Listen Up! Transgender Gamers Have a List of Demands
Transgender gamers are mad as hell and they aren’t going to take it anymore.
“Good enough is just not good enough,” said feminist scholar and trans video game critic Katherine Cross.
Cross was joined by Brianna Wu, head of development with Giant Spacekat, on a GX3 talk about transgender gaming, and the two didn’t hold back. Here’s a quick look at their list of demands for greater trans inclusion within the gaming industry.
1. Treat transgender people like people.
Independent and triple-A titles have reached a new level of LGB representation in the last few years, but transgender protagonists are still stalled in prejudices surrounding their identities and their bodies.
“Let’s start off with the fact that we are people,” Cross said. “Everything just comes down to that. You can have a trans character without their trans identity being every beat of their narrative.”
2. Stop fetishizing trans women by how “real” they are.
The two talked Poison, the trans female character in Street Fighter represents the game industry “one step forward, two steps back” approach on trans issues. Poison is a good fighter and a memorable villain, but she’s also highly sexualized and has even had her trans identity erased altogether, being presented as a cisgender female in later appearances in other games.
“Your worth as a human being is if a cis male is going to objectify you as much as they would a ‘real’ woman,” Wu said. “Cisgender allies, you can do a hell of a lot of good by standing up to this.”
3. Tell real stories about transgender issues without shame.
Cross wanted portrayal of trans and sex work issues in games to do more than just appeal to the sexist, voyeuristic appetites of cisgender players. Rather, they should be a part of a central, pivotal story that needs to be told from a trans person’s human perspective.
“I want to see a story where a trans woman sex worker is the protagonist,” Cross said. “I want to see a story where sex work isn’t a game feature based in shame.”
4. Call in, don’t call out, at companies with bad cultures
As enjoyable as it feels to rage about games and developers on social networks, transgender gamers and allies need to suggest what they need to see — not just what companies get wrong.
“In the gaming industry, you can be one mistake away from being thrown away like garbage,” Wu said. “You need to call in, not call out.”
As much as gamers can call out a company’s transphobia, they also need to defend what progress has been made so that more companies will shed their anxieties and try new ways in including trans people and perspectives.
“Companies have to shift out of a mode of defense,” Cross said. “They need to learn to be just as vulnerable to change as the creators working with them.”
5. Finance transgender developers willing to tell their stories.
To transgender developers who worry about crafting protagonists in their own image, Wu said that, as a developer, she knows audiences always respond to one thing — authenticity.
“People respond to the genuine. If you’re a creator, you need to be so vulnerable with your audience about what you’re passionate about,” she said. “We are drowning in bullshit. When people see something true and honest, I think people respond to it.”
That’s where change comes — according to Wu — from the outside in.
“If we don’t look out for that trans girl or boy out there, how can we expect triple-A to do it?” Wu said.
Previously published December 13, 2015.
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