Transgender Video Game Developers

Video games are a rather divisive issue. There’s been a great deal of controversy over sex and violence (primarily violence) in video games and its effect on youth, as well as whether or not video games can constitute “real” art (this second issue comes up more often among video game enthusiasts than it does in the mainstream media). Those issues aren’t really relevant to this class, but I think the prevalent association of video games with masculinity is. The stereotypical video game player is a male and it isn’t difficult to see this in the marketing of video games, which prominently feature blood, gore, and, regardless of relevance to the game in question, lots of gratuitous female nudity.

This becomes a trans issue when one considers the identities of the video game developers. I’ve found a rather dated article (from 1999) which features an interview with Jame Faye Fenton, an openly transgendered woman who works in both video game development and multimedia software. In the interview, Fenton talks about forming a support group for trans people in her community and discovering a large number of them to be fellow game developers. Fenton also offers some speculation on the physical origins of “transsexuality,” which would be more relevant to a discussion of essentialist viewpoints among American and Western trans people than to this discussion.

Fenton suggests that the social isolation and hyper-masculinity of the video game culture help to explain why some trans people might seek careers in the field. In Fenton’s experience, and in the experience of her trans colleagues, video games provided an outlet for energy when the young trans people were isolated from their peers by social stigmas and cruelty directed towards non-normative gender expression. Further, the hyper-masculinity of popular video games appealed to young people like Fenton who felt ostracized for not being masculine enough and repressed their feminine traits in favor of over-masculinizing themselves. Of course, Fenton and her colleagues did eventually express their real desires and did not stay overly masculine.

I don’t know if there are any other avid video game players in the class, or amongst our readers, but I found the juxtaposition of an aggressively masculine sub-culture with trans sub-culture to be extremely interesting. I think it suggests a lot about the unconventional ways that heavily gendered social groups can bleed into one another, especially when both are so heavily focused on the formative years of experience (video games are still associated with children and young adults, despite a growing number of adult players, and so many stories we’ve heard from trans people discuss strong formative experiences in their youth).

It should be noted that the article is heavily dated (1999) and that Fenton’s experience and opinions are extremely anecdotal. Still, the connection could exist and I think it’s worth theorizing about, even if the overlap is not as massive as Fenton suggests.



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