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Binary Representation In Video Games

The representation of transgender and/or non-binary individuals within video games has dramatically changed over the course of the past three decades alongside with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights movement. In saying that, due to the fact that I have already discussed the topic of the representation of the sexual orientation of individuals within the media who are not heterosexual, this chapter will have a focus on the impacts of transgender and/or non-binary representation.

Through this chapter, the themes of how transgender and/or non-binary individuals that are represented in the video game industry will be explored and how this impacts all levels of society. Though homosexuality has been hidden within the history of video games, any ideas of being transgender has been a topic of which has not been thoroughly explored within the gaming industry. Underrepresentation of the LGBT community is demonstrated within Super Mario Bros. 2, by gaming company Nintendo, by providing one of the first transgender characters in video gaming history.

The character, Birdo, is a pink creature who wears a red bow on her head and is described in the official gaming manual as a male who “thinks he is a girl [.. ] and would rather be called Birdetta”. Despite this, within later instalments in the Super Mario franchise her identity is disclosed by Nintendo as they are still conservative in their references to gender and sexuality in modern times. In her future appearances in the game franchise up until 1999 she was removed from the franchise as an antagonist of the series.

In saying that, Nintendo then recognised her gender as female and as stated by Andrew Villagomez she “eventually leaved her evil ways and would help the protagonists” This represents how transgender individuals were treated within society at the time as they were often excluded from any sort of media, including video games, resulting in a negative attitude towards anybody in the LGBT community and the change that has occurred with society’s views. This example expresses how the gaming industry must change in order to keep up with changing societal values.

It also demonstrates how transgender individuals are labelled by their sex, rather than their gender, showing how at the time general society did not simply understand the difference between sex and gender. Secondly, the topic of gender is discussed quite often within the video gaming community. Many members of this community question the gender of characters within the video games they play, however, such a theme is needless to the individual’s actual gaming experience.

This demonstrates how society has the necessity to label individuals of their gender dependant on their physical characteristics and/or personality attributes. Aaron. H. Devon defines gender as “a social status usually based on the convincing performance of femininity or masculinity”. A prime example of this is with the relationship between Capcom’s Final Fight character, Poison and the gaming community. Throughout instalments of the Final Fight video game franchise, original antagonist, Poison was removed from the video game series due to the fact that the gaming community was confused about her gender.

Mollie Patterson states that “For the transgender community, there are very few characters in video games that they can look up to. If such characters do appear in games, often times they’re used only as comedy relief, or only exist to play jokes off of. ” Such a quote emphasises the true representation of transgender individuals within video games and how more often than not it is done in a comical sense.

This of course links to the inaccurate preconceptions that society has of transgender individuals and as a questionnaire respondent stated, “To have the ability to enjoy the video games you’re playing, you must be able to relate to the characters you’re playing as in the game and this is simply not possible for individuals who are not cisgender. ” To conclude, transgender characters, such as Poison, need to be more prevalent in video games to allow individuals to become comfortable with the idea of individuals within society being transgender.

In saying that, this would allow transgender individuals and to have somebody to look up to as their representation is extremely lacking in all platforms of the media, however if it is done, it is more often than not depicted in a comical sense. In addition to that, non-binary representation is also apparent in video games as seen in Toby Fox’s Undertale with two of its protagonists, Frisk and Chara, possessing neither feminine or masculine qualities, characteristics and attributes.

During the game, both characters, alongside with other characters on their journey are referred to with gender neutral pronouns such as “they” and “them”. This game exemplifies how gender is not a necessity in gaming and ambiguity in video games leads to the possibility that all individuals, especially those who are non-binary, can relate to the characters they are playing as. In saying that, within the gaming community there has been a stir into Frisk and Chara’s genders as society tends to have the need to label individuals as either male or female.

This suggests how society believes that there are only two genders that are generally assumed to be direct indicators of an individual’s sex. Furthermore, when asked about the game’s link to androgyny in the real world, the game developer, Toby Fox, had no comment which shows that he did not want to label the characters with genders and to leave it up to the individual. The response that Toby Fox had represents the desired attitude of individuals within society, as 100% of non-binary respondents to a questionnaire I conducted stated that they are not pleased with the way their gender is represented in video games.

Through recognising these examples, we can understand how the representation of non-binary individuals in video games is important to society and how the views of non-binary individuals has changed over time as such a game, Undertale, would not be as popular within society a few decades ago due to the ‘taboo’ themes of androgyny. By means of the understanding the preceding examples given, it is clear to see the fact video game characters who are a part of the LGBT community are being hidden by game companies in the attempt to appeal to the ‘mainstream’ audience.

In doing so, stripping away any way that queer individuals can relate to such characters. This is supported in a quote from my questionnaire that I conducted, a respondent stated that they “don’t see enough games with gender neutral characters. ” This exemplifies that the majority of video game characters are either masculine or feminine dependant on the characters’ sex and that not enough gender neutral characters appear in video games.

In addition to that, 100% of non-binary respondents to my questionnaire stated that they are not pleased with the way their gender is being represented in video games. Despite this, in modern times, companies/producers such as Nintendo, Capcom and Toby Fox, show how although gender is important to be represented well, it should not be a necessity to label the characters within their games. In summary, transgender and/or non-binary individuals have little to no positive representation within the media and therefore including the video gaming industry, which can lead to a lack of individuality.

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