Any gamer on the Internet is likely to tell you (whether you asked or not) that the SJWs are ruining video games and filling them with “special snowflake” trans and otherwise LGBT characters. Gone are the days of the gruff, machismo action man that the fedora-clad gamer could aspire to be. But looking at the facts reveals the truth: big games will always have big dudes. A Wikipedia list of LGBT characters in games, going back to 1986, shows less than twenty trans characters. Though a Wikipedia article is by no means comprehensive of all video games, even a layman’s look at gaming shows that this future of socially conscious games is still a distant dream. Things have barely advanced since some of the first trans characters, but here I’d like to focus on arguably the first trans character in gaming, a girl dinosaur whom I consider a personal friend (call me to confirm, Nintendo), Birdetta.
Birdetta isn’t a character most folks have ever heard of. Most people, regardless of how many games they’ve played, can recognize Luigi, Mario, Bowser, Peach, maybe even Toad or Wario just at a glance—but Birdetta comes from the 1988 title Super Mario Bros. 2, an American port of Doki Doki Panic rebranded with some Mario-themed sprites. Birdetta is addressed by her dead name in the manual of this game, with the text saying that “Birdo” is a “boy who thinks he’s a girl and prefers to be called Birdetta.” Needless to say, Birdetta’s deadnaming has continued into modern games, and her in-game appearances, though not as inflammatory as those of more humanoid characters, are not particularly good trans representation.
Birdetta occupies that slot that so many lazy writers resort to, in that they’ve never even met a trans person and instead make wild speculation that we are all some sort of gender blob that is simultaneously all and no genders, and are totally okay with you calling us tr*nnies because we’re too up in the clouds to worry about what is said to us. All that aside, some development choices show that Birdetta has been accepted into the Nintendo roster of female characters, as she was given a more feminine voice in recent games, and is usually depicted as femme-presenting, oftentimes aside her (arguably asexual, but that’s for another time) ‘partner’, Yoshi. However, in non-mainstream titles, Birdetta is depicted as a gender-confused drag queen, such as in the Japan-only Captain Rainbow, which gives her a male voice actor and has many characters react to her presentation. Interestingly enough, Rocky-but-more-racist Little Mac is one of the few characters to notably acknowledge Birdetta’s gender, saying that “she is a young lady, depending on one’s viewpoint.” Still, it’s a shame that even in virtual worlds, I have to grasp at straws to find any real acceptance of a transfeminine character.
It should also be noted that Birdetta is rarely a playable character. Mario Party and Mario Kart titles often offer her as a playable character, but some of the Party series cut her out in favor of even more obscure, unpopular characters such as Spike, who is what I can best describe as a Spongebob background fish stuck in a Mario game. Birdetta either bills as a very popular or very unpopular Mario character, depending on who you ask. The actual Wikipedia article for ‘Birdo’ cites the opinion of an upset manbaby from ScrewAttack, who calls her an ableist slur. (This clearly violates Wikipedia’s neutrality rules, but that’s a discussion for another, much longer article by someone a lot more invested in arguing with babies than I am.) Nintendo rarely has much to say about her. The former mouth of Nintendo in America, Nintendo Power, was surprisingly all right with her, although they did call her gender “one of life’s biggest questions.” It seems that when presented the rare opportunity to play as a trans woman, gamers cringe and balk—the same as they do at us in real life.
Art by Jun Joestar.