I am by no means an expert on trans inclusion in video games. As a cisgendered person, I can say that I've never seen any openly trans characters - and only found out about trans characters in games retroactively (Birdo!). That's a problem. In a world where we are seeing a rise of queer representation across all platforms, why aren't trans people included?
I think the first time I ever ran into a trans character was when I first played through Chrono Trigger - one of best RPGs ever made. This character resided in Magnus' castle, and served as a difficult boss fight, and there's not much known about the character. I remember thinking, "Oh, that's a girl," but then they referred to Flea as a boy. I felt very confused - not having grasped the complicated tapestry of gender and gender politics.
Still, that left an impression on me. As I grew up in the world, it would be a long time before I played a game with a legitimate trans character again. I've talked about this game before in this series, and I'm going to talk about it again, because honestly none of my other favorite games can touch it. I'm talking about Dragon Age Inquisition.
Again, the amount of sheer representation in this game is enough to write a book on - but the character that stood out the most for me was a little soldier by the name of Krem. Krem runs with a character named The Iron Bull, a pansexual, Qunari (giant people) mercenary whom the Inquisitor meets (and possibly romance) later on in the game. Krem isn't a major character, but to say he is insignificant because of that is just flat out wrong.
Krem is not only transgender, but open transgender and proud to be the person he is. Not only that, his friends (Iron Bull and his gang) are totally supportive of him and his gender expression. It's bonkers in the best possible way. The shock hit me hard enough that I had to talk to him all over again and get his story, and what a sad story it was.
Krem basically joined the army to support his family, but unfortunately, in the country of Tevinter (a place that seems to mirror the United States in terms of gender and sexuality), biological women are unable to join. He managed to bribe a healer for a while, but that healer was sent away. Krem fled, not wanting to face execution or slavery for falsifying military documents. He didn't make it far before some officials caught up to him, but The Iron Bull saved him and offered him a job.
It's not an uncommon origin - in a weird way it reminds of Mulan, but with an actual trans character. And it has such a positive ending, which is sadly uncommon among the trans community (as well as every other queer community). I was disappointed to not see more Krem throughout the story, because as great as having him in the game was, it still wasn't a huge step to take in regards to have a real trans character in the cast.
I would love to have seen Krem as a playable character (after all, did we really need Blackwall). Bioware gave us one of the best gay playable characters in gaming history with Dorian, what was stopping them from taking the extra step forward? Did they not see the point? Did they feel that characters like Blackwall were more deserving of a main spot? Perhaps they though that Iron Bull should be the only person from his group in the party? These are all definitely explanations, but none of them successful.
As big as a step this is - it's still a small one. But like every step, it is worth recognition. The team behind Dragon Age definitely didn't have to include a trans character, nor would anyone had said anything if they hadn't. The fact that Krem exists at all shows that developers are finally beginning to see the positive sides of including characters that aren't the same every single time. Hopefully, we'll see more like Krem as games evolve. Call me optimistic, but I believe the only way to go is up.
Krem and Dragon Age: Inquisition are something special. They are the first in what I hope are a series of AAA titles that focus on inclusion. But next time, let's actually play as the trans character, okay?
Shann Smith is a lover of video games and writer of plays and screenplays, based in NYC. Do you guys have a game that you think is significant to the LGBTQ+ community? Email me, and I'll give it a look!
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