A group of video game developers has taken the real-life drama facing transgender kids in Texas and turned it into a playable narrative experience that they hope will change hearts and minds.
Lookout Drive Games worked with trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming creators to create “Portrait of a Texas Family: A free slice of life game about love and resilience,” now available for free on Mac and PC.
In the roughly 30-minute visual novel (kinda like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story), you play a parent of Sofia, a trans 14-year-old. Along with your partner Martín, your family must collect family keepsakes to place inside of a “safe folder” that will serve as proof of Sofia’s insistent gender identity and her supportive family, just in case the state’s child abuse investigators come calling.
In the game, players can customize their character’s skin tone, hair length, body type, and pronouns. Players must also decide how to respond conversationally to challenging situations, such as when an old man at the beach asks if Sofia is “one of those transgenders,” the Houston Chronicle noted.
The idea for the game came from a heartbreaking Twitter thread posted by Texan parent Amber Briggle after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to investigate for child abuse any parents who allow their trans children to access gender-affirming medical care.
Briggle told parents of trans youth to store their child’s medical and legal records; photos documenting their child’s transition; any of their child’s creations, awards, and report cards; as well as letters from trusted community members that could help prove to child abuse investigators that a trans child’s parents are loving and supportive of their kid’s decision to transition.
“i pray you will never need to rely on your safe folder,” Biggle wrote. “but if someone calls [Child Protective Services] on you for doing nothing more than loving your transgender child and supporting them in the ways that they need, then you have evidence to back you up that YOU ARE A GOOD PARENT.”
“it will be okay,” she added in her Twitter thread. “hug your babies, vote these douchecanoes out of office, and stay strong.”
The game’s developers wrote, “Our goal was to make a game that tells a story that is life-affirming, emotionally honest but handles its subject matter with the utmost love, respect, and sensitivity that affirms the humanity of transgender people and families raising transgender children in both Texas and all across the world at a time where they need all the support they can get.”
Abbott tried to make a political game out of trans kids’ lives by encouraging community members to rat out families with trans kids, but Abbott may actually end up the big loser.
Foremost, his order went against the best practices of pediatrics outlined by every major American medical organization. Immediately after issuing it, families with trans kids sued Abbott, and a court has since ordered DFPS to stop its investigations.
His order may have even violated the law since, DFPS employees have said, it circumvented the usual process for departmental rule changes. It has since been revealed that DFPS officials tried to hide the investigations from other government officials, families and the media. Since then, several DFPS employees have quit, some state attorneys refused to enforce the order, and other blue states are creating legislation to protect trans kids and families that visit from elsewhere for gender-affirming care.
A court case in December will decide whether trans-supportive Texas families are the winners or losers in this battle for their kids’ well-being. Hopefully, they’ll defeat Abbott and declare “game over.”