I’m a trans girl, and I’m additionally a speedrunner. These two issues could seem disconnected, however taking part in video video games quick has truly helped me take into consideration the methods I carry out gender.

Video video games are distinctive in that they allow us to “become” different individuals. When we play video games, we usually don’t simply watch somebody act out a scene — we will actively take part within the situations, gaining experiences that could be exterior of our norms. But once I say that speedrunning helped me understand my gender, I’m not speaking about figuring out with fictional characters or utilizing character creators.

One day about two years in the past, on a whim, I made a decision to strive my hand at speedrunning. I began with Undertale as a result of on the time all I had was an outdated laptop computer, so I wanted a recreation that didn’t require an excessive amount of computational energy.

If you already know something about speedrunning, you already know that selecting the sport isn’t the one choice to make. You additionally want to select a class, which mainly capabilities as a algorithm that outline the parameters of what’s allowed or crucial to finish a run. Because there have been a number of main patches to Undertale, I additionally needed to choose which model of the sport to play. I chosen the Neutral class (Undertale’s model of Any%) and the 1.02+ model of the sport, which meant {that a} typical run for a brand new participant was solely about one hour. And, as an additional advantage, there weren’t many tips to be taught — although nonetheless greater than I initially bargained for!

Two battles within Undertale.

Image: Toby Fox

Somewhat unusually, I had by no means performed Undertale in any capability previous to working it. I’d heard a lot about it, although. The guidelines of speedrunning utterly reworked Undertale from the quirky, self-reflexive RPG stuffed with endearing characters I had been advised it was into one thing that didn’t contain characters, morality, exploration, or plot in any respect. Instead, it concerned working towards frame- and pixel-perfect glitches, resetting again and again (and over) once more, grinding for good outcomes, yelling in frustration once I’d softlock the sport for the 100th time on a “personal best” tempo, and celebrating once I lastly hit my objectives after months of failure.

Through this course of (and thru engagement with different queer online game gamers, friends, and students) I noticed a recreation, any recreation, is simply as a lot the software program and {hardware} as it’s the guidelines we deliver to it. We can apply new, distinctive guidelines to a recreation and, within the course of, craft what is actually a totally completely different expertise. This perception was key in framing my perspective of gender.

I’ve had what I’ll generously name an uneasy relationship with masculinity. As cliché as it’s to say, I knew for a very long time that one thing was “off,” however I by no means actually had the ideas or language essential to take concrete motion in regard to these emotions. It wasn’t till a couple of 12 months and a half in the past that I got here out as transgender. A pair months later, I started medically and socially transitioning. Speedrunning didn’t trigger me to be trans, or something foolish like that, however the classes it taught me concerning the guidelines of video video games supplied a framework that I may apply to the principles of gender and the way I did, or extra importantly did not, need to comply with them.

In the identical method that speedrunners redefine the principles of video video games, I severely thought-about guidelines that I used to be unconsciously following. In video video games, as in life, there are sometimes invisible buildings we don’t notice are there. Scroll via the feedback part of nearly any video of a speedrun on YouTube and also you’ll see all types of claims that the runner is dishonest or not taking part in the sport proper.

But what guidelines, precisely, are being damaged?

There is clearly a perceived right method video games to play that speedrunners transgress, whether or not that features concepts like “you aren’t supposed to clip out of bounds” or “you should not skip essential chunks of the narrative.” Video video games (in addition to many gamers and designers) attempt to prescribe “proper” methods to play, correct methods to work together with the sport, however speedrunners ignore these calls for. The recreation, for speedrunners, is no matter that group says it’s. They take the prescribed guidelines, and say: “No thank you. Those aren’t for me. I am going to play differently.”

A glitch performed in an Undertale speedrun.

Image: Toby Fox through Madison D. Schmalzer

This framing of gameplay occurred concurrently with one other realization: I desperately needed to play with gender in a different way too. The invisible guidelines of gender weren’t working for me. All the time, from small interactions with strangers to relationship and relationships, I needed to consciously pressure myself to “be a man.” Performing it was changing into too exhausting. The guidelines of masculinity work for a lot of, however for me, masculinity was a fancy dress or a shell I felt compelled to put on. It is difficult to place into phrases, however masculinity simply by no means felt pure. Despite feeling deep down that issues must be completely different, I nonetheless felt compelled to comply with the principles of gender, whether or not that was to offer agency handshakes, put on a shirt and tie, care about soccer, or to easily exist in a masculine physique.

On some stage, everyone knows the principles of gender. They simply grow to be extra apparent once we break them. These guidelines dictate what garments we put on, how we converse, how we transfer, how we’re presupposed to want, and who we will love. They are imposed on us earlier than we’re born and are a key element in shaping who we’re.

But why ought to I comply with them? If I can change the principles of a recreation to create a distinct option to play, why can’t I additionally say “no thank you” to those guidelines of gender in the event that they don’t work for me?

The quick reply is: I completely can. I don’t should play by the usual algorithm if these guidelines don’t work for me. This was a momentous epiphany for me, and speedrunning’s insistence on self-defining guidelines helped reinforce it.

But what makes speedrunning’s guidelines any completely different from the principles of the unique recreation? While speedrunning classes, like gender norms, are normally already set once we get to them, they’re nonetheless very malleable. Categories can shift to satisfy the wants of the group, both by modifying outdated outdated guidelines or including new classes to satisfy the group’s pursuits. The guidelines change because the group adjustments.

For occasion, Undertale’s speedrun group not too long ago found a serious skip that they had been trying to find for years: The Mad Dummy Skip, which basically skips a complete battle. The factor is, it doesn’t work on all working methods. So the group has determined, through vote, to permit a patch that modifies the sport’s recordsdata, enabling the skip on all OSs. With this transformation to the principles, the sport itself has modified. It isn’t essentially the factor you purchase and obtain anymore, and thru this redefinition extra individuals are capable of take part. Speedrunning communities understand that if what we’re given doesn’t match how we need to play, we will change it.

And if, say, masculinity or femininity don’t give you the results you want, it’s potential to play with a distinct algorithm and redefine what we’re taking part in with to start with.

At the identical time, I need to acknowledge that we will by no means step exterior of the “commonplace guidelines’’ utterly. I used to be by no means part of the Undertale speedrunning group correct, though everybody I’ve ever interacted with there was beautiful to me. I used to be merely a vacationer passing via on the way in which to different video games that I’m a lot better at and with which I’ve stronger group ties. Like the act of transitioning, it was a place to begin for me that opened me to new experiences. In the identical method that I waltzed into Undertale speedrunning properly after classes have been outlined by a big group, I don’t have the facility to utterly change any guidelines on a big scale on my own. Taking hormones and transitioning doesn’t undo gender norms any greater than Wrong Warping glitches undoes conceptions about how we should always play video video games.

Like accusations of taking part in the sport unsuitable on YouTube movies, trans individuals sadly get an identical pushback with extra critical implications. Trans individuals are advised all too typically they aren’t performing gender the correct method or aren’t actually their gender, resulting in harassment and lack of institutional or structural help. All the whereas, many don’t have the sources or help to securely break the principles in the event that they need to. Clearly, the usual guidelines maintain lots of sway.

Still, I discover it inspiring that on a collective scale, via cooperation and mutual assist, we will make optimistic change. A accomplished run is rarely the work of 1 particular person. It is the work of many individuals in a group sharing data, testing methods, and dealing collectively to enhance a run. One particular person expressing themselves authentically is the work of numerous people who have come earlier than, in addition to those that proceed to supply help, even when it might not at all times really feel prefer it.

With that success comes lots of inevitable failure too. I fail greater than I reach relation to each speedrunning and my gender transition. I’m properly conscious of the methods I fail to look, sound, or transfer in the way in which I need (whether or not I ought to care about these items is one other story). Speedrunning, in some ways, has ready me for a sure form of persistence to endure repeated failure, or at the least endure the painfully gradual strategy of transitioning. Transition is commonly characterised as a sudden factor, like a butterfly rising from a chrysalis, however in actuality reaching your purpose is agonizingly gradual, simply as it’s in speedrunning.

For me to finish my first run of Undertale, I wanted to follow particular person tips just like the Punch Card Exploit (PCE), which is important to performing cutscene skips and unsuitable warps, amongst different tips. Performing a PCE requires a really fast sequence of inputs whereas positioned on a pixel-specific area. On prime of this, for some tips, in case you aren’t quick sufficient, the sport will softlock and it’s important to begin over from the start of the sport. Building up the muscle reminiscence to carry out PCEs constantly along with memorizing all the positions to carry out them took weeks of follow.

It was an absolute slog. I tousled a whole lot and a whole lot of occasions, having to start out over time and again. And this was all earlier than I even began truly working the sport!

When I discover myself mendacity on a stiff desk whereas a lady in a masks zaps the hair off my face or wanting within the mirror wishing the hormones would simply do their rattling factor already, I’m reminded of the painful, incremental enhancements in speedrunning, and the way good it feels to lastly succeed for the primary time. And the attractive factor is, success can imply no matter we wish it to! I haven’t come even remotely near reaching a prime time in most Undertale classes, however I get to outline success for myself, whether or not that’s merely finishing a run or having the braveness to stroll down the road carrying a gown for the primary time.