Would a trans video game character be offensive?

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Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby Game_writer » Fri May 19, 2017 9:02 am

Hello everybody!

I would like your hear your opinions. I am a writer for a story-heavy independent video game. Recently my fellow designers and I have been discussing weather or not we should have one of our characters be trans-gender. One of our thematic goals in this game is to make a subtle statement that a person's race/gender identity/religion/sex/handicap doesn't make them any less human or worthy of respect as any other decent person.

We aim to do this by having a diverse cast of characters who's differences are subtly shown or mentioned without being thrown in the player's face. Those traits do not define those characters, nor do they have an impact on the events of the story. We basically want to say "Yeah these characters have these physical and mental traits, but it doesn't matter. Who they are is so much more."

We would love to hear the opinions of people in the trans community. Thank you very much for your time!
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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby Andina » Fri May 19, 2017 9:21 am

If you have to ask a question like that you are obviously unfamiliar with what it means to be transgendered so I doubt you would do the research necessary to present the character honestly and could do considerable harm promoting unrealistic stereotypes.
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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby CuteButLooksPregnant » Fri May 19, 2017 11:14 am

Game_writer wrote:I would like your hear your opinions. I am a writer for a story-heavy independent video game. Recently my fellow designers and I have been discussing weather or not we should have one of our characters be trans-gender.
We would love to hear the opinions of people in the trans community.


Andina wrote:If you have to ask a question like that you are obviously unfamiliar with what it means to be transgendered so I doubt you would do the research necessary to present the character honestly and could do considerable harm promoting unrealistic stereotypes.( italics and underline mine )


I agree with Andina. Buy coming here, you are so obviously 'in over your head' with regard to transgender portrayal. Instead of trying to manufacture a goofy, silly stereotypical transgender character based on your own suspect cis-gender beliefs and misconceptions, why not HIRE A TRANSPERSON, AND ASSIGN THEM TO YOUR TEAM with the ultimate responsibilities to have them solely create said transgender video game character. Better yet, abandon your project, and reassign and sub-contract out your concept to a company that is founded by and directed by transgender people, to begin with, and let them do the factual work of creating a creditable, realistic transgender game character. " Takes one to know one "!!!
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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby kris » Fri May 19, 2017 11:18 am

There is nothing inherently offensive about having transgender characters, even if the people who created them are cis. What is distancing is tokenism and hamfisted portrayals of what it is like to be trans. What is offensive people trying to be our voice. You've stated your aim is to avoid that, so I personally wouldn't have any concerns.

Watch Dogs 2 did a decent job here as I recall with Miranda Comay. I haven't gone back to finish the game yet, but one of the supporting characters is transgender, and up to the point I have played, I think she was a very good addition to the ensemble. She's strong and respectable, but also just a person. The fact that she is trans has so e relevance to,her story, but it isn't the defining aspect of her participation. She is not hypersexualized or cis-ified, and she is not a cartoonish representation. She isn't intended to represent all that is trans, but she isn't shying away from the relevance being transgender can have on our lives. She's just a character -- a person -- who happens to be transgender. What she lends to the story is the idea that we are part of the fabric of society and its various narratives. We always were. She isn't a button or a decoration to say 'hey, we're inculding you guys too'. She's written in because like us in the real world, she is just a natural part of the story. It's not so much that she is representative, but rather her presence avoids the cultural erasure we often face.

There are other transgender characters in games who are pretty decent as well. Miranda was just the first to come to mind.
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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby MorganWoolf » Fri May 19, 2017 11:33 am

From what I'm reading it looks like the aim isn't to have a "token" trans person. What I'm reading sound like all of the cast members are individuals who in other stories would be "tokens".

I think it's a great idea. Just make sure you do enough research to portray each minority appropriately. Whether that character is trans or not. Perhaps look for other trans-characters in games/movies/stories that were praised for being good representative characters and study what made those characters so successful.

It sounds like your heart is in the right place, but you'll have to tread carefully. People in minorities that are being represented tend to lash out when things aren't perfect. You're going to need to do a lot of research for this one. But realize that despite all the research you do someone will find something wrong with your portrayal. Just do your best. Maybe if you know someone who is transgendered you can base the character off of that person. It would give it a sense of reality instead of just trying to come up with a character from your head. And if anyone complains you can say, "I based this character off my friend so-and-so."

One difficulty is that all of us have such drastically different stories and experiences with being trans.

I'm curious, are you planning on having a transgendered female or male in your story?
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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby Rheya » Fri May 19, 2017 11:49 am

I understand the gist of presenting a character that is transgendered as just another human being. The question remains how you'd depict them and avoid stereotyping or how you'd reveal that the person is transgendered, this is where the pitfalls are endless without personal experience; frankly, even with personal experience there are a great many pitfalls, as there is in trying to make any one representation of a large group of people seeing as it is exceedingly difficult to avoid homogenizing that group - which would undermine your whole intent of representing that group as being just as human as anyone else.

You have to keep in mind, as well, that there is always the issue of collective knowledge and understanding. A game like Gone Home works in our time because the humanizing of homosexual people has come a long way and there are few people who have not met or known a homosexual person, along with this there is a lot of pre-existing media that depicts homosexual people in a variety of ways. The same can not be said for transgendered people. In fact, for transgendered people most media representation is exploitative and insists on misrepresentation and sensationalism, doing all in its power to dehumanize transgendered people.

So there is a base of general public understanding you will be working on top of - or, rather, a lack of one in this case - and your understanding of transgendered people is no less affected by this base unless you yourself are a transgendered person; mind you, even transgendered people are affected by the public understanding, hence the occasional talk about what is referred to as internalized transphobia (which is not a unique phenomena, many unfairly demonized groups of people have and still have to deal with some kind of internalized self-oppression inculcated by society).

So if you do decide to depict a transgendered person today then you will also have to act the educator which is likely to mess with the whole idea of your story and is not a position I'd advise you to take up.

A good way to talk about things that are complex and difficult can often be found in science fiction and in general can be found in many more abstract or symbolic representations of ideas, issues and feelings. Star Trek Next Gen, season 5, episode 17 "The Outcast", is an oddly excellent representation of transgendered people, our lives and some of our issues and what it is like to live in a heteronormative society. So my suggestion would be to not directly represent reality and contemporary society or aim for any actual realism; Kafka represents the alienation of human society in his work better than any work of nonfiction or fictional realism ever could.

I think Morgan's idea of basing the character on a transgendered person you know is very good, but since you're here asking about transpeople and our experiences then I dare assume that you do not personally know any such person.
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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby Ashley@Heart » Sat May 20, 2017 7:22 am

I am conflicted about it. I not interested in being a part of a minority petting zoo for the majority ogle and be shamed over than I am being portrayed as someone who is broken, pitiful, or fetishized in some way. While I often call our private struggle a hero's journey it is a private and very personal one for each of us. But it shouldn't be, I don't want to live in fear, or think suicide is preferable to telling loved ones who I am. I don't want to listen in silent pain while two co-workers trade laughs about a transwoman they encountered and then stalked who happened to have large breasts. Because I fear outing myself and hurting my family. I am tired of men thinking their misogyny has a understanding ear with me but I am too afraid to call them out because I am already making people question me. I am tired of living with someone who used to crave me like nobody else but now is revolted by me now that they know the truth. But that is my experience in stealth as I begin my transition and to remake MY life. It does not take much work to find drama in the shared stories here of our lives which I know makes us tempting targets for storytelling.

But we are not our transition any more than your life is defined by the awkwardness of your pubescent years. The difference is that for many of us we did puberty twice.

When I look into another transgender person's eyes I see an amazing person filled with hidden resolve who has had to fight for what they are in a way that few will ever understand. I see someone who has experienced all the ways society hurts men and women and is fighting back. But that light is invisible to most to many we are just a lightning rod for their screwed up views of gender. And really none of us wants to be a hero of even our own story because being a hero stinks for the hero. So do you know how we want to be portrayed? As our boring everyday selves living a life just like you because that is what we are. There are many good books about our views and lives written by us for us. I would recommend starting there. If you need a list of suggestions ask.
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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby marie » Sat May 20, 2017 9:35 am

I wouldn't object to it as such unless he/she was depicted the way Ashley described. In reality a trans character would be mostly unidentifiable as trans except in the back story. They would be male or female, black or white. Just people. That of course is our ideal situation. We don't want to stand out as different even if we are.

On the other hand there are people who cross the gender boundaries and like to display it. Like drag Queens or people who are gender neutral or gender fluid. Perhaps that might be a better route to take.
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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby Ashley@Heart » Sat May 20, 2017 3:23 pm

marie wrote:On the other hand there are people who cross the gender boundaries and like to display it. Like drag Queens or people who are gender neutral or gender fluid. Perhaps that might be a better route to take.


I at some level agree though I refuse to speak for them. I know it has become more acceptable now to present that way. (fluid/neutral) Though for myself while I could in the right environment live that way for a time it is not me.

marie wrote:I wouldn't object to it as such unless he/she was depicted the way Ashley described. In reality a trans character would be mostly unidentifiable as trans except in the back story. They would be male or female, black or white. Just people. That of course is our ideal situation. We don't want to stand out as different even if we are.


Yea, I have fun with random internet people who assume I get some thrill from woman's clothing. My response when I am being polite is only as much as any other woman who is trying on new clothes she hopes will look good on her. Or that I am looking to fool poor cis-men into whatever it is they think I want from them. Think of the poor wittle cis-men I confuse them so! My femininity might rub off on them and then oh no!
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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby CeliaEriksson » Tue May 23, 2017 1:43 pm

Make the character the most beautiful woman (if mtf), or the hunkiest male, (if you do ftm), character in the whole game, easy.
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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby MorganWoolf » Tue May 23, 2017 2:15 pm

Oh my god, that's brilliant!
Why did none of us think of that?!
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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby kris » Tue May 23, 2017 3:34 pm

I have mixed feelings on that, personally. I am not against trans characters looking hot, or being entirely passable -- some trans men and women meet both criteria --, but I would never start from that point. That's the sort of thing which leads to casting cis women to play trans women in shitty comedies where the punch line is 'that hot chick is really a dude!'. It's the sort of thing which contributes to the attitude that trans people's value is dependent on our ability to pass or to be 'fuckable'.

Not saying don't make a hot character who passes easily; just saying it's not a great starting point. There is so much diversity in trans* people and we are so seldomly represented that ultimately not everything can be represented.

Also, I know no one said 'passes easily', but if they are going to be the most beautiful or hunkiest, is that not the direction it would go given general public attitudes?
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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby kris » Tue May 23, 2017 4:01 pm

Also, I am aware my comment probably reads too serious given the tone of the preceding comments. It was just a thought.
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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby CuteButLooksPregnant » Tue May 23, 2017 6:20 pm

CeliaEriksson wrote:Make the character the most beautiful woman (if mtf), or the hunkiest male, (if you do ftm), character in the whole game, easy.


kris wrote:I have mixed feelings on that, personally. I am not against trans characters looking hot, or being entirely passable -- some trans men and women meet both criteria --, but I would never start from that point. That's the sort of thing . . . . where the punch line is 'that hot chick is really a dude!'. It's the sort of thing which contributes to the attitude that trans people's value is dependent on our ability to pass or to be 'f*ckable'.


By following the above " Hot to Trot " recommendations, won't you end up with a game character that is a Drag Queen, or Drag King, who also claims to be a transgender person ? Thereby telling the gamers that being such and playing such and claiming your character is actually a transgender person because of that, so that both images in one character is thought of that way because both images ( Drag and trans* ) are virtually one-in-the-same ? What were we just saying about casting a transgender character that reeks of purported stereotypes ?
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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby CeliaEriksson » Wed May 24, 2017 7:26 am

Well, I guess I was thinking more of previous portrayals, Coroporal Klinger from MASH comes to mind and embodies what previously posted comments would not have, I agree with them, (younger members will wonder who that was), I'm 56 and when I saw him in my early teens, I cringed whilst my Father and Brother would be in raptures of laughter. There also is a world of difference, to my mind at least, between a drag queen and me. Perhaps this beautiful sprite could be the most gorgeous yet quite plainly dressed and definitely without drag queen make up. That's how I would like her to be. I'm sure the FTM guys have there own ideas..... *edited Klinger's name*....
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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby MorganWoolf » Wed May 24, 2017 10:02 am

I want to be Chris Pratt.
Can I just be Star Lord?
Only with black hair.
Or that one guy from American Horror Story...Evan Peters? Peter Evans? I always forget his name :/
I just looked it up, it's Evan Peters. Yeah, him. All the girls love him. Only, I want black hair.
Yeah.

Or how's about a sexy intellectual? Like Benedict Cumberbatch. Yes! I would love to be that! (Only with Chris Pratt's sense of humor) Am I being greedy? :P
Probably, but I can dream ;)
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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby kris » Wed May 24, 2017 1:37 pm

Well, I guess I was thinking more of previous portrayals, Coroporal Klinger from MASH comes to mind and embodies what previously posted comments would not have.


I agree that the man in a dress schtick was problematic, especially in a time where there were few portrayals of people -- especially assigned males -- stepping outside of gender norms. Almost any deviation from gender norms was portrayed as a joke, a perversion, something sinister, or something garish and flamboyant at best.

But Klinger wasn't trans. He wasn't even a cross-dresser by preference or identity. The same is typically true with comedic characters from shows like Monty Python's Flying Circus and Kids in the Hall. Even if a male to female character was portrayed by a man, I think we could at least expect something like Eddie Redmayne as Lili Elbe. That said, this being a video game and given the op's statements, I don't think this is of much concern for the character design.
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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby HaleyWoolf » Wed May 24, 2017 3:12 pm

I think having more trans-characters in games is a great idea! To tell you the truth, almost every minority is misrepresented in games (come on guys, when was the last time you saw a black guy in a game that wasn't aggressive and at least 300 pounds.) The only thing you must be weary of is depicting that character in such a light as to discourage trans-folk from coming out. Ms. Garrison from south park did it to me, don't do it to anyone else:) I will say there are many ways to "out" your character without cartoonizing them. For instance, most transgender people, especially women, are very vain as our appearance needs to be perfect to pass as our true gender. So your character could be a beautiful man or women who is always checking for imperfections in the mirror, or is very concerned with how their cloths fit all the time. Or you could be more subtle and just have pictures sitting around the house or room of said character that shows they were another gender earlier in life. There is always the comedic route as well. The word "tranny" is kind of like the "N" word amongst us. If you called me that to my face I would be pretty insulted, but I use the word all the time when joking with my close friends or family. So you could always have your character make a "tranny" joke about themselves to someone they trust in a playful way to introduce the idea that they are transgender. I will say though, it is still a bit of a challenge to introduce a Trans person in a story based on reality without going over the top as we pass as our preferred gender, you really wouldn't know from just looking at us. If this character is part of the main cast it will probably be easier though, seeing as you will have plenty of opportunities to introduce their backstory! Best of luck!
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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby CeliaEriksson » Wed May 24, 2017 5:59 pm

Kris, my point was to emphasize how many cis folk imagine us. I know all those facts you mention, I am not that stupid to imagine a Klinger type sprite would be used.

Never mind, it's my fault, I did not explain myself well enough. I'll take longer with my posts in future, I knew what I meant, but what I was trying to say did not come out at all there. Celia xx
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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby Rheya » Wed May 24, 2017 7:42 pm

HaleyWoolf wrote:I think having more trans-characters in games is a great idea...


I think this is a good idea but only of the game would be dedicated to exploring the life of a transperson in all its aspects and over a long period of time. Since in this game the transperson would be one of many characters I doubt there'd be sufficient time to go into that kind of detail. Focusing only on our appearance and how we deal with it would paint a terribly stereotypical perspective which is in many ways the perspective of prejudiced cispeople. What you mention is definitely true about many transpeople but it is not always true and sometimes it can go away for very long periods of time or forever. I still worry a lot about my appearance but people who are further ahead than I am or inherently pass more easily don't have those problems. They may still have issues with their appearance but then it's just the normal issues that anyone else has with their appearance and nothing that has to do with being trans.
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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby Lisa_K » Wed May 24, 2017 9:18 pm

Not sure everyone will get this but here's my opinion:

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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby CeliaEriksson » Thu May 25, 2017 4:10 am

LOL. Got it Lisa.

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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby MorganWoolf » Thu May 25, 2017 10:03 am

Wait, wait wait wait wait wait.....Have you guys read the post? I actually had to re-read it to double check what he's planning.
EVERY character would be a "token" character in any other story. The entire cast will be diverse, meaning we'll probably see a gay or lesbian, someone of a marginalized race, possibly an odd religion, etc. But they don't want to make these things obvious in game at all.

This sounds like RatQueens (which might I add was an excellent comic). Every character was odd (and sometimes in more ways than one).

Rat Queens is a comic based in the Dungeons and Dragons universe, so there are several species of character. One is a female dwarf who goes against the customs of her people and shaves her beard. One is a black woman who comes from a culture that has a cult-like worship of a Cthulian god, but rejects her faith (despite the fact that she uses magic from that religion). One is a woman who is half-demon (Teifling) who hides her lineage because of discrimination (you don't find out till your well intot he story). Betty is a halfling (hobbit for all intents and purposes) who is spunky, loves candy and mushrooms, and is a lesbian.

Then theres Braga. Through the whole comic Braga is just a female orc. You never question it. She's bigger than all the male orcs and she's a tremendous badass (you can't help but love Braga). Then much later in the story it's found out...Braga was born male and had her body transformed with magic.

All of these characteristics are explained through backstories which are well-integrated into the meat of the tale.

None of the "odd things" about these characters ever detracts from the story. They're ALL complex, epic characters. You root for ALL of them and their differences aren't thrown in your face. Instead, their differences enhance the characters and the story around them.

The Rat Queens are just a group of friends adventuring for hire. You all should seriously look into reading it. It's awesome.

Honestly, it sounds like Game_writer and his crew are trying to do something just like it, and if done right it would be just as awesome as Rat Queens.

Re-read his post. Seriously. And just because a character seems to be a "token" doesn't mean its a bad step. It's just a baby one. But at least there's more awareness. There are a lot of people who have no idea we even exist. We shouldn't discourage this opportunity.
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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby Rheya » Thu May 25, 2017 10:24 am

Rat Queens goes into my first suggestion, that these things are best explored through non-realism. My example was science fiction but fantasy is just as good. Token characters tend to come across as insulting if presented in realism. Another good example of complex characters explored in a video game is Night in the Woods which is in many ways a game so realistic it is tedious (in a good way) yet has cartoonish style and some strange supernatural elements eventually mixed in. Night in the Woods doesn't exactly have token characters, certainly not in the sense that Rat Queens does, but it does something similar in that it portrays what amounts to near-caricatures of certain types of people and uses that to explore what is actually going on with these people and the complexity of their emotional struggles - thus showing us that they are not caricatures or simple stereotypes.

(on a side note, am I the only one who always wanted to play a good aligned Tiefling in D&D? I always identified with that somehow, I guess it's that feeling of being a freak but not really wanting to be one but at the same time finding some weird strength and pride in being a freak)
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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby kris » Thu May 25, 2017 11:14 am

Seriously. And just because a character seems to be a "token" doesn't mean its a bad step. It's just a baby one. But at least there's more awareness. There are a lot of people who have no idea we even exist. We shouldn't discourage this opportunity.


I agree, especially with the scare quotes around 'token'. We represent a tiny minority. Contrasted with South Park's Token, there are far less openly trans people than there are black people. That presents challenges to our representation in popular media unless that media is specifically dealing with trans or queer content. We are almost always either under or over-represented compared to statistical norms. Most shows do not have sufficiently large casts to show all diversity in the general population. Sometimes characters from certain demographics are going to appear few and far between, but that doesn't mean they are true token characters. If they are fleshed out characters in their own right, then they are just characters. They aren't true token characters unless their primary purpose is to contrive diversity, especially if they are still under-represented even with the inclusion of that character.
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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby CeliaEriksson » Thu May 25, 2017 12:44 pm

Oh Lisa, I did not get that at all, did I? That's the token from the TV show South Park then? I don't watch that, but at least I do get your post now. God I'm useless. Well, with modern media stuff that is. Please don't all laugh at me!!!!
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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby Lisa_K » Thu May 25, 2017 12:46 pm

Our ragtag band of heroes, a gay man, a lesbian, a transgender person, a Muslim, an atheist, a Jew, a Mormon, a Scientologist, a sightless person, a man with one leg and a sexually ambiguous masked duo unite as the Social Justice League to take on their oppressive overlords and free the realms from tyranny and conscription to toil in the deadly unobtanium mines.

Don't. Just don't.

It's not representation. It's inappropriate appropriation. Write what you know.
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Re: Would a trans video game character be offensive?

Postby CuteButLooksPregnant » Thu May 25, 2017 6:32 pm

Lisa_K wrote:Our ragtag band of heroes, a gay man, a lesbian, a transgender person, a Muslim, an atheist, a Jew, a Mormon, a Scientologist, a sightless person, a man with one leg, and a sexually ambiguous masked duo, unite as the Social Justice League to take on their oppressive overlords and free the realms from tyranny and conscription [who] toil in the deadly unobtanium mines.


Game_Writer and their crew of cis-male cronies and stooges write the game characters shown above into the video game, using the horrid stereotypes that they have heard about by watching tens of thousands of hours of TV, media, and Faux News, and because said crew of cis-males do not have any one like what is listed above in their crew, not one !!! Even after visiting this website, the whole crew is still dumbfounded and clueless, and blunders onward with their video game project. This is what I fear.

Don't. Just don't.

It's not representation. It's inappropriate appropriation. Write what you know.


Yes, the above, a dozen times over. Leave the creation of transgender game characters to actual transgender persons, you know, persons who can actually write accurately about what they know or have experienced.
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