What’s up, gamers? Let’s feel gender euphoria
How inclusivity helps trans gamers see their present and future selves
A developer called Crema recently released an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game on Jan. 21 called TemTem – a Pokemon-type “creature collection game,” as they call it, where you capture and train monsters – which caused an explosive reaction among some. The reason for the controversy? TemTem is one of the first games, perhaps the first MMORPG, which allows the player to choose the pronouns they use in-game. TemTem characters are not “male” or “female,” but simply choose “she/her,” “they/them” or “he/him” at the character creation stage.
There were several complaints on Steam because of this design choice, arguing that the game highlighted the creator’s “political agenda” behind TemTem. One comment sums up the negative reactions: “I will not expose my children to LGBQT propaganda pronouns.”
The reaction is not surprising, nor is it what I want to focus on at this moment in game history. There will always be people who think that inclusivity is “too political,” that the acknowledgment of another experience is a denial of their own. All I’ll say is that I’m waiting for cisgender people to realize that they do, in fact, also have personal pronouns. Please figure this out faster.
What I want to focus on instead in the wake of TemTem’s development is how this is part of a longer story about the relationship between trans people and video games. Despite the assumption that gender in games is arbitrary, that it shouldn’t matter what gender options there are (it isn’t real, after all), some trans people actually have video games in part to thank for finding themselves.
You may have heard about gender dysphoria – the uncomfortable disconnect a person feels when they’re aware that their gender doesn’t align with their body or appearance – but not as many people know that there is such a thing as gender euphoria as well. Gender euphoria is just the opposite: a sense of relief and happiness that a person feels when they experience something that aligns with their gender identity. And for many trans kids, video games were the first contexts in which they ever experienced gender euphoria, because of the freedom of identity that comes in a game world. You can experience gender euphoria “second-hand” in a video game – and in many cases, even though they don’t know why, trans kids play video games a lot.
I’m a nonbinary person, and I love games – but I love them most when I feel like I’m playing them, and not somebody else. When Sims 4 introduced the ability to “customize gender” for individual Sims, this was one of the times I really felt like I could be a player in the same way everyone else could. Simulation games are the best examples to point to when talking about how trans inclusion is necessary for game design, because there are huge sections of a fanbase that can’t see themselves in the game until these changes exist. For years, I was always dissatisfied with some aspect of my Sim self because I had to choose between a “male” or “female” character. In the Sims 4, though, I’m actually able to create an accurate, positive image of myself. For some trans people, especially for those who don’t have access to any kind of transition, this is a desperately needed affirmation. (Sims 4 still doesn’t have any way for sims to change their pronouns or use “they/them,” though. Games are living documents and can always use new changes!)
I asked trans friends and peers on Twitter about this phenomenon and was met with a lot of similar sentiments. Some said that they remembered always wanting to play as what was to them at the time the “opposite” gender, in a Pokemon game, for example. Others said playing as androgynous characters like Link from the Legend of Zelda made them feel far more comfortable than they did in any other game, and still others said how excited they got when they were able to change the proportions or voice of their character how they wanted. Whether it’s to accurately depict ourselves, or to create an image of ourselves that aligns more closely with us than our current appearance does, games give trans people the tools to build self-confidence when even looking in the mirror is difficult.
People can pearl-clutch about pronouns in TemTem all they want. Trans gamers are still going to exist, have a lot of fun, and find and love ourselves at every age. In hobbies, we “follow our bliss,” and in identity, we “follow our euphoria.” I hope that playing TemTem and all other trans-inclusive games will begin and sustain steps for trans people out of depression and into self-love.