In 1990, Capcom was in talks to port its Super Famicom game Final Fight – a beat-‘em-up side-scroller adapted from a planned Street Fighter game – to Nintendo’s Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Nintendo heavily censored the port, including objecting to female enemies Roxy and Poison, on the grounds that it had a policy against depicting violence against women.
The Japanese developers responded that Roxy and Poison were either ‘transvestites’ or trans women, and would therefore not cause controversy by being attacked. Nintendo was unsatisfied by this, and replaced Roxy and Poison with male enemies called Billy and Sid for the English SNES port, as well as renaming a boss called ‘Sodom’ to ‘Katana’.
The Final Fight saga is representative of a lot of gaming history: queerness and transness often peek from under the surface of video games, buried and/or corrupted by censorship and pejorative assumptions, but visible if you dig a little. The hidden gay and trans history of game development is rich, and important to connect with, given the false assumption that gayness and transness are new, ‘woke’ invasions into traditional gaming.
But it’s also a complicated and difficult history, full of frustrations that temper the joy of finding hidden queer figures: Roxy and Poison are aesthetically cool characters who are fun to fight, for instance, but they’re symptomatic of how trans women are considered more culturally acceptable to injure than cis women. Gaming is sometimes thought to be in such an embryonic stage for queer and trans people that we’re expected to be grateful for any representation we’re given, rather than interrogating the nature and context of that representation. But gayness in games didn’t just show up in the 2010s. It was always there, or it was kept out.