Although it’s still very much an issue now, developers have been pushing diversity in video games since the late 1980s, when 1986’s Moonmist featured a woman who was angry with her girlfriend. But today, we have a small but growing list of gender non-conforming video game characters, all of which deserve a lot more recognition.
As the games industry matures, we’re seeing far more LGBTQ characters, references and storylines, to the point where players are able to make you his/her own character and carve out romantic relationships in whatever way you please.
However, the number of gender non-conforming characters is still on the low side, so until we’re seeing full equality we’re going to celebrate seven notable gender non-confirming characters to date:
Birdo from Super Mario
Hot on the tails of the Moonmist character came Birdo. This pink dinosaur, wearing a fetching red ribbon and a diamond ring to boot, was actually the very first trans character in games. First appearing in Super Mario Bros. 2 in 1988, Birdo was described in the game’s official manual as follows:
“He thinks he’s a girl… He’d rather be called Birdetta.”
The fact Birdo is a Nintendo character came as quite the surprise, as the company is still fairly conservative in its references to gender and sexuality even to this day.
More recently, Birdo’s gender identity has been swept under the rug somewhat, with most referring to the character as having “indeterminate gender” or simply not acknowledged.
Flea from Chrono Trigger
Flea is a magician of renowned strength, who happens to have been assigned male at birth. However, with pink hair, skirt and visible cleavage, Flea is one of the best examples of a transgender role. Not only does Flea have an awesome Diva Form, but also whips out this brilliant line:
“Male or female, what difference does it make? Power is beautiful, and I’ve got the power.”
What’s also great is that although Flea’s gender symbol is male in the game, when you fight against him in New Game Plus of Chrono Cross, you can steal a secret, and traditionally female, item from him – the Flea Bustier.
Quina Quen from Final Fantasy
It wasn’t until the year 2000 in Final Fantasy IX that Quina Quen, the series’ first genderless character, appeared. This playable character came from a genderless race called the Qu, which meant Quina Quen was referred to throughout the game as she/he. Quina can take part in a marriage ritual to the male black mage Vivi, but it’s up to you to stick a label on the happy union.
Leo Kliesen from Tekken
When Leo Kliesen was first introduced in Tekken 6, the character’s gender was very ambiguous and not listed specifically in the game. Technically several characters call Leo a “boy” and Leo is listed as part of the male character list in the official artbook. But, in the game Leo can equip a variety of gender-specific items from both sides, including the male-only sledgehammer and female-only pigtail hair option.
By Tekken 7 though, Leo is only referred to by male pronouns but is regularly described as being unusually beautiful or pretty for a guy.
Interestingly, according to the creators, Leo’s gender was originally female but now is officially “unknown.”
Bob from Animal Crossing
If you’ve played any of the Animal Crossing games you may recognise Bob, the little purple cat who regularly makes your town his home. In fact, Bob has made it into every Animal Crossing game ever and is actually the first character ever created for the series. What makes that even more interesting is that, even though Bob is listed as a male character, he presents female.
He’s often seen wearing a Blossom Shirt, prone to hissy fits if you don’t invite him over to your house, and even gives you all the sass if you’re being evasive. Not to suggest that any of those are exclusivelt female traits, of course, but Bob definitely loves to blur gender lines.
The Asari race from Mass Effect
Although we have a particular fondness for the Turians, there’s something special about Mass Effect‘s Asari race. These humanoid aliens are well-known for their elegance, biotic aptitude but also the fact that they’re mono-gendered. They have no concept of gender differences, with the original Mass Effect trilogy’s Liara T’Soni saying that “male and female have no real meaning for us,” and although present female with breasts and feminine voices, Liara explaind that she is “not precisely a woman.”
The Asari can mate with any gender or species too, which makes them the ultimate genderless game characters for those looking for some romance in Mass Effect.
Poison from Final Fight
One of the most well-known transgender characters is Poison from Final Flight, which was first released back in 1989. There has always been some uncertainty regarding Poison’s gender, with debates around whether the character is male or female. Visually, Poison’s gender expression is female, with long pink hair, cut-off shorts, red heels, not to mention a tiny crop top that barely covers her breasts.
But in the 2005 Xbox and PS2 game, the Capcom Classics Collection, Poison’s transsexual identity was finally acknowledged. The developer has always said that the character could be male or female, but it was up to fans to decide.
“Let’s set the record straight,” said Street Fighter IV producer, Yoshinori Ono when asked about Poison in 2007. “In North America, Poison is officially a post-op transsexual. But in Japan, she simply tucks her business away to look female.”
[Editor’s note: “Post-op transsexual” is an outdated term per GLAAD but we including it because it’s a direct quote.]
However, in more recent years, Capcom has gone back on that statement saying that there’s no “official answer” to the question of Poison’s gender.