I’ve posted in the past about how gaming and geek culture can be sexist, even leading to extreme cases of harassment. Some game companies, however, are making an effort to include greater diversity among their character options, though, in terms of race, gender, and gender identity.
Paizo, the creator of Pathfinder (an open gaming-licensed D&D spin-off), has included many more non-white characters in their rules books, though some have criticized their representation of women.
Notably, though, Paizo recently released a character who is a transgender (male-to-female, a transition facilitated by a magic potion) half-orc paladin. Unlike other RPG characters in the past who have switched gender, largely by means of spells that unwillingly change the character’s gender, this paladin, Anevia, is apparently happy with her gender status, and is a pretty powerful character. So she’s not marginalized, and her gender status is pretty much accepted as a given in the story.
And why shouldn’t it be? As one blogger characterizes this phenomenon (in a well-thought out essay):
If Anevia’s transgender status comes up in game, she will be joining an NPC cast of characters that has included a dark elf who spent 30 years as a ghost, a sword that used to be a lady, a possibly intelligent horse, and a toad that was secretly a lecherous old wizard. In that kind of setting, I’m not sure somebody casually saying, “Did you know I used to have a penis?” would even warrant a batted eyelid.
Indeed: why, in a fantasy setting, would a transgender character be unbelievable? There’s so much suspension of disbelief for the other kinds of magic and supernatural occurrences that it seems like players should be able to accept the transition from one gender identity to another – not as a prank, not as a tragic figure – as normal. And accepting alternative gender and sexuality configurations as normal in our popular and expressive culture is, hopefully, a step toward accepting them as normal in the rest of our culture.