But what makes Pokémon Crystal special, when there are many other stories about trans people finding solace in art?
Even if we look beyond my personal experience of it being the first game I played where I could choose to be a girl, I still think it is notable for a simple reason: Pokémon is big. It was a cultural phenomenon that swept the globe, and many of us are still enthusiasts today. After all, it’s one of the biggest media franchises in the world.
Many would say to look to indie media for representation, where diverse people from all backgrounds write their own stories in their own voices, and I agree. After all, I’m an indie creator trying to make stories with my own thoughts and feelings too.
But let’s go back in time, back to when I discovered Pokémon Crystal.
I was an outcast kid in Thailand who barely knew anything about the world. If you talked to me about indie games and media, I would ask, What is that? Can you eat it? Is it tasty? I didn’t know much about games, and I barely had access to the internet. I didn’t even know where to go on the internet when I had access to it.
Since I wasn’t even aware of being trans at the time, I wouldn’t have been known to go looking for a piece of media to fill up my heart in the first place. I knew there was something there, some inkling, something tugging on me, but I had no words to give it a name.
For some context, this was in Thailand right around the turn of the millennium. People have mentioned to me before that since Thailand was internationally infamous for having a lot of trans women, they thought it was an open and accepting place, but that is entirely wrong in my opinion. At the time I vaguely “knew” of trans women through a Thai term that I find derogatory and do not want to mention here.
My awareness at the time was from family members occasionally mentioning them, that they saw some on the street or something. They were not treated as women, but as some other thing. Actually most of the time it sounded like they weren’t even humanjust some vaguely disgusting object on the ground.
As such, I mentally had no connection between them and myself, no idea that being transgender was a concept that could possibly apply to a human, since those things were not related to humanity. And so my little heart was closed off and unaware.
I was also reluctant to approach and try unfamiliar things, while Pokémon was already a comforting presence. That name recognition also made it easy to ask for permission to buy the game.
It was only because Pokémon was big, and that I was already interested in it, that I was able to give shape to what I was feeling inside. It was only after becoming Kris that I knew I wanted to be a girl.
Of course Nintendo and Game Freak, the makers of the game, probably never bothered to think about trans kids when they allowed the player to play as a girl. No doubt it was made to appeal to cisgender girls.