Hello everyone I’m Robyn Tyrfing, a new contributor to GameCola, and a transgender/nonbinary person. My pronouns are ze/hir, and I call myself an enby as opposed to boy/girl/man/woman. I’m going to be talking a lot about gender in video games. In fact, that’s what I’m talking about now as well.
Gender is an important part of our lives and identities, and for reasons it probably shouldn’t be. As far as gender in video games go, there really isn’t anything I can say about male and female representations in video games. But, I am a little upset about the presentation of gender-neutral characters.
I mean, we exist in media and that’s fantastic! Except that when we exist in media, it’s usually as monsters, constructs, or forces of nature. And even when a character is created that should, by all means, be gender-neutral, that character is then referred to with gendered pronouns. We’re excluded due to ignorance and convenience when we’re not otherwise dehumanized, and I often wonder what I was expecting from mainstream media.
Trans representation in media has been horrible; videogames especially. You can probably count the number of videogame characters intended and written to be trans on your fingers and toes. I create that qualifier because it doesn’t matter if the writer intended a character to be transgender but wrote them as cisgender—Naoto Shirogane and Birdo come to mind here—or if they were intended to be cisgender but were written as transgender to avoid content issues—Poison and Roxy from Final Fight come to mind in this case. These cases don’t apply because in the case of the former they didn’t give actual representation, the intent was there but in the end they veered off the subject entirely to avoid “questionable content”. The latter case doesn’t count either, because they were changed to avoid “questionable content” as well!
There are barriers to binary trans representation, and that makes nonbinary trans representation even more difficult. There is still hope, however, as several video games through the past and present have featured transgender characters in a positive light. Throughout the history of videogames there has been, albeit lacking, representation of transgender characters and even nonbinary and intersex characters! While nonbinary representation is a more recent thing, there have been games with transgender people as far back as the ’80s across multiple platforms. While the ’90s mostly featured crossdressing and transvestism the transgender representation picked up in the ’00s and the ’10s are continuing to represent characters with diverse gender identities.
However, two problems exist: there isn’t enough representation of transgender characters and the representation we’re getting often isn’t positive. There’s hope, but when one or two games a decade feature these characters—often in problematic ways—you gotta admit something isn’t right. Indie games offer a hope for representation of both binary and nonbinary transgender people, as well as intersex people, as publishing methods and distribution become more and more accessible to people wanting to make games. The popularity of indie games is what gives me the most hope, as they lack huge companies trying to make their games accessible to the lowest common denominator.
There’s hope on the horizon, hopefully it’s not too far off.