Games are not exactly well known for their sensitive handling of homosexuality, bisexuality and transgender issues. Sure, BioWare titles and The Sims have traditionally allowed you to pursue same-sex relationships, but the issues surrounding these partnerships are never explored by the story. New research by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) lab aims to change this situation.

"Rather than having it be sidelined for a one-off joke, games can and should be doing something explorative and expressive on the topic [of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) content]," says Todd Harper, developer of the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab-developed title A Closed World - a research project designed to specifically include compelling LGBT content rather than have it tacked on as an afterthought.

A Closed World is hosted on the MIT server and is available for free here. A Japanese RPG-styled game, players take on the role of a young resident of a village whose beloved has disappeared into a forest, which local lore claims is a place of no return.

The game seeks to explore ways in which games can present LGBT content as well as the challenges a development team faces when trying to sensitively handle material about someone regarded as different from the perceived "norm."

"[Our] project addresses a very basic idea about identity and representation in mass media," said Harper. "Think about the first time you heard someone famous was different in the same way as you, or saw someone different in the same way on TV or in a movie. It gave you a little rush of good feeling. Cultural content shapes our reality."