By using a little common sense and a lot of strong writing, Prey absolutely hits the nail on the head in its representation of gay characters. The folks over at Arkane Studios are proving to be one of the most capable storytellers in the business with genuinely inventive twists. Even the mimics, Prey’s lowest level enemies, defy their skittish facehugger-like appearance with the ability to mimic any object in the vicinity. As collecting objects is essential, this makes every interaction unsettling.
It’s not that Prey is particularly inventive or even subtle in representing its gay characters but it avoids dimwittedly making a fuss about it. Sexual orientation isn’t of particular importance to the central sci-fi narrative, so it is appropriately not overplayed. That said, Prey is far from coy about its gay characters. They are simply present. Frankly, it’s the finest approach to the woefully unrepresented and misrepresented issue of sexual orientation.
The first choice in Prey is whether Morgan Yu, the enigmatic protagonist, is male or female. This is fairly common and hardly breaks new ground. Thinking of hugely popular games of recent years that did this, Fallout 4 springs to mind. In Fallout 4, the binary decision affects the gender of the love interest, hence maintaining the character’s heterosexuality. Choose female, you have a husband. Choose male, you have a wife. This suits the 50s nuclear family themes and style. In Prey, however, your love interest is female no matter what. Choose female, you’re gay. Choose male, you’re straight.
This is no oversight. Arkane Studios did not cut corners. It created Mikhaila Ilyushin as the love interest and stuck to its guns.
On the corporate space station Talos 1, loss of personalities is strikingly evident as humans face the terror of an alien species. The remains of all crew members on Talos 1 – or floating in its vicinity – are locatable. They are relics of characters that perished. As such, Mikhaila Ilyushin is Mikhaila Ilyushin, no matter what. That the protagonist’s sexuality depends upon her gender rather than vice versa demonstrates confidence in the character.
While not an integral plot point, it’s in keeping with the overall setting of Talos 1. The station is part of a large company with a distinctly modern corporate vibe. Set in the year 2032 of an alternate timeline in which JFK was not assassinated and the space race was very different, the unfazed treatment of gay couples presents a potential future of increased awareness and acceptance of the LGBTQ community. A future in which such communities are commonplace and as such, not portrayed insultingly – remember the hopeless misrepresentation of a transgender character in the recent Mass Effect Andromeda? Yeah, that happened.
Another relationship of note is between supporting characters Danielle Sho and Abigail Foy. By listening to audio tapes on Talos 1, it is evident Danielle and Abigail had a troubled but passionate relationship. Unfortunately, Morgan later finds Abigail has been literally stuffed into the fridge. When Morgan meets Danielle, the latter is trapped outside Talos 1 with little time to live and she asks Morgan to find and kill the person responsible for Abigail’s death. It’s a neat twist on the familiar trope in which a female character is killed to motivate a male character’s revenge. In this case, if the player chooses to be female, the victim, hero and person seeking revenge are all gay and female. The antagonist is the only male character.
As Prey came to a close and Talos 1 was about to self-destruct, it was only natural I chose to stand by Mikhaila Ilyushin’s side for my last moments. It was a damn fine understated moment that sensitively depicted a gay relationship. That’s rare.