Ruberg asserts that games allow trans people, queer people, and others with marginalized identities to present themselves in whatever way feels best to them. Ruberg says, “You know, people talk about feeling that euphoria, but often you hear people say, this was like, a really important first step for them. And that it was a really important stepping stone for a lot of people to later coming out or transitioning, that they got to do that in online game spaces.”
Whether that means clothes, name, or personal style, games give space for experimentation in presentation. Often, before someone is ready to ask people in real life to recognize them the way they want to be recognized, they get used to asking virtually first.
Games, much like everything else, don’t change lives and shake bones every time they get played, but they can provide regular reassurance in identity. They can also be a bit of a safety net. Stepping into a virtual world, trans folks have the freedom to be exactly the people they choose to be, and that is particularly special at the start of transitioning or when coming out. But beyond that, open-world games allow a freedom, not only in personal expression but also in the communities players chose to create for themselves.
“Games make worlds,” Ruberg points out. They bring up the idea of queer world-making, a branch of queer studies that centers around the communities that queer people make for themselves, which often seem almost separate from the rest of the world. Or at least very different and new. “Video games make that really literal. You go into a world and you maybe participate in an alternative world, or you create, in Animal Crossing or something, you create your whole own island and you get to imagine the world in the way that you want it to be.”
Pulling the Horizon Into the Present
The ephemeral quality of the spaces we create in open-world video games finds a mirror in queerness itself if you follow Munoz’s line of thinking in Cruising Utopia. Nothing right now can last forever or can be as real as we need it to be—we’re always building toward those things. All we can do is hold on tight to the moments that feel good, the moments that give us a taste of what we so badly want, and the future we want to build.
Ruberg questions the idea of video games containing absolute bliss in that way, saying, “It’s interesting whether it’s a utopia. You get to do things you might not be able to do, you get to make it yourself, but, in basically all of these examples, there’s still toxicity that comes in. Any time it’s an online multiplayer game, someone will show up and mess with your utopia. So maybe it makes it even more like Muñoz’s idea, right? Like he’s saying we’re always chasing it, but it’s always on the horizon.”
“The future is queerness’ domain,” Muñoz writes, and it’s hard not to agree, not to look at the current state of the world and think that we are miles and miles away from a society that can encapsulate the weirdness and joy that queerness deserves. Still, in the present, for some people, utopic queerness can be found, however briefly, digitally.
Watching Oakie play their game, it’s easy to see them settle into the calm, fuzzy feeling they spoke about, to watch the lightness spread over their face. They have their little world, their little community, and they get to be exactly who they plan on being, for a little while, when they have time to play the game. And as time passes, in real life, they settle more and more into that person, the one that they want to be, the one that they always have been.
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