I have been on the search for games that have arrived this year with LGBTQ+ representation and a focus on mental health. Games that hold healthy conversations about generalized anxiety or trauma (without exploiting the pain that such conditions can cause) can be cathartic. Catharsis can also be found in games that give space for characters to talk about queerness or discuss it in a fashion that makes one feel welcomed. Glitchhikers: The Spaces Between is a game that attempts to do just that, but in no way fits the usual mold with its talking dragon. I’m immediately sold.
The game didn’t appear queer to me, initially, in the sense that I found my place as a bisexual gamer. It does, however, have subtext. Some stories can cover triggering topics, and you can filter for them in the settings. With that said, Glitchhikers is a queer game. You just have to know where to look or wait until you put a few more hours into playing this free-form game.
Where Your Journey Begins
Glitchhikers: The Spaces Between is a free-form game based on night travel. From what I can see, there are no end-game goals other than listening to conversations and looking inward when you pause or quit the game.
As a faceless character, you enter the world by wandering into a convenience store in the middle of nowhere. All you can do is walk inside, view the drinks, and talk to the cashier. Sadly, the game doesn’t allow you to buy or try any of the sodas or snacks available. As someone that believes in refueling on a trip with food, I find this a travesty.
The convenience store employee shares that you are here for a reason: to take a journey. You can either take the train or drive on the highway. Currently, the path to the airport is closed, and no buses are pulling in soon. While these pathways are currently closed off, it hints at future routes — voyages — you may be able to explore later on.
A choice needs to be made for this journey: train or car? A car is easy to rent and no insurance information is required. The train is only a few steps down.
The train is promising because it has more cars than one can navigate. Each car carries unique characters, conversations, and even musicians that provide the soundtrack to the game. A PA advises you to not bother the musicians as they keep playing, oblivious to your attempts to talk to them. The train is not like any other you’ve ever experienced. There are some Infinity Train moments where a few cars appear bigger than others. You apparently can dismount at certain stops, though I tried to do that with no luck.
The passengers on the train and the many carts encourages exploration, leading to my encounter with a talking dragon. The dragon is a digital manifestation of coding, the last of their species. They talk about how their society broke down because of greed and a focus on growth without care. They reflect on how humans are doomed to face the same path. I comforted this depressed dragon.
If you choose to take the rental car, prepare to pick up hitchhikers. Lots of hitchhikers with no regard for road safety. They’ll appear on the side of the road, and pop up as late-night radio music plays. Most seem to have morbid thoughts on the brain. You can choose to comfort, challenge, or engage further. I often went with comfort.
As I begin on this journey, my thoughts go back to the cashier and their story as they stand there, unable to serve as more than an information booth. They surely have more to say about themselves.
Night Driving vs. The Train
Throughout my time in college and grad school, pre-pandemic, I was driving between cities. Highways became a new obstacle to overcome, along with understanding the power of Sunpass versus toll-by-plate. Driving at night was a rarity, but when I had to, I didn’t enjoy it. There is something eerie about traffic lights turning off after one in the morning.
It’s why I gravitated to the train when given the option. Driving at night and with road signs that do not share a destination can be frustrating. With the picking up of hitchhikers on this digital road in the middle of the night, it felt like a horror novel. It didn’t help that the road signs were often inaccurate. Serial killers and corrupt cops hide in the small towns along the way.
I ended my route early because stream time was nearly over, but I wished someone had asked me about why I didn’t find the night driving realistic in the game. The convenience store cashier asked, afterward, if I had become distressed from the conversations with the hitchhikers. It wasn’t the conversations that upset me, but that the game reminded me how hard it can be to navigate towards a destination.
The train was easier and more comforting. You can accept that trains take a long time to get to their destination. That is how they are in real life. You may not recognize the town names, but you can see the mapped routes. Thus, you know where you are going. I’ve had that experience when riding trains in Europe with family members. While I wasn’t able to identify the towns on the map, I felt comforted that eventually, the train will take me to a destination.
Does The Game Have LGBTQ+ Rep?
I admit I started playing this game because other players recommended it via reviews as a game with LGBTQ+ representation. The creators themselves are queer, and they talk about how they wanted to create a game that would reflect the stories that are not being told in the gaming sphere. Lucas Johnson narrated the following during an interview with Eurogamer:
"Claris [Cyarron] and I are both queer and that is very important to our storytelling - wanting to make sure we have that representation, we're telling those stories, bringing in that for queer players to see themselves in this space and have these conversations, but also for other people to get that perspective."
They confirmed that there won’t be someone who will approach you and explicitly state they are queer or define their entire identity. Instead, queer characters may talk about their lives, showing that they are much more than how we will see them. Find the subtext and interpret it to your liking. Everything is in the subtext.
I found that Glitchhikers is not necessarily a game with LGBTQ+ representation, in that you will find a character who is as much of a disaster-bi as you are. It is more of a game where you get as much out of it as you interpret from the many conversations. One reviewer said that it helped them look inward to ponder their gender identity. I can’t say that I had the same experience, but it reminded me of how important it is to listen to others and hear their perspective. For now, I have yet to hear stories from train passengers or hitchhikers revolving around explicitly queer material.
Personally, I am someone that wants more than subtext in a story. I wanted to talk to a character willing to discuss their issues on a midnight train. Nevertheless, I will not advise against it, especially with how uncertain things are right now in the world regarding LGBTQ+ rights, and every queer person’s experience is unique.
You can find the representation when you look for the subtext. A person or a figure may not be openly gay or bisexual, but they may refer to it in later journeys. After initially publishing this story, the creators reached out and confirmed that there are queer characters in the game, and that some are openly bi. Here are some screenshots they provided as evidence:
I have to say that my feelings are mixed on Glitchhikers, but they seriously piqued my curiosity. The direct feedback from the developers around bi representation makes me even more eager to keep playing!
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