Polly Bendleson is one of 12 characters coming to HuniePop 2, HuniePot’s upcoming sequel to the hit adult dating sim HuniePop. She was first revealed in a “Hunie Direct” on Saturday. The video describes her as “the most requested type of character we’ve ever had,” in that “she has a dick.”
“So you better pack some extra lube in that carry-on,” the video quips, “you’re gonna need it.”
Responses were divided. Some fans loved Polly, with replies like “YES YES YEEEES, DICKGIRL CONFIRMED!!!!! NEW BEST GIRL!!!!!” filling the comments section. Others weren’t as thrilled. On the HuniePop subreddit, fans quickly began arguing over Polly and whether the game should come with a feature to remove her because she is coded as transgender. Some even argued that trans women like Polly should be kept out of a game catering to straight, cisgender men.
“What actual rate of people consider transwomen actual women?” one fan asked. “How many men? How many of them would date a tranwomen [sp], have sex with one or marry one? Go out into the street pick a man [at] random and say ‘hey if you don’t like a transwomen’s penis you are a bigot’ and see how many positive responses you get.”
Ryan “HunieDev” Koons, the designer, writer, and programmer behind both HuniePop games, initially confirmed that Polly is transgender, albeit taken back by the negative response. He came up with a strange compromise: He would let players choose Polly’s gender identity. That means players would either date a non-op trans woman or a cis woman in the final version.
“So, if you’re into her as a trans girl, you’ll get the full trans Polly experience,” HunieDev originally wrote in a development post. “If not, she’ll be a natural born lady just like the rest of the cast.”
It’s easy to see the problem. The wording is concerning. Is a trans woman barred from being called a “natural” woman because she came to terms with her womanhood after birth? Not to mention letting players choose between Polly’s gender instead of her genitals reinforces the idea that a cisgender woman with a vagina is more sexually desirable than a transgender woman with one.
HunieDev’s decision was nonsense to begin with. Polly was clearly designed as an internet famous trans woman interested in makeup, fashion, and being a good house wife, and her character arc is clearly poking fun at dating sims’ take on both hyper-femme trans women and the “futa” fetish, where cisgender women have penises. By leaving Polly’s gender open to interpretation by the player, HuniePot is wiping away the subtext and letting players turn her into a bland cis woman who really likes fashion.
“Personally, if you go through with this compromise, I feel like the player should be able to decide if [Polly is] pre-op or post-op instead of cis or trans,” Twitter user MettamingEX tweeted. “If it’s a matter of cis vs trans, that completely erases the point of introducing a trans character in the first place.”
HunieDev argues that HuniePot’s job is to “make a fun game that everyone can enjoy,” but his solution isn’t very fun for trans women. It makes trans people feel like their bodies aren’t as desirable as their cisgender counterparts. Instead of encouraging players to challenge their preconceived notions about women’s bodies and stay a little open-minded about what it means to be a woman, the game caters to straight men that view cisgender women as the only real women, stigmatizing trans women in the process.
Case in point: After immense backlash, HunieDev decided to “remove the t-bomb” from Polly’s development post. Going forward, the game won’t call Polly transgender at all, making her incredibly ambiguous and up to the player’s imagination. It’s the perfect cop out: If you think trans women are disgusting, you can just change Polly’s genitals, and suddenly she’s as cisgender as you want her to be.
It’s not just adult games that humiliate. Even though transgender women can be seen in every field from esports to games journalism, jokes targeting trans people are made all the time in gaming.
After developer CD Projekt RED teased new info on the upcoming RPG Cyberpunk 2077, the game’s official Twitter account responded to an enthusiastic fan saying “I WANT MORE GUYS” by joking “Did you just assume their gender?!” That joke is often used to make fun of transgender and gender nonconforming people who undergo gender transitioning, leading to prompt criticism against CD Projekt RED across the gaming community.
“According to @CyberpunkGame, the way to promote your new game Cyberpunk 2077 is to use derogatory transphobic memes that trivialise & mock transgender people,” Twitch affiliate MissFatPanda tweeted. “Strange because cyberpunk involves the deconstruction of identity norms, which should naturally include gender expression.”
going to save you some time wondering what the vague subtweets are about in games this morning pic.twitter.com/zMugcAbs6I— ΔΙΚΑΙΟΣΥΝΗ (@failnaut) August 21, 2018
While the criticisms against CD Projekt RED may seem heavy-handed at first glance, Cyberpunk 2077 has been a powder keg because the root genre is so political. Cyberpunk stories are all about deconstructing and understanding humanity’s place in a world increasingly changed by technology. In the real world, transgender people have spearheaded an ongoing conversation on gender roles and gender expression in everyday life. Changing your hormones to rearrange your body’s physical presentation radically challenges what it means to have a body, which falls right in line with core cyberpunk themes.
This is a major problem that plagued the original Cyberpunk 2020 tabletop game. Players that undergo medical transitioning lose 1d6 Humanity, which can result in a “mental disease” called cyberpsychosis, as writer Rani Baker points out in a cyberpunk RPG retrospective piece on trans people. Lose too much Humanity from technological improvements to your body, and cyberpsychosis will emerge, breaking down “an already unstable personality.” The game suggests that transitioning genders can cause a player to go insane. Cyberpunk fans were hoping CD Projekt RED would progress on the matter.”I’m so tired of this,” writer Jennifer Unkle tweeted this morning. “I’m tired of huge studios/publishers treating me like a fucking joke because they aren’t required by society to have compassion for someone like me.”
Not being an asshole to trans people 101:— Aura?? (@MOOMANiBE) August 21, 2018
* Don't imply that respecting pronouns is an imposition or worthy of mockery
* Don't imply that trans people are trying to "trick" others by existing
It's not funny, it's not "lol political correctness", it's ppl trying to exist
Cyberpunk as a genre is tailor made for queer expression, especially trans expression. Its a setting where people can change and replace every part of their body. Yet the people making the big cyberpunk movies and games are cis white dudes who can't think outside their box.— Morticia Addam's Haunted Skateboard (@jupiterfromhell) August 21, 2018
Why do cyberpunk games and media consistently ostracise their trans customers- the most dedicated group of cyberpunk fans out there— Sav Emmett Wolfe?️? ?️⚧️ (@TimesNTroubles) August 21, 2018
None of this is to say there’s no good trans representation in gaming. Night in the Woods has Jackie, a transgender woman who perfectly captures many millennial trans women’s political beliefs in the Trump era. We Know the Devil has remained a fan-favorite among trans players thanks to its take on coming to terms with gender identity. There’s Dragon Age: Inquisition’s transgender character Cremisius Aclassi, who remains a thoughtful take on tackling gender transitioning in a fantastical RPG world.
Yet for every good trans character or story out there in gaming, there are dozens of popular titles that don’t know how to deal with trans issues tastefully. It’s commonplace, and it’s tiring. Adult video games lack tasteful trans characters, major AAA developers don’t know how to talk about trans people, and awful jokes making fun of trans people run rampant throughout.
For some, perhaps it’s easier to just ignore trans people altogether. When HunieDev experienced backlash over Polly, the developer decided to simply remove any references to her being transgender. When huge portions of your audience think trans women are disgusting, it’s easier to bend over backwards for them instead of making room.
“This post originally contained the ‘t-word’ but too many people were getting hung up on the terminology so moving forward we won’t be using any specific terminology,” HunieDev wrote in the updated blog post on Polly. “She’s whatever you want her to be.”