Almost exactly one month ago I wrote an article asking, “Is there a way to bring trans characters into gaming without offending anyone? ” My hypothesis was a firm “no” and not because I thought a Kim Davis-type conservative would be opposed to a transgender video game character. Quite the opposite; I believed that no character could ever be good enough for the ‘Progressive Left’ and any included would inevitably fall short of their expectations. Polygon has now provided ample support that even if a character, a titular character, may be transgender, or something alien-equivalent, there is still ample room to shit upon the game for not properly handling the issue.
This all stems from Bungie’s latest expansion to Destiny called The Taken King. Lore from out-of-game sources reveal that the King, Oryx, was born a female and during a power-infusing ritual he transitioned to male. I have read various theories about whether this alien species can really be considered transgender or if it is their biology, but for the purpose of this discussion it does not particularly matter, because, as Polygon writer Laura Dale put it, “For now, even if it’s subtle, we can claim Oryx [as trans].”
Although Dale is quick to claim him, she’s also very ready to take issue with him. The last half of her article is under the, “WE CAN’T PRAISE THIS AS A VICTORY FOR TRANSGENDER REPRESENTATION” header. Wait, what? One of the most important characters of a blockbuster game changes genders and you “claim” him for your cause, but this is not bringing the trans rights movement forward? It isn’t a success for sexual minorities and gender representation?
You can read Dale’s criticism below, pulled from her Polygon article:
If we lived in a world without the Internet tools we enjoy today, maybe I would accept this as a valid criticism since information would be harder to disperse. As I already said myself last month, “depicting a transgender character presents a challenge. In such a visual medium gender identity cannot be explained so easily. In fact, just as in real life, you may not know someone identifies as a gender that differs from their biological or birth sex.” Bungie has not provided much in-game lore, which many fans have been disappointed with, but has actually provided resources for those who care. If anything, Oryx’s gender identity could be more of an easter egg.
And where does the gaming press’s responsibility fall into this? Dale found out about the Taken King’s backstory and has a huge platform on which to share it: Polygon (or Destructoid). Gaming sites aren’t just for printing press releases breathlessly sent out by PR firms to sell games. They’re for exactly these sort of situations. To inform video game fans about information they may not know. A whole different narrative approach could have been taken with this article, one of discovery and appreciation. Instead there’s a bit of the latter mixed in with a surprising bitterness. A heaviness pervades the article, just because a character was not portrayed in a way which the author wanted.
Furthermore, would it not be awkward to have Oryx clearly stated as transgender (again, this may not be the best term to describe the situation, but we’re going with it) and then ask players to kill him?! Which is really more offensive? I think Bungie took the better route of relegating lore to its separate app, as it does with most of Destiny, instead of potentially causing a firestorm of outrage among these same writers who are complaining the villain’s gender identity is not given exposure in-game before you take up arms against him.
I just don’t see “Progressives” understanding how progress actually works. Life is a series of small victories and if you’re not willing to acknowledge any but the biggest of them, you may find that there aren’t too many victories to celebrate. So too in video game diversity.
As always I’m interested to hear others’ thoughts and comments about this issue.