All this week, Eurogamer is marking Pride with a series of features celebrating the intersection of queer culture and gaming. Today, Lottie Lynn explores her long relationship with Runescape, and charts the MMO's journey toward welcoming queer inclusion.
I find it funny how realising I was queer took less time than completing the Temple of Light puzzle in RuneScape. You'd think I'd solve the puzzle long before having a personal revelation, but I wanted to brag about completing it without a guide and, well, let's just say the amount of time it took falls into the territory of embarrassing. Thankfully, Mourner's End Part II, as the quest was known, didn't destroy my love of RuneScape, but while the game satisfied my longing for adventure (and lava capes), what teenage Lottie was truly looking for was LGBTQIA+ characters and narratives. The advantage of playing the same MMORPG for 16 years, though, is you experience how the game grows not just in mechanics and features, but in the stories it wishes to tell.
RuneScape 3 is one of these games, having gradually introduced LGBTQIA+ characters - such as Angof, one of the game's first transgender characters - as it has evolved. While some of these narratives were sadly cut for time, such as the reveal in Normad's Elegy that Korasi and Jessika from the Voids Knight quest trilogy were in a relationship, others, such as Caelyn and Annette Kaadan - married lesbian couple by day, philantropic thieves by night - have taken the spotlight in their own quests. There's even Ed and Grey, a gay werewolf couple. You can now find queer characters across Gielinor and the worlds beyond, but RuneScape 3's new Tales of Pride is the first mini-event celebrating both Pride month and its LGBTQIA+ narratives.
Running throughout June 2022 and now confirmed to be returning in future years, Tales of Pride tasks players with collecting stories focusing on RuneScape 3's queer characters, all written by the LGBTQIA+ members of the RuneScape team. It also gives Achietties something new to do for the first time in 20 years and it's good to know she has a life outside of guarding the Heroes' Guild.
What I love about many of these stories is how they explore their character's sexuality or gender identity by giving you a snapshot of their lifes, rather than simply stating that they're queer. Love Letter, for example, focuses upon the lives of Armadyl (the god of justice and patron deity of the aviansie, a race of bird-like humanoids) and his second husband Obi'Sooth - but you also learn he's a bad dancer and, despite his godly powers, can't keep a plant alive. Here, Armadyl's queerness is a medium used to explore his history and show that, although he fulfills his duties as the Lord of Justice, he prefers a quiet life.
Another of my personal favourites was What's in a Name? which simply consists of a few lines of dialogue from Angof and a list of names. The care and dedication put into the writing shines through as we come to understand why Angof chose their name. It's a great example of how a short piece of storytelling can convey a lot of emotional weight, gaining more impact if you know your RuneScape lore. And Welsh.
The story I connected with the most though was that of Annette and Caelyn. Given past encounters with them, players will most likely expect it to be about one of their thieving escapades, but instead, the aptly named Family Matters focuses on whether Annette wants to reconnect with her family. It's a tale which touches upon the expectation put upon women to have a traditional family, because, as a member of nobility, Annette was being pressured to marry a lord before she met Caelyn. This is a situation many women - queer or no - find themselves in, whether it's directly due to a family member or society as a whole. But, no matter the circumstances, it's suffocating. Annette finding her freedom with the help of a kindhearted female thief is a refreshing queer take on a familar literary trope - one I would like to see appear more often in fiction.
Annette's story also delves into a topic which more exclusively affects the LGBTQIA+ community: her worry over whether her mother will voice her disapproval of Annette's lifestyle. Just like some people have an aversion to the word "moist", I have a distaste for "lifestyle", due to how it's used to imply that a person's sexuality or gender identity is a choice, not simply part of them. It's a word often used to cut down a member of the LGBTQIA+ community - be it through ignorance or malice. I can speak from personal experience that hearing someone describe your sexuality in such a way cuts deep; leaving a wound that festers into a belief that you can no longer be your true self around the speaker. Annette's concern about how her mother will view her marriage is valid, but, even more so, is her hope that the happiness she's found will be recognised. Love and acceptance, after all, aren't much to ask for.
I was surprised to find myself connecting so strongly to a short story told within a game where I've prevented penguins from achieving world domination. It makes me wonder if the lack of LGBTQIA+ fiction available to me growing up has somewhat trained my brain to simply not expect it - in some ways, I still feel like that teenager bow-string-running in Seers' Village in one tab, while reading queer fanfiction in another because that's all that was available to them. Discovering new queer stories is always enjoyable (even when they're a bit naff), especially in RuneScape - a game I've played for more than half my life. I can remember when players had to join the right roleplaying clan to find any LGBTQIA+ content in RuneScape, so having the developers acknowledge a community close to my heart through the Tales of Pride event feels great.
It's been a pleasure to watch the gradual inclusion of LGBTQIA+ characters in RuneScape over the years - whether they're tied to the central RuneScape lore or are conducting a museum heist. I love how RuneScape can tell grand high fantasy adventures with world-ending stakes alongside more emotive, touching, tales - and with queer characters woven into both. The characters' personalities also have the unique RuneScape feel rather than simply being the 'asexual character' or the 'lesbian character'. For myself, and I hope others, their inclusion broadens the depth of Gielinor - because if this universe can have three-headed dragons, the embodiment of chaos, and whatever Xau-Tak is, then of course members of the LGBTQIA+ community can exist there too.
One of the greatest strengths of MMORPGs is that they're constantly evolving, from fixing graphical glitches to unveiling a new region, and the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ characters and their stories is part of this evolution. I hope we continue to see them in RuneScape, not just for long-time queer players like myself, but newcomers too. It's easy to get wrapped up in your personal history with a game like RuneScape and forget how new players are just as important to keeping it alive. I may joke about how I realised my sexuality, but it was a lonely journey - and, feeling like I had no-one to confide in, I longed to see how I felt represented in any form of media. Maybe a new RuneScape player going through a similar experience to me will discover these characters, learn their stories, and feel less alone.