Why Are Trans People So Good at Videogames?

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Why Are Trans People So Good at Videogames?

Why are trans people so good at videogames? For being a tiny percentage of the population, we’ve sure made a name for ourselves—from trans players like Ricki Ortiz and UMISHO becoming some of the world’s best fighting game players to trans speedrunners making strides in nearly every leaderboard, trans people are everywhere in competitive games. Hell, when I first started speedrunning, even the niche game I got into had multiple trans runners topping the various leaderboards.

But why? It seems too disproportionate to be a coincidence, but there’s nothing inherent about being trans that leads to supreme gaming skill. After reflecting on my own experiences and talking with other trans people in competitive spaces, I’m going to attempt to answer that question.

It’s 2016. I’m in middle school. I just moved and I can’t make friends with the other boys at school because there’s something off about me and boy do they let me know it. One day I learn about something called Pokémon Showdown with people who play one of my favorite games competitively, and I decide that I need to learn everything I can to become one of them. For the next few months, I may not have friends, but I have Pokémon.

It’s 2022. I just finished my first year of college and it’s not going how I’d hoped. All my friends from high school have more college friends than me and I don’t know what to do about it and I’m increasingly sure that there’s something wrong with me. In the middle of this, I start ranking high in the level leaderboards in Demon Turf and man it feels good. For the next year or so, I may not be happy with myself, but I’m happy with my speedruns.

It’s 2024. I finally figured out why it felt like something was off, like something was wrong with me. Unidentified gender dysphoria is a tricky beast. It hides in plain sight, in places that are obvious in hindsight but confounding in the moment. It’s a never-ending voiceless cry that, despite its near-silence, still drowns out the world around you. How do you find self-worth, self-purpose, in this state?

Well, you get really fucking good at videogames.

“I think that a lot of trans people are in the position where we feel bad about ourselves. And I think one of the first hobbies that a lot of trans women specifically are pushed towards is gaming, which ends up becoming a core part of our method of escape from all those problems for many of us, as it did for me,” says Humoresque, a longtime gaming fan. When she was younger, games like StarCraft were a frequent escape from the troubles of life.

Videogames can shine a light through the darkness of dysphoria. They let you escape not only your life, but your identity, and displace it onto one you can control. If you decide to approach them as a discipline, to practice and work and focus towards self-improvement, they can also build the self-confidence and motivation that dysphoria can make so difficult. It might sound silly, but speedrunning over my last year as a “man” helped me build the confidence and the courage that I needed to finally face myself and my identity—and I’ve heard similar stories from others too.

“HRT takes a long time to work. It’s a time-based process. And having this hobby that I know every day I get a little bit better at is kind of helpful to have alongside something like HRT, or like transitioning,” says Dialectrical, a competitive Guilty Gear -Strive- player. In our conversation, she also talked a bit about how gaming skill can foster not just self-respect, but respect from other people, another thing that’s often harder to come by for trans people.

Which brings up another thing that draws trans people to these circles: community. For trans people who are often gatekept from real-life communities, the freeing anonymity of online-heavy gaming circles fits perfectly. While hardcore game scenes have developed a somewhat accurate reputation for toxicity and misogyny, there is some nuance to that. Gaming is a vast medium, with a huge number of communities with widely varying cultures. And while the gaming mainstream undeniably has a deep bigotry problem, there are still places where trans people can thrive.

“With the FGC [fighting game community] and the speedrunning community, it’s hobbyists who love the shit out of their hobby and want to share it with other people, whereas esports like Dota 2 and League of Legends, they’re a business, they want to make money,” says Dialectrical. “And when you have a community, you have people who care about one another in it to a degree where you can talk about inclusivity and having safe communities in a way that you can’t when at the top of your community is a corporation.”

Strong, accepting, grassroots communities are a haven for trans people looking for a place in the world. Why are trans people so good at videogames? Because getting good helps us get stronger, and because we’ve found, and made, spaces of our own that facilitate it. 

This answer brings with it a crucial reminder during pride month 2024, an awkward time when we’re both incessantly marketed to and targeted as scapegoats: when things are hard, we get through by helping ourselves and helping each other. Corporate pride and trans flag cosmetics didn’t stake a claim for us in the upper echelons of gaming skill; we did that, through the individual commitment of many of us and through being in real, genuine community with each other. This is, in microcosm, how we as a community have always survived: we lift us up, we carve out a space for ourselves, and from years of practice we defend it like hell ‘til it’s indisputable. In the face of everything, during the scariest time to be trans in recent memory, there’s joy in seeing us continue to flourish in such an unexpected place.

Hope Pisoni is a student reporter and games writer. You can find her other work at NYU’s Washington Square News and Cooper Squared.

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