Today is Trans Day of Visibility, and I find myself filtering my thoughts on it, as I do with most other things in life, through gaming. It’s supposed to be the celebratory trans day of the year, like a specific and distilled version of Pride, and a counter-balance to the much more somber Transgender Day of Rememberance, but it has never felt like too much of a celebration to me. Even the names (Visibility vs Pride) strike very different tones and speak to different expectations. Trans people are still involved in Pride, of course, and the very first Pride march happened through the Stonewall riots, a New York gay bar that was targeted by police specifically because it was trans friendly. But when we’re here on our own, we’re not after a festival, we’re just asking to be seen – even when we know how dangerous that can be. That’s why Claire in Cyberpunk 2077 is the trans character that speaks to me the most.
I’ve written a fair bit about Cyberpunk 2077, and I’ve beaten it twice while spending over 100 hours in the game. Even after seeing all it has to offer, I don’t really care for it. There are some bright spots in there, and a more reflective sequel could redeem it for me, but I’d be more than happy for them to leave it alone. I don’t think Claire should serve as protection for criticism either. The Mix It Up poster never justified its place in the world beyond fetishisation and mockery, the character creator is nothing more than a stumble in the right direction, and the world never touches some of the very obvious trans concepts cyberpunk lends itself to as a genre – possibly because exploring them wouldn’t sit well with Cyberpunk 2077’s core audience. Claire exists in a very flawed world, but that’s why she seems so important, especially on a day like today.
Krem from Dragon Age and Janeva from Horizon Zero Dawn are both relatively competent trans characters, but they both have incredibly minor roles, Janeva especially. They also exist in an era that is not our own, so words like ‘transgender’ don’t appear to exist. I’m just going to be blunt and say that this is a fantasy storytelling trope that really pisses me off. They speak English. They call tables ‘tables’, they call iridium ‘iridium’, they call sunlight ‘sunlight’, but they call transgender ‘I’ve just always felt kind of different and I was born a girl but I don’t like being a girl and I’m just as much of a man as…’ please shut up. Transgender is the perfect descriptor, but we’ve just decided it’s one of those words that doesn’t get to move out of our current era.
Lev in The Last of Us Part 2 is the same – although this is also a world where everyone remembers Jurassic Park and Pearl Jam, but Ellie and Dina have no idea what a Pride flag is despite the fact the world ‘dyke’ still exists. TLOU2 puts queerness at the centre of its story, but it also doesn’t quite understand it. Lev is a phenomenal character, for what it’s worth, and while I’m not a fan of the way his story is rooted in trauma or the fact he too is not allowed to say ‘transgender’, he’s an important character in the trans gaming canon. So are Janeva and especially Krem, but on Trans Day of Visibility, I would rather focus on a character that actually says the word.
In terms of major trans characters, that only really leaves Claire and Tyler Ronan from Tell Me Why. Tyler is a brilliant character, better than Claire for my money, both in terms of him as a person and the way his transness is explored. But Cyberpunk 2077 is a game that revelled in trans imagery pre-release, both through the Mix It Up poster and the character creator, and so Claire’s existence juxtaposed against a setting with such a narrow view of what trans people are feels a lot more relatable to me.
Several of Cyberpunk 2077’s best characters feel dropped in the world rather than of the world. You experience their mini stories that are usually well paced, written with narrative rhythm, and have a heartfelt depth to them… then you go off and run around in a barely alive world causing carnage without consequence or helping out your local police department – often both at once. Open-world games in general can struggle with this, but Cyberpunk 2077 has the biggest disparity I’ve ever seen, and of all those dropped in characters, Claire stands out the most.
You first meet her at the Afterlife, where she’s a charismatic barmaid without much going on. Then you unlock her side story all about street racing, and you start to learn about her husband and his death, more about her life and her reasons for racing. She talks to you openly about her transition, but you have to earn it. Trans characters in media tend to either give away the farm immediately, clutch being trans close to their chest like a dirty little secret, or blurt it out at the peak of drama. That’s if they’re not dead or being laughed at, or both. I’m quite open about being trans (you’re all strangers and I’ve written about it before), so Claire’s candidness connected with me. But so did her isolation.
Claire is, as far as we know, the only trans person we meet in the game. I get that it’s 2077 and ‘everyone would pass’ but not everyone wants to pass, for starters, and considering the exposed bulge on the Mix It Up poster and V’s own potential package, things in 2077 don’t need to be so simple. Yet we don’t see any trans people at all. Even at Clouds, you’re asked to choose between a set of binary men or women, while Lizzie’s Bar has neon signs in the shape of the male and female gender symbols, but none for transgender. I’m not asking “why aren’t there any trans sex workers?” so much as I’m pointing out that even in places where media usually pigeonholes trans people into, we’re nowhere to be found. This is a city where body modification is everywhere, yet gender modification is nowhere. The gender binary in king, princess. Male Vs can’t even have long hair.
Cyberpunk 2077 is not a game for trans people (despite the character creator), and Night City definitely isn’t a city for us. But it’s also home to Claire, one of the most rounded trans characters I’ve seen anywhere, who talks about her transition in a way that feels closest to my own feelings, and one who hopefully keeps pushing the door a little bit wider for more trans characters to follow her in the future. On Trans Day of Visibility, it feels fitting to focus on a game where the idea of transness is almost entirely visual, but Claire aside, makes trans lives entirely invisible.
Next: What Games Can Learn From The Taylor Swift Remasters
- TheGamer Originals
- Cyberpunk 2077
- Xbox One
- cd projekt red
- CD Projekt
Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey
Source: Read Full Article