The unique complications of playing VR games as a trans person


Over at Kotaku, my colleague Laura Kate Dale has a heartfelt and interesting piece on various experiences she's had with VR games, and how being trans has added a unique layer to how she interacts with these games.

For example, she shares how a game called Pixel Rift, where the player starts out as a girl child, made her smile, creating "a window into a childhood I never got to experience properly." But for Laura, other VR games, which often place the player into the experience of other bodies, were more conflicting:

Girl Body is simple. Stand in front of a mirror, look at a woman who moves her head as you do. Inhabit a female body. It was hardly complicated, but it left me with a lot of complicated feelings.

First, there were phantom limb sensations. It's one thing to know your body isn't what you hope it one day will become, but it's something different to have your eyes and your sense of touch lying to each other: to look at yourself and see a body you'd be happy with, but then run your hands across yourself and have things not feel the way they look. It was distressing. I found myself feeling in many ways worse about my actual appearance; I'd seen the end goal and been reminded that what I was seeing wasn't my reality. That really hurt. For the next few days, I felt incredibly self-conscious about aspects of my appearance I had previously been able to ignore on a daily basis.

I've heard VR users often say that inhabiting other bodies and other spaces is uniquely liberating, but Laura's piece sheds light on the fact that embodiment may be complicated for some. She ultimately suggests that VR games could be an important starting point for young people to experiment with other forms of expression, safely and privately:

Many of the early experiences that played a vital part in coming to terms with my own identity were terrifying, and felt filled with risks. Virtual Reality provides a space to experiment with some of those aspects of identity in a much more private manner. That added sense of safety, security and cohesiveness made it a therapeutic way to explore my own sense of dysphoria.

Read Laura's full piece at Kotaku.