I’m currently researching a literature review for my Computer Games Design Course, looking at trans representation in media[…] I was hoping you could give me some advice on possible academic texts or writings I can use within my dissertation.
Thanks so much to the anonymous reader for sending in this request! Here is a preliminary list of readings I’d recommend for transgender representation in gaming, as well as trans issues in gaming a little outside of representation.
General trans and gaming reading
First, these links lead to collections of writing that include trans issues in games. Disclosure: Memory Insufficient is my project, and also I have a piece in Queer Game Studies.
- TNI Syllabus: Gaming and Feminism – The New Inquiry
- Queer Game Studies — University of Minnesota Press
- Histories of gender and sexual diversity in games by Memory Insufficient – issuu
- Gender and sexuality in games history by Memory Insufficient – issuu
There was a wave of writing on trans representation in games a few years ago. These pieces are a good window into the discussions that were happening back then.
- It’s Time to Talk About it: Atlus, Naoto, and Transphobia |
This relatively early piece on trans representation in gaming by Mattie Brice still stands out for its detailed analysis. Mattie also wrote pieces for the Border House Blog on other trans characters in games (see her portfolio for a list), and went on to create Mainichi, a game about her own lived experience as a trans woman that received widespread attention.
- Empathy Game
Anna Anthropy’s game Dys4ia became emblematic of the rise of transgender narratives in gaming. Here she talks about the pitfalls of such a game becoming a symbol. Also worth mentioning here is her Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, a book that has significance far beyond the subject of “trans people making games about trans people”, but that nevertheless had a huge impact on queer games creation.
- The Queer Games Scene | Polygon
Brendan Keogh’s feature on Mattie Brice, Anna Anthropy, and other queer creators cemented their work as foundational texts in trans representation in games.
More recent pieces on trans representation tend to retread familiar ground, but these three from the past year stood out as particularly remarkable.
- Mass Effect Andromeda is another failure for trans representation • Eurogamer.net
Sam Greer compares the trans characters in two Bioware games, showing that a big part of representation is preparation.
- What’s in a Name?: Mass Effect: Andromeda and Inclusion – Not Your Mama’s Gamer
Lee Hibbard makes clear what the problem is with the trans representation in the latest Mass Effect game.
- ‘We Know The Devil’ Taught Me To Be Proud – Waypoint
Jennifer Unkle recounts struggles over trans pride and the helpful releases found in We Know the Devil.
We’re starting to see people create databases of trans characters in games that stretch back through the entirety of videogames history. Here are some examples:
- Queerly Represent Me: Favorite Representations of Gender – FemHype
This entry in a series of posts summarising the results of a reader survey focuses on gender diversity.
- Database | QueerlyRepresent.me
The same survey was also used to generate this list of games featuring transgender representation.
- Transgender | LGBTQ Video Game Archive
This is another list of games with transgender characters, part of a comprehensive, ongoing project to catalogue all the LGBTQ stuff in games.
The ability to create, or be assigned, a gendered avatar is a representation issue relatively characteristic of video games compared to other media. Here it is particularly clear that gender intersects with other representational issue such as race.
- Gamasutra: Frida Svensson’s Blog – Options for Ethnicity in Character Creators, Part 1: Race in Games
The first in a two-part series on race and RPGs
- A Proceduralist View on Diversity in Games by G. Smith — Journal of Games Criticism
Gillian Smith argues that designers creating procedural systems (e.g. for character design) cannot assume that a lack of direct authorial control leads to a lack of prejudice or bias.
- Did Rust just become the first transgender MMO? | Kill Screen
Michelle Ehrhardt draws the parallel between Rust‘s coercive gender assignment and the lived experience of transgender people.
For more on avatar relationships, these two pieces give a starting point for thinking about the psychology of being in control of a character.
- The Proteus Effect | N. Yee and J. Bailenson
A series of empirical experiments into how self-perception changes behaviour when people are given an avatar in VR.
- Object, Me, Symbiote, Other: A social typology of player-avatar relationships | Banks | First Monday
This paper describes a study that led researchers to compile a list of lots of different social relationships we can have with videogame characters we ostensibly control.
Finally, I do want to offer some reading outside of the direct issue of trans representation, looking instead at trans experience and how trans narratives can queer game design itself.
- TransMovement: Freedom and Constraint in Queer and Open World Games |
In this key text on the Border House Blog, Samantha Allen offers trans experience as a lens for reading spatial movement in games as queer.
- Henry Jenkins – “COMPLETE FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT”: VIDEO GAMES AS GENDERED PLAY SPACES
This is an important piece to read in dialogue with Samantha Allen’s essay above.
- I love my untouchable virtual body / Offworld
Aevee Bee talks about how the actions of her avatar allow her to vicariously play out a power fantasy that is not really about violence, but about resilience.
- The New Laboratory of Dreams: Role-playing Games as Resistance | JSTOR
Katherine Cross sees gaming as an emancipatory project for marginalised people.
- On trans-, glitch, and gender as machinery of failure | Sundén | First Monday
This is an interesting piece of writing about gender as a system that isn’t working, that can be played with similar to a game system and that, like a videogame, breaks down in artful ways.
Share your recommendations
What did I miss? Send in suggestions and I’ll update this post.