Video Games: A Transgender Escape
THE VIDEO GAME INDUSTRY IN THE US ALONE TOUTS OVER 600 MILLION DOLLARS ANNUALLY”
The video game industry in the US alone touts over 600 million dollars annually and includes a variety of genres for any avid gamer. Long gone are the days of Pong. With the advent of technology and the Internet, the days of playing solo are in the past.
When World of Warcraft hit the market for PCs in 2004, it was an instant sensation and took the mmo (massively multiplayer online) market into the mainstream. While Everquest had existed in mmo gaming, it didn’t see the popularity of WoW. Based on the real time strategy games of the Warcraft franchise, it took a different approach to the Warcraft Universe.
Because of its popularity and longevity, the game has made it a home for a vast amount of communities within the gaming world. Once such community is that of the server Proudmoore. Proudmoore is known as the unofficial LGBT server, which boasts itself as having the 12th largest population of over 200 North American based servers.
“CHARACTER GENERATION IS WHAT APPEALS TO MANY TRANSGENDER PEOPLE WHO ARE IN THE EARLY STAGES OF THEIR TRANSITION.”
Character generation is what appeals to many transgender people who are in the early stages of their transition. By allowing the player the option of choosing a male or female character, they can allow them to exist as themselves (or a variation thereof) in the online world. Beyond choosing gender, skin tones, facial identities, hair style and color are customizable and other games take it beyond that so that you can create a character that you most likely identify with. Some games have taken it further with a gender slider that would allow for a more masculine or feminine take on the gender binary.
While the anonymity and hiding behind toons or avatars is a safe place for transgender people, that’s not always the case. Online gaming is more competitive than it was years ago and the necessity to communicate while playing has seen the rise of communication applications such as Ventrilo, Teamspeak, Mumble, and Discord. Even Skype has found use in the gaming world. For those of us who project as our preferred gender online, we have the reluctance of sharing our voice with friends or even random strangers. For many of us, that’s not a comforting thought and some have been the victims of bullying for having done so.
When Baldur’s Gate: Siege of DragonSpear was released on March 31, 2016 it soon became a high profile target due to the introduction of a transgender character. Argued by the transgender community, the character was poorly introduced and so bold as the character even announcing itself as transgender. Beamdog Studios responded to the feedback and flames from the gaming community and to the harassment and threats against Amber Scott, writer for the game.
Ed Greenwood, author and designer of the Forgotten Realms world for which Baldur’s Gate is set in, acknowledges that transgender people do exist in the Dungeons and Dragons gaming world. He gave evidence to support that TSR and Wizards of the Coast allow it’s participants in the table top gaming world to create their own immersion for purposes of sexuality and gender identity and do not force it as an issue.
While we would hope the gaming world is friendlier than the world we live in, there is always that vocal minority that insists on being bullies. Unfortunately, some transgender people have found them the victim as such. It’s important for us to find support with those in the virtual worlds as well as those we engage within the real world.
Games and the gaming community, too, have a long way to go for it’s trans members to be better represented. The approach to character development should be more subtle as not to be blatantly wave a flag signifying a transgender character, but to drop hints to such. The game community might be more accepting to this manner and the transgender community may feel that we are being represented without being so forward.
Perhaps in the future, transgender people may become more involved in game development and introduce believable, polished characters that better represent the transgender community. Until that time, we should not set our expectations too high for mainstream games.