Trans Characters in Gaming

LGBT representation in the media has been a mixed barrel over the years, from overly camp villains and victims to overly sympathetic stories, written by cishet writers. Gay representation has improved in the last few years, although some characters feel far from perfect. But without a doubt the trans community gets the worst of it, with decades of insulting characters written out of ignorance, no matter how well meaning, such as on TV shows Nip/Tuck and Family Guy. LGBT organization GLAAD researched that transgender characters are cast in a victim role forty percent of the time, work as sex-workers or ex-sex workers twenty percent of the time, and anti-transgender slurs, language and dialogue was present in at least sixty-one percent of the catalogued episodes and storylines.

With TV shows such as Transparent or Orange is the New Black, there is some effort to show trans-positive representation and an active need for things to change. Media representation is important for a group because it reassures them they are not alone but also has the power to educate people about areas they aren’t familiar with, such as with trans people. Misconceptions run rampant — I can already read the “I identify as an attack helicopter” comments below this. With that in mind, given the wide popularity of video games, should video games developers include more trans people in their games?

Characters come to mind immediately, such as Nintendo’s Birdo who in 1988 had this infamous description: “A boy who believes he is a girl.” There is also the ambiguity of Leo from Tekken. These characters and those like them always sprout mixed feelings in my liberal soul, the part of me that feels we should support any representation forever fighting with a part of me that hates misrepresentation. I’ve read a lot of fan theories about which characters could be underneath the trans umbrella, including player characters and NPCs, but rarely something canonical, and I can testify as a lifelong slash-fiction writer, representation can be found in anything if you look hard enough. Whenever I bring up the topic, I’m always asked, “How can trans characters be properly represented in gaming?” Truthfully, I don’t have much of an answer to this question.

However, in the sweet, liberal corner of Tumblr that I so often reside in, a game called Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator was receiving a lot of attention. The game follows a very simple concept: You play a single father who has moved to a new area with the goal of romancing one of the NPCs, for reasons I don’t understand nor do I wish to try to. My first reaction to the name, the story and the Steam trailer (that includes a sickeningly sweet theme tune that made me want to shove cotton candy in my ears to drown out the sugar) made me cringe a little. However, the game has received very positive reviews on Steam and has a 72 out of 100 score on Metacritic.

But why was Tumblr so pleased with the game? Not only was one of the date-able characters trans, an aspect of the character that appears to be only a side note rather than a large part of his backstory along with him not notably standing out from all the other NPCs, but the player has the option to become a transgender character. To quote one Steam review: “Finally I can be the cool trans dilf I’ve always wanted to be.”

The game probably isn’t going to go down as one of the greatest games of all time, but it has gained a loyal following because of its inclusiveness. Making your character trans doesn’t seem to affect any other aspect of the gameplay.

So why aren’t more games doing this? Dream Daddy is an LGBT game, as your character is undeniably LGBT, so I feel this inclusion was made to tap at a wider audience, which is a good thing. But if it took so little to attract that audience, then is it something game developers should make an effort to include more of, especially in games that don’t regard themselves as LGBT?

Maybe developers don’t find reason to bother. I’ve played a lot of fantasy games and they rarely open with a big flashing sign that says, “This character you are playing as is definitely not trans. Now begin game.” So, if you wanted to play as a trans character, you could just decide they were so and carry on with the game. Depending on how free the game world is or how strict the storyline is, you’re bound to run into one or two problems down the line, but presumably nothing so large as to crush your dreams.

But as noted at the beginning of this writing, representation is still important. Before writing this I looked into games where the player can become or is trans, and other than Dream Daddy, I couldn’t find a single one. That’s not to say that none exist, but if they do they’re not easy to find. On top of that I couldn’t find any games where your character can identify as non-binary or genderfluid. I find this incredibly surprising and frustrating as video games can be a first step for transpeople to experiment with their gender identity. I spoke to a friend of mine (who chooses to remain anonymous) to whom gaming was the first opportunity for her to express herself as female.

“There are plenty of games where you can design your character, their appearance, their decisions, and this also includes their gender. Games like Pokémon, the Fable sequels and various MMORPGs allowed me to present myself as female in a new world,” she said. “I was a girl and no one questioned it or tried to fight me on it. For me it was a big step in coming out as transgender.”

In an article by blogger Charlize Veritas, she expresses similar views.

“For transgender people it’s something even more special. A dream we’ve held for so long. You see, it’s a chance for us to play as our preferred gender,” Veritas writes. “We can finally be that badass chick who saves the day from hordes of aliens or that righteous dude who fights the undead masses to avenge his mortal soul, but whatever your quest is… you finally get to do it as you.”

So possibly to the Steam reviewer, Dream Daddy was more than a dating simulator game with annoying music — it was a chance to experience their authentic self while gaming. If just ticking a box during character design is going to make someone happy, then why not take it one step above “male” and “female” boxes and include all the people who identify as genderfluid or non-binary? Why shouldn’t they be able to achieve “a dream they’ve held for so long”?

Remember that if you do not think games should have playable transgender characters, you always have the option of not playing a game with them or of not making one as your character.

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