“Something had clicked in my brain, and I was finally ready to consider the possibility that I was trans.”
In an essay published Friday in Vox Media-affiliated gaming site Polygon, a journalist described coming to the realization that she was a transgender woman thanks to her experience playing a video game.
Margaret Evans, a trans woman on the autism spectrum, recounted the first time she picked up the video game, “Acceptance.”
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“Acceptance” was developed by Laura Kate Dale, a transgender gaming critic and news editor for Kotaku UK. At the start of the game, the player is asked to select either a “male” or “female” gender. Whichever choice the user makes is contradicted throughout the rest of the gaming experience in a bid to depict the obstacles faced by trans individuals in everyday life.
“I’m sorry, but you’re a WOMAN” the game replied after Evans, who at the time identified as a man, selected the “male” gender. “You’re a WOMAN, and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure you learn that fact.”
“Not only did the game itself frequently insist that I was wrong about my gender, the message was reinforced by characters I met throughout the story,” Evans wrote. No matter what choices Evans made in subsequent playthroughs, the game would continue to contradict her chosen gender.
She theorized that this was done to give players “a sense of what it would be like when no one” in their lives “respected” their chosen identities. However, it didn’t have its intended effect on Evans.
“But it had the opposite effect on me. If anything, I felt relieved,” Evans wrote, before averring that while she openly identifies as trans now, she spent years being “unsure” about her gender identity.
“Acceptance” wasn’t the first time a video game had made Evans reflect about her identity. “I had spent hours on a playthrough of ‘Fable 2′ in which I had selected a female character a few years ago,” she wrote. “I got really into character, and I found it difficult to shake ‘girl mode,’ as I thought of it at the time, and get back to ‘feeling normal.'”
But, for Evans, there was something special about playing “Acceptance.”
“What made ‘Acceptance’ different from ‘Fable 2’ is that I played the latter years before I would feel any need to seriously explore my identity, whereas I came across ‘Acceptance’ at a time when I could no longer avoid such self-reflection,” she wrote.
“Something had clicked in my brain, and I was finally ready to consider the possibility that I was trans, after years of denying to myself that such a thing was even possible,” Evans added. “I wasn’t ready for this experience during when I played ‘Fable 2,’ but I was ready now.”
The realization caused Evans to quit and start again, this time telling the game she was a woman. The new experience was jarring.
“Suddenly the game telling me that I was wrong about my gender wasn’t oddly affirming, it was hurtful,” Evans declared. “It did not matter that I had been referring to myself as male for as long as I had any idea what the concept meant. It did not matter that everyone who knew me referred to me as male, and had done so without protest from me.”
She described feeling “wronged” every time “‘Acceptance’s’ narrator, or one of the game’s characters” misgendered her.
Evans praised “Acceptance” for allowing her to come to terms with her gender identity “in a risk-free environment,” thus eliminating the fear of how friends and family would react.
She also applauded the game for not sugarcoating the trans experience.
“I was not being sold some rose-colored version of what my life could be, I was shown just some of the terrible things that trans people are put through by other people,” Evans wrote. “It was not anything in particular that happened to my character that I found so impactful, it was the process of taking ownership of my gender. And the game didn’t shy away from the risks that come with doing so. It came as both a tool of empowerment and a warning about what the future might hold.”
Evans saw her experience playing “Acceptance” as an example of the deeper significance of video games, saying they can offer, “not just the chance to face imaginary bullets, but the opportunity to make statements about who we are, even if only to ourselves.”
“What I shared with other people was my business, and the game’s true value was in what it helped me see in myself,” she added.
The work of transgender activists has resulted in increased societal awareness of trans rights issues in all facets of society. But critics of the movement argue that it sometimes falls prey to the excesses of identity politics, attempting to inject personal meaning into the patently absurd.
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