How Video Games Help Transgender People

Gaming means many things to many different people but to the transgender community, it brings an unexpected perk: the ability to be yourself. This differs significantly from the typical enjoyment that most gamers get from an alternate reality that MMORPG’s provide, as there are a ton of people out there who want to be a wizard, and just as many who want to be an armor-clad warrior standing tall against an insurmountable foe.

Sure, transgender people want all of that too, but they also want to play as themselves, which is the opposite the gender that they were assigned at birth.

I have to say that when I was first presented with this prospect in an MMORPG, I didn’t take it. Maybe I was still lying to myself, or maybe I didn’t want others to suspect, but the fact is; I played male characters for the longest time – trust me, it ended up costing me a lot of money in gender changes down the line.

As time went on though, I started using female characters more and more, until I was finally comfortable with myself, and while MMO’s were the first time I really socialized as a woman, they weren’t the start of it. The first time I ever played a female character in a video game, was in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. I believe I played  Breton, and it was extremely liberating.

To some people, it might just be pixels, but to those of us who want to break free from everyday life, and our own skins, it’s everything.

Games Help Transgender People

Me in Guild Wars 2, Before and After

A Means of Escape

MMORPG’s can be a means of escape for transgender individuals, just as they are for cis (people who identify as the gender they were born with) people. I’m not going to sit here and argue about whether or not transgender people exist, but what I can say is that being unable to express your gender identity day-to-day is not only exhausting, it’s soul sucking. So just imagine being able to come home after a long day at work, sit down at the computer, and roleplay as the person you feel you are on the inside. It’s a feeling of freedom unlike anything else you can experience and quite frankly, it’s a first step toward coming out and being the person that you were meant to be.

A discussion I had with Zoey in Final Fantasy XIV revealed a story very similar to mine:

Being able to be myself in videogames has helped me tremendously with combating dysphoria and depression. Its also opened many doors to meeting other people such as myself and those who’re supportive of trans people.

Originally when I played games I played as a male character because growing up I was bullied for who I was. This made me scared of how people would react. However over time I learned of others and slowly opened up to being myself. It started with a few attempts at being female in games and exploring who I was. Eventually I came out to all my friends and changed my gender in every game I could.

Some games like Final Fantasy XIV A Realm Reborn have been tremendous in this as they had systems in place for me to be able to change my gender and name. This let me be myself in a game without starting over. It was such a relief to be able to play as who I am.

Being myself in games has made it easier to also come to terms with who I am and for me to be able to transition in Real Life. Thanks to games I was able to get support where none was available locally and could experience life as myself virtually, even if it was while destroying a hoard of monsters. It helped to reduce my depression and dysphoria that I don’t believe I’d be here today if I didn’t have that outlet.

Thanks to games I now live a happy life both in reality and virtually.

Zoey Before (FFXIV)

Widespread Experience

I’m definitely not the only person who has experienced this; many of my friends in the transgender community report that they came to a similar conclusion over the course of their lives as they started playing various games, but it actually dates back much further than that.

During the 70’s, before video games were barely a twinkle in the eyes of their creators, there were tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons, and it wasn’t terribly uncommon for a closeted trans individual to play a female character, oftentimes passing it off as a ‘joke’. At that time, it was a bit more difficult to pass it off as they were playing face to face with other people, oftentimes their friends and family, but it was a start. Today, you can be yourself, anonymously, behind your computer screen.

Stigma

As transgender individuals we face a nasty stigma, as we are often compared to the token ‘man playing a woman’ trope that MMORPG’s are plagued with. More often than not, we’re accused of using our avatars to rake in gold begged or coerced from other players. It is important for the general population to understand that we’re not roleplaying, nor are we pretending – this is who we are. Yet it still causes anger to ripple throughout the community.

One of the biggest problems we have as trans people is the inevitable reveal. We try to keep to ourselves in-game as much as possible but we understand that at some point, we’re going to have to step onto Teamspeak or Discord and interact with other guild members during a raid or a guild event. For those of us who haven’t properly trained our voice, it can result in serious anxiety, and I’ve seen more than a few of my friends back out of their guilds entirely as a result.

Inclusion

Video games in general are becoming more and more inclusive of transgender individuals. The first one I encountered was Aid Worker Sya in Guild Wars 2, who we actually knew pre-transition as one of the NPC’s who helped to rescue citizens in Lion’s Arch during Scarlet Briar’s attack. Their transition from male to female was not noted publicly and it was only later, after Lion’s Arch was rebuilt, that the new and improved Aid Worker Sya appeared in the city near the Asura gate network.

The interesting thing about this NPC was that her presence was not mentioned in any patch notes and there was no major questline leading up to her, other than the battle of Lion’s Arch. The only way you would run into Aid Worker Sya (Formerly Symon) would be to hang out around the Asura gates long enough to watch her interact with a passing Lionguard. Though the dialogue itself is really nothing remarkable (that didn’t stop players from complaining about it).

There have been other games, for example, the newest expansion to Baldur’s Gate included a trans character who, once again, took some effort to find. Actually, the character would only reveal their transgender identity if you followed the right conversation branch, and even then it wasn’t all that dramatic.

Once again, players complained about it, and as far as the complaints go I find it very interesting that players would complain about transgenderism in a fantasy game. For anybody reading this thinking “Well it doesn’t belong in a video game,” let me point this out: it’s a game with magic. You can turn people into animals, you can kill them with fire, you can do all manner of stuff that just isn’t a thing in the real world, so here’s the question: are you so closed minded that you want to ignore an issue that affects so many people in any world? I mean, I get that you want to see more dragons and badassery, but we also want a world to live in, and a world that makes sense. For the world to make sense, quite frankly, realistic things have to happen whether you’re comfortable with them or not.

Game developers are becoming far more inclusive, even if some gamers are not. These developers are sending out the acknowledgment that: “Yes, we see you,” similar to what the White House did last year. In my opinion, this isn’t a political move but more of an attempt to normalize us by showing people that yes, we do exist and yes, we do good things.

In the end, we’re not out to hurt or push our ideals on anyone; we simply want to live, similar to the way Aid Worker Sya is living in Lion’s Arch right now. Is it too much to ask? Not in these amazing game worlds, but in real life, we’ll see.

 

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About Rissa Trent

Rissa grew up on a farm, playing shareware games like Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Operation Comat, Solar Winds, and Kingdom of Kroz. Later she would dabble in Real Time Strategy games, and eventually left home to go on a cross country adventure of self discovery where she found out absolutely nothing. Today she works as a copywriter and games journalist.