Of course, every review is ‘personal’ in that views can never be wholly objective, but when reading about games such as Acceptance, it helps to know how the writer might specifically relate to them. Created by Laura Kate Dale (who identifies as a transgender woman), Acceptance is a short visual novel intended to place players who identify strongly with their birth sex in the situation of someone who doesn’t. Identifying as a trans guy myself, I was interested to see how Dale might express (as the game’s bio puts it) ‘how it feels to live life while trans’ to someone who’s comfortable with the sex they were assigned at birth.
The game’s pivotal choice is the one that sets its storyline in motion. Before anything else happens, you’re required to tell the narrator your gender. Firmly nestled within conventional concepts, it’s a choice between two binaries: you’re either male, or female. Identifying quite confidently as a man, I selected ‘Male’. I was promptly told, however, that the narrator didn’t quite agree with my answer. No, Narrator felt much more comfortable accepting that I was female and – more aggressively – insisted that I accepted it as an objective, unarguable fact. Those who identify as trans or non-binary may find some instances in Acceptance familiar. Squeezing into medical-grade binders, refusing to remove my hoodie despite unmanageable heat, and flitting painfully between male’ and ‘female’ public bathrooms brought back some interesting memories. I find myself feeling less-constricted nowadays, but I was surprised to be feeling again that similar discomfort those details caused. What surprised me more was how I now took many of those things for granted.
If there’s a criticism to be made of Acceptance, it’d be on its status as a game. Though the importance its messages exist cannot be overstated, there’s no hiding its action selections are limited; I could either isolate myself completely or plunge myself into the hubub of sideways looks and self-consciousness. Visual style can also feel a bit restricted, and I did find myself wondering how a splash of colour might’ve aided the game’s themes. But its doodlish art-style and faceless characters are undeniably suited to its narrative, allowing the player to colour visual gaps with elements of their own experience.
But again, Acceptance is all about binaries, and as frustrating as it was in-game to only ever have two options to choose from, it’s a frustration expressed by many of the binaristic conceptions still – often unconsciously – underlying modern culture. I’d like to say many of the game’s social issues are being addressed, because in many places they are. But during a time in which bathroom-bills are enforced while gun-restrictions are not, and children’s authors are kept out of schools because of how they identify, and talking about these issues is consistently intimidated by SJW-branding, the creation and recognition of experiences like Acceptance is perhaps more important than ever.
I also mentioned some aspects of Acceptance may prove familiar to players. The game’s tendency toward the dramatic can understate the story’s emotion. As I mentioned above, it was when the smaller things I’d regularly taken for granted became obstacles that impacted most, and I feel like the narrative would’ve been just as effective without sudden arguments or fights. I know violence is still regularly experienced by many transfolk (both internationally and locally), but these encounters seemed so out of the blue that it interrupted my identification with my hand-drawn protagonist.
Any game concerned with any angle of identity will inevitably run into issues of representability. No matter how much its themes speak to me, or indeed any other individual player, identity is so multifaceted that it’s impossible to capture an entire experience in one fifteen-minute visual novel. Acceptance’s story may largely be ‘about’ gender, but the discomfort the game itself expresses I suspect chimes within a more diverse concept of identity than expected. It raises attention to the pressure to conform to extreme aesthetic, social and personal expectations – and that’s too common an experience to be pinned strictly toward gender. Ultimately, Acceptance speaks to those who’ve – during some point in their lives – have felt they don’t fit.