Robyn Tyrfing and Gender Neutrality in Videogames

Gender neutrality: Another topic not often covered in mainstream videogames.

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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.

Birdo-Trans-Representation

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.

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About the Contributor


From 2013 to 2018

Obviously, I'm Robyn. I'm nonbinary/gender neutral(my pronouns are ze/hir), into videogames, and other stuff. Somehow I found myself on this corner of the internet. I hope we all can be friends and have a good year together at this school!

9 Comments

  1. I think a good follow-up to this post would be some sort of overview of basic terminology and what is really means to be transgender, so that everybody’s on the same page moving forward. My life experience has been a pretty binary one, so the topic of gender neutrality is a little overwhelming when I don’t speak the lingo.

  2. Basic terminology? Wikipedia can explain that better but I’ll include it in a later article, certainly. However, “what is really means to be transgender” I am unsure what you mean by that? Unless you mean from a purely academic sense, I cannot really explain that because there’s no set narrative for being trans. My trans identity is different from every other trans person just like how their identities differ from each others. I could write about my identity and what being trans means for me, but I am in no way able to speak for what being trans means for all of my other siblings out there.

    1. The links you included are a good start, and I agree that Wikipedia is generally a good reference if you’re popping in for a quick check of whatever the author is talking about. Researching anything related to gender, however, is probably more complex; unlike some obscure videogame the reader has never heard of, a sentence or two of Wikipedia description may not be sufficient for someone whose knowledge of gender only goes as far as men being from Mars and women being from Venus.

      For example, and pardon me for being ignorant here: The word “transgender” doesn’t really have a concrete meaning to me. I think I’ve heard it refer to someone who’s had a sex change operation, but pairing it with “nonbinary” (a term I’ve never heard before, but whose meaning I can deduce because I know about Binary the computer language and binary stars and whatnot) makes it sound like “trans” means “above”; as in, to transcend gender and not be male or female. But that’s confusing, because as far as I’ve ever known, you’re either a boy or a girl. Or possibly a boy trapped in a girl’s body. Or maybe a girl with boy parts. So right off the bat, I have no idea what we’re talking about.

      When the term “cisgender” gets thrown into the mix, things get more confusing, particularly if the reader has never heard “gender” used as anything other than a synonym for “biological sex.” There are larger concepts about gender that the reader needs to understand before the term can have any real meaning. I remember there being a debate when I was younger about whether Birdo was a boy or a girl, but I’m unfamiliar with Naoto Shirigane, Poison, and Roxy, so I was honestly reluctant to click on the hyperlinks when I read this at work for fear that “cisgender” was indeed some form of “questionable content” that could get me fired or reprimanded.

      (Incidentally, it turns out my concerns were not entirely unfounded; I somehow ended up on the colorfully illustrated Wikipedia page about futanari when trying to look up another one of the terms I didn’t recognize on one of the pages you linked to.)

      So, to draw this all back in, hearing your story and your explanation of the potentially unfamiliar terms you’ll be using to discuss gender would be beneficial for me, at least, and anyone else who’s as ignorant as I am on the subject.

      In other news, welcome to the staff! I swear I’m not trying to give you a hard time; I’ve still got Griffin Phillippi if I wanted to do that.

      1. I guess Robyn has hir work cut out for hir. I think it just goes to show what a poor job media generally does at portraying people who land outside the male/female binary… Which is kind of the point of the article. If there was proper representation historically, you’d at least be vaguely familiar with the concepts.

        I think it’s a good opportunity for folks to learn a thing or two about a topic that’s generally Outside the Mainstream, and how it relates to Gaming. (See what I did there?!) Let’s just not jump the gun too much. It’s a topic you can imagine will take more than one article to explain, and I get the feeling we’ll be hearing more on the subject some time soon…!

        1. As I mentioned, gender’s a complex subject and trans identities are more complicated than what you’ve been lead to believe. In the case of regarding transgender as rising above gender, that’s what it means for me(and more!), though it means other things to other people, and I will address that a little in my next article.

  3. I don’t know if this actually counts as transman or what, but in the obscure DS RPG “Glory of Heracles”, one of the characters, Leucos, is obviously a female, but insists she’s male, because her father wanted a son. (I use female pronouns because eventually Leucos accepts being female or something (it’s been a while since I’ve played it)). So, I’m not sure what exactly this counts as, but it is an example of… something you talked about, probably. (Maybe. I’m pretty much in the same boat as Nathaniel Hoover on this topic.)

    1. That’s the case of questioning your gender identity. It’s a topic for another article, questioning and deciding, and once I play the game I might write an article related to it. However I’m leery on writing about a character that starts off presenting trans and realizes they’re cis. There just isn’t enough stories involving questioning and transitions and a character that initially reads strongly as trans deciding to be cis. But maybe once I play it will have a different impression on me.

        1. It’s kinda the literal opposite and while a valid part of discovering your identity is coming to terms with whether you’re cis or trans it’s not often people think they’re trans and realize they’re cis.

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