Today is Valentine's Day, a day that has become rooted in romance in the modern era. While rom-coms and candlelit dates are one of many things couples do for Valentine's Day, gaming together is also a perfectly valid way to spend time with loved ones. Whether you're celebrating with someone, treating it as just another Tuesday, or finding yourself to your lonesome, video games have become increasingly inclusive of romance. Here are five examples of such romances aside from Dragon Age and Mass Effect, two franchises that have always made such options available since their beginning.
Arcade Spirits and The New Challengers
I've given Arcade Spirits bold praise at the time for its simple yet effective plot, including a cast of characters that I've grown to care for. The story takes our protagonist who is down on their luck in terms of finding a job. That all changes when on a whim they apply to work for an arcade and naturally take on the position as they befriend co-workers and regulars. Throughout the game, there's an underlying conspiracy for entertainment domination. It's up to the protagonist to save their arcade from turning into a conglomerate piece and being bought out.
The protagonist can be fully customized to whatever pronouns the player wishes to go by and no route is "gatekept" by gender. If romance isn't the player's thing, they can instead opt to be asexual and/or aromantic, meaning that the player can develop platonic relationships without the romance. I understand the title of this article is "LGBTQ+ Romance," but any game that is inclusive to aces are games that are definitely worth mentioning. While I hadn't played the sequel, Arcade Spirits The New Challengers yet, I am aware that the process for romance is similar to that of the first game.
ValiDate: Struggling Singles in your Area
Next up is ValiDate: Struggling Singles In Your Area in which the title alone tells the player all they need to know about the premise of this game. A diverse cast of characters who all live in the big city share one single trait. That's the punchline, they are single, and "ready to mingle" is a bit of a debate here. Each route featured in this game isn't necessarily a "romantic route," but a "route to self-discovery." Almost every route ends with either a person's love interest calling things off mutually or a misunderstanding unfolds, extinguishing whatever fire was there. It's a tad bit realistic to what modern dating is like. Especially for others around my age.
The standout character here is Malik, a down-on-his-luck Popeye--Bopeye's manager with two daughters from different mothers and a struggling music career. He also struggles with insecurities due to being raised in a competitive family and not having the chance to figure himself out. This leads to several interesting routes in which Malik dates not only the women but the men. The three men, Rocky, Arihi, and Alonzo, help Malik figure out his sexuality in very different ways. Rocky arguably plays the biggest role as he's the one who ultimately helps Malik break into the industry. While I won't spoil anything about the routes themselves, ValiDate does an amazing job at normalizing those who are in the process of questioning, not just for Malik, but literally every other route in the game thus far.
Life Is Strange True Colors
Honestly, any game in the Life Is Strange series would fit but since True Colors is the latest game in the series, it only makes sense to include it as a representative. The protagonist, Alex Chen, has the power to access someone's emotions and alter them as she sees fit. This mechanic is used to solve the mystery involving a tragic accident mere days after entering a new town with the promise of a stable life. However, Alex is not the focus but rather her neighbor, Steph. Stephanie Gingrich is the music store owner who was once a resident of Arcadia Bay, the setting for the first Life Is Strange and its prequel Before The Storm. Players first got to meet her in Before The Storm as the protagonist, Chloe Price's, friend but her story would be expanded upon in True Colors and its prequel DLC, Wavelengths.
In Wavelengths, it's revealed that Steph was in a relationship with her former bandmate, Izzie, when she lived in Seattle and they would occasionally tour along the West Coast. When the couple arrived at Haven Springs, the setting for True Colors, Steph enjoyed the quietness and closeness of the town. Izzie didn't feel the same way, as she didn't wish to be the only "trans woman in a [small rural town]" and she didn't feel comfortable. Ultimately, this caused the couple to split with Steph taking responsibility yet also using this as an opportunity to decide what she wants. Steph is also one of the love interests for Alex, meaning that she sees a potential future with her and can finally find a place that she calls home.
So, while both of Steph's lesbian relationships are enough to make it onto this list, the game's inclusion of a trans person and their fears in trying to fit into a small community is what made me want to highlight Steph and Izzie more than Steph and Alex. They are all awesome and I really wished that Izzie physically made an appearance in either True Colors or the DLC.
While Valentine's Day is nothing more than a "corporate non-holiday," the act of doing romantic things with your special someone is the main appeal of the day along with any day of the year. Sometimes, there is no romance and it's simply "spending time with your close friends that you love." These were the three games that I felt stood out to me as far as being inclusive and spreading awareness of LGBTQ+, something that is always great to see. I'd love to see more inclusion from writers of these games in the future and the future is looking quite bright.