The way humans create their identities is a complex and multifaceted process that begins with the social interaction we receive through human contact in our early life.1 As we develop, we become immersed in an ever more media-saturated society that constantly surrounds us with narratives and images. These messages play an addition role in identity development that cannot be underestimated.2 Watching television, listening to music, and seeing advertisements informs our cognitive concept of what it is to be a person, and through that, what it is to embody gender.
Video games have the unique media affordances of customization and immersion that are not found in other media like television and movies. In games, the player can impact the fictional world. I now ask how video game affordances can be used to explore virtual queer embodiment.
While some gamers can find comfort in the choice between one of two genders during customization in games, people who see themselves outside of the two categories have less opportunities to truly express their internal self concept. While some newer digital avatar tools (such as Apple's Memoji) don't ask users to choose a gender, many still rely on biologically normative sexual defaults of male (taller, broader, square shapes) and female (shorter, slimmer, curves). Even if a player chooses an avatar of a differing gender, they are usually forced to choose between feminine and masculine options.
Coming from the perspective of a non-binary media scholar, I want to discuss how character customization can be a tool for queer gamers to explore and embody a differently gendered/sexed identity.
1. Bussey, Kay, and Albert Bandura. "Social Cognitive Theory of Gender Development and Differentiation." Psychological Review, vol. 106, no. 4, 1999, pp. 676.
2. Morgan, Michael, James Shanahan, and Nancy Signorielli. "Growing up with Television: Cultivation Processes." Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research, edited by Jennings Bryant and Mary Beth Oliver, 3rd ed.,Taylor and Francis, 2002, pp. 43-67.