Dandara: Trials of Fear Edition
by Raw Fury
Released on Nintendo Switch in February 2018
I only recently discovered the stereotype of the transgirl gamer, alone in her room, face buried in her Nintendo Switch to tune out a hostile world turned to shit. At least that’s what I glean from trans Twitter. It’s all Twitch streams, kink jokes, and white guilt. Which is, whatever, fine, fine, and annoying, respectively. I may be trans, but I’m also brown and old. The act bores me fast. I realize I’m swerving dangerously close to get off my lawn territory, especially for someone who uses Twitter for little more than shitposting and self-promotion. But social media sometimes makes me feel like I’m doing trans wrong, or that I’m not trans enough. I want to push back and say something cutting about the performative homogeneity of white transfemme sexuality on the internet. I want to interrogate all these assumptions queer white folks make about how I love or fuck. I want to look deeper into the declamatory impulse of white queers to center sex when many trans people of color like me, exhausted by their hypervisibility, would sometimes like the cultural gaze pointed elsewhere, thank you very much. But this isn’t that kind of Substack, and I already barely write about video games.
So let’s talk about video games.
Let’s talk about Dandara. Let’s talk about the utter fucking loneliness I felt playing this game, hallmark of the best Metroidvanias. Let’s talk about the joy of seeing a Black woman hero traverse a labyrinthine world with impossible leaps and well-timed hook shots. Let’s talk about the sheer scope of that world, comprising forests, caves, ruins, and high-tech research facilities. Let’s talk about the exhilarating controls, the smartly-paced upgrades, the frustrating but fair number of checkpoints.
Let’s talk about how I played the bulk of Dandara on the couch in my basement, lights dimmed, bundled up in blankets to ward off the January cold. It was the start of 2021, and I was in the process of getting my name changed, an expensive, bureaucratic nightmare that continues through today as I wait for still more records to be changed. It takes its toll. Every application has a cost: $300, $600, $50 to out myself, to announce my deadname in order to disavow it. Each disclosure is needlessly, unavoidably intimate. I feel exposed. I feel vulnerable.
I write this three days after the Uvalde school shooting, two weeks after ten Black people were murdered in Buffalo, and I am again overwhelmed by this nightmare world wrought by conservatism and capitalism and political supplication and gunlust and masculinity and a complete disdain for anything but one’s own unfettered ability to do fuck-all without question or consequence. Why write about video games? Why write about the banality of Twitter subcultures and changing sexual mores? When not working or practicing or writing, I’m drooling over vintage guitars on Reverb or scanning the sales and deals on Nintendo’s eStore for something new to play. I spend more time looking at what’s available on streaming services than I do actually watching anything. I used to think I’ve lost my focus, but I realize now that I’m always digging, digging, digging—digging for something better, knowing that nothing could possibly be good enough, that the best I can hope for is a pleasant distraction.