My Experiences Gaming While Trans

Gamemoir contributor Savannah Winter details her experiences as a transwoman who spends an almost egregious amount of time playing video games.

I’ve come to conclude that gaming is a very personal thing. Everyone gets something different out of their experiences and everything from how they play to what their goals are are all things unique to each player. For me, as a transwoman, gaming has meant a great deal and my identity has influenced how I game.

To preface, I want to point out that this isn’t meant to be a holistic look at gaming while trans. Instead I’m writing my experiences and point of view as a trans gamer. More specifically a white, bisexual transwoman who games. Next week I’ll have my big picture take.

Vivian, a sorceress from Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door
Vivian’s story in Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door very much resembles my own. If only Nintendo didn’t insist on misgendering her.

I started playing video games at a young age. Super Nintendo, mostly. I don’t consider that when I became a gamer, though. That would have been when I got my first copy of Tomb Raider (for the PC) and I dove headfirst into my escape from reality.

My gender identity had always been something that eluded me. There had been signs, looking back, but I was absolutely incapable of reading myself or my feelings up until my late teens. I suffered dysphoria when I was younger but I didn’t know what it was or why I was feeling it. I combated this discomfort by embracing the Tomb Raider games and playing them extensively. Even Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness.

My game play was marked by continuous mockery by my father for emasculating myself, and this continued on to when I moved on to play other games. When I would play Jade Empire on our living room television set, I would receive many a jibe about “pretending to be a girl.” It bugged me a lot, and I didn’t understand why.

I got similar treatment from many men and boys in my life. I was to be made to be ashamed to play in such a way that made me comfortable.

My gender identity finally clicked (when I was 19), and my insistence on playing as female characters because there was comfort and familiarity in them finally made sense. One of the big reasons why I game, ultimately, is because in real life I’m forced to play as someone I’m not. I pretend daily to be a guy. I wear a man costume and sometimes I briefly forget that it’s a costume.

When I’m gaming, though, and I’m immersing myself in an established or original character, I don’t have to think about all of that unpleasantness (which is honestly a woefully inadequate word to describe how awful dysphoria can be).

Whether I’m a gun-toting criminal mastermind or an irreverent grave robber or what have you, I can be more me than I ever get to be in my “real life.” Besides, of course, a few exceptions, like here.

This is messy, though, because while I want to play as female characters, I don’t just want to play as cis female characters. I am trans and I want actual trans representation. Playing as ciswomen was cathartic for me in dealing with my dysphoria before I understood my identity, but after my awakening, I guess you could call it, I want women who also experience what I experience and I can relate to on that level as well.

As my long-time readers may know, I have a complicated relationship with character creators but at the end of the day, they’re almost invariably the only way I ever get to play a video game with a trans player character. While there are very occasionally trans characters in video games, they are almost invariably offensive caricatures and I’m, as y’all surely understand, not real keen on that.

And while I can headcanon a character as trans, that does not count as meaningful to me. A trans character’s identity should not just be an informed trait when being trans in our society has very real consequences.

So, at the end of the day, I play video games to break away from the harsh realities of real life as a transwoman living in a situation where I must pretend to be something I’m not to avoid physical harm. And at the end of the day those same games I play to escape either don’t intend to help me escape or they actively seek to prevent me from escaping. I can deal with the former, but I’d prefer better. Gaming means a lot to me. Why can’t I, and people like me, mean a lot to it?

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A website dedicated to video game culture and lifestyle editorials. Gamemoir Staff seek to offer our readers original and thought provoking takes on video games, technology, LGBT and Gender perspectives, and pop culture.

  • “Why can’t I, and people like me, mean a lot to it?”

    Because people are selfish dicks. To us, gaming is an escape from reality (or at least a different one). But to the people who fund the games, it’s just an investment. And they want the largest possible return on their investment, so the big companies throw out the largest net they can, which is male/white/straight/cisgender with too little room for variation in their eyes. I’m kind of hoping for an industry crash so that the big companies can go away and give indie developers and artists who really give a shit about gaming as an art form a chance to take over. Oh, and don’t take this the wrong way, but your dad is a dick.

  • Goodness…what a complex post. To me gaming is real, and alignment with characters, while private, is also real. It is part of building identity…a way of developing it too. And yes, if it is a nice space to do it in, why not develop it there? I think too that it may help in the wider world….I really do. But I also see what you mean…so, um, not sure if what I have said means much….but take care of yourself and keep gaming as well! As for the industry, well, I wonder if at the edges of it, they are not working on roles that we can fill….and do not already know that we align to them in different ways. It is an industry, sure, but industries are made up of people all the same…and by our gaming choices, we can make changes. ever so subtly.

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