For a medium that’s supposed to be light-hearted and fun, it feels generally unwelcoming to trans gamers who want to see themselves represented in a positive light.
So last week I wrote on my experiences as a transwoman gaming, and I promised that I’d give a more general analysis this week. Which is to say one that reflects the treatment of other transpeople who aren’t similarly privileged as I am being white, typically abled, and so forth. If I come off as harsh and condemning, well, gaming has earned its licks.
Let’s start by pointing out that gaming has routinely done transpeople a disservice in their portrayals. I mean, let’s face it, when we’re not being maligned, mocked, stereotyped, or killed in any media, where are we, really? Things have improved somewhat, though, but still I’m reminded that some big blockbuster games have been really gross. Looking at you, Dragon Age. And while not blockbuster, Catherine’s treatment of Erica was really crappy and totally uncool.
Transmen have representation fairly okay if we’re playing the numbers game. I can think of two transmen in gaming off the top of my head. Flea, a boss from Chrono Trigger and Leo from Tekken 6, and they are both portrayed fairly well and are decent people from what I’ve gathered. So two for two is good, I guess? I mean, besides the fact that two characters serving as representation for transmen is woefully inadequate.
Like I mentioned last week, there are some positive transwomen in gaming like Vivian from Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, though you’d have to play the Japanese version to see for yourself. Apparently transpeople are too Rated M For Mature for Americans.
Unfortunately, like other media, she’s a drop in the bucket of awful characterizations. Fortunately, mainstream media seems to be moving forward so maybe games will, too. And if Laverne Cox ends up voicing a character in a video game, then I’d be super-extremely-ultra happy about that.
In Pokémon X and Y, there is a transwoman in the Battle Mansion you can fight who admits she was previously a guy and praises modern medicine. I’m kind of torn on her because it’s a really nasty stereotype that we’re very “in your face” with our identities (and don’t get me started on the “used to be a dude”), but given Pokémon’s room for solitary sound-bites from characters, it’s hard to say how else they could slip it in past the censors.
Likewise, Poison from Final Fight is an interesting case. The developers wanted to include female characters but at the time Nintendo America refused to allow for a game to have male characters fighting female characters, so it was decreed that Poison was actually a guy or formerly a guy. Which, honestly, is a really screwed up and hurtful message. “It’s okay to hit her, she’s not a real woman.”
However, Poison now is a transwoman who just goes around kicking major butt. Ignoring her awful origin history (and some of the characterization she’s had in some games), she’s not a bad character. I mean, insofar as fighting game characters have character and all. And we have to exclude her extremely sexualized fighting moves, given that transwomen are considered inherently sexual.
It is not a positive sign that we have to do complex mathematics trying to decide if a character is a positive representation because we have so few to choose from that we feel the need to gloss over potentially awful treatment.
When dealing with intersecting identities, video games haven’t done a great job portraying the vastness of who identifies as trans. On the one hand, most trans characters are made in Japan and as such are either Japanese or [Generic Fantasy Citizen]ese, and on the other, the Western developers pretty much leave out trans characters in general. Just in general we need better racial and ethnic portrayals of transpeople, and more of all transpeople. Not just more white transpeople, like how other portrayals of LGBT people tend to go.
I’m not necessarily asking for a game that offers full representation to transpeople from all walks of life but rather that we have better representation across the board, such that we aren’t expected to put all our hopes in one character or one game. And while, yes, I hope to design a successful game where the entirety of the cast is trans, that is not the only thing we should be told to do.
“DESIGN YOUR OWN!!!” is the mantra of those who enjoy the status quo and know that they’re not actually providing meaningful criticism. I say, when we have transpeople in every major release in some significant role and there is meaningful diversity amongst the characters (transpeople of colour, differently-abled transpeople, transpeople of all sizes, and so forth), then I’ll consider gaming a changed animal.
And does the animal need changing? Absolutely. I’m going to say this in probably every article I write but representation is important. Transpeople see themselves in the media typically only on the news or crime procedurals and what tends to happen to us in real life happens to us on the crime procedurals. The only other venue really is comedies or anywhere for comedic effect. We’re punchlines for cisgender audiences.
We have high rates of homelessness, poverty, suicide, assault, and murder. These things aren’t coincidental and media that actively stymies popular perceptions that we’re devious trickster predators would serve to undermine the status quo where we suffer greatly the prejudices and fears of ignorant people.
Better representation isn’t just good for us in the sense of how we’re treated but also for young transpeople looking for people like themselves in their media. Finding a character who validates how you feel is amazing and something many gamers take for granted. We don’t, and it’s why we jump on any near positive portrayal we get.
At the end of the day, we’re not going to stop being trans and we’re going to need good escapist media for the near future because society seems to be moving slowly, albeit still moving. Gaming is supposedly a culture of underdogs having fun despite hostility from the mainstream. Supposedly. Why can’t it be that for us?