Identity

My Avatar, My Self: How Video Games Gave Me Ownership Over My Body

As a trans kid unable to wear what I wanted, to look how I wanted, to be seen by others as I saw myself, the avatars I designed reflected more of me than any mirror ever could.

by Diana Tourjée
Jun 20 2018, 2:00pm

This story appears in VICE magazine and Broadly's 2018 Privacy and Perception Photo Issue. Click HERE to subscribe to VICE magazine.

Growing up, I could only see my reflection in black mirrors. The stained-glass lily laid into my mother’s heirloom mirror in my childhood home cut my likeness in half, and I never recognized the boy among the petals. Dark, sleeping computer screens showed only a vague outline of my body, but when I turned them on, they glowed like lanterns, guiding me toward the person I wanted to become.

As I fell deeper into that mirror in my early teen years, spending hours designing characters in online games and building lives for them, it became less obvious to me which ones of us mattered. Controlling these characters began to feel more authentic than controlling myself, and the distinction between my life and the lives of my avatars became increasingly meaningless.

In one computer game, the sorceress I controlled teleported through ancient ruins, collected magic rings, and donned woven armor imbued with magical properties. And as she did these things, it was as if I was doing them through her. Because I could choose the names, appearances, and genders of the avatars I embodied online, they became an extension of me. After all, they reflected more of myself than any mirror ever could.

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