A wide range of major new Xbox and PC game titles were announced at Microsoft’s X019 event in London last Thursday, but one announcement rang out loud and clear in an industry which has often struggled with representation and diversity in its lead characters.
“Tell Me Why,” the latest narrative adventure game from the acclaimed French studio Dontnod, will have a transgender man as its lead character – a first for a major game release.
Launching in spring 2020, the game follows identical twins Alyson and Tyler Ronan, who grew up in a small community in Alaska and are reunited after a key event drove them apart 10 years ago. Through the game, the player has to understand what drove the characters from each other, investigating their shared memories while exploring the town and talking to local inhabitants.
“The twins are connected by strong supernatural bond, which allows them to share their thoughts and feelings,” explains game director, Florent Guillaume. “They also have the ability to interact with past memories – to recall and relive them. There are questions of perspective – the two characters see things and remember things differently and you get to choose which you believe, and that shapes the story.”
Guillaume says the character Tyler wasn’t always going to be a trans man. “We wanted these characters who were born identical to have lived very different lives, and it was while exploring this path that we came up with the idea of having a trans character.
“We loved the concept and were determined not to shy away from it. We did a lot of research, we reached out to the community, we wanted to understand their journeys
As the game’s publisher, Microsoft also supported the trans storyline. “We’re really committed to the idea of gaming for everyone,” says Joseph Staten, creative director on the Microsoft publishing team. “We need to bring in diverse experiences. It’s been really important to do this right, to do it thoughtfully.
“This comes from the top: we want Xbox to be a place everyone can play, but we need to demonstrate that in meaningful ways.”
To help them create a character that represented an authentic trans experience, the developers consulted with GLAAD.
“We were very naive at first, and they enlightened us a lot,” says Guillaume. “They helped us review the script and the characters and to reach out to people.
“The story is emotional and intimate – we wanted it to touch them. There is a lot of responsibility. We wanted to represent the community accurately. This is not a game about their trans journey, but it is certainly a facet of the game.”
Nick Adams, who is director of transgender representation at GLAAD, says, “Tyler is a fully realised, endearing character, whose story is not reduced to simplistic trans tropes. Creating a playable lead trans character – and taking such care to get it right – raises the bar for future LGBTQ inclusion in gaming.”
Guillaume agrees, seeing “Tell Me Why” as indicative of a growing understanding that video game player-characters need to be more representative.
“I think the industry has reached a level of maturity where we can go deeper into diverse stories and experiences,” he says. “Video games have a special ability to connect you with the characters, to allow you to live as someone you couldn’t otherwise be. Through games, we can give players a bridge to the characters – to connect with them, to be comfortable with them.”
Tell Me Why is set to be released over three separately downloadable chapters on Xbox and PC from spring 2020