After nearly 150 heterosexual characters, League of Legends has finally added a lesbian to the game. Back in the spring of 2018, it teased the introduction of an openly gay character. Greg Street, the Lead Game Designer at Riot Games which develops League of Legends, responded to a question on his personal Tumblr to say that they wanted to make a game that reflected the world we live in.
Neeko, who is the first openly gay character, is a chameleon who can transform into other people — a pretty queer ability.
On Twitter this week, Matt Dunn, a Senior Narrative Writer, clarified that Neeko “does like female champions more than male champions” because she “identifies as a lesbian.”
She doesn’t “seem to”, Neeko *does* like female champions more than male champions. Neeko identifies as a lesbian.
— Mattthew Garcia-Dunn (@thatmattdunn) November 19, 2018
Compared to other media, video games always feel about 10 years behind in terms of representation. The popular shooter game Overwatch, for example, was recently criticized after the announcement of its newest hero being yet another white woman while the game still does not have a black female character, something that feels almost unthinkable with a roster of almost 30.
Conversely, Overwatch was given praise for announcing that Tracer, the game’s main character for all intents and purposes, was a lesbian in the Christmas comic released in 2016 — in which she gets a present for her girlfriend Emily.
Because of the repetitive nature of online team games like Overwatch and League of Legends, having diverse characters is important because they’re games that will be played over and over again for years. It’s almost the equivalent of having meaningful diversity in television; people will be with these characters for years.
It’s also important when story games are inclusive because players will be better able to delve into the characters’ individual storylines. The character of Ellie in The Last of Us II is a lesbian, and is also the only playable character. Depending on what the developers make of her story and if they take the opportunity to explore her backstory and sexuality, players could get the opportunity to witness a well-told queer story in video games, which does not happen often.
Unfortunately, there is substantially less representation of gay men in games. Most of the ones that come to mind are relegated to romance options in Bioware games. One of those games, Mass Effect: Andromeda, was criticized for the bad gay romance storylines that felt like an afterthought.
This is likely because straight male nerds, the main audience such games are marketed to, are more comfortable with the idea of lesbians than the idea of gay men. It’s too generous to assume they’re thinking about queer women as fully realized people and not just sex objects. Furthermore, it’s also probably easier to convince these straight audiences that masculine women can be more powerful than feminine men, because femininity is seen as weakness — even the gay male characters are extremely straight acting.
Some LGBTQ diversity isn’t inherently a visual diversity. To have racial diversity, developers can give a character a different skin color, hair or facial features, but for queerness, it’s not as obvious. Especially in fantasy genres, it’s hard to portray a character as distinctly gay through visual cues without just covering them in rainbows.
It doesn’t stop with a tweet that announces Neeko’s sexuality. Instead, it might be cool to see a comic that focuses on Neeko and does more than just hint at her being a lesbian. One cool example of something they’ve already done is have unique voice lines that get triggered when Neeko transforms into other characters. When she transforms into the character Ahri, she comments on her beautiful she is; when she transforms into Ezreal, she says, “Pretty! For a boy.”
These little details are a nice addition to the building of characters’ personalities and are a good start toward making a character feel three dimensional. If this is any indication of what video games continue to do in the future, I think we’ll be seeing some nice queer representation soon.