*This post also appears, with pictures, on my video game-focused blog More Than Ephemeral Femme: Female Presentation in Video Games.*
In the latest issue of Game Informer (2017), one reviewer attempted to profile the positive development of sexual content in modern video games in relation to relationship building and eroticized romance. Among potentially over-convinced evaluations of the good vibrations coming from characters and stories in games such as Ladykiller in a Bind, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the article made a clumsy pass at addressing LGBTQ sexuality by outlining a character named Krem, a female who identifies as a man and uses masculine pronouns.
Krem is outstanding and occupies a unique positionality within the contemporary canon of gaming culture. A non-playable character (NPC) from Dragon Age: Inquisition, Krem is considered to be one of the most prominent and ground-breaking transgender characters in a video game (even if he didn’t use the word “transgender” to describe himself) (Gaider, 2014). His willingness to engage the player in a discussion about his gender identity marks him as a dedicated and trusting ally in the game as well as a valuable resource in real life, capable bridging the estranged trans community with a general gaming population unfamiliar with trans matters. His exclusive situation, as one of a handful of transmasculine characters (all NPCs), manifested to resist games like Leisure Suit Larry 6, where the playable character was openly transphobic (especially towards transwomen, whom he construed as threats to his violent heteromasculinity, in part because of his sexual attraction to these women) (Friesem & Shaw, 2016, p. 3882). As a positive model of a genderqueer person in such an environment as video games, the character Krem is helping to rewrite codes of trans hate and apathy in bestsellers, responding to the desires of a diverse gaming community.
The problem with including Krem in an article about sexuality, though, is that he doesn’t have an established sexuality within the game; fortunately, Jack Halberstam may have some insight into the sexualizing of Krem’s body. Analyzing Sigourney Weaver (deemed a masculine female because of her “hard body” and aggressive way of acting her character Ripley) flirting with Winona Ryder in Alien Resurrection, Halberstam (1998) concluded that female masculinity became far more threatening to audiences when paired with queer (most times Lesbian) erotic desire (p. 27). The “threat” perceived by viewers in the mid- to late-nineties was often anything that upset the hetero fantasy of the story; with Ripley unable to become a slight, lean male (heterosexed), the audience would have to settle with her being sexually attracted to males (heterosexual). The players of BioWare games, however, requested a pioneer in gender topics, one who would be considered “threatening” by older standards (Favis, 2017, p. 17). Because the writers created Krem at the behest of players, the menace usually associated with bodies like his is miniscule to nonexistent. The ascription of queer sexual desire onto him because of his female masculinity remains on a subconscious level still, as seen in his inclusion in an item about sex in video games.
So what is Krem doing with his revolutionary body if not sex? He was second-in-command of the Chargers, a mercenary group led by Iron Bull, in Dragon Age: Inquisition (Gaider, 2014). Bull positively gushes over Krem, indicating him as very deserving of the secondary position within the crew (and maybe even the primary one). Through dialogues between the player, Iron Bull, and Krem (and amid scathing banter between these two NPCs), Bull even reveals an affectionate nickname for his fighting comrade: Krem de la Krem/crème, a play on the phrase “crème de la crème.”
From this phrase, the rhetoric of exceptionalism comes to life. A large part of the hype surrounding Krem comes from the fact that he has to be (and is) the best of the best: the best warrior, the best presentation of a trans character in a video game. His accuracy and authenticity is refreshing in a queer character, but the level of exception required to bring him forth into the gaming world is disconcerting. Transmasculine persons, the unmentioned audience in any sources read for this post, are feeling the pressure, receiving the message that one has to be exceptional in order to be normalized. Krem’s place as the second-most radical character in Dragon Age: Inquisition (second to Iron Bull, who gives players romancing him a sex-positive glance into the healthiness of BDSM culture as well as presenting a body-dysmorphic, anthropomorphic individual not played to furries) also works to place him in LGBTQ-general articles that just touch video games (and vice versa) or the scope of academics who throw away ideas of perverse presentism to attribute him as “transgender.” The title of this post even employs the ideologies of incomparability, bending the rules of the French language (using the masculine le before Krem’s name instead of the feminine la typically used in front of the word “crème”) to inadvertently highlight an impossibility about Krem!
While the narrative of the extraordinary surrounds Cremisius “Krem” Aclassi, he is definitely a prominent female-bodied character in modern video games. His appearance in a successful game has started to reverse the culture of transphobia replicated by certain games as well as generate conversations about genderqueer communities that are assigned female at birth (AFAB). Even outside of video games, his character yields conversations about the absence of transmen on television and in movies. The trend of trans-positivity in games better continue; his asexuality, or asexuality in general if his character is revealed to fancy sex (although a defined group of trans- and genderqueer people identify as asexual), is a fruitful issue games can ponder next, to continue with topics related to the queer community.
Krem is undeniably one of the good ones.
Favis, E. (2017, February). Digital intimacy: How recent games are tackling sexuality. Game informer (286) (pp. 14-9).
Friesem, E. & Shaw, A. (2016). Where is the queerness in games? Types of Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer content in digital games. International journal of communication 10 (pp. 3877-89)
Gaider, D. (2014). Dragon Age: Inquisition [Computer software]. Edmonton, Canada: BioWare.
Halberstam, J. (1998). Female masculinity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.