When Representation in a Game Meant the World to Me

I want you to think back to when you were young and played games. Think of all the characters that you could identify with. Those that looked like you, moved like you, spoke like you and loved like you.

This is the first part of our Voices of Kinda Brave article series, where Kinda Brave employees share about subjects within Sustainable Gaming that they care about. First up: Gabriel Eriksson Sahlin, Talent Acquisition & Diversity Manager.

For some of you, there are hundreds of characters you could identify with. But for me, there were none.

I’m an openly queer trans man, which means that I do not identify with the gender identity I was given upon birth. My story is like with many other minority individuals: to escape the daily bullying and ridiculing, I turned to games.

I could put on my headphones, boot up a game and absorb myself into a world where I felt safe. However, even though I was safer, there were barely any characters that I could identify with. Even in these fantasy worlds, minorities hardly existed. And when we did, we were either hyper-sexualized, sociopathic villains, terrorists or experiencing the same trauma present in our everyday lives.

We see these characterizations even today. Some might think that it’s not that big of a deal. That “it’s just games”.

But when I streamed the world’s first game starring a playable transgender man, I wept. I cried right there on camera, because I couldn’t believe that I finally got to see myself. This meant the absolute world. That was in 2020, and the game was Tell Me Why.

Studies show that we still have a long way to go, both regarding representation in games (Diamond Lobby, 2022) and how minorities are treated in online gaming (The Double-Edged Sword of Online Gaming, 2020). But the gaming industry is slowly becoming more diverse.

We’re starting to see characters like Senua from Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, a strong woman who’s exploring her mental health. Or Aloy from Horizon: Forbidden West and Abby from The Last of Us 2. Two characters praised for having inclusive design that breaks norms associated with women and femininity. And the more minorities we can get into the industry, the more diverse our games can become.

Representation in games show that people like me exist. With this change, young minorities will finally be able to look upon that screen and not see villains, but heroes. Who look like them. Move like them. Speak like them. Love like them.

Representation matters, and I’m longing until the next time I can see a transgender character have a happy ending. To show that I can as well.

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