This past February, I was looking for a non-violent, relaxing video game to play on my Nintendo Switch Lite. I came across Prideful Sloth’s 2021 game Grow Song of the Evertree. At first glance, the game seemed up my alley based on the premise alone. You play as a plant alchemist bringing a magical world back to life by growing plant worlds, managing towns, and befriending furry creatures. Imagine my surprise when I went to create my character and saw that I could not only make a Black character with my golden brown skin tone, but also be nonbinary.
Although Grow Song of The Evertree‘s character creator isn’t perfect, choosing the nonbinary options allows your character to be addressed with they/them pronouns and also decides how your voice sounds. Your character doesn’t really speak much, but they do sing a little tune to help plants grow. By moving a slider on the voice option, you can decide how deep or high-pitched your voice sounds. I kept mine near the lower end of the vocal range and I’m satisfied with how it sounds.
Even though Grow Song of the Evertree isn’t the most well-known game, it joins the ranks of more popular life-sim titles such as Square-Enix’s Harvestella that provide an option to be nonbinary. Like Grow Song of the Evertree, Harvestella lets you explore a vibrant world and grow crops, but the latter is more combat-focused. You can make your own character and form a party with other characters you encounter and battle monsters on an overworld and in dungeons as you explore.
Both Grow Song of the Evertree and Harvestella are significant steps forward to having more inclusive video games, especially when compared to similar games such as Stardew Valley. Stardew Valley lets you play as a young adult who inherits a farm from their grandfather. While you can have same-sex relationships, you can’t be nonbinary unless you use a mod created by the Stardew Valley modding community.
Of course, farming sims aren’t the only type of video games that let you be nonbinary. In the past few years, there have also been visual novel games like Validate and role-playing games like Get In The Car Loser!, which feature nonbinary characters, such as jock Valentin Vaillante. Both indie and triple-A games are realizing that nonbinary gamers exist and want to play as who they are, which is notable considering how scarce these were when I first realized I was nonbinary in 2017.
In 2016, I played the now-defunct mobile RPG Kingdom Hearts Union X Cross back when I was super into the Kingdom Hearts video game franchise. Union X Cross lets you create your own character and enter a part of the Kingdom Hearts universe that takes place centuries before the series starts. However, the “create your character” screen initially triggered gender dysphoria because the clothing options were gender-locked.
It wasn’t until I played Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days from 2018 to 2019 that I got the courage to explore my gender identity in video games. Xion, one of the game’s main characters, had a storyline that read strongly as a trans narrative to me. It made me want to define my gender identity on my own terms, regardless of restrictions.
Three years later, I found myself playing Union X Cross again when I got a new smartphone. This time, I made a male avatar with a nonbinary twist: pink hair in a mohawk, a white rabbit outfit inspired by Alice In Wonderland, and named after Faris, a Final Fantasy V character that is read by some players as a trans man. It felt really empowering for me to get creative and make the closest version of my ideal self in a video game franchise I love.
While there has been significant progress made with character creators, there is still more work to be done. As shown with recent games like Babylon’s Fall, some character creators still fail players of color by having darker skin tone options that look washed out. Video game critic Jeffery Rousseau suggests that this could be alleviated if video game companies either hire more people of color as developers or consultants.
As for the non-binary options, being able to change your pronouns to they/them is a great start but we can still do more. Since not everyone uses they/them, the pronouns should reflect this by including neo-pronouns such as xe/xem/xyr. For gender-fluid players, the ability to change your pronouns and your appearance at any point in a game could be useful too. Two games that already do this are the visual novel game Our Life: Beginning and Endings and the RPG game I Was a Teenaged Exocolonist. S
lowly but surely, video games are changing to reflect their players, and that makes things more fun for everyone.♦