According to the ESRB, an estimated 67 percent of U.S. households play video games. If that's even close to accurate, that's more than half the country!
And who can blame them? You get to be the hero or the villain. You get to save the world or destroy it. You can become the richest tycoon or fight real time strategy battles against live opponents. You can travel to places you've never imagined and see things we can only dream about.
For transgender people it's something even more special. A dream we've held for so long.
You see, it's a chance for us to play as our preferred gender. We can finally be that badass chick who saves the day from hordes of aliens or that righteous dude who fights the undead masses to avenge his mortal soul, but whatever your quest is... you finally get to do it as you.
I mention this as a reminder to us all out there to be careful and take everything in moderation.
My game of choice, World of Warcraft.
I also enjoyed being Lara Croft in Tomb Raider and any female in fighting games. In GTA Online, I even had a garage of pink cars. My friends didn't question it then, but looking back the signs were always there. I always picked the girls team and it was easy to play off, being that I was attracted to them.
"I'm not the one staring at a guy's ass," I would say to defend myself against my homophobic friends.
In WoW, as we call it, I could never level a male character. I was able to only once because I named him after one of my favorite villains of all time, but he was the only exception. I hated it. It felt like being forced into the wrong skin again, but when I got to pick the character, the person I wanted to be, it changed everything. I loved it!
Sometimes it translated into the real world. I'll be honest; I have GTA Online to thank for my style. Playing around with the wardrobe choices in game gave me the freedom to experiment with different looks and find what felt most like me with the added benefit of never spending any real money!
In WoW, people would interact with me as female and it was easy for them to accept as you communicate mostly with text. Of course, you quickly find out how women can be treated online and offline, but that's a story for another time.
For me, video games were more than just an escape from reality, but a chance to be myself.
I asked friends of mine for similar stories:
"I don't know that it helps me cope with life outside of the game but it helps me enjoy the game more," said Terry, a Transgender male.
"I feel like I am actually playing instead of being forced to play the wrong gender every day. Not having the choice to be myself daily was not something I was interested in bringing into my gaming world. Otherwise, I would not have found solace escaping to it. Playing the games I play as the correct gender was the only way I was interested in playing and it gave me a sense of 'right' when the character faced gender appropriate problems or missions to accomplish. I play mostly FPS/RPG and am just breaking the ice on my MMO games. So, All the Fallouts, All the Mass Effects, any time I play Sims, All the Elder Scrolls (Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim, ESO). I primarily play on the Xbox360," Terry told me.
For another female perspective, I asked my friend Vylette:
"I played City of Heroes and WoW as my preferred gender. This was before I transitioned, and it was a help in keeping me sane when I thought I would never be able to be the true me. In many ways it let me be myself, even if I was the only one who knew. One little aside, I had a female name I was using when I first started seeing a therapist pre-coming out. My wife didn't like the name, so I let her decide on my new, permanent name, she chose my handle: Vylette. It is now my legal name and I love it!!"
She put me in touch with her friend Flynn, who offered another male perspective:
"I definitely noticed that when I was younger I played a lot of male characters because that's how I saw myself better. But if I was playing games with friends around, I felt obligated to play a female character. I'm definitely an open world RPG type of person so games like Dragon Age, Skyrim or really any Elder Scrolls Game, and Mass Effect are the types of games that really appeal to me. It allows you to design someone who can both be you and not you at the same time. It was and still is an easy and subtle way to explore gender and sexuality. Your game files are your own and nobody really questions how you play your games."
We each have our own experiences in life as a whole. We each have our way of escaping from reality to take short breaks from our woes. There are many forms of entertainment.
For Transgender people, the ability to finally express yourself, as yourself, in a new and wonderful world is such a gift. It's only temporary, but it helps us and I like to believe that it gets us through our offline struggles a little easier. Maybe it doesn't make that misgendering any less harsh or having to decide if it's safe to use the restroom any less scary, but at the end of the day it allows us some peace from these thoughts and a place to safely express ourselves.
What about you? Does playing your preferred gender in a fantasy world help you cope with the reality of being Transgender, and everyday life itself? Does it give you a chance to escape and how does that translate offline? Please, comment below.