I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to be seen as I am meeting Catalyst, the next character joining Apex Legends’ expansive roster of diverse and queer characters. Respawn has always stood a cut above the rest when it comes to representation, and Catalyst is a big step forward for the still-minuscule pool of playable trans characters in mainstream games.
The Stories from the Outlands trailer, which gives us our first glimpse of Catalyst, begins with the character sharing her past with fellow legend Rampart, focusing on the planet Boreas and its moon, Cleo. After meeting a younger Catalyst and her lunar coven, we get to hear her talk plainly about her transition during a tender moment with her friend Margo, making her status as a trans woman definitive for all to see. The trailer ends with an eco-terrorism plot against Hammond Robotics, likely leading her to the Apex Games soon after.
Honestly, this hits every beat for me on exceptional representation; her goth witch aesthetic, almost-magical abilities, and amazing voice direction (by an actual trans voice actor, no less) make Catalyst a fantastic addition to a roster already brimming with colourful, standout characters. It’s rare for me to see a character – let alone a trans one – that I feel represents me and what I enjoy, but this is partially due to a lack of attempts at all.
While diversity in videogames has come a long way in the past decade, there seems to be a divide between an ‘acceptable’ level of diversity and ‘real’ diversity. Despite most of the best multiplayer games offering a broader range of genders and ethnicities, it often feels like it’s a decision made not because players want better representation, but because it’s just what you’re supposed to do now. This is especially apparent when the ‘diverse’ roster of certain games are still missing groups that, historically, are never represented at all, such as Black women or trans people.
Queer people are slowly finding their way into more and more of these games, such as Overwatch’s Soldier 76 and League of Legends’ Neeko. Trans people, however, are not typically considered when popular series and franchises add more queer characters into their line-ups. The reaction to Catalyst is proof of that; it’s so rare that we get to see ourselves – and see ourselves done well – that we both celebrate and champion the few we come across.
Thankfully, Respawn took great care in getting her right from the very beginning. Not only did it consult the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) organisation, it spoke to the best resource there is on trans people: other trans people. With the help of both GLAAD and its trans employees, Respawn not only created an iconic addition to the small pool of ‘out’ trans characters but avoided several of the common pitfalls as well. There is no ambiguity in Catalyst’s transness; she states it both plainly and proudly within the first few minutes of the trailer. Having a trans voice actress say those words reinforces that there is nothing to debate about who she is at all.
The effort put in to create Apex Legends’ first trans woman (though not the first trans character, as that title belongs to the non-binary Bloodhound) was more than worth it, judging by the universally positive response on social media. Within hours, there were happy tears, fan art, and seemingly endless thanks being shared with everyone involved in Catalyst’s design. There was so much positivity that what little, ignorant negativity always occurs when queer characters are added to almost anything was drowned out by the rolling chorus of trans joy.
Respawn has always been one of the few developers I would trust to create characters like this because it has an amazing track record of creating legends who are queer, but aren’t defined by their queerness. Catalyst is the most recent, and I would say best, because her addition shows what a diverse cast is supposed to do: make everyone feel like a part of the fantasy videogames offer.
My pool of trans games characters is still very small, but if those down the line are anything like Catalyst, then maybe they’ll all be worth the wait.