“Blaseball” is a community-driven baseball horror simulation video game that made me trans — sort of.
A more accurate description of my interactions with said game would be that “Blaseball” played a pivotal, but not exclusive, role in me realizing I was and am a transgender woman. I am not even remotely the first nor the last person in the game’s community who has had that experience — and even by extension, “Blaseball” is not even remotely the first nor the last video game in general whose community has led to people having experiences quite like my own.
The premise of a video game and its community being itself the catalyst for substantial self-discovery may seem completely absurd to those who haven’t spent time in certain spaces on the internet (and for the lot of you that have, don’t worry, I’ll try and make this essay somewhat enjoyable to read while you have your playlist of hour-and-a-half-long video essays running in the background). Even if this does seems reasonable, it still will take a bit of context to explain why something adjacent to sports betting, a concept traditionally associated with masculinity and capitalism rather than queerness, can be lumped in with, say, the role-playing shooter “Fallout: New Vegas” or the mountain-climbing platformer “Celeste” (prototypical examples of games co-opted by the LGBTQ+ community as being queer).
I discovered “Blaseball” back in the summer of 2020 by watching a YouTube video promoting the game made by journalist Quinns at People Make Games, later enshrined in “Blaseball” canon as “The Anchor.” After creating an account on the website and choosing a team to be a “fan of” within the game as it were (I went with the Houston Spies), I joined the Discord server linked on the website. This Discord turned out to be the primary source of communication for fans of “Blaseball” and even the game developers themselves. But while that wasn’t necessarily a huge shock to me given my prior interactions with Discord servers at large, what did surprise me was just how unprecedentedly kind people were when interacting with newcomers like me.
But the nature of the community isn’t as unprecedented as it may seem at a first glance. “Blaseball” was conceived in the beginning stages of the COVID-19 pandemic by a team of indie developers as a representation of the frustrations increasingly felt within western neoliberal society. These frustrations manifested in such game mechanics as players being literally incinerated at random by “the system” during simulated matches (cough cough justice system cough cough healthcare) and an evil in-universe owner of the League who makes decisions for the sake of increasing profits and shareholder removal. This, as one may expect, led to widespread negative consequences among players (cough cough capitalism cough cough conservatism) culminating in “Blaseball” itself being swallowed by a black hole and said owner being overthrown and destroyed by players. These themes are obviously attractive to those of various minority groups with genuine grievances against the state of society today — the LGBTQ+ community of course, but also racial minorities and neurodivergent people just to name a few examples. And with “Blaseball” itself giving very little description as to what in-game characters look like or how they identify, it is no surprise that so many famous players are headcanoned as queer by fans.
When I was encouraged to add my pronouns to my Discord account, something inside of me was hesitant to list the pronouns I had been using up until that point, he/him, and opted to simply go with “any pronouns” for the time being instead. This identification wouldn’t stick around forever, of course. However, I certainly wouldn’t have felt as comfortable taking this vulnerable step for an at-the-time-cis-identifying-male if it weren’t for the community being so obviously understanding and celebratory of decisions of this nature. Regardless, as I became more acclimated to the quirky and my own identity I came to the conclusion that I was, in fact, a girl. The “Blaseball” community continued to play a role in being a safe space for me to explore the different facets of gender transition, and I am all the more happy for it to this day.
Again, I wouldn’t necessarily say “Blaseball” was The Thing that led to me coming out to myself and the world. There were quite a few discussions with my parents, my therapist, and online friends in other supportive communities along the way. At the very least, however, I could pretty fairly characterize the game and its community as a veritable entry point to the kind of self-reflection that I hadn’t engaged with up until that point in my life. I simply didn’t really even know that trans people existed prior to sometime in middle school at the earliest and didn’t come to see queer communities in a positive light until another few years after that.
For those people without exposure to LGBTQ+ culture growing up, discovering a new favorite video game that just happens to be diverse and has an equally diverse community surrounding it may just be the beginning of a journey for one realizing and celebrating a new self. (I should point out that the aforementioned games along with “Blaseball” are lauded as being of high quality by many even not on the “inside” as it were.) It may seem ridiculous that a favorite transfeminine mountain climber, gay post-apocalyptic outlander, or asexual agender pitcher may be a model of admiration enough for one to change their own name and pronouns. But it isn’t the games and communities themselves making someone transfem, gay, or agender: it’s the self-reflection that the games and communities freely encourage and discuss that is important for those who wouldn’t know to do so otherwise.
By the time you are reading this article, “Blaseball” should have hopefully booted back up after a roughly year-and-a-half hiatus. I eagerly anticipate seeing you on the mound soon! (Or more accurately, Discord server. But that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.) Look for the giant squid holding the popcorn bucket and foam hand — it’ll help you out from here. You have my word.