GLAAD, Microsoft Collaborate on Major Playable Transgender Game Character

Tell Me Why - Publicity - H 2019
DONTNOD Entertainment/Microsoft
Video game director Florent Guillaume partnered with the media advocacy organization to understand "the hopes, fears, lives" of trans individuals, though their goal was not to have an agenda or to present an archetype.

Following up on the story-driven Life Is Strange franchise, game developer DONTNOD Entertainment on Thursday unveiled its latest offering, Tell Me Why, at Microsoft's X019 event in London. As one of the first from a major games studio and publisher, the new title features a playable main character who identifies as transgender. 

In approaching the character of Tyler Ronan, a trans man, game director Florent Guillaume and Joseph Staten, senior creative director at Xbox, worked with LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD to portray an authentic representation of the trans experience as well as a character free from common cliches. 

Set in small-town Alaska, the story follows two twins (Tyler being one of them) who use their sibling bond to uncover memories of a loving, yet troubled, childhood. Tyler is described in a statement by Nick Adams, director of transgender representation at GLAAD, as "a fully realized, endearing character, whose story is not reduced to simplistic trans tropes."

“One of the things that GLAAD did that was especially helpful was they gave us a history lesson, not just in games, but in media as well — the good and the bad," Staten tells The Hollywood Reporter. "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."

Guillaume says that he partnered with GLAAD — which last year introduced a new category for video games that best represent the LGBTQ community at the GLAAD Media Awards — to understand the "hopes, fears and lives" of trans individuals. He further explains that the organization reviewed the game's script, advised on character development and provided access to resources that helped the team move forward with the storyline. Guillaume adds that while the game always included the story of two twins, the character of Tyler didn't initially start out as a known trans man but throughout development, he eventually became known to be transgender. 

"The goal was not to have an agenda," says Guillaume, adding that his team doesn't develop characters to be archetypes. "We develop characters and stories because we believe in their value and in giving an experience to players." Explaining that it took a long time to craft the character, he adds that the hope is for players to identify with Tyler for his humanity: "Tyler is a young man with great values, good and bad [elements], that's what makes him human."

The character of Tyler is voiced by actor August Black, while Erica Lindbeck performs the role of his twin, Alyson. "The vocal cast was a priority from day one and it was important that we cast in a representative and authentic way," says Staten. "Not only did we cast a trans actor for the English part, but we’re 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."

"Creating a playable lead trans character — and taking such care to get it right — raises the bar for future LGBTQ inclusion in gaming," says Adams.

Tell Me Why, comprised of three chapters, is set to drop next summer on Xbox One, Xbox Game Pass, Steam and Windows 10 PC.