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Nominees announced, voting opened for Game Awards

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Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo

The nominees for all categories of the Game Awards (TGA) have been announced, and voting will be open on the event's website and official Discord server until the evening of December 8, when the ceremony will be held in LA and streamed all over the world.

One could think of TGA as the Oscars of video games. Even if video games aren't "your thing," you can still have an impact on this event and the future of the industry.

TGA claims to "bring together a diverse group of game developers, game players, and notable names from popular culture," and "elevate voices that represent the future of the medium." Let's see how it's doing on LGBTQ+ representation this year.

Ranni the witch from Elden Ring — Photo courtesy of FromSoftware  

Starting with a show-stealer
FromSoftware's latest and greatest fantasy action game, Elden Ring, has nominations in a whopping seven categories: Game Direction, Narrative, Art Direction, Music/Score, Best Role Playing Game, Audio Design, and the big one, Game of the Year.

Beyond a single character in its breakthrough piece, Dark Souls, FromSoft's games hadn't had any Queer representation, and what was there wasn't necessarily good. In fact, in Dark Souls III, a character who can be "married" as part of the story will switch their gender to keep their relationship with the other player's avatar heterosexual.

Elden Ring is better off from the beginning. In the process of customizing an avatar, instead of choosing between two sexes or genders, the player is given the option of two body types, Type A or Type B.

FromSoft is late to the party with this kind of feature, even among other Japanese developers. As far back as 2020, the cozy yet addictive Animal Crossing: New Horizons gave players the gender-neutral presets of "Cool" and "Cute." New Horizons won TGA's award for Best Family Game that year.

Beyond the player's avatar, though, there are a few Queer elements in Elden Ring's narrative. It was written by Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin, who said in an interview with WTTW Chicago that he "worked up a fairly detailed background for [the developer], and then they took it from there."

Martin, then, could be credited for developments in this direction. A major deity in Elden Ring's epic fantasy setting splits themself into separate male and female beings, who each court the rulers of other realms.

And as in Dark Souls III, the player can choose to "marry" a certain character, but this one is feminine-presenting no matter what, so if the player's avatar is femme, then the game can end in a Queer honeymoon to the stars.

Some might argue that the Queer representation here is incidental, and still not the strongest, since genderfluid deities are common enough in historical pantheons, and it was cheaper for the company to use one 3-D model and voice actor for the player's marriage option. It's a good point, but it would also be a mistake not to bring up Elden Ring when, on the back of some Queer vibes, its developers could bring home an armful of pretty trophies.

Breaking the MMO mold
Japanese developer Square Enix's MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV Online (FFXIV) has won plenty of awards since its debut in 2010, even while competing against genre giants like World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, and flashy newcomer Lost Ark. But now it's up for a second stab at Best Ongoing Game and Best Community Support, after winning both categories last year.

This MMO still bears a few of the genre's many gender-related woes. One of its playable "races," a staple of the fantasy genre, has the ridiculous sexual dimorphism for which games of its kind are often criticized. That is, the male members are monstrous slabs of muscle, while the female members are thin bikini models.

Unlike World of Warcraft, however, FFXIV has other options for those who want them. The dimorphism of the majority of playable, in-game races is much milder, with one being almost entirely androgynous. Another race flips the trend on its head, where even the shortest female member is taller than the tallest male.

Combine those features with generally robust character creation tools and Square Enix's gradual removal of virtual outfits' gender restrictions, and it's easy to see why FFXIV has a significant Queer following. The game's side stories feature a few Queer characters, too.

Respawn Entertainment's Apex Legends and Bungie's Destiny 2 are also competing for Best Ongoing Game and Best Community Support. Both games are first-person shooters, each of a different subgenre, and they've made strides in representation over their lifetimes.

Apex Legends's first Trans character, Catalyst — Photo courtesy of Respawn Entertainment  

Apex Legends has had a playable, explicitly Nonbinary character since launch day, but this year, Bungie introduced an explicitly Trans character as well. Her callsign is Catalyst, and she's voiced by Meli Grant, who is Trans herself.

Destiny 2's plot may be more concerned with existential threats to humanity than relationships, gender, and sexuality, but with some digging into lore entries found in-game, players have discovered that many of the game's most iconic characters are Queer. Readers who wish to vote for a local developer should look no further, since Bungie is based in Bellevue.

Impacts and adaptations
Along with a few other games lauded for their eco-consciousness, artsiness, or emotional depth, I Was a Teenage Exocolonist has been nominated for the Games for Impact award. As part of the growing genre of "deckbuilders," Exocolonist blends that trading card-esque gameplay with a life simulation, in which the protagonist grows up over time, and can build relationships with a huge cast of gender-diverse characters praised for their "authentic" representation.

In a similar vein, the Innovation in Accessibility award might go to Naughty Dog's next-generation reboot of The Last of Us, which has an impressive suite of features. Beyond highly customizable subtitles, it has tools for vision-impaired and sightless gameplay, like audio-descriptive cinematics, high-contrast mode, and an "enhanced listen" mode that helps players navigate the game world by haptic feedback and sound alone.

A review by the gaming accessibility site Can I Play That says that the features are far from perfect, even after being refined in The Last of Us Part II. But they're highly ambitious for a game in the stealth action genre, which is far more difficult to adapt than this award category's other, less action-focused nominees.

The Last of Us series notably features complex, Queer main characters. The same goes for As Dusk Falls, also a nominee for its accessibility.

And speaking of Queer main characters, Arcane: League of Legends — a popular animated Netflix series that shocked audiences by coming from one of the most notoriously toxic games out there — has been nominated for Best Adaptation.

In Arcane, the punchy, pink-haired punk Vi ends up falling for the refined and privileged Caitlyn, both women. Some fans ship it, and others say it's a shame the latter is a cop.

Ashly Burch — Courtesy photo  

Finally, prolific voice actress Ashly Burch is poised to win her first TGA for Best Performance, after two previous nominations in 2017 and 2019. Burch has been a prominent figure in gaming since the days of early YouTube, when her sketch comedy show Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin'? catapulted her into roles in well-known game series like Borderlands and Life Is Strange, as well as a few beloved TV shows.

Burch came out as Queer in early July this year, tweeting that she was "one of those old fashioned Pansexuals you may have heard of. Probably not a shocker — like half the characters I play are members of the rainbow fam."

Horizon: Forbidden West's main character Aloy isn't explicitly Queer (although some fans speculate that she may be Asexual), but many of Burch's previous nominations, and her wins from other gaming events, have come from that role.

You can see the rest of the nominees and vote on winners at https://www.thegameawards.com/.