Forgive the hashtag joke. I’m trying to lighten things with humour.
In the follow up to today’s Youtube video…
Someone linked me to a very salient point made by a trans person with the screen name Jinx, who was upset that every time a game dev puts a clunky “inclusionary” character in a game, real life trans people get caught in the middle of an uproar.
This is a very important thing for developers to consider.
Controversies like this, the Tracer butt thing, the various “tropes” debates… they’re not just about video game characters. They’re about the real people looking for representation from these characters.
No one wants to be treated like a prized pony. No one wants to be singled out as different. What has made Bioware’s best work great is that they seamlessly integrate the “diversity” element of their games into their game worlds. Instead of speeches, they create magical places where things are possible that can open our minds.
We don’t need lectures on non-binary gender in Mass Effect because we have the Asari, an alien race with only one gender. In Dragon Age: Origin, there was a brilliant bit of dialogue where Sten determines a female Warden must be male, because she doesn’t fulfill the social role of a woman. These are subtle fantasy elements that much more effectively present the idea of gender as social construct as opposed to biology.
Meanwhile, over in Deep Silver’s Saint’s Row games, you can give your character a “male” body, but give them a female voice and have them wear dresses. The character customization doesn’t lock you into a gender binary. The game allows a gender nonconforming person to express themselves in game if they choose. Other people may have a male character running around in a dress just for fun.
This is the power of video games. They allow people to try on new concepts at their own pace. When a game company shoves a concept down a player’s throat through dialogue, it becomes less persuasive. The player becomes conscious of the “lesson”, and becomes less open to it.
I don’t personally have an issue with the “speech by a trans character” in Beamdog’s Baldur’s Gate expansion Siege of Dragonspear because cheesy “let me tell you who I am” speeches are part of that isometric RPG tradition. I can, however, see why some trans people are upset by the uproar around it: for the rest of us, it’s a game. For a trans person, this is their life. Every person wants the right to define their own experiences, and not be told that they’re somehow “maning” or “womaning” wrong. It’s hard for me to stay calm when someone tells me that I’m “slutty” or that I’m not “naturally” good at tech or video games because I’m a woman. I reject both these assertions. I am an individual.
For trans people, this definition of identity becomes much higher stakes. Even a transwoman using a public restroom is considered to be a violation of “real women” by TERFs (Trans Exclusive Radical Feminists). Could you imagine being told you were doing something wrong just because you wanted to pee and perhaps retouch your lipstick? Then of course, there’s the extremely high likelihood that a trans person will be assaulted or sexually abused during their life. Trans people live with an awareness of those realities.
But at the end of the day, a trans person is like any person in that they’re an individual, and they deserve stories of transgender characters who are treated like individuals. Many of the people upset about the character in Siege of Dragonspear don’t have the slightest objection to the inclusion of transgender characters. They’re objecting to the way this one was handled. Whether you agree or disagree with their analysis, artistic critiques are totally within the realm of fair criticism, and these critics shouldn’t be demonized for their opinions.
Are there some legitimate transphobes hiding in those ranks? Of course. But to label any dissent on this issue as automatic transphobia is a knee-jerk response. It’s precisely this sort of instantaneous, thoughtless reaction that’s at the core of all bigotry. To adopt a progressive stance is to stand for progress. It’s not about retreating into a bunker mentality because of some yelling and scary words.