REVIEW: ‘Tell Me Why: Chapter 1’ Will Hit You With Trans* Feels (Xbox One)

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Tell Me Why Chapter 1

This article on Tell Me Why Chapter 1 uses trans* which is an umbrella term to include not just transgender and transexual people but also people who are agender, gender non-conforming, gender-fluid, etc.

From the developer of the award-winning game Life Is Strange, DONTNOD Entertainment has developed another narrative adventure game but this time focuses on two reunited twins, one of which is transgender. Published by Xbox Games Studios, Tell Me Why Chapter 1 follows Tyler and Alyson Ronan as they use their twin telepathic bond to unravel a traumatic childhood event that changed their lives forever.

Set in the 2000s, Alyson, a cisgender woman, and Tyler, a transgender man, were brought up in Delos Crossing, a small town in Alaska. They grew up poor with a temperamental mother, but life seemed to be good. However, when Tyler cuts his hair short in an attempt to look more like himself in a world that only saw him as a girl, he gets into an altercation with his mother and, in self-defense, kills her. Ten years later, Tyler is out of juvie and reunites with his sister. They both go back to their old childhood home to get it ready to be sold. However, visiting their old stomping grounds has consequences. The twins rediscover their whimsical childhood memories in which they created a fantasy world, “The Book of Goblins,” but also must challenge the morose memories that put Tyler in juvie. As they conjure up memories of their past with the use of their supernatural bond and explore the objects left behind by their mother, they realize that the events of their childhood aren’t as clear cut as they once thought.

As the twins begin to dig into their past, they use their connection to uncover the truth behind what happened so many years ago. Tyler and Alyson literally relive their memories right before their eyes. By doing so, they also find out first-hand how erroneous memory can be, often finding two different versions of their memories. Players will play as both Alyson and Tyler and be tasked with choosing between conflicting memories, making tough choices, solving puzzles that deepen the story, and ultimately influencing the relationship between Alyson and Tyler.

Although Alyson’s and Tyler’s relationship from the start is a bit awkward, it’s a loving and fun one. The dialogue between the two reminds me of my own siblings, full of snark and nerdy references. The love between the two is obvious, but players will ultimately have a hand in how this relationship grows and develops through the game. No pressure.

Players will get to explore beautiful Alaska and the various structures that make up the twins’ childhood, from their childhood home to the police station where Alyson and Tyler were questioned after their mother’s death. The creators brought Delos Crossing to life with the use of designs from Alaskan Native communities, such as the Tlingit, by commissioning artisans and designers from these communities. There is a plethora of characters and objects to interact with to further expand on the twins’ childhood. Players will need to remember specific information when talking to other characters, often to convince them to open up and further expand on what happened that fateful night.

Overall, the mechanics are simplistic. If you’ve played Life Is Strange, you’ll understand how this game works. The one hang-up I encountered was that sometimes it was difficult to interact with objects or people because you had to line your character up just right. At other times, memory sequences were interrupted by another character physically pushing you away from the scene. These didn’t happen often but it was annoying enough when they did.

A mechanic I always enjoy when added to narrative games with poignant decisions is when the game shows you other players’ choices. At the end of Chapter 1, you’ll get to see the percentage of people who chose each option and what the results of your decision meant. It’s not just an interesting addition but also reveals how the majority of people reacted to these hard choices.

Tell Me Why Chapter 1

The characters of Tell Me Why Chapter 1 are the real reason why everyone should play this game. They’re diverse, true-to-life, and realistic. Characters are multi-faceted and far from perfect, much like our world. Tyler doesn’t exist in a world that is flawless; there are plenty of people in his life that both accept him and don’t for his transgender identity. There are also people who just don’t understand how to talk to or relate to Tyler, something many trans* people will likely connect with. Alyson is in a precarious situation as well. Although she fully supports Tyler and his transition, she also has relationships with people that have wronged Tyler. Each person you can interact with has a purpose, a developed personality, and a preconceived background, and no relationship is ever black and white.

Many of the situations Tyler experiences and the conversations he gets into surrounding his transgender identity in Tell Me Why Chapter 1 should hit home for many trans* folks. The situations in this game are very real and are going to hit hard for some people. Tyler is a deep character and is defined by many other things besides his transgender identity, as any transgender person should be. But it’s still an important aspect of his life and the creators have effortlessly portrayed the transgender experience through Tyler.

One small incongruency I saw with Tyler’s behavior as a transgender man is the way he looks back on his childhood with fondness. Now, this isn’t the case for all transgender people, but many transgender folks I know, myself included, often distance themselves from past pictures and memories of themselves because either they didn’t pass, were closeted, or just didn’t realize they were transgender at the time. Once again, not everyone under the trans umbrella does this, but it was a bit odd that Tyler didn’t experience a few disquieted moments beyond the actual violence he experienced as a child. Transgender people not only fight bigoted people for acceptance but also themselves and part of that often results in shunning your past. I think it would have expanded Tyler’s character even more to see some moments like this, but even without, Tyler is a wonderful character.

Overall, the way the game broaches mature themes and difficult choices feels natural and true-to-life. This is only made possible by the characters themselves who are realistic, deep, and imperfect, especially Tyler. This is probably one of the first main-stream games that has a main transgender character that, in my opinion, feels like they were made by trans people for trans people. And that’s a huge step in the right direction.

Tell Me Why Chapter 1 is available now on Xbox One and PC.

Tell Me Why Chapter 1
  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10
9/10

TL;DR

Overall, the way the game broaches on mature themes and difficult choices feels natural and true-to-life. This is only made possible by the characters themselves who are realistic, deep, and imperfect, especially Tyler.