Queer Coding in Video Game Characters: An Unspoken Dialogue

Queer Coding in Video Game Characters: An Unspoken Dialogue
Queer coding - the subtle inclusion of queer traits or aesthetics in fictional characters - has a very complex history in video games. For decades, the censorship and also social attitudes severely limited the direct representation of LGBTQ+ identities in the mainstream games. However, clever developers found many ways to imply a character's queerness without stating it outright. The result is a legacy of the queer-coded video game characters who reflect and validate the LGBTQ+ fans while maintaining plausible deniability with censorious gatekeepers.

Some common queer coding techniques include gender-nonconforming behavior or appearance, overtly affectionate same-gender friendships, or visual iconography with specific meanings in queer culture. For example, the villainous yet ostentatious mannerisms of Final Fantasy VII’s villain Sephiroth led many players to read him as queer despite no confirmation in the text. Similarly, small hints like Star Fox Adventures’ fox-boy hero wearing a rainbow bracelet on his wrist sparked a lot of discussion about the character’s possible queerness.

Of course, queer coding also has its own issues. Relying on stereotypes for the implicit representation risks perpetuating the harmful assumptions. Queer-coded villains especially feed the dangerous myth that non-straight people are immoral or untrustworthy. Ambiguous coding also enables plausible deniability should the creators face backlash for including a queer character at all. After decades of “maybe they are, maybe they aren’t” characters, many fans yearn for a much more decisive representation.

Thankfully, modern queer gaming icons like The Last of Us’ Bill, The Last of Us Part II’s Lev, and Apex Legends’ Gibralter and Bloodhound prove that unambiguously LGBTQ+ characters are here to stay in the mainstream. Still, as major games still hesitate to openly declare many characters part of the rainbow family, reading between the lines for hints of queerness remains a key part of the LGBTQ+ gaming culture.

Why does subtle queer coding persist when more franchises could choose to state their characters’ identities plainly? Partly risk aversion in the major studios plays a role, as unfortunate stigma around LGBTQ+ identities lingers in socially conservative countries where games hope to sell well. Parent companies may also impose content restrictions on the subsidiary developers, severely limiting their ability to include overt queer representation even when teams wish to do so.

However, beyond commercial concerns, one shouldn’t underestimate gaming’s anarchic creative spirit either. Clever developers denied a voice by the nervous management can still express themselves through implication and connotation.

Queer fans denied welcoming spaces in a intolerant times can also find validation reading their own experiences into layered fictional characters. The resonances sparked by the subtle queer coding have helped LGBTQ+ gaming find self-realization and also community since the early days of gaming. Even today, that journey of finding oneself in the art has power.

In the end, the legacy of inexplicit queer coding stems from a very complex dance between censorship and subversion. It reflects perceived social risk, yes, but also the irrepressible humanity of the LGBTQ+ artists and fans yearning for understanding. One day queer identities may be fully embraced across the global gaming. But even when that art remains formally in the closet, a rainbow of multi-hued implications Shines through regardless.
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