If you’re transgender, it’s not easy to find a game with a character who’s like you. It’s even rarer to be able to play as one.
It’s common for a video game to let you design the appearance of your character, but almost universally, you can choose between only two gender options: man or woman. The acknowledgement that there’s any other kind of gender identity is virtually nonexistent.
When there are trans depictions in video games, they’re usually reductive, mean-spirited or played off as some kind of joke.
Take Grand Theft Auto V. As writer Khee Hoon Chan noted, “the player can choose to spew transphobic bile to transgender [characters] like, ‘Hello, sir. I mean, madam. I mean, whatever.’” And in Atlus’ puzzle platformer Catherine, “Toby was horrified to learn that he lost his virginity to Erica, a transgender woman, and this was played for laughs.”
That’s why Dream Daddy, a new, trans-inclusive indie adventure game in which you play a hunky dad who romances other hunky dads, is an important step forward, even though it won’t reach as many players as the big-budget Grand Theft Auto series.
Mic spoke to trans players about what it felt like to finally see themselves represented in a video game — and why it matters.
Dream Daddy includes trans character options and a trans main character
When you first boot up Dream Daddy, you’re met with a wealth of trans-inclusive body options. Not only can you choose to give your character a wide range of physiques, but if you want to play as a trans character, you can choose one of the “binder” body options, which adorn your character with a garment trans people use to flatten breast tissue.
Then, one of Dream Daddy’s romanceable daddies, the delightfully gothic Damien, makes references to the fact that he’s trans, too.
Dream Daddy’s take on trans issues isn’t going unnoticed: Fans are flooding Twitter and Tumblr with support for the game’s inclusion.
Trans Dream Daddy fans talk about the game’s binder body options
For most of the players we spoke with, the inclusion of binder body options in the character creator was a complete surprise — one that caught them off guard, in a good way.
“I had no preconceived notions of the developers touching on transsexuality before I bought the game, which made the inclusion more a really pleasant surprise than anything,” Twitter user @woodmasterfresh said in a private message.
“I’m kind of used to people writing queer stories to look toward gender issues as either secondary or incomprehensible,” she continued. “So it was really unexpected to see a game handle it in such an understated, matter-of-fact way.”
Twitter user @blueberrytrain said something similar, that actually including trans options in a game that framed itself as being LGBTQ-positive felt great.
“Being a trans male myself, I found comfort in the game’s character creator to represent how I feel, and [include] those minute details,” @blueberrytrain told me. “Being able to make myself a trans male in a game that already had roots of LGBT inclusion — it was heartwarming.”
“Being able to make myself a trans male in a game that already had roots of LGBT inclusion — it was heartwarming.”
“Seriously, when I saw the trans option, my heart stopped a little,” Twitter user @kurorchid said. “I thought, ‘There’s no way they’d put this in! Is that REALLY what that is?!’ The [developers] confirmed it and I could hardly believe it, that I could actually make a character that represented me as a trans guy!”
Twitter user @midoritakamine echoed those sentiments, too, but was especially happy with the fact that Dream Daddy doesn’t restrict you in any way simply for choosing one of the binder body options.
“There are a lot of expectations for how trans people should look, so the fact that [Dream Daddy] allows you to be trans and present in the way you want is very refreshing,” @midoritakamine said. “I’m a plus-size trans boy who still looks rather feminine and it felt so good to have my main character be one as well!”
Dream Daddy’s Damien shows that being trans doesn’t mean just one thing
Every fan I spoke with was thrilled they were able to make a trans character for once, so discovering that Damien, one of Dream Daddy’s seven dads, was also trans — a fact he alludes to by mentioning he wears binders — was pretty mind-blowing. Especially since Dream Daddy had the potential to just be an easy, gay-baiting cash-in.
“When I found out about Damien on top of [the character creation options], I was pretty blown away,” @kurorchid said. “I was really surprised by it, but in a good way! ... It’s the kind of representation that, as a bisexual trans man struggling just to fit in with other guys, let alone date them, seriously makes me feel like I belong.”
“It was great to see that [Damien] being trans wasn’t his only character trait,” @midoritakamine said. “A lot of characters who reveal gender-specific spoilers are written poorly or center around their identity, but Damien felt fleshed out and is more than just his gender.”
Tumblr user gothdaddamien likes Damien because he represents something that doesn’t get depicted much, in his opinion: a feminine-looking trans man.
“It’s already rare to see trans men represented in media,” he said to me over Tumblr. “But to see a trans man that had long hair and didn’t act like a typical macho man? That’s rare and special.”
Not everyone agrees that Damien’s reveal was handled perfectly
The only critique I heard about the Damien is that he doesn’t disclose his trans identity in an explicit way, if you don’t connect the dots that Damien wearing binders is an indicator that he’s trans. Unless you know what binders are, you’ll probably miss that detail.
But not everyone agreed that was a bad thing.
“People were misconstruing it to be about his fashion choices and not the idea that he’s trans — maybe it could have been said outright?” @blueberrytrain said. “Though, I am completely happy with [Dream Daddy developer Leighton Gray] confirming it on Twitter, haha.”
Of course, it’s a tricky line to walk. If the developers made a whole storyline about Damien being trans, some people might perceive it as empty tokenism, but if you’re too subtle, the developers risk being accused of hiding that aspect of his character under layers of subtext. Twitter user @avpdrey thought it was handled well, mostly because Damien’s trans identity isn’t used for dramatic effect.
“In game, I think it’s handled really well because theres no ‘Gotcha!’ moment,” he said via Twitter. For example, Mass Effect: Andromeda included a trans character named Hainly Abrams who originally dropped her dead name in your first conversation with her. “[Damien] just talks about binders,” @avpdrey continued. “Trans characters always get set up to be some shocking reveal and it was really nice to see it so natural.”
There is one thing I think everyone can agree on, though: Damien’s trans identity is the perfect vector for some dad-worthy puns that would make the Dream Daddy writers proud.
More gaming news and updates
Check out the latest from Mic, like this deep dive into the cultural origins of Gamergate. Also, be sure to read this essay about what it’s like to cosplay while black, a roundup of family-friendly games to play with your kids and our interview with Adi Shankar, producer of the animated Castlevania Netflix series.