Screenshot by ArcSystem Works.
Bridget, who was announced at EVO 2022 and is the latest character to be added to Guilty Gear Strive, is a trans-femme. This is basically indisputable. She is not the first trans-femme fighting game character, nor will she be the last. However, what makes her unique is how her gender has shifted alongside the identity of her series and the fighting game community (FGC) of which it is a part.
Bridget was introduced as a crossdressing boy in Guilty Gear XX in 2003, but was absent from subsequent games. According to the game’s story mode, she was born alongside her brother in a small English village with a heavy superstition around twins, claiming that they were by their nature cursed. To hide this fact, her family raised her as a girl. In order to prove her masculinity in spite of her her high-femme performance, she dedicated herself to bounty hunting. She was good at it, too. So good, in fact, that she eventually managed to beat Johnny, one of the series’ most capable fighters. This, she said, proved her masculinity and that her village’s superstitions were wrong.The outline of this story is simple and easy and feels good on its face, even if the details are tinged by a deep discomfort with gender nonconformity. Someone proved that the restrictive superstitions of their home were wrong and that they can forge their own path forward, confident in their identity. It is a linear story with a clear message. But real queer stories are never linear.Guilty Gear, and fighting games as a whole, have always had a complex relationship to gender and success. Primarily developed by heterosexual men, fighting games have always catered to that particular demgraphic. Historically, being visibly queer or femme in fighting game communities was a fucking nightmare. One exacerbated by the massive chip on the FGC’s shoulder.
However, presence alone has been enough for some fighting game fans to latch onto the few queer characters there were. Testament, for example, is another Guilty Gear character heralded as an early example of queerness in the fighting game scene. They fit into the androgynous villain mold that many queer-coded characters are forced into, and they fit there well. This is where many queer fighting game characters fall. Embarrassing and messy and built to be hated, but present and compelling nonetheless.Video games, for an embarrassingly long time, have been trying to prove themselves as real sports and as a real artform. Frequently, this has resulted in tremendous amounts of cringe in as many varieties as you can imagine. From games which attempt to prove their intelligence and maturity through overwhelming edge, to Ninja’s embarrassing claims about traditional sports. In some ways, this chip has been justified. Being told an art form you love, or a craft you’ve dedicated yourself to, is trivial, sucks. There are two options in such a situation: you can try to prove the value of the thing you do to an uncaring, wider world, or you can create meaning in your own work. For a very long time, fighting games chose the former path. And then they did it.
Video games attained cultural legitimacy. Fighting games became respected by the rest of the industry. Prize pools became significant enough that esports developed into something you could make a career out of. The FGC proved itself to the world as real, productive, and, in many ways, correctly masculine. It’s a simple story, with a clear message: if you work hard enough, you can prove yourself to the rest of the world. However, over the course of the last few years the culture of the FGC has shifted significantly. Queer players had always been present, but they started winning, too. Most notable is SonicFox, the gay, black furry who dominated the FGC before coming out as nonbinary in 2019. It is nearly impossible to be transphobic to the biggest star in your sport, because their presence is going to drive audience attendance and attention which you cannot afford to lose. SonicFox became the figurehead of a new generation of queer FGC players. The prevalence of online community and competition has only accelerated this shift. Players who weren’t comfortable practicing at locals, fearing harassment if they went, have been able to develop their skills and friendships online. Many of the closeted players who made up the FGC, but who hadn’t yet come to terms with their own identities, have since come out. Obsession with prize pools and cultural significance have faded, too. The FGC has become more comfortable with itself in every way, and the fights have been better for it.
Guilty Gear has grown alongside the FGC. Once the poster child for the uncomfortable queerness, insane execution requirements, and massive combo strings of anime fighters, reserved only for the most dedicated players, Guilty Gear Strive has acted as a gentler introduction to the series and to the FGC as a whole. It was, after all, my introduction to the scene. While still having a high execution requirement and complex, character specific mechanics, Strive is a game that someone can pick up and play, and quickly develop their own playstyle. It doesn’t need to prove itself anymore, either, and it was the star of EVO 2022.It was there, on the EVO mainstage, that Bridget’s Strive incarnation was announced and immediately released. The crowd went wild. In the hours following, there was a question, though, how would the series handle the messiness of her gender?In Strive’s arcade mode, Bridget has a few conversations with the Secretary of Absolute Defense, Goldlewis Dickinson. He knows that she’s strong. He calls her “cowgirl” and she pauses for a second, before reluctantly correcting him that she’s a boy. He apologizes and they keep fighting. Later, he says that he can tell something is bothering her, that in spite of her strength she seems deeply insecure in a way he recognizes. He asks her not to make the same mistakes that he made. In another scene, she asks if it’s okay to pursue the best version of herself even if it risks what other people want her to be. He tells her to do it. In a final piece of dialogue, Goldlewis calls her “cowgirl” before correcting himself. Bridget pauses for a moment, and then tells him that he was right the first time. She says, “I’m a girl.”
All of this is very on the nose. It is overwritten and borderline cringey, but it is so genuine I cannot help but respect it. Yes, Bridget was forced to dress as a girl from childhood. That didn’t stop her from believing she had to perform masculinity through power and success. She still dreamed of showing other people that she had value. And she did it. She beat Johnny. She proved her worth. And then her character disappeared from Guilty Gear for 10 years, because she had nowhere else to go.In Strive, she finds somewhere else to go: forward. She returns as a more confident person, one who doesn’t need to prove herself to others. This isn’t limited to her narrative either. Bridget’s moveset is wildly creative and expressive. She shapes the narrative of a fight through zoning projectiles, unique movement, and powerful traps. It doesn’t matter if she’s the strongest character in the game, because regardless she will be unrecognizable as anything but herself. This is not an easy queer narrative. Bridget’s origin is a fucking mess. She was forced into a performance and that’s dreadful, but so was every trans kid. It didn’t change the fact that, for her, masculinity was a prison that drove her towards an empty vision of excellence, one she achieved. She is so much like many of the kindest people I know, so much a reflection of the FGC of which she is a part. People who committed themselves to being the best at something for the sake of fitting a narrative of success. One time, a friend told me that, for many years, she hoped to die as a successful musician at age 27, and I wanted to scream. She dedicated herself to it utterly, and was never as successful as she had hoped. It wouldn’t have mattered if she had been. In 2021, she realized she was trans and the dream of being a successful man who died at 27 shattered. That was the same year she turned 28, and here she is, beautiful and alive and always becoming. I wake up thankful for this fact every day.It is easy to say that Bridget’s story is a retcon or that it rejects her previously established narrative. It isn’t and it doesn’t. It is messy and genuine in the way that real queer stories are. That isn’t backwards facing. It’s walking forward into something better, and new.