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A Video Game Introduced A Trans Character And This Is The Shocking Response It Got

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Privilege, thy name is entitled gamer.

With the gaming world coming perilously close to representing the real world with actual real people (and I’m not just talking about VR) clearly some people aren’t having it. The latest controversy is regarding a character in the new Baldur’s Gate expansion, Siege of Dragonspear. For those who don’t know, Baldur’s Gate, based on Dungeons and Dragons, is one of the most revered game franchises, developed back in ye’ old days (1998 for the rest of us) and clearly has a special place in many a gamers’ hearts . It would make sense that they would be touchy about any new changes being made to their beloved franchise over time but this seriously takes the cake.

The character in question is an NPC (Non Playable Character) called Mizhena who is transgender. This is revealed when the player goes to talk to her and is told that she changed her birth name. If the player asks why, she replies that her birth name was unsuitable and on further questioning, replies, “When I was born, my parents thought me a boy and raised me as such. In time, we all came to understand I was truly a woman. I created my new name from syllables of different languages. All have special meaning to me, it is the truest reflection of who I am.”

Nothing about this sounds difficult or even radical. Mizhena is not even a very important character in the game. She cannot become a player’s companion; she really has no effect on the game whatsoever. And yet this character has caused a meltdown in the gaming community, with gamers accusing Beamdog and particularly writer Amber Scott of trying to ‘push politics’ into gaming. Several people have even peppered the reviews section of the game’s Steam and GoG (Good Old Games) stores with reviews that seem to be blatantly transphobic. Point to be noted here, there are also reviews which point out that the game is buggy with lots of problems, but there is also an alarmingly large number of reviews which talk about the “SJW writing” in the game – SJW meaning ‘social justice warrior,’ a term that is often used both as as put down and a matter of pride, depending on who’s speaking. Here are some of those reviews:

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So on and so forth.

There are also far darker statements such as a video, entitled “Tranny Abuse” uploaded to Youtube which shows the player killing Mizhena, a scarily potent reminder of the actual abuse trans people face in everyday life.

In response to this, Beamdog’s founder Trent Oster issued what could be seen as a potentially problematic statement, “I usually spend most of my time lurking here, but I’d like to ask a favour. It appears that having a transgendered cleric and a joke line by Minsc has greatly offended the sensibilities of some people.

This has spurred these people into action, causing them to decide this is the worst game of all time and give it a zero review score on Steam, GoG and meta critic. Now, I’d like to ask for that favour. If you are playing the game and having a good time, please consider posting a positive review to balance out the loud minority which is currently painting a dark picture for new players.”

Yeah, asking for good reviews (even if it is to balance out the unfair bad reviews) could be seen as pretty dicey and did Oster no favors with the gaming crowd.

It’s interesting to note that even among the negative reviews there are those who state that their problem with Mizhena isn’t that she’s trans, it’s that it’s a blatant attempt at tokenism. What is funny about this statement is that if they truly feel that is the case, surely there are better ways to discuss this issue than the review section of a video game? One may certainly argue that Mizhena is a token character, what with her only being an NPC who exists to tell her backstory to the player and little else. But taking her out of the game isn’t surely the answer to tokenism, as these so called critics seem to claim.

The other issue that seems to be controversial in the game is regarding a line spoken by a character in which he says, “Actually it about ethics in heroic adventuring,” a reference to the Gamergate controversy, which pro-Gamergaters have always insisted has been about “ethics in video game journalism”. Facing the ire of Gamergates, Beamdog eventually removed the line from the game. It is ironic though as Gamergaters have always posited themselves as anti-censorship and have protested the likes of removal of a “butt pose” in Blizzard’s new online shooter Overwatch, or changes made to western version of games such as Fire Emblem: Fates and Xenoblade Chronicles. Apparently they’re only anti-censorship as long as it’s about things they like, and then it gets ugly.

Beamdog eventually caved to all the pressure and have stated that they would be reworking Mizhena’s character to flesh her out more, which I suppose is the most decent response to the ongoing debate. But this raises interesting questions about the position of the gaming community and gaming in general. Quite a lot of the ire seems to have been directed at writer Amber Scott who has stated:

“As I’ve said before (and I won’t say much more on this subject other than to get my perspective out there): I’m the writer and creator. I get to make decisions about who I write about and why. I don’t like writing about straight/white/cis people all the time. It’s not reflective of the real world, it sets up s/w/c as the “normal” baseline from which ‘other’ characters must be added, and it’s boring.

I consciously add as much diversity as I can to my writing and I don’t care if people think that’s “forced” or fake. I find choosing to write from a straight default just as artificial. I’m happy to be an SJW and I hope to write many Social Justice Games in the future that reach as many different types of people as possible. Everyone should get a chance to see themselves reflected in pop culture.

Apparently this is not a case of artistic freedom (as so many gamers have insisted on before) but simply a case of politics being shoehorned into games. Which seems to read as the very existence of a trans character being read as political and by extension, disruptive.

Gaming has to have a talk with itself, and more specifically with gamers. Because as the world changes, more and more people will turn to gaming to reflect it. These are not new things that are being added to games, these are things that have always been there. Trans people have always played games, as have people in the entire LGBQTIA+ spectrum. To ask for representation is not a privilege, it is a right and all gamers are asking for theirs. With a greater scope for discussion and representation, we may see games being made for everyone in the future. Then we might look back at incidents such as these as birthing pains for a brave, new world.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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