Video Games Are Utterly Failing Trans Gamers & It’s Time We Did Something About It

Metroid

A few weeks ago, a transphobic slur by Metroid developer Hirofumi Matsuoka was confused for Word of God evidence that Samus Aran was canonically trans. The slur horrified me, but what stuck with me was the reaction to the idea that an incredibly visible, well-known character—arguably one of the most recognizable heroines in video games—was trans. The celebration was raucous; the joy was palpable. And a few days later it was over, replaced by the deadened “we should have known better” malaise of a community that’s been done wrong too many times to count.

See, trans gamers don’t get much. I don’t mean in the intellectual sense, I mean in the pop-culture-representation-slash-real-world-visualization-and-support-slash-basic-human-rights sense. This is a general problem for trans people on the whole. Things are slowly beginning to change; in May, Laverne Cox was on the cover of Time. Siri has been programmed to correct any user who misgenders Caitlyn Jenner. Recently, the world began to take notice of Angel Haze, an immensely talented agender rapper. As the rights of and difficulties faced by trans people are promoted by music and television, many people take heart in finding communities full of people like them, who can support them and help them endure the immense hardships trans people face in Western society.

In many ways, video games trail behind music and television in terms of trans representation and intra-community protection. Many gamers completely lost their gumballs—in a bad way—when they learned the cast of Dragon Age: Inquisition would include a trans man. (His name is Krem, in case you were wondering, and Shel Shepard wrote a fantastic article about him that you should read.) Krem represented one of the first notable trans characters to deviate from the queer-coded villains that represent the vast majority of video games’ trans character roster. And while his inclusion in Inquisition was moderately progressive, there were still legitimate issues with it, and with the fact that even in a game where a heroic trans man existed, the player themselves could not play as a trans Inquisitor without using their imagination. This is a common caveat of trans inclusion in video games; if trans characters are included at all, they’re usually villains, and you can almost guarantee they’re not playable.

But hey, full disclosure: I’m cis. My opinion on this topic is vastly less important than that of actual trans people. That’s why I asked trans gamers their opinion—I sent out a survey titled, “Gendering Your Avatar: How to Make Video Games More Trans-Friendly,” and thousands of you got back to me. This is what you said.

Dragon Age

It Is Way Worse Than Cis People Think It Is

First things first, let’s dispel some myths: there are many trans gamers out there. While there is an absolute dearth of statistics available on the topic, the survey I sent out saw upwards of 3,600 responses in just five days. That number represents a mere fraction of the full number of trans gamers out there. What’s more, trans gamers play the same variety of video games as their cis counterparts; most who responded to the survey play between three and 10 hours per week, and have been gaming for well over a decade. Trans folks aren’t new to the gaming community, and their numbers aren’t inconsequential.

But despite being a much larger group than some people assume, trans gamers face a disproportionate and truly horrifying amount of hostility within the community. When asked if they feel comfortable in gaming spaces like conventions, game stores, forums, or online message boards, 71% of trans gamers reported feeling moderately or very unsafe. Less than 2% reported feeling that others always respect their gender identity, and about 86% reported that they have had to deal with transphobia and transphobic microaggressions from other gamers.

Harassment ranges from cissexism and transphobic slurs, to purposeful misgendering, to death and rape threats. For out trans gamers, this abuse can be constant, traumatic, and sometimes fatal. Several trans gamers and developers have been bullied to the point of suicide, something that is directly symptomatic of an online community that can be outright violent towards trans people.

The threat of harassment and disrespect often makes trans gamers feel unsafe disclosing their gender identity to others. Many report being unwilling or unable to participate in online games and community events, or exist in communal spaces for fear of being misgendered and abused. 

“It’s completely unsafe to mention even offhandedly that you are transgender in any forums or chats I know of,” wrote one user in response to the survey. “At best someone is going to say something rude and inappropriate out of ignorance, which you’ll be scorned for correcting. At worst, people will hound you with jeers and mocking questions or even start trying to track down your personal information. Twitch chats are also frequently caustic environments. In-game, the same rules apply, particularly in competitive action games. If you’re on voice chat, you’re either ridiculed and humiliated for not sounding feminine enough, or ridiculed and humiliated simply for being a woman.”

Many trans gamers say they avoid voice and video chats for fear of failing to “pass” as a cis person of their gender. For all you non-binary folks (people who identify as agender, gender-fluid, bigender, trigender, etc.) this is especially difficult, since you constantly come up against ignorance and aggressive dismissal of your very existence. Several survey respondents say they’re afraid to even correct people who misgender them. One survey taker wrote:

“I am afraid of confronting or correcting [anyone] who calls me a girl or uses she/her pronouns because of the backlash and harassment I may face.”

Even prominent trans members of the community can be treated with flagrant disrespect. Although it’s slowly improving—see: this article about “foreign hope” Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn, and the wide acceptance of and respect towards trans women like Ricki Ortiz in the fighting game community—publications and websites can be inconsistent about their trans-friendliness. See (if you can stand it): these two articles, both published by Kotaku, which use extremely transphobic and cissexist language to describe trans woman gamer Kayo Satoh (aka Kayo Police).

Trans people aren’t the only ones who get attacked in the community—transness in general gets attacked by the community, including trans characters in games, and trans headcanons about characters in games. “There is a tendency to minimize and even dismiss queer struggles and the importance of representation,” wrote another user. “Of course, anyone queer—especially anyone trans, I feel—suffers from erasure in the community. Our number is deemed unimportant; it has been said that there [aren’t] enough of us that warrant games ‘catering’ to us. Each time we do get a bit of representation, or try to make our own by creating artworks that reimagine a character as trans, people get upset.”

And the thing is, trans gamers know all this. For all of you reading, I’m preaching to the thoroughly disillusioned choir. But cis gamers have a lot to learn about it. Among our 95 cis survey takers, a solid 72% agreed that the community was moderately to very unsafe for trans gamers—aligning with what trans gamers said themselves—but when asked about what steps they take to make the space safer or more comfortable for trans folks, they fell distressingly short. Only 52% said they regularly ask other gamers their pronouns, rather than making assumptions. Only 50% said they regularly ask trans gamers how they can best support them. While 60% claimed to speak out against transphobic slurs in the community, only 37% said they try to shield trans gamers from transphobia in the community and from transphobic in-game content.

Oh, and transphobic in-game content? That’s a thing. That’s a big thing. Transphobic hostility doesn’t simply exist in the gaming community; it’s also abundant in games themselves.

Dragon Age

Games Are Just as Guilty as Gamers

When I started out writing this article, transphobic in-game content and a lack of adequate or appropriate trans representation in games was going to be my focus. And as my survey takers could attest, there’s plenty to talk about. When asked if they’ve ever encountered transphobic language or content in a game, a whopping 60% of trans gamers answered yes. The titles that they listed were too numerous to count, but they included everything from big AAA titles like Dragon Age and Grand Theft Auto V, to Japanese titles like Danganronpa and Ace Attorney, to indie titles and children’s games. One survey taker wrote:

LEGO: Lord of the Rings (surprisingly) features a transphobic sidequest about getting an ‘oh-so-feminine’ hat for a woman with lots of stubble and a deep voice who keeps getting mistaken for a man.”

Transphobic content is frequently disguised as “humor” or “satire,” like that described in LEGO: Lord of the Rings. In these “jokes,” transness becomes the punchline; the incredibly transmisogynistic ‘guy-in-the-dress’ joke is a good example, and frighteningly common. It hinges on an outrageous public belief that binary trans people are pretending to be a gender they are not; that trans women are, in fact, men pretending to be women, and vice versa.

There is a running theme in video games of exposing trans characters as fakers. In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, a truly skin-crawling segment has the player publicly out a male witness as trans, after which the character “adopts a cartoonishly feminine demeanor, swooning and sashaying.” In Persona 4, Naoto is outed in a confrontation with his own Shadow, after which the game itself refers to him using she/her pronouns in spite of his preference. Jillian wrote an amazing article on Sera’s ugly, cissexist insults in Inquisition, which can’t be countered by the player, and which are never addressed by other NPCs. 

Perhaps most insidiously, some games have the gall to disguise transphobia as player choice. Persona and Inquisition both feature this: in Inquisition, players are invited to ask Krem callous, invasive questions about his gender identity to satisfy their curiosity; in Persona, players who romance Naoto have the option to completely invalidate his gender identity, and force him to use she/her pronouns and more feminine styles of dress without any negative repercussions.

For nonbinary gamers, the transphobic hostility often starts at the door. When a character creation screen asks their gender and only provides them a choice between “man” or “woman,” nonbinary players are abruptly faced with a complete and total erasure of their identity. Over a third of trans people surveyed report that they can never play as a character of their own gender—it’s safe to say that this is true for a majority of nonbinary players.

All this is a manifestation of a baseless assumption that video game audiences aren’t trans, don’t object to the mistreatment of trans characters, and don’t have a desire to play as trans characters. Even in games that allow for avatar customization, 81% of gamers—both trans and cis—report that they do not have the ability to choose to play a trans character. But (perhaps unsurprisingly), gender is much more important to trans gamers, who are also more likely to customize their avatars to look and act like themselves. In comparison to 53% of cis gamers, 74% percent of trans gamers say that it is very important to them to be able to customize their avatar in a game, including their gender.

Furthermore, 73% of you say you actively seek out trans-inclusive games, but that there aren’t many of them. Eighty percent of you say that there are not nearly enough trans characters in video games, and those that exist are not represented kindly or respectfully. Only 17% of you could name a game where a playable character was trans, and of the games listed, almost all of the playable trans characters listed were side characters, villains, or both. Perhaps most importantly, though a third of you try to ignore the lack of adequate trans representation and not let it get to you, the other two-thirds of you say it has negatively affected how you interact with other gamers and how much you love games.

Saints Row

How We Can Start to Fix It

Trans gamers deserve so much better than this. You deserve to see yourself in games. You deserve to feel safe in the gaming community, and to be able to rely upon games as an escape from the immensely oppressive world you live in. So how do we fix all this? These problems aren’t insignificant; they’ve taken almost 2,000 words to articulate in any kind of clarity. And, if history is any indicator, the solution won’t come from cis folks. It may be facilitated and supported by cis allies, but trans people will be the ones to articulate what they need.

When asked how they felt developers could increase trans visibility and representation in games, trans gamers’ responses were incredibly modest.

“Actually create trans characters that aren’t jokes or fetishes.”

“Leave cissexist and transphobic slurs out of games.”

“Have community rules against trans discrimination.”

It’s a testament to how incredibly bad the situation is when the things trans gamers are asking for sound like the bare minimum.

One request from survey takers was for there to be more trans characters in games, and for those characters to be written by trans writers. There’s a desire to see more trans representation not just in games, but also in the industry. According to a report last year by the International Game Developers Association, trans and agender people make up at least 2% of game devs. In response to the survey, one of those devs weighed in: “As a trans game developer myself, I’m already working on two titles that feature trans and non-binary playable characters/options,” they wrote. “Most developers are either not aware of issues of representation, don’t care, or don’t understand these conflicts well enough to feel comfortable illustrating themselves. On one hand, that’s sort of a tragedy since there are SO MANY interesting stories this creates that just has barely been touched at all. This is almost a good thing because it allows people who have experienced these things, like myself, to come in and tell the story in a correct, and impactful way. Of course, the drawbacks outweigh that small positive by a long shot. Other developers need to get educated, and get over it.”

By and away, the most popular request was for the ability to make customizable player characters trans. This request was multifaceted: from an appeal for divergence from gender-locked body sliders which make avatar bodies stereotypically masculine (with a broad chest and shoulders, and slim hips), and stereotypically feminine (with a slim waist, wide hips, and an accentuated hourglass shape); to an appeal for a dissolution of gender-locked hair and clothing; to an appeal for a character’s gender identity and pronouns to be removed from their appearance and presentation.

These appeals might give some developers pause; from a purely technical standpoint, how, they might ask, could a character’s appearance be divorced from their gender identity? Gender sliders like those in Demon’s Souls and Saints Row are a possibility, and 67% of trans gamers say they would use a slider feature if they were provided with one. “I love the idea if a slider for gender,” one survey taker wrote, “because that itself isn’t making gender a big deal, opening up the game to ridicule. It’s just another slider in character creation, and it could be normalized!”

But, as many nonbinary gamers pointed out, sliders can be problematic, as they place gender on a false binary continuum. One survey taker personally wrote me to say as much: “A gender slider would not, to me, be a positive form of nonbinary representation. I’m not somehow ‘between’ being a man and being a woman—some people feel that way, I’m sure, but not me.”

And so, developers may ask, what recourse could they possibly have? Well, the answer is simple, and community-approved: give players the option to choose their pronouns separate from their appearance. This is a fantastically simple solution, and as a developer myself, I’m a little shocked that it isn’t already in use. In a world where players can regularly fine-tune and customize everything from their eyebrow color to the shape of their jaw, it is absurd that we cannot also customize and choose the pronouns for our player character separate from their physical appearance, and that an avatar’s physical appearance is still fully dictated by sex.

Choosing pronouns either via drop-down menu or via player input allows for a much wider spectrum of trans identities to exist in games, and it would be unbelievably easy to implement. A whopping 83% percent of trans gamers surveyed said they would use this feature, and guess what? Fifty-seven percent of cis gamers said they would, too. “I would REALLY love the idea of choosing a characters pronouns separate from their appearance,” wrote a trans respondent. “I didn’t know how to put it into words before, but that is exactly what I’ve always wanted.”

But what about games with voiced protagonists? A choice between several voices in character customization isn’t undoable—it’s a baked-in part of the process already, albeit in many cases it’s an automatic one. But is it possible—or even feasible—to expect video games to record for the possibility of any number of player pronouns? A few days ago, I might not have had an answer for you. But now I can say: well … Fallout 4s doing it, in a sense.

Fallout 4

Fallout 4 will not—to my knowledge—have the ability to select your gender from a pull-down menu. What they will have, in case you didn’t know, is a voiced protagonist for the first time in Fallout history. This choice comes complete with an exhaustive list of pre-recorded names for their protagonist, something that players originally feared would limit the possibility of player expressionism. How could a pre-constructed roster of names possibly include the range of creativity and crassness Fallout players are so well-known for? The answer is: by having a team of developers who understand what Fallout players want and need in order to enjoy themselves and be fully immersed in the game. And that is exactly what would be needed to begin including multiple pronoun options in voiced games; teams of developers who truly understand the necessity, and who are motivated to represent and support trans gamers.

On the community side, transphobic slurs must be removed from our community lexicon. Far too many trans gamers report regularly being assaulted with such transphobic terms as “t****y” or “h*-s**”. Community monitors and cis allies need to put a stop to this behavior immediately, both by banning community members who use this sort of language, and by adding these terms to the list of those verboten. Trans gamers need to be able to feel safe in our community—on voice chat, on camera, and in disclosing their gender identity to other gamers—and cis allies need to do everything we can to facilitate that. Part of that starts with listening to trans gamers and independently educating yourselves. Part of that starts with supporting, promoting, and uplifting trans voices in the community. Part of that starts with understanding and prioritizing the needs of trans gamers, and showing them the respect they deserve. Cissexism and transphobia is allowed to exist in gaming and gaming spaces because we allow it and perpetuate it. That has to end right now.

Video games have an opportunity, as a medium, to begin to take the lead on this. In a demonstration of considerable understanding, one survey taker wrote: “Games in general should better reflect the complexities of our social reality without constantly ignoring those people that diverge from the dominant white, cisgender, heterosexual narrative for the sake of appeasing a very vocal and crude minority of gamers.” And they’re absolutely right. Games should reflect the lives of trans people not just to score “diversity points” (a term that describes a system that I do not believe truly exists), but because trans people exist in the world, they play games, and are deserving of seeing themselves represented in the things they love.

Trans gamers: in spite of the incredible hostility you face from both gamers and games themselves, you’re here; you’ve been here. You’re an incredibly valuable, enduring part of the gaming community. It is long past time we started making you feel welcome, and started making sure you get the seat at the table that you so rightfully deserve.

Note: I’d like to personally express my gratitude to each and every one of you who participated in my survey. I was blown away by the size of the response I received, and the insight you so graciously provided me into the struggles you face was simultaneously humbling, and invaluable. I could not have written this article without your contributions. Thank you.

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27 Comments on “Video Games Are Utterly Failing Trans Gamers & It’s Time We Did Something About It

  1. I have to disagree on Nato’s thing. I was always given the impression that Nato did identify as female but due to the harsh nature of gender roles took on a male identity to be taken seriously by their peers.

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    • I feel like it would be rude not to then comment on the rest of the article, this is a fantastic piece. As a non binary gamer myself it is fantastic to hear the views of so many people and see what they think on these issues. There is so much more that could be done.

      My first steps would be no transphobia and trans characters as real people. That is the bare minimum but at least it would be a nice first step.

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    • This is a classic get-out for trans characters in games (see also Fujisaki in Dangan Ronpa). Trans people often come up with reasons why they identify as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth in order to explain their transness to cis people. But the simple fact is that Naoto is male because he identifies himself as such.

      That the game misgenders him and forces you as a player to do the same (by making the gross coercive route the “golden” one) does not invalidate his gender – it just means that cis writers are really, really bad at writing trans characters. Using that transphobia to invalidate a character’s trans status leads to a perfect vicious circle where badly-written trans characters can be ‘splained away as “not really trans”, which means the transphobic aspect of the writing is also dismissed.

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      • Naoto and Chihiro’s character arcs are both examples of a character that critique gender essentialism, they are NOT about transgender issues. I say this as a transgender individual who has seen this conversation happen on EVERY piece about transgender issues in gaming.

        Naoto’s entire character arc is about her presenting as male so she can be seen more seriously as a detective. Chihiro’s entire character arc is about him presenting as female because female weakness is more societally acceptable. They are not trans, they were not written with the intention of being trans, and their character arcs resolve with them settling on cis identities.

        These characters are written from Japanese perspectives about the perceptions of gender. They are tackling very real problems in Japan. But they are not talking about transgender issues. They just aren’t.

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      • @Raspberryamber: I understand what you’re saying, and it’s objectively correct, but, though I don’t know about Naoto… Chihiro has always come across to me as if they fucked up and made her trans. Too much about her is personally identifiable and I can’t figure out why she made Alter Ego look and act the way they do if she didn’t on some level identify as female. I’ve always just read her as in denial about her identity. I’ve seen people who disagree with me on that, and I absolutely know it’s not what the writers were going for, but I just can’t read it any other way, even knowing the relevant social context.

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    • The problem is that so many gender non-conforming characters are written in this way; they reveal (either wilfully or through outing) that their chosen gender was a “disguise”, and then “come out” as their birth-assigned gender for the rest of the story. (This is also how the Phoenix Wright character mentioned in the article is handled.)

      These characters are written such that they identify with their birth-assigned gender, but have been living a lie as the opposite gender for some story reason. I call this “getting transness backwards”, and it’s a trope that betrays the writers’ ignorance and disrespect toward real trans experiences.

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    • I also have to admit I never considered Naoto in Persona 4 or Robin Newman in Phoenix Wright to be transgender characters.
      I thought they were presented as cis women who acted as men mostly against their will due to outside pressure, from their job enviroment and family respectively.

      After reading this article and the linked discussions I can see how they might be interpreted differently and how that and the almost complete lack of proper representation of trans characters is a big part of the problem. Especially some things in the Naoto arc leave a bad aftertaste if you interpret the character in a certain way.

      However I don’t think seeing them as badly represented transgender characters is the only viable character interpretation though. If you dig deep into the dialogue of both games you can interpret many things in various ways and some thing are left ambigious. I really feel there just isn’t “the one right way” to read these characters and some of the criticisms made of them are debatable.

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      • I think this comes down to an issue of cultural differences and translation. As far as i am aware, characters like Naoto from P4 and Robin from PW are not trans at all. Japan has issues with gender identity that are different and perhaps more suffocating than in the west, in which masculinity and femininity are less divorced from being male and female respectively. Both characters presented themselves as male, not because they identified as male, but because it was more socially acceptable to be seen as male while having masculine interests. This idea which is somewhat alien to western culture resulted in them being interpreted as tomboys or trangender.

        So in those cases its more or less a case of non-representation, while also being reflective of problems that Japanese media has when approaching transgender issues

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    • This is a pervasive anti-trans character trope, that there’s a “reason” for them being trans other than “being trans”. It’s either escaping gender roles, or sexual kink, or a part of “being super gay”, or a dead opposite-sex twin they want to live again, or other nonsense. The Persona team has also included sexually-predatory trans women characters before and after Naoto, so I don’t think they’ve earned any benefit of the doubt.

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  2. Excellent article, thank you for writing this.

    As a trans woman, one thing I did love about the “asking Krem invasive questions” scene in Inquisition was that if you pick a dialogue option that calls Krem a woman, Iron Bull interrupts and shuts you down HARD. He tells you that Krem is a man and that’s that; he doesn’t cite any Qunari gender roles for it, just plain sincere support of Krem. That kind of show of support and affirmation is something that even real life cis friends are rarely willing to do, and it was heartwarming to see it in the game. It made me wish I had someone like Bull as a friend.

    Also, I’ve seen transphobes online complaining about that scene because they weren’t given the option to berate Krem and tell him how his identity is wrong and try to detransition him. I get a morbid glee at the thought of the biggest, baddest dude in the game telling these players that misgendering isn’t cool.

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  4. Thank you for this. I’m also non-binary and it often feels shitty to have to pick one of a binary gender when there’s customisable characters for games. I don’t always want to roleplay someone I’m not.

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  5. I greatly enjoyed and appreciated this article. I agree with many of its points and am glad to see it written. (One side thing to note: the updated Vita version of Danganronpa does appear to attempt to fix its mistake; the School Mode added in this version has, if you follow a relationship with the character in question, said character clarify that they’re not trans. Of course, I’m not trans myself, so if this is still not acceptable feel free to offer that correction.)

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    • Here’s the thing: cis characters “disguised” as the opposite gender are a dime a dozen in games, while actual trans characters are vanishingly rare. I hope I don’t need to explain how out-of-whack with reality this ratio is.

      When you get to the umpteenth cis character who’s “actually a guy/girl”, it doesn’t feel like you’re seeing a cis character who was wearing a disguise. It feels like you’re seeing a trans character written by someone who doesn’t know or care enough to get it right.

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    • In addition to what mthomasharding said, you have to remember when the “this character isn’t really trans, they’re just a cis person transitioning for (special reason)” subject comes up, is that transphobes think this of actual trans people. Transphobes think that NO ONE is actually trans and that trans people are transitioning for ulterior motives such as resisting gender roles (as in Danganronpa and Persona 4), being “really gay”, tricking straight people into gay sex, etc. So when someone that doesn’t think trans people are legitimate writes a trans character, of course they’re going to write it as that person having a “reason” to transition other than “being trans”.

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      • That doesn’t mean we should stifle those kinds of narratives though- it means we need more narratives that show genuine transgender people alongside them. Those kinds of narratives make perfect sense in a lot of cultures- in fact it wouldn’t be hard to find real life examples of people who have gone through such transitions and honestly I feel like the writers of these narratives more likely did it because it’s a common trope in Japanese media and not because they specifically wanted to point out that no one is really trans.

        Persona is handled poorly however and actually has a narrative of the character admitting they aren’t really trans, which is why I’d consider it to have issues. Danganronpa however the character never calls themselves transgender, and they never act like they truly believed themselves to be a woman, Their character is written so that they even look uncomfortable being seen as a woman in a lot of ways, but they still hide behind that disguise because it makes their life easier. It’s unfortunate that this can be validating to transphobic people but if someone doesn’t already have a strong opinion about transgender people I don’t see any way they would look at the narrative in Danganronpa and have their views swung drastically against trans individuals.

        Persona and Danganronpa are two very different examples in my opinion. I actually found the character in Danganronpa to be very easy to identify with because despite being cisgendered, their story involved a lot of hardships and emotions that were very similar to my own, myself being FtM.

        Naoto in Persona on the other hand if you consider the anime as well as the game as a shadow which actively tries to give the character gender reassignment surgery before they defeat it by admitting that they aren’t really transgender- which is way more justifying to transphobic beliefs. It’s still a story that I begrudgingly accept as ‘possible’ and I don’t want to create a culture which encourages the shaming of people who aren’t sure if they are transgender or not or of people that change their minds, but I see it as being damaging whereas Danganronpa I don’t see as having that level of direct challenge.

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  7. This is a very interesting read. I’m one of the 95 people who took the survey that identify as cis, and I have to admit I had never really thought about trans representation in games beforehand. My scope is rather limited so I hadn’t even heard about the blatant transphobia that shows up in games, from both developers and audiences. It’s really rather sad — I don’t think I’d be able to do much about it since I can’t relate to the situation, but I hope there can be acceptance and representation for every gender in media. The current state, at least in the gaming industry, is honestly sickening. Nonetheless, this is a great article. I’ll be sure to read more about the subject now that I’ve been introduced to it.

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  8. I will be lightly discussing a SPOILER for Dragon Age: Inquisiton later in this comment. A couple thoughts, relating to transphobic content in games and also cis peoples’ reactions to trans characters. Issues aside with Krem, it was amazing to finally see someone more like me in a game, but with the character came an increase in volume from the shitty side of the player base. From things like arguments that the transphobic content should have been even harsher, “for realism,” (“for realism,” is a phrase that sets my teeth on edge these days) because I guess some people just want a “be shitty to a trans person for your entertainment” sim but also a frankly disturbing amount of claims that they sacrificed Krem and his team *specifically* so that he would die, for the great crime of being trans and…that fact is discussed a couple times in game? (Far from the only thing that can be discussed with him, and if the conversation is too damn long that’s because you’re the one choosing the cringey invasive options!) To be honest it was chilling – not because I think each of these people would really murder a trans person, but because they are a part of the environment that enables that to happen with little consequence, and there’s little doubt that that attitude very much reflects real thoughts and feelings that they have, even if in this case those thoughts and feelings are about a fictional character it’s not a stretch to think they would similarly dehumanize an actual person (and frankly, whether the particular writers of those comments would murder [or gleefully allow to be killed] a trans person or not is largely meaningless because the sorts of things that were being said were absolutely the kinds of things a transphobic murderer would say, and if that’s an issue then the person saying those things needs to take a hard look at themselves instead of getting defensive because maybe don’t say the same things murderers say.)

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  9. This is such a well written article, and the survey was very well done. As one of the trans respondents, I’m very happy to see cis people doing this kind of research and doing it well. I hope this write-up and research become an example of how cis people should be writing about trans issues (especially in the gaming community).

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  10. Good article, I liked it but I noted that someone listed Danganronpa as a transphobic game and it’s actually one of my favourite series. The thing about that game- similar kinda story with Persona 4- is that it isn’t transphobic as much as it simply represents a narrative that doesn’t support actual trans people, but I wouldn’t call it a transphobic narrative either. This is important I think because I don’t want to see these kinds of narratives being seen as against transgender people when they’re simply a different story being told.

    Spoilers ahead:

    In the game there is a character everyone thinks is a woman until it’s later revealed that they were only pretending to be a woman because they were afraid of being insulted for not being manly enough or of the pressure of living up to a ‘manly’ standard. Personally I don’t see that as a transphobic narrative because the character themselves never says they are trans and actually has a moment where they basically come out to everyone and say that they want to be honest with everyone about their identity and be true to themselves (they also want to try and become stronger which is on the one hand sad because it means they caved to the demands of society saying they needed to be stronger but on the other hand if a character wants to get stronger that’s a perfectly reasonable endeavour and it makes sense in the context) at this point they are basically saying to everyone ‘I want you to see me as a man now,’ and therefore they have different reasons for their actions and presentation that if they were actually a transgender character. They feel weak and they don’t want to be ridiculed for it in a society that expects women to be weak and men to be strong- so they pretend to be a woman externally but it never gives us any reason to believe they truly identified as one. This is a key difference.

    Sure that isn’t a positive transgender narrative but that’s because it isn’t a transgender narrative. It’s a different narrative about gender. Funnily enough I found the character very relatable as someone who is FTM because of their struggling to be masculine enough to meet with the standards of those around them and their desire to become stronger to become more confident within themselves as a man, confident enough to show everyone who they really are instead of hiding.

    Either way I’m kinda sad to see that listed because while these narratives about ‘cross dressing’ characters might not be helpful to trans people because they miss the mark of actually being representation, they don’t actually shame transgender people either- they aren’t against them, they’re not actually about transgender people. They’re about other reasons why a person might decide to present themselves a particular way.

    Persona is a slightly more upsetting example because it never really tells us for certain whether the character is trans. The english adaptations often have dialogue that uses the story of ‘wanting to be taken seriously’ as a reason that the character chose to ‘pretend’ to be something they aren’t, and then it eats them up inside which is why it becomes their shadow- the main cast convinces them they can be taken seriously as a woman and that they don’t have to hide who they truly are. If that were to be the case then I wouldn’t consider it transphobic but the problem is that the game takes the character a lot less seriously after this point, making a lot of jokes about the size of their chest in particular, and also that it’s difficult to figure out if this is the real intended narrative at play.

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  11. Pingback: How a Lack of Racial Diversity Inhibits ‘Life Is Strange’ | FemHype

  12. I am still not sure what people want in terms of non-binary character options in games where ‘sliders’ are not a thing. In a 3D game it is possible to adjust the geometry of the player model in different ways. In a 2D game, every single character option must be hand-drawn and cannot be altered, other than by mixing and matching layers.

    Now, in games where the player character is largely invisible (Fallen London etc) they deal with this by letting you pick a pronoun and a head-silhouette. You never see the character in detail. This wouldn’t work for games where the player avatar is going to be on screen a lot, with facial expressions and interactions and so on.

    There are also stories in which the gender of the player character is integral to the plot. A game set in a men’s military training camp, or a girl’s boarding school, for example. I’m NOT saying that you could not have trans characters in those situations because obviously you could. But making them available as options in character creation in a sensitive way seems very difficult and likely to invite ridicule. If you were designing a schoolgirl character and masculine-looking options came up, I foresee that being interpreted as a transphobic joke by many players and published around either with “LOL HA HA” or shock and horror.

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    • More flexibility in options.
      Let’s take Champions Online for an example. As a superhero MMO, it has an extremely robust character customization system. However, the hairstyles are very rigidly controlled, gendered clothing options are tightly restricted. There is a vast list of variations of zombie, monster, clown, etc. markings you can paint on your characters face, but a male character cannot wear eyeshadow or lipstick. There is a vast number of sliders to adjust the build of your character, but if you are on a female body type, you cannot adjust the size of your characters wasp waist. Additionally, there’s several sliders that affect the size and shape of your characters breasts, but ALL of the costume pieces have a dark shadow beneath the breasts which looks extremely strange when it starts stretching over a character model that doesn’t have at least a D cup.
      On SWTOR, I tried making a male bodied character that didn’t have huge action figure shoulders and biceps, but that body type has a comically tiny waist. Again, no particularly feminine hairstyles.
      These aren’t things that should be that hard to address. Copy and paste some costume pieces across. Add a little bit of variety in body types.

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