There is plenty of evidence that many facets of the videogame industry are making strides in highlighting LGBTQ identities. Esports personalities like Dominique “SonicFox” McLean, Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn and James “Stress” O’Leary prove that LGBTQ figures are celebrated titans in a field long recognized for overbearing toxicity. And up-and-comers like May “Mystearica” Peterson are carving their own paths in their wake.
Game developers are also pushing things in the right direction by crafting characters, experiences and character creation systems that are more accessible to queer, trans and gender non-conforming players. It can be as simple as including gender-neutral pronouns for player characters such as in Pyre or as robust as Cyberpunk 2077’s promise to give players complete control of customizing the player character’s body to their liking.
But that progress is unfortunately paired with copious problems. A frustratingly vocal sect of the gaming audience continues to feel emboldened to spew hate at any game or gaming figure that takes the babiest of steps toward cultural progress. One only needs to look at the circle of chuds decrying developer Bluepoint Games for removing gender signifiers for created characters in the remake of Demon’s Souls that released earlier this month.
It was a 101-level decision that whipped up fervor against Bluepoint even though they co-developed the game with SIE Japan Studios and, as writers Diana Tourjée and Eva Problems point out, the lore of the Souls games prominently features a canonically trans deity named Dark Sun Gwyndolin.
You can imagine killing a fantasy demon God, but you can't imagine your character stat screen not having the same sex designation that's listed on your medical records...— Diana Tourjée (@DianaTourjee) November 15, 2020
Perhaps a new genre?
But even something this benign yet beneficial can’t escape further issues of accessibility. Bluepoint Games creative director Gavin Moore undercut any progress by doubling down on maintaining the game’s notorious difficulty in interviews with Game Informer and Polygon. Moore’s position that there “shouldn’t be” difficulty options in the game amounts to ableist gatekeeping for people who physically cannot play the game.
It’s a pattern that continually repeats itself to frustrating ends. Take the aforementioned Cyberpunk 2077 for example. Building out a character creation tool that allows trans and gender non-conforming players the chance to craft accurate physical depictions of themselves is monumental.
But the messaging around that creation tool continually focusing solely on being able to customize genitalia frames trans identity in the same obstructive heteronormative language that contributes to the dehumanization of trans people. The creation system also ties the player character’s voice to pronouns along the gender binary in a way that negates the gender affirmation promised by the creation suite.
That’s before you get into the harrowing accounts of overworked employees at the game’s developer, CD Projekt Red (CDPR), misguided attempts at social commentary within the game through the sexual exploitation of trans bodies, many factions within the game being defined by racial stereotypes and CDPR and its subsidiaries’ history of transphobic comments on social media.
There are positives, but they’re very hard to celebrate in earnest when they’re continually tied to so many glaring issues. Especially when those issues push underrepresented communities from engaging in progressive developments.
No level of acceptance for one marginalized population in gaming excuses the industry’s infringement of others. These fights can no longer be considered separate if the “accessibility for all” ideal so many industry figureheads publicly advocate is the true end goal.