Microsoft has announced an upcoming game that will feature the first playable transgender protagonist in a major studio title.
Tell Me Why, from Life Is Strange developer DONTNOD Entertainment, was unveiled at Microsoft’s X019 event in London last week.
Set to debut on Xbox and Windows 10 next summer, Tell Me Why is a mystery game set in a small town in Alaska. Players take control of twins Tyler and Alyson Ronan, who reunite after 10 years apart and have developed the ability to share thoughts and memories with one another. Over three chapters, players will use their combined powers to explore a mystery from the Ronans’ childhood.
“The core mechanic of the game is the special bond Tyler and Alyson share and is also a theme strongly anchored into the DONTNOD storytelling approach,” Tell Me Why director Florent Guillaume said in a press statement.
“Over the course of the story, players will explore the identical twins’ different memories of key events and choose which memory to believe. Ultimately, the choices players make determine the strength of the twins’ bond — and the future course of their lives.”
Tell Me Why also represents a major breakthrough for inclusivity in gaming with the announcement that Tyler is a transgender male.
Mashable reports that Microsoft partnered with LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD to ensure that Tyler’s playable experience was authentic to transgender people.
“Microsoft and DONTNOD have approached Tyler with a real commitment to authenticity,” Nick Adams, GLAAD’s director of transgender representation, said in a statement. “Tyler is a fully-realized, endearing character, whose story is not reduced to simplistic trans tropes.”
Adams continued: “Creating a playable lead trans character — and taking such care to get it right — raises the bar for future LGBTQ inclusion in gaming.”
Joseph Staten, senior creative director at Xbox, told the Hollywood Reporter that GLAAD’s participation helped give the company “a history lesson, not just in games, but in media as well — the good and the bad.”
“It’s been really important for everyone on the project to understand the history of LGBTQ representation and transgender representation in games to make sure we did our best to get it right,” Staten said.
He noted that the studio has cast a transgender actor, August Black, to voice Tyler, and is “working hard to find people in the localized languages as well and make sure we have a strong, representative performance no matter where in the world you might play the game.”
Speaking to Mashable, Aaron Greenberg, general manager of Xbox Games Marketing said that DONTNOD was creating something “uniquely special.”
“I think in today’s day and age, it’s great that we can bring that to market in a really thoughtful and inclusive way,” Greenberg said, saying the studio and Microsoft had a responsibility to “try to do it right.”
“I think we have a sense of team pride about it, because it’s so unique,” Greenberg said, adding, “Hopefully, fans and the transgender community and the LBGTQ community will respond positively to it as well.”
A number of games already feature transgender characters, such as Krem in 2014’s Dragon Age: Inquisition or Birdo in 1988’s Super Mario Bros. 2 (arguable the first instance of a trans character in gaming). However, such characters are often relegated to supporting roles or are minor characters.
Gamers generally have had to seek out indie games for fuller trans representation, such as Dys4ia‘s abstract recounting of a transgender woman’s experience with gender dysphoria and hormone replacement therapy, or adventure game 2064: Read Only Memories‘ numerous LGBTQ characters, or visual novel one night, hot springs, about a young, transgender Japanese woman’s experience at a hot spring with female-only spaces.
Tell Me Why will be available on Xbox One, Windows 10 PCs, Xbox Game Pass, and Steam in summer 2020. Each of the three chapters will be released separately and consecutively.