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Video games allow them to choose a role. Their transgender identities flourished.

Nearly a decade before Anna Anthropy came out as a transgender woman, she wore a dress in the world of Animal Crossing on the Nintendo GameCube, leaving her family with virtual breadcrumbs about information she didn’t know. wasn’t ready to share when she was a teenager.

“We were all playing in the same city and I had chosen a female character,” said Anthropy, 40, now a game design professor at DePaul University in Chicago. “It wasn’t something we talked about, but it was my way of seeing a version of my family where I was the good sex.”

More than a dozen transgender and non-binary people said in interviews that video games are one of the safest spaces to explore their queer identities, given the range of tools for changing appearance of a character and a virtual world that easily accepts these changes.

Veronica Ripley, 32, often talks to her friends about the role video games played in her trans awakening: “I tried to explain it by saying I played the girl’s character because she had a higher hitbox. smaller or faster kill animations. she said, referring to the benefits of gaming. She then found herself exploring The Sims, which she described as a “virtual dollhouse simulator” that allowed her to create female versions of herself- even.

“Being a girl in that space was transcendent as a kid,” Ripley said.

Medical professionals have said in recent years that video games can be a form of gender-affirming care. Some research indicates that games that allow players to express their gender identity without reluctance have helped those transitioning feel more comfortable in the real world.

“Many trans and nonbinary people don’t grow up with a safe way to play, due to pressures in their environment,” said Sien Rivera, a South Carolina-based psychiatrist who has studied the topic. “Video games provide that cushion to allow for a private world separate from immediate bodily reality, but also shared with so many other people around the world who share these imaginative experiences.”

Rivera, who chairs the American Psychoanalytic Association’s Committee on Gender and Sexuality, added that “video gaming is the only place where they can have a representation of themselves that more accurately represents their psychic reality.”

Three years ago, Nora Vind published a video essay comparing her experience as transgender to the transformative experience of Madeline, a character in the 2018 game Celeste whose own journey of self-discovery is symbolized by a dangerous climb of a mountain.

“Before I even knew I was running away, I was running away into video games,” Vind, now a 23-year-old university student in Denmark, said in an interview. “And there was a scene in this game where Madeline calls her mother to tell her she’s feeling overwhelmed. It gave me the courage to talk to my mom about being trans the next time I got home.

It helped that Maddy Thorson, the designer behind Celeste, wrote an essay describing how the game’s development coincided with her own journey of trans discovery.

“Celeste’s story really started with me thinking about why I play hard games and why anyone would do that,” Thorson recalled in an interview. But in retrospect, she realized that her protagonist shared part of her own story. “I didn’t feel like I was inventing something, I felt like I was discovering something.”

Physical and online communities provide an important resource for transgender gamers at a time when many report feeling threatened in public by rhetoric and violence.

In 2018, Raffy Regulus helped found NYC Gaymers, which hosts mixers and game nights around the city and now has over 1,500 members. Ripley’s Foundation Transmission games in 2016, after experiences with online bullies who made fun of her voice; nearly 2,500 members belong to its Discord channel, where players can meet and organize tournaments. The group’s slogan? “It’s not a safe space. This is a trans space. After all, this is a competitive gaming space.

Platforms like Twitch and YouTube, where people play games live, have also helped magnify moments of self-discovery. “Streaming changed the equation because it created a public forum,” said Joanna Fang, a noise artist in the video game industry.

“As the world becomes more aggressive toward trans people,” she added, “video games can bridge the gap between communities.”

Beyond the virtual raves and multiplayer tournaments Fang participated in during the coronavirus pandemic, she also joined an online group called TransGameDev, which included more than 1,300 transgender members. She said the group has had a positive influence on the industry, helping more transgender people discuss game design and find jobs.

Larian Studios officials thanked transgender and non-binary employees for improving the character creator that contributed to the success of the role-playing game Baldur’s Gate 3. One of the most famous releases of this year, the game received praise for its customization and branching storylines that capture the spontaneity of Dungeons & Dragons tabletop games.

“We definitely learned that we had to be very open-minded and not restrict ourselves,” said Alena Dubrovina, an art director at Larian who oversaw the character’s creator. “A huge pillar of design was allowing players to live out their ultimate fantasies.”

An important step towards this goal was the decision to include genitals among the physical traits that could be personalized, with different shapes available.

Gender expression makes little difference to the game’s narrative, which some transgender players have celebrated. “These decisions are just for us,” Vind said. “You choose these options and everyone will treat your character normally.”

Anna Anthropy created an autobiographical game, Dys4ia, about her own transition.Credit…Anna Anthropie

Transgender visibility in video games can sometimes be a double-edged sword for developers.

Anthropy, a professor of game design, said the release of an autobiographical game in 2012 about his own transition, called Dys4ia, attracted unwanted attention from cisgender people seeking to generalize about transgender culture from his individual experience . “I had made it for other trans people, but it was quickly adapted into a broader conversation,” she said.

Although she occasionally receives emails from players saying they enjoyed the game’s exploration of the physical and emotional changes that come with gender transition, Anthropy said she never intended for Dys4ia to become a “empathy game” that taught others how to feel.

But she could understand this impulse. “A lot of gender performance is play: trying on roles and seeing how they fit,” Anthropy said.

After much thought – and years of estrangement – ​​she recently decided to re-release the game. Writing on her blog, she suggested that the way she viewed the game was linked to difficult times during her transition.

“This game is not the burnout I spent so many years recovering from,” Anthropy wrote, adding, “This is a journal I kept during a time of incredible, terrifying change and beautiful in my life.”

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