Are you a boy? Or a girl? The famous phrase in Pokemon’s opening moments became many gamers’ first confrontation with gender beyond a label assigned at birth. And for this gamer, it is a concept that has haunted many RPGs since. Worse than experiencing dysphoria in your own body is experiencing it within your digital avatar as well, making you critically aware of your physical body. Everyone’s different, but I personally struggle to truly connect with a masculine avatar in RPGs, as dysphoria begins setting in. Trans blindness is a real thing, and RPGs often provide a safe space for gender exploration whether it’s around the table with your friends or within the comforting bosom of Pokémon’s character sprites.
I can’t properly explain the disconnect that happens between me and my avatar as I’m forced to inhabit some beefcake with tree trunks for a personality when I want to play a tank, or the subtle pain of having a toolkit usable at the expense of experiencing gender dysphoria during play because the developers decided that said role should be represented by an avatar with whom I experience a deep disconnect.
I could spill a lot of digital ink in the pursuit of an exploration of gender representation within games but that conversation is tired. Instead I encourage you, reader of lowscore magazine, to consider if you’ve ever felt a disconnect with your digital body. “I’d rather be looking at a woman’s ass” , the classic explanation as to why a male player would like to use a female avatar, may indeed be just an excuse. Before developing the vocabulary to discuss gender I also thought I simply liked Pokemon’s female sprites more. And of course using a female coded avatar in games where the option is presented to you does not mean you identify with that gender, but perhaps some introspection as to your reasoning wouldn’t hurt: gender is not a binary afterall.
Gender is of course a highly individual experience, and not every avatar is a struggle to interface with, for example if I’m controlling Geralt in a Witcher game, or Kratos in the recent God of War titles. That’s because Geralt and Kratos are not intended to be an extension of me in the same manner as avatars in other RPGs may be. But in RPGs, where my avatar exists explicitly as an extension of myself to interact with the gameworld, the gender expression of my avatar becomes quite important for my potential enjoyment of the title, no matter how small the actual changes in gameplay may be.
My earliest experiences with my own dysphoria in gaming was long before realizing I was queer: imagine if you will a definitely cishet kid playing Pokemon and consistently picking the femme trainer moving on to play MMOs such as World of Warcraft experiencing difficulty being invested in their beefcake blood elf paladin. Surely it’s purely for gameplay reasons that playing the femme fatale blood elf rogue feels easier? That it feels as if a stone was removed from my chest?