Transgender representation in video games has seen a significant increase in recent years. While supporting trans characters mostly have positive experiences, main trans characters always seem to go through hell. Mental anxiety, physical pain, phobic words and actions; they go through everything just to reach a minimum of a happy ending. Why is it like that? It’s as if the gaming industry doesn’t know that happy trans people exist. Let’s discuss examples of this type of melancholic games.
The creator of Celeste, Maddy Thorson, was not aware that they, or Madeline, were trans until they started working on the DLC. In an interview with Medium, Thorson explained that “Celeste is a game written and designed by a transgender person who struggled with their gender identity,” and made a game about trans struggles. You play as Madeline on a quest to climb Celeste Mountain. Why? To challenge yourself and work through the depression. But there is more to the story; Celeste Mountain has the supernatural ability to make those who climb it face their insecurities, and things can get tense as a result.
On the journey, Madeline faces many environmental hazards. In addition, she has to deal with her mirror self, which the fandom called Badeline. She makes things worse for Madeline by not only insulting her but also others. Badeline is a metaphor for gender dysphoria and how awful it makes people feel. Gender dysphoria is known to cause low self-esteem, depression and anxiety, according to the NHS (National Health Service). This dysphoria never completely disappears, but can be reduced with the support of friends and family.
What makes Tell Me Why stand out is that it got help from cultural, mental health and trans people. You play as Alyson and Tyler, twins with a supernatural power they call The Farmer. They have reunited after 10 years after their mother’s death and are trying to figure out what to do next. However, remembering their past and trying to move on may be more difficult than they think. Not only does this game deal with serious emotional damage, it also touches on a topic not often talked about: parental child abuse. In a way. Their mother, Mary-Ann, was complicated. She kept her children sheltered and had a habit of scaring people away. Not to mention her temper was hot and cold with them. She even neglected their care, forcing them to rely on others for food. It seems likely that she had some undiagnosed mental health issues that she refused to treat.
Some of Mary-Ann’s problems involved her strained relationship with her mother, her unhappy relationship with the twins’ father, and losing a child in infancy before she had the twins. She never told them about him. With all this affecting her mental health, it’s no wonder she became forgetful and rude. It’s also no wonder Tyler thought she was transphobic. Mary-Ann who did not allow him to cut his hair or participate in sports told him that she was emasculating him. She continued to call him feminine pronouns, suggesting in his mind that she would rather hurt him than accept him as a boy. What else is a child to think when their mother points a shotgun at them?
Alyson and Tyler were 10 years old when Mary-Ann really started going downhill. Children interpret things very differently. In Tyler’s memory, Mary-Ann confided in family friend Tessa that he was transgender, and Tessa gave her a brochure for a religious youth camp. When Tyler confronts Tessa later, she swears she had no idea they were practicing conversion therapy. A recent study by the JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Network showed that conversion therapy uses “dangerous, discredited practices” and “reinforces societal prejudices and stigmas.” Tyler finds out that Mary-Ann was disgusted by the pamphlet and cut Tessa out of her life because of it. It hurts when family members are transphobic, but it’s the best feeling when they are accepting and supportive. Additionally, phobic family members may eventually change their minds and try to do better.
Another game that tackles mental health, this time with body horror, is The Missing: JJ Macfield and the Island of Memories. It starts harmlessly enough; 19-year-old JJ is camping with her best friend Emily on a secluded island. When JJ wakes up to find Emily gone, she goes out to look for her. This is where things get scary. After dodging a falling tree struck by lightning, JJ is struck and set on fire. Normally she would be dead, but somehow she revives and pushes forward. It is heartbreaking to hear her cry afterwards; the pain must have been indescribable. She has to keep hurting herself to get through all the puzzles her way. The Missing doesn’t deal with JJ’s pain.
Every bone broken, every limb chopped off, she screams in agony. Not only that, but you can hear her body squelching and creaking as she moves. JJ loses blood, of course, but blood splatters are white, and her body turns black and regains color as she heals. However, she is not the only one who harms herself. There are some enemies she meets along the way. Some smaller ones are Baby Dolls and Cymbal Monkeys. Baby Dolls are first, preceded by music. Looking like a macabre version of the beheaded doll head in Toy Story, they hide in trees and are hard to spot. When JJ gets under one, it falls and catches her, cutting her to pieces.
Cymbal Monkeys are huge and they chase you. If caught, the monkeys will slam their cymbals at JJ, knocking them to the ground and then throwing her. Last is the giant humanoid Hairshrieker. It uses a boxcutter, a tool common in suicides. This monster is another metaphor for gender dysphoria, ie JJ’s feelings about being born male. What makes Hairshriek worse is that she is also a representation of how JJ dealt with her pain. It’s understandable why JJ cut her wrists. She was expelled without her consent and bullied at school, and her mother invaded her room, read her diary and forced her to see a doctor in hopes of curing her. It is a miracle that she survived her suicide attempt, but The Missing ends on a hopeful note. With the right help and acceptance, it will be possible for JJ to live as his authentic self.
These games can relate to transreality, but it’s tiring to just see the melancholy. Admittedly, there are few positive games with trans protagonists. For example, Dream Daddy has a tie body in the character creation along with a dateable trans father. Additionally, The Sims 4 added gender customization and the ability to change the gender of a Sim. However, the gaming industry still has a long way to go. It is important for trans people to be happy and loved too. They deserve to have as much positive representation as anyone else. They are more than their pain. Trans people experience acceptance from those around them. There needs to be more games that express the euphoria of being trans.
Next: Dragon Age Day 2022 pledges support for the Trans Empowerment Project