Video game helps adults imagine world through the eyes of transgender youth
SFU prof says VR can help social workers, counsellors and policymakers better understand of youth
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When fourteen-year-old Aja moves in with their queer aunt in Vancouver, their world opens up.
On their first day together, they notice their aunt’s bookshelves are stocked with literature on LGBTQ topics, and their aunt has left them a note with directions to a resource centre for trans youth in Surrey.
For this gender non-binary youth — who is in fact an character in a video game — their new life in Vancouver is a far cry from the home they left in Ontario where they had to contend with a transphobic father.
To tell Aja’s story, sociology researchers and students from the Centre for Digital Media, both at Simon Fraser University, are designing a new virtual reality game. The immersive, choose-your-own-adventure game hopes to people understand the challenges and discrimination that trans and gender non-conforming youth face in the Lower Mainland.
Ann Travers, a sociology professor helping to lead the project – called Gender Vectors of Greater Vancouver — says the game is important because it helps social workers, counsellors and policymakers gain a better understanding of the youth they serve, and helps the workers access what might otherwise be niche scholarly research.
“The main purpose is to find a different way to communicate the results of scholarly research, in a more accessible way and to enable policy makers and other folks to see the world through the eyes of trans kids,” they said.
As it stands, there’s only one avatar (or character) in the game; players go through three different scenes in the avatar's journey.
In the second scene of the game, Aja takes the SkyTrain and strangers on the train leer at them.
“They're feeling uncomfortable, because they're being looked at by people who are trying to figure what (gender) they are,” Travers said.
The project is currently under development and the end-goal is to have a game with 12 avatars to choose from, all of whom have different back stories, and a wide array of scenes for them to navigate, such as using gender-segregated public bathrooms.
Travers hopes the final product is also useful to trans, gender non-conforming, or curious youth who could use it learn about social and health resources available to them in the region.
“The ultimate game will include a resource portal," Travers said, "because youth today are completely wired up."