The Pain of Acceptance

Warning: The piece discussed in this post contains themes of transphobia, sexual assault, and suicide.

Acceptance is a video game about being transgender. It’s short, it’s simple, and it’s painful. It’s the kind of game that you won’t enjoy, no matter how you play, but that you ought to play anyway.

To back up a bit, in 2014 a transgender teenager named Leelah Alcorn committed suicide after publishing a harrowing note onto her personal Tumblr page. The note was quickly passed around as thousands of people mourned her death and raged against the forces that took a young girl down such a path. Leelah’s death became something of great interest in the media for a time and conversations about various trans issues were given a spotlight. All too quickly though, they quieted back down and Leelah’s name returned to relative obscurity. For many, that was unacceptable. 

Thus in 2015, Matthew Boucher and Kara Jayne organized the JamForLeelah, a month long game jam for charity that focused on LGBTIQ issues in remembrance of Leelah Alcorn. For anyone unfamiliar, a game jam is a short game making challenge in which people attempt to make complete video games within the time allotted. One team within this jam was the group that put together Acceptance. This small team of 4 adapted an existing Twine story to a visual novel engine called RenPy in order to make a piece of interactive fiction that would help people understand what exactly life is like for trans folk. And, you guys?

It’s one of the most powerful pieces of interactive fiction I’ve ever had the honor of reading.

Full disclosure, I am a cisgender woman. The gender the doctors gave me at birth happened to be accurate. As such, I do not, can not, and will never truly understand what it is like to live the life of a person who was assigned an inaccurate gender. That being said, Acceptance doesn’t care. From the start, this game lays out its exact aim in a disturbing couple of sentences:bathroom

“So, you’re a WOMAN?”

“No, you’re not.”

“You might think you’re a WOMAN, you might have always thought that you were a WOMAN.”

“I’m sorry, but you’re a MAN. You’re a MAN, and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure you learn that fact.”

And so the game begins. It takes you through what might be a perfectly average day for a trans person. You wake up, go out, have a few interactions throughout your day, and everywhere you go there are reminders that you’re not the gender you claimed to be at the start of the game. 

To give an example, in every playthrough you will go to the movies and end up needing to use the bathroom. You’re given the options of the men’s room, the women’s room, and a disabled bathroom. In my playthrough, I decided to use the women’s room as, again, I am a woman. Within moments of entering the stall, the game tells me someone muttered the word, “Ladyboy.” Then, someone brings in a man to yell at me about how I’m a sick degenerate and that he’ll bring security if I don’t leave the bathroom immediately. The tone the man uses is so aggressive, so purely angry that it’s striking. The writers were able to genuinely get across hate in such a sadly accurate way, and that’s only one part of the game. I won’t give spoilers as I feel this is a game that should be played with as little prior knowledge as possible, but I will say that it only gets worse from there. 

give upA particularly poignant mechanic is what I’ll be calling the “give up” mechanic. After every major point in the game, you’re given the option to give up. In fact, I’d say you’re encouraged to. A dark screen covered in blue writing will pop up, forcing you to either click “continue” or one of the numerous options for “give up.” Again, no spoilers, but I will say that being presented with this choice so constantly is one of the most distressing aspects of this work. It helps to underscore the constancy of the problems you face and reinforces the idea that what you experience is so powerful that it can, and does, make people “give up” in real life. Thus, it adds a layer of strength and depth to the thematic elements of this work in a uniquely disheartening way. 

The writers of this game, Laura Kate Dale and 8BitGoggles, are both trans and so they know better than anyone what it’s like to be trans. As such, they are able to bring to light more pain and difficulty in a game that took me maybe 20 minutes to play the first time through than any other visual novel game has ever shown me. The tense atmosphere, the aggressive encounters, the chilling music, everything about this game comes together in such a way that I found myself ready to vomit by its end. The thought of people going through the kinds of experiences detailed in this game is horrifying, and that seems to be exactly why this game was made. In an article she wrote for Polygon, Dale wrote, “Acceptance was my attempt to convey some of the struggles of being transgender to people who are not transgender. It’s short and it can be emotionally heavy-hitting, but I feel like it’s an accurate representation of some of the worst days many trans people have to live through just to get help with a recognized medical condition. It’s not about making other people feel bad; it’s about trying to foster a sense of empathy and compassion. It’s about seeing the world through the eyes of someone you may not understand.”

If you’re interested in playing this game it is currently available for download on Itch.io. The download is pay-what-you-like, so you could download it free of charge or pay whatever you feel would be appropriate. It runs on Windows, MacOS, and Linux-running PCs and shouldn’t take longer than 30 minutes to play all the way through. I highly recommend you give this game a shot, even if you don’t like games very much, because this one is so much more than a game. It’s one of the rawest literary works I’ve ever seen and it deserves every second you have to give to it. 

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