MADE Recommends: 8 games guaranteed to change your thinking about video games
When you think of a gamer, a particular stereotype may come to mind: young, white, male, maybe someone who plays first-person shooters or gets lost in complicated fantasy narratives. However, more and more Canadians are turning to games for entertainment, and more of them are seeing themselves reflected on screen as well.
In 2020, a whopping 23 million Canadians played video games—61 percent of the country’s population. In the same year, more than half of Canadian gamers identified as women. And the video game industry in Canada is thriving; across the country there are more than 700 game studios, the majority of which are small, independent, and finding new and creative ways to reach diverse audiences. We asked leaders in the industry to recommend some of their favourite, diverse games with Canadian connections. Read on to find some of the surprising ways the gaming industry is breaking new ground in representation, and stay tuned for more diverse game recommendations from MADE|NOUS in the coming weeks!
31 Unmarked Games (2021)
A cheeky little collection of games created throughout October 2021—one game per day, exploring a variety of different gaming mechanics – 31 Unmarked Games was recommended by queer mixed Mi'kmaw game designer and writer Dr. Jess Rowan Marcotte. Says Marcotte, “The experience mimics exploring a music collection: if you don't like the game you're playing, there's the next one to move on to that might suit your taste better.”
Boyfriend Dungeon (2021)
This recommendation from Silverstring Media’s Lucas J. W. Johnson is a fun twist on the popular dating simulator genre: it combines the search for love with an adventurous dungeon-crawling quest. According to Johnson, “Gender is no barrier here—all manner of queer relationships are celebrated with the sometimes quirky, but well-written characters who have a variety of backgrounds and pronouns. Boyfriend Dungeon is cute, sexy, fun, and meaningful—a great cross-genre gaming experience.”
Another game recommended by Lucas J.W. Johnson, at first glance Celeste might appear to be a simple platform game about a girl climbing a mountain. However, the narrative tells a much deeper story “of dealing with anxiety and depression, of facing parts of yourself you don’t want to face, and of ultimately becoming stronger by accepting them. At its core, Celeste is a trans narrative—it’s made by a trans creator—while also being a universal one.”
Flow Weaver (2021) – Funded by the CMF
Flow Weaver is an escape room game VR where you play a sorcerer travelling between different dimensions to escape the strange world where you find yourself. Johnson, who co-wrote and co-directed Flow Weaver, explains that it was designed by queer creators, and features a non-binary protagonist fully voiced by non-binary actor Ciarán Strange.
Gears 5 (2019)
Stephanie Peloza, head narrative designer at Paidia Gaming, wrote about her appreciation for Gears 5, explaining, “As a trans woman, I’ve always been hesitant about first-person shooters (FPS) because of the culture that was largely associated with them during my childhood and teen years… Characters like Fahz and Del show the developers have a real care for nuanced character interactions, and JD Fenix, the son of the original series’ protagonist, has an interesting light shone on him, his behaviours and choices as a white man—typically a sympathetic hero in this genre.”
An LGTBQ-friendly dating simulator taking place in a high school, LongStory offers players the choice of their name and pronouns before they start to navigate life at their new high school. Marcotte explains that this game is fun for young adults or adults, and notes that the inclusive approach might be appealing to younger players: “I would especially recommend this game for teens who might want to explore certain facets of their identity, like trying on new pronouns, with the comfort of a welcoming fictional layer.”
Second Puberty (2021)
Squinky and the Squinkettes present: Second Puberty is a collection of mini-games created by D. Squinkifer and based on their own experiences of going through hormonal transition. D. Squinkifer describes their vision for the collection: “Intended to be played in the same way one would listen to an album or read a collection of poetry, the individual games are inspired by my personal experiences moving through the world as a queer, trans, and neurodivergent person of colour.”
The Vale: Shadow of the Crown (2021)
An action-adventure game originally tested by and designed for blind and low-vision players, The Vale lets player experience a fantastical world through audio cues and controller haptic feedback. Innersloth’s Community Director Victoria Tran described the unique experience of the game explaining, “With closed eyes, I got to experience a rich medieval world and story, going on quests and testing out my combat and magical abilities. Definitely recommend!” Accessibility advocate Steve Saylor shared “A small team from the Niagara region of Ontario not only hit it out of the park with this game, but they did it the right way by having blind players be a part of the development process throughout its entire journey to release. The Vale is a definite must play.”