Japanese Games Serve Femme Better: a trans gamer’s outlook on women in games

With the release of a *particular* game about wizards in an IP created by famed trans-exclusionist/man in bathroom paranoia-conspiracy theorist J.K Rowling, my social media, which largely consists of millennials who defined their personality traits based on Hogwarts houses— for the record, I’m a Slytherin — and gen Z’ers who don’t have the attachment and think we’re all old cucks for buying the game, was absolutely ablaze with talk of transpeople and videogames upon the notice of ~inclusion~ of a trans character in the franchise, who’s name aptly included the word ‘Sir’, and was, for all purposes, a brick with a deep fa**oty voice. 

I’ll be perfectly candid with ya’ll: I honestly didn’t give a fuck about the wizard game, nor the transphobia circus associated with the IP’s creator. Rich white people have propagated violence and funded violence against trans people forever, and boycotting a game isn’t going to alter that. It did, however, make me analyze my relationship with gaming as a trans person. The bulk of trans people I knew honestly didn’t care about that game, and were unconcerned with the trans character in it: we’ve been long represented in gaming media way before this; it just happened that these games were Japanese.

Japanese gaming allowed me, as a child, to experience hyperfeminine (albeit male-designed) power fantasies from a demasculinized point of view: JRPGs and fighting games often included flowery, feminine, subtle, and demure women who were capable of destroying armies, hordes of monsters, or great magical feats and summonings. Transgender or even genderqueer characters were especially prominent in fighting games, including Poison from Final Fight/Street Fighter (introduced in 1989!), Ash Crimson from King of Fighters (2003), and Guilty Gear’s Bridget (the notorious face of every ‘trap’ meme online, introduced in 2002). Although initially, Bridget was a male raised as a female by her parents, in the most recent iteration of the series, Bridget has transitioned and utilizes female pronouns and even has a few game quotes related to this while being accepted by her peers. LGBT characters were quite frequently represented in *most* of the series I played, with one of my favorites being Kaine in Nier, an intersex woman *and* love interest of the game. 

Japanese games, while problematic in other aspects, never seemed to stray away from presentations of femininity and empowerment (despite fetishization in some cases) that western games strayed from: because of this, I find that western gaming has this issue with forced wokeness, reading as inauthentic that Japanese gaming completely lacks. None of the inclusions felt particularly forced, and the trans characters were not overly masculine. Completely mystified with the Final Fantasy series in particular, I found a great deal of my concepts and admiration for female characters in videogame narratives come from this series.

FFX boasted Yuna, a selfless woman bound by the burden of her father’s legacy, the expectation of the grim world around, trapped in a cycle of death: initially, Yuna began as a heroine determined to make a sacrificial choice and free the world of its blight, a narrative (and literal) father figure in the form of a land ruining cataclysm that took the form of an amorphous whale known as Sin, through the support of her love interest and friends, Yuna’s resolve instead shifted to defeating Sin entirely without sacrificing herself. I was enamored with the character, who wore a long gown, had subtle, delicate motions, and yet a strength: Yuna was not helpless despite her characterization as a healer, fending off would-be kidnappers *herself*, executing independent plots *herself* through her own strengths to thwart another antagonist in the story who sought to marry her (for reasons!), repeatedly avoiding and overcoming standard media tropes that befell several female characters across time and space. The rest of the characters (including her love interest), merely supported her ideas with convenient timing. Yuna was always the star of the game despite not being the initial protagonist and was able to summon large, often feminine beasts of sacrifice to decimate monsters through the strongest gameplay mechanic of the game: A powerhouse, she was not bound to the frail construction of her mannerisms, her actions matching her personality: but overall, she was feminine, she was kind, she was ladylike without being submissive — she was a female power fantasy. 

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In the sequel to the first game, she, accompanied by her younger cousin Rikku and another female character, the game narrative, although series and a direct sequel showing the aftermath of the grimdark world prior to being freed from Sin, transitioned into something different. Namely, camp. The game opens with what appears to be Yuna, in a flashy, immodest (yet stylish) outfit on stage, singing an upbeat pop anthem, Real Emotion. She is joined onstage by dancers, guitarists floating through the arena, with Rikku and Paine executing a Charlie’s Angel’s style operation to reveal that this Yuna is not the real one — and after a brief pursuit, Yuna appears herself, diving through midair with handguns, and a new outfit herself — FFX-2 delivered a form of camp unseen in mainline Final Fantasy, with its trio of female characters, who referred to themselves as “YRP” several times, engaging in missions across the world to save it yet again. With stylistic anthems, the trio changed abilities through changing clothes, and it was the most cunt game I, or anyone else, had ever played at the time. 

Through weaponizing femininity and clothing, the trio saved the world, jettisoning about in a giant airship, with only logistic support from the men around them: relying on teamwork, bonding, and sisterhood, the game was *heavily* panned by male reviewers, who simply didn’t get it. FFX-2, as I have always stated, was a girls and gays event only, and the numerous pop numbers throughout indicated that: it featured a plot of loss, togetherness, and of evolution, and advancement. It displayed how clothing could empower, how identities could shift, and how femininity was not merely a static object with one mold: it was many things, it was empowering, it was a strength in itself to *be* feminine: whether exposed in wild armor of the Berserker class or clad in witchy-robes and gowns as a Black Mage, the varying level of costumes in the game presented empowerment rather than subjugation, as all modes and methods of dress were strategies. 

I directly related to the principles established by the game and the characters: while I did identify with a lot of transgender characters in gaming, I didn’t feel particularly enthralled with many of their narratives, which, okay, boo — It’s not like they weren’t explored, or later corrected. I just found myself more inspired by the myriad cisgender female characters in gaming, and that’s nothing I should be shamed over! The concept of clothing, makeup, and presentation being a part of one’s “armor”, and how a woman does combat stuck with me as someone personally obsessed with setting themes and concepts for my outfits and makeup expression. 

In addition to noting the “camp” of FFX-2, the action game series Bayonetta features another example of this hyperfeminine power fantasy. Designed by (female) artist Mari Shimazaki, “power fantasy” was one of the terms used to describe Bayonetta. Another example of something for the girls and gays, Bayonetta summons demons using “wicked weave” hair extensions, has guns attached to her high heels, and incorporates voguing and waacking into her fighting. She struts across the battlefield with the same timing and pomp as a runway model, her series frequently having aspects of motherhood and sisterhood: she’s even a witch, and at one point, kills a male antagonist by shooting a lipstick bullet into his head. Absolutely cunt. Similar to X-2, she unlocks outfits in association with her weapons, possessing haute couture designs. 

I find that the games for trans people, or the games that best represent us or the LGBT community already exist, and have already been produced, and the western gaming journalism obsession with drooling over the next masculine agender bisexual game protagonist in some awful game with poor mechanics, or some pandering indie venture just checking boxes off does a continued disservice to what people actually become enthused by… Videogame women serving cunt and beating the shit out of men.