By Shannon Liao, CNN Business
A new Xbox game is making history by featuring a transgender protagonist — a first for a major studio in an industry that has long been criticized for not being inclusive enough.
The game, “Tell Me Why,” released its first chapter on Thursday. It will be one of the first games that can be played on the Xbox Series X, Microsoft’s newest console, which is set for release in November.
The narrative-based game comes from Xbox Game Studios and Dontnod, developers of the hit series “Life is Strange.” “Tell Me Why” is about twins who can see visions of the past.
Tyler Ronan is the first trans character from a major studio. And it follows the recent release of “The Last of Us Part II,“ which features a queer protagonist who smashes zombies and hunts for revenge.
“As the first playable transgender protagonist in a major studio release, Tyler is an important step forward for representation in gaming,” said Nick Adams, GLAAD’s director of Transgender Representation, in an email, “I hope that the care and thoughtfulness that Dontnod and Xbox put into creating Tyler’s story will show that writing fully realized trans characters is good for both storytelling and culture overall.”
The game costs $29.99 on Windows and Xbox.
Set in rural Alaska, “Tell Me Why” focuses on a set of telepathic twins, Tyler and his sister Alyson, who are reunited after 10 years apart, as they prepare to sell their childhood home.
Once there, they realize they have the power to see their past memories, but the twins remember things differently, which lets the player choose whose version to follow.
Early in the game, while at a store, the twins recall their mom arguing with her best friend some 10 years earlier. Choosing to remember Tyler or Alyson’s version of the fight affects the story going forward, and determines whether the twins can grow closer to each other or drift apart.
“The industry still has some ways to go when it comes to representation, diversity and inclusivity, but the medium is opening up and growing in breadth,” Florent Guillaume, Dontnod’s game director, wrote in an email. “There are already so many talented creators in the indie game dev community who have created inspiring experiences with LGBTQIA+ characters and themes, which have been meaningful for a lot of people.”
Tyler faces several micro aggressions through the story, as he faces older adults who remember him as a child and remark about his changed appearance. He’s never referred to by his “dead” name, the one given to him at birth.
Kazuma Hashimoto, a trans Japanese-to-English translator and games journalist based in Germany, told CNN Business said he would reserve judgment on “Tell Me Why” until all chapters of the game are released.
While Tyler is the first playable trans character from a major studio, indie developers have already made games with representation. For instance, Hashimoto said the indie game “If Found” explores a trans issues in a less “dramatic” way than “Tell Me Why.”
“What Dontnod is doing isn’t exactly groundbreaking,” he added “They’re just one of the first large scale developers to do so.”
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