Indie game Nevermind (www.nevermindgame.com), initially released on Steam for Windows and Mac in Fall 2015, is a biofeedback-enhanced psychological thriller that takes you into the dark and surreal worlds within the subconscious minds of psychological trauma survivors. In the Fall of 2016, a VR adaptation of the original game was released on the Oculus Home store with new additional content and was subsequently released on both Steam and, for the first time, the Mac App store.
One of the two new levels in this update focuses on a transgender woman character, known as Client #909 in the game. Though the development team does have an LGBTQ team member, all dev team members are cisgender. Despite this fact, the team as a whole felt that Client #909’s story was an important one to tell and one that supported the tone and experience goals of the overall game.
This post-mortem talk will discuss how the dev team at Flying Mollusk approached the story and gameplay, consulted with trans advocacy and other LGBTQ+ organizations, handled auditions and casting for the main role, as well as how we dealt with the challenges of maintaining authentic overall trans representation in the game and in supporting documentation.
Questions raised by this talk will include:
- Should only transgender developers tell transgender stories in games or can cisgender developers accurately and appropriately tell transgender stories?
- If cisgender developers do want to include trans characters or tell trans stories in their games, what kinds of due diligence should they expect to do?
- What are the ethical responsibilities of developers when dealing with LGBTQ+ characters in games?
- Can playing as a transgender character in a first-person game increase empathy for transgender people in the player?
- Emphasizing the continued importance of outside research on LGBTQ+ topics even for those within or allied with the LGBTQ+ community.
- Sharing potential research sources that are not necessarily game-related.
- Challenges with outreach to the community at large.
- Preparing for and dealing with fan and player reactions and potential backlash, especially in the current political climate, with games that have a target audience that expands far beyond an LGBTQ+ market.
Michael Annetta has worked as a designer and producer with, among others, Wemo Labs/WEVR, Walt Disney Imagineering, and the Annenberg Innovation Lab. For Flying Mollusk, in addition to leading the VR design of Nevermind, he coordinates the connections and collaborations between academic/clinical researchers and the studio, overseeing the adaptation of games like Nevermind into potential therapeutic tools for health. Michael also teaches at USC’s Interactive Media and Games Division and is currently a Consulting Advisor for The Lavender Effect, an LA-based nonprofit committed to advancing the future of LGBTQ history and culture. He has presented on games, transmedia, and VR at PAX Prime, San Diego Comic-Con, Storyworld, NAMLE (National Association for Media Literacy Education), VR Long Beach and Bent-Con. He received his MFA from USC (Interactive Media, 2012) where he was the first-ever recipient of the USC Lambda LGBT Alumni Association’s NOGLSTP (National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals) Scholarship in Innovation.
Erin Reynolds is the Founder, President, and Creative Director of Flying Mollusk. She has a diverse background spanning the past 10 years in game development within a variety of different environments, including as a developer (handheld, social, and mobile), publisher, academic, and now indie. Erin is passionate about the potential games have to empower, educate, and inspire players of all kinds and to make the world a better, more playful place. To this end, she took a sabbatical from her career in Game Development in 2009 to pursue her MFA through the prestigious Interactive Media & Games Division of the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. There, Erin led projects such as Trainer, (winning the two top awards for Michelle Obama’s Apps for Healthy Kids competition at the White House) and the critically acclaimed academic version of Nevermind.