As the $21 billion-a-year video game industry pumps out more realistic looking games, the characters remain one-note virtual heroes: masculine, heterosexual, scruffy white men in their 30s.
At least that's how Anna Anthropy, a transgender game designer based in Oakland, sees it.
At the historic first LGBT video game convention, GaymerX, at the Hotel Kabuki in Japantown over the weekend, Anthropy decided to combat mainstream game stories by giving gay gamers the ultimate power-up -- she taught them to make games themselves.
“As queer people, we can watch [game characters] roll around with a dude if you press the ‘gay button,’” Anthropy told the crowd. “But we shouldn’t trust corporations with images that represent our lives.”
The tool she taught them to use is called Twine, a free program for making simple text-based role-playing games that can be hosted online. A screen presents itself with a written story and players can click different choices about what to do. “I like that because if you can write a journal, you can make a game,” Anthropy said.
Twine spawned an entire community based around making avante-garde, personal-experience-driven games -- and the Bay Area is the epicenter.
On TwineHub.weebly.com, there are the kinds of games Anthropy asked participants at GaymerX to make: “Cradle of Eve,” “Conversations with My Mother” and “a journey through finnegan’s wake.”
“I want you to make a game about when you became aware of why you were different,” she told the crowd.
Anthropy’s audience pulled out their laptops and started to code.
Those in attendance reflected the new diversity in the game industry -- 47 percent of gamers are female, and the average age of all gamers is 35, according data from the Electronic Software Association.
However, this shift hasn’t been reflected in the games themselves, Anthropy said.
San Francisco State University students Katie Tims and David Hua sat around a laptop with Aaron Joseph to produce a game based on their own differences. They noted that their usual social circles are either queer or gaming nerds, but never both.
“This is like a language I don’t get to use with people every day,” Joseph said as he casually threw around common video game terminology that would sound like a foreign language to most people.
Near the trio, a girl sat alone writing in a journal, her nose leaning into the pages. Trystan Rundquist was writing ideas for her Twine game, which she said would focus on coming out as transgender just eight months ago.
“It would focus on the pain of wishing all the time I could be a girl,” she said. “My whole life, not knowing how to express that or explain it to people, and the fear that comes from such a life-changing revelation.”
Games that allow custom characters of any gender helped her try to express herself when she was younger, Rundquist said. One of Anthropy’s games, “Dys4ia,” which traced her journey in transitioning from male to female, gave Rundquist the courage to come out to her parents.
“I grew up in Utah, the majority of my fellow high school students were Mormon. My sister and I tried to get a gay-straight alliance set up and it was very hard,” Rundquist said. “Playing ‘Dys4ia’ gave me the courage to make that leap. The game gives you hope that things can be better.”
To make your own Twine game, visit http://www.gimcrackd.com/etc/src/ for a free toolset. To play Twine games, visit http://twinehub.weebly.com/.