The Longest Journey(Funcom, 2000) presents leading lady April Ryan, a directionless young artist, as an intelligent, flawed and realistic human being.
April's fantasy adventure also explores themes of youth, responsibility and growing up. Of note is the game's portrayal of supporting characters Fiona and Mickey, a pair of middle-aged lesbians in a committed relationship.
Its sequel, Dreamfall (Funcom, 2007), introduced new heroes Zoë Castillo, a young woman of mixed Chinese and Spanish descent, and Kian Alvane, a black apostle raised in a matriarchal religious society, while further exploring April's destiny.
On the surface, Catherine (Atlus, 2011) seems to be little more than Japanese fanservice, but look closer and you'll find a mature exploration of sex, obsession and psychosis that also presents one of the few transgender characters in games. Although waitress Erica's birth gender isn't mentioned until the end of the game, the revelation paints other characters' interactions with her throughout the game in a different light, reflecting the real fears and stigmas trans people face.
Half-Life 2 (Valve, 2004) and its own sequels featured Alyx Vance, another woman of dual heritage, here Afro-Asian. A scientific genius and determined survivor in the wake of an alien invasion, the only disappointment is that she isn't a playable character.
More recently, Prototype 2 (Radical Entertainment/Activision, 2012) introduced James Heller, a black male hero who wasn't an aspiring criminal or slogan-quoting urban stereotype but a desperate man out to save his wife and daughter. Perhaps more interestingly, the game recasts Alex Mercer, the white lead of the first Prototype, as the mad villain Heller must overcome.
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image: © Scott Akerman