Some games to play on International Transgender Day of Visibility
From Tell Me Why to Citizen Sleeper.
Today is International Transgender Day of Visibility, so we wanted to put together a short list of some great games about trans experience - from visual novels, like If Found... to unique role-playing games like Citizen Sleeper.
Tell Me Why
A Life is Strange entry in all but name, Tell Me Why mixes melodrama, mystery, and the supernatural in signature Dontnod fashion. At the heart of that mystery are twins Tyler and Alyson Ronan, separated as children, but reunited all-grown-up in their tiny Alaskan town. The twins share a psychic bond that lets them feel each other’s emotions and share memories, which is often used as a way to explore Tyler’s feelings on being trans.
Awkward dialogue and all, I adore the Life is Strange series. The indie-pop soundtracks and small town settings make for a bittersweet atmosphere to soak in while exploring mysteries and characters - and Tell Me Why is my favourite of the lot. The focus on the town’s perceived similarities and differences between Tyler and his identical twin sister is a subtle way to show how trans and cis experiences can differ. However, while Tyler being trans is important to the plot, he’s also a well-rounded character who gets to explore family secrets, and deepen relationships throughout the game’s three chapters.
Last year, Oisin spoke to the developers of Unsighted about their luminous sci-fi action game.
"Unsighted places its protagonist Alma, an android, in a world where time is constantly running out. The energy source that powers automatons, the in-world name of the androids, is fast depleting, and both Alma and every NPC in the game has a timer which counts down to the moment they turn unsighted.
""We don't think it's possible to capture every queer experience with a single work, and we don't attempt to do it," said [one of Unsighted's developers, Fernanda] Dias. "We tried to write something that reflects our own experience, which is varied in and of itself, and that indeed has a lot of sombre moments, but it's also a story about happiness, about moments big and small and even about catharsis.""
"Features include: awkward crushes, the planet Jupiter, many kisses, a punk concert, confusion, happiness, a cute dog, and a break in." Is there anything more you could ask for from a game?
If Found... tells the story of Kasio, who has returned home to the west coast of Ireland for a difficult month. It's also the story of Cassiopeia, out in space, struggling with the vast forces of the universe. The twist is that the player interacts with this elegant visual novel by erasing it, one page at a time, which means erasing fraught family moments and also moments of joy and connection. Despite the prolonged act of destruction at the center of the experience, this remains a generous, honest and heartfelt game, filled with wit and insight and empathy.
Dragon Age: Inquisition
Dragon Age: Inquisition does have a brilliant transgender character in the form of Krem, who I think might be the first explicitly trans character in a triple-A game.
It’s my pick for a completely different reason though, a slice of transgender representation that I doubt the devs are even aware of. I’m a tall, broad trans woman who towers over most people regardless of gender. I have mixed feelings about TDOV, because if anything I feel too visible. Playing as a Qunari in Inquisition is the closest I’ve ever gotten to feeling represented in a video game. You always stand out, and even the best intentioned people make comments that mark you as other. The worst people call you a monster. The people who love you because of those traits, not in spite of them? They’re the real treasure and the reason I am ride or die for Sera, despite some dodgy writing in the Winter Palace section of the game.
Sometimes I forget what, at its core, Citizen Sleeper is about. It's about a Sleeper, which is a kind of cyborg fundamentally tethered, and perhaps remote-controlled, by a person 'asleep' somewhere in a facility, somewhere in space. That other person is technically you, but you don't know anything about them and you can't remember anything about their life. All you know is that they wanted out of it, and that they had to become someone new - a Sleeper.
I forget the game is about that because to me, it's much more about helping other people and forming tender relationships with them. Though, I suppose, within that, there are very strong themes of belonging and people accepting you for who you are. It sounds so on-the-nose when I put it like that, but in play, it's much more of a swell of themes that build to realisations. And what's so lovely about it is the acceptance you do find, and the love that comes with it.
I didn’t quite get Celeste when I first played it. It’s a tricky little game and I just found myself feeling frustrated at frequent failure. But then, that’s kind of the point. Celeste mountain is a literal and metaphorical hurdle for both protagonist Madeline and the player, in a poignant story that proves the game is far more than just a simple platformer.
I later came back to Celeste and played the whole game in one go for a charity stream. And it finally clicked. Each screen is a puzzle that tests intellect more than dexterity; each strawberry a mere taste of extra challenge. Lena Raine’s score is sublime. Madeline’s story develops into one of self-identity, into accepting ourselves in all our multitudes. And understanding that, if we all persevere, we can achieve anything.