On The Need For Trans* Characters in Video Games

Just some brief thoughts as this is a topic I’ve seen discussed a lot recently, in various corners around the internet.

Often, I see discussions about the need for trans* protagonists in video games. As a trans person, part of me doesn’t care because there are plenty of male characters from which to choose. Because I identify as “male,” that’s good enough for me. The other part of me can’t help but to wonder the following:

How on earth would they portray this character? Because, outside of story line, you can’t possible make someone look like a trans person. It’s not like ethnicity or social group where you can change skin colour and clothing and BLAMO! You have a First Nations Hipster, as example. You can’t have a transwoman wearing a dress, with masculine facial features, because that is insulting. You can’t have a transman dressed in hyper-masculine clothes, with effeminate features, for the same reason. The character also cannot be androgynous, for the same reasons. There is no way to portray a trans* person when it comes to physical features. The same problem is there for those who are gender queer. So, that leave story, and I don’t trust any video game writer to do that correctly, because we are an extremely varied group of people. I’d suspect that it would be relatable to only a handful of trans* people instead of speaking to the community as a whole. Whatever this character turned out to be, I fear it would be nothing more than a caricature filled with bad stereotypes. They’ve yet to get “strong female character” correct in most cases. How can they possibly portray trans when they can’t even do women?

So, while it’s great that our allies want this for us, I’m not sure it is possible. I’ll stick to playing male characters, because that is where I relate.

For transwomen, there definitely needs to be more female characters.

Also, I’m only speaking for myself. Not others within the trans* community. I’ve yet to see a trans* person comment on this issue, only people who are our allies. So, maybe there is a group of trans* people who have been asking for this and I’m just not aware.

If you are trans* or queer*, are reading this, and are wanting trans/queer* characters in your video game, I’m very curious to know what your solutions to the above problems are. Because if you see a solution, I’d really love to hear it! Also note: If this is something you’ve been begging for, I don’t want to take this away from you. It’s not like I’d try and stop these games from being produced. I’m only saying that, for this trans man, it wouldn’t be something I’d want and I’d be extremely hesitant to play the game. I have a huge fear that it just wouldn’t be for me. I wouldn’t want to risk feeling alienated, when I currently do not feel that way in regards to video games.

3 Responses to On The Need For Trans* Characters in Video Games

  1. Jesse says:

    Hi Jules,

    I love your writing and only discovered your work this evening. I’m not trans but I’m an ally with plenty of trans friends (mainly in real life, rather than internet). I’m part of the Gamers With Jobs community, where there are several trans related threads, and as you might well, some pretty folks struggling with living the trans experience. One of the people at GWJ mentioned a blog post by game maker Sophie Houlden which I found very interesting and which asks related questions to your post here –

    http://www.sophiehoulden.com/the-transsexual-character

    For myself, I would honestly love the freedom to play as a trans character that was well handled. I remain hopeful that a gamemaker with courage and insight will be able to design a trans character that will be a point of entry into a rich narrative that isn’t “about being trans” but just involves the reality of being trans. Just the way that playing “The Walking Dead” by Telltale games isn’t about being non-white, though that is part of the reality of the character you play as. A great trans character in a game would probably involve a tale of people in dynamic relationships who are trying to overcome the odds. I think it can be done, and I remain hopeful that it may happen soon. However, you have my complete understanding that it’s probably going to be done wrong first, and will be alienating to lots of actual trans even as it may be celebrated for bringing a trans character into gaming. It makes me feel good to know that clever and critical trans bloggers are raising the question. Also, I think that when society gets more accustomed to dealing with trans people in a respectful way, it will naturally follow that tv/film/games culture will also find ways to do that. Honestly, I don’t see characters on TV or film that resemble my trans friends, but it will be a good day when those characters emerge. Hopefully in 30 years time, it will be a non-issue and people will say “it’s so weird that in my grandparents day there were no trans characters in gaming.”

    • Jules says:

      Hi Jesse,

      Thanks for this and the link.

      As you said, the key is well handled. It would be nice if in 30 years time it will be a non-issue. But, as a society, we have a long way to go. I do remain hopeful, but society just isn’t there, yet.

  2. Adele says:

    It’s … a good argument articulated far better than reactionary foes to all things diversity in a game. Though I have a few suggestions;

    1: Few games at all feature family conflict (of which so many trans* face). Even in an action/adventure orientated game, this idea of facing familial conflict can shape how a character relates to the world. 20% of Illinois’ homeless youth are, unfortunately, gender non-conforming (trans or otherwise). Despite makig up an insignificant number of the the population (think on the scale of 1 in 330).

    A story that focuses much of the character development of a transgender character who grew up due to familial ostracism and eviction, who has finally after years of scriming, saving, and streetwise maneuverings has finally gotten the help (Surgery, HRT, etc) they need.

    This is fertile grounds character development potential. A character ho has been shaped by living in the slums of a city, who is slowly trying to piece their life together after a childhood of petty and serious crimes just to survive the night.

    Similarly, you could have a trans* character who has been accepted by their parents, but faces the daily challenges of having to associate with former friends and work colleagues who now revile them.

    Think about these experience … a brooding, depressed, or otherwise streetwise personality shaped by the travails they have faced. It is certainly a far better character set up than the cliched “Gangsters killed my daughter, therefore REVENGE!”

    Such dark, challenging personal experiences can be powerful story-driven concepts that shape the character over the course of a game. How does a trans* youth surviving on the grimy, cold streets? How would it birth their world view? Do they hold a grudge against the pimps that all too often prey on such disadvantaged youth, becoming a police officer to fight said organizations of sex slavery? Maybe they become a social worker to help rehabilitate others and protect them against the evils of the world …

    If handled correctly, it could be both informative, real, inspiring and evocative material to work with.

    2: How do they face the stigma during early transition (whether they can, or eventually can, go stealth in society)? Where do they go? An Anti-LGBT factioneer attacks them on the streets, they survive barely … as the game progresses it becomes apparent that the actions are uniform and organized by a radical politician … but how do they prove it?

    The police are unhelpful, and indeed may even be the ones helping anti-trans* groups by identifying prominent trans* members in the society via city records. Who do you trust when you are trying to topple a public and powerful figure?

    3: You come out to someone you trust … the information goes public. Suddenly you find yourself out of a job, with a mortgage and medical costs you can no longer afford (given it is legally permissable to fire someone based on their gender identity in some 40-odd US States). You worked hard at the company … you worked damn hard … you turned aside company holidays to build your career. Kissed boots … put up with the rampant, bigoted bullshit at work … hiding who you are until it all gets a too much.

    You won’t take it lying down however … in other situation, you would be liable for damages based on workplace descrimination. But your lawyers and your state legislature disagree. So you plan out one of the greatest corporate embezzlements of all time.

    Hacking, spying, hiring accomplices, planting bugs… you plan to rob the company blind, and make a successful getaway to Bolivia.

    ——

    The history, travails and experiences of trans* are abundant. They are recipes for true three dimensional characters who see, feel, and interact with thw world based on the varying degrees of shared experience. It could be very compelling stuff, if handled properly, intelligently, by skilled writers and transgender advisors.

    The point is not whether the games industry could produce such characters or games, but whether anyone will even bother to try.

Leave a reply