Gaming frequently feels in its infancy when it comes to offering us storylines full of deep and complex characters, despite recent gains in this area. All too often, developers seem to stick to the Nathan Drakes or Marcus Fenixes for their primary and even secondary characters.
These characters are fine some of the time, but a steady diet of them can make it easy to overlook just how delightfully varied our world can be. One way to showcase this variation is through the inclusion of transgender characters. Television and film have slowly but surely brought transgender people into the mainstream through hits like Transparent and The Danish Girl, but games are still catching up.
Nonetheless, there are several characters that have laid the foundation for transgender characters to play a bigger role in games in the future. Here are six of them.
Birdo in Super Mario Bros 2
Arguably the first transgender games character, Birdo has been a consistent mainstay of various Super Mario games, from her debut in Super Mario Bros 2 to recent appearances in Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games, and Super Smash Bros for Wii U. While Nintendo has never confirmed that she’s transgender, it seems highly likely. In the first edition of the manual for Doki Doki Panic (later named Super Mario Bros 2 in the West), Birdo is described as a male character who thinks he is a girl and “he’d rather be called Birdetta.”
It’s an awkward description, foregoing using correct pronouns, but it’s fairly conclusive evidence.
Suggestions have been made that Birdo’s gender was changed in order to be a potential love interest for Yoshi later on, implying that perhaps Nintendo created Birdo as a throwaway character before making her into more of a recurring fan favorite. Whatever the reason, Birdo’s gender is never questioned in a Mario game, and she is almost universally accepted as female.
Poison in Final Fight
A mere 2 years after Birdo’s arrival, Final Fight featured Poison-a character who is unequivocally transgender but not for the open-minded reasons we’d like to see. Poison came about because a playtester during the localization process objected to hitting females. To get around this, Capcom deemed her to be a transgender female because punching a transgender woman was considered more acceptable than punching a cis woman (!).
To add to the controversy, Street Fighter IV producer Yoshinori Ono, when asked in an interview about her, explained “Let’s set the record straight: in North America, Poison is officially a post-op transsexual. But in Japan, she simply tucks her business away to look female.” Because apparently (according to Ono) you can only be transgender if you’ve gone through sex reassignment surgery.
Flea in Chrono Trigger
Flea is never officially defined as transgender but it’s highly likely that he is. Always referred to with masculine pronouns, Flea nonetheless has long pink hair, wears skirts, and has more than ample cleavage. While the game’s terminology might be incorrect, it seems pretty obvious that Flea identifies as female. One telling and empowering line from Flea is “Male or female, what difference does it make? Power is beautiful, and I’ve got the power.” Why should we care if Flea doesn’t?
This line resonates throughout the game, with Flea consistently being treated in a neutral light. For a game that was released in the mid 1990s, that was refreshingly progressive.
Bridget in the Guilty Gear series
Bridget is transgender for unconventional reasons. She was born male alongside a male twin in a village where the birth of same-gender twins is considered bad luck. To deal with such superstitious issues, Bridget identifies as female, and her family raises her as such.
She’s an over-the-top blonde bounty hunter who particularly enjoys wearing a nun’s outfit while attacking enemies with yo-yos and a giant teddy bear, so she’s stereotypically feminine (at least in terms of Japanese gaming depictions of women). It’s never fully confirmed whether Bridget is transgender or a cross-dresser.
Cremisius Aclassi in Dragon Age: Inquisition
Google Cremisius Aclassi, otherwise known as Krem, and you’ll immediately see just how important Krem is to his fans (the fan fiction alone is considerable). BioWare has consistently done a good-to-great job with LGBTQ representation in its games, and the inclusion of Krem in Dragon Age: Inquisition is another example of this.
Krem-who is voiced by prolific video game voice actress (and Mass Effect veteran) Jennifer Hale-was raised as a girl but soon realized he was different from others. He joined the army and hid his transgender status in order to be treated as a man, but he is “out” to his mercenary leader, Iron Bull. For the most part Krem is a positive character, living his life happily rather than in the perpetual suffering that is all too frequent in other stories of transgender characters. Overall, BioWare portrays Krem in a sensitive and positive way.
Ned Wynert in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate ?
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate hasn’t been released yet, but the recently announced introduction of a transgender character is a huge milestone for the long running series and for AAA games in general. Between this news and their decision to offer both male and female playable characters in Syndicate, Ubisoft seems to be responding to the criticism levied at it last year over the lack of playable female characters in Assassin’s Creed games.
Not many details have been released about Ned, other than that he’s a trans man who acts as a supporting character for the player, but it appears to be a significant step forward for the series. Also notable: Ubisoft has updated the game’s starting text to include sexual orientation for the first time: “Inspired by historical events and characters, this work of fiction was designed, developed, and produced by a multicultural team of various beliefs, sexual orientations and gender identities.”