirm that there’s loads of scope for chaos, and it is bi as hell. However, the most chaotic game I think I’ve ever played is Fiasco—while it’s not explicitly queer, it’s totally open so you can absolutely play it as a ragtag group of messy bis on a disaster heist.
Melissa Brinks is Sidequest’s editor in chief, co-creator of the Fake Geek Girls podcast, author of The Compendium of Magical Beasts, and an aspiring beekeeper. She once won an argument on the internet, and tweets at @MelissaBrinks.