Bringing Diversity to the Digital Realm
BY Jase Peeples
December 04 2013 7:00 AM ET
Finding LGBT representation in video games was once thought a bigger fantasy than the playable quests of our favorite pixilated heroes. Thankfully, games such as Mass Effect 3, Fable III, and Dragon Age II have broken new gaming ground by including same-sex romance options for players. And now Studio Fawn, a small Los Angeles company developing its first game, is working to level up diversity in video games by including a prominent transgender character in Bloom: Memories.
Bloom: Memories is the brainchild of trans artist and game developer Dani Landers, one of the four creative minds who make up Studio Fawn. The game is based on an unreleased graphic novel created by Landers and is a beautiful artistic take on the action-adventure/role-playing game genre that carries players through an epic journey following the theme of the “purest love” — that between a mother and her child. Among the many striking characters introduced to players in the world of Bloom is Ilana, the first representation of a trans person in the popular RPG genre.
“The idea for Bloom actually started shortly before I began transitioning,” says Landers. “As my life was changing and I was dealing with transition, I guess I naturally started to express those experiences through the character and game designs of Bloom. Since I was transitioning, Ilana was one of the first characters and stories I had created in the Bloom world.”
While the character grew partly from Landers’s desire to express herself creatively, Ilana’s inclusion in Bloom became a personal mission for the game designer when she took a wider look at the landscape of video games and their lack of LGBT diversity. “When I found out that trans women have never really existed in a mainstream game outside of a casual footnote, I realized Ilana's story was more important than I had thought,” Landers says. “She went from being just a cool character I could relate to, to a character that needed her story to be told.”
In Bloom, players are introduced to Ilana after she has transitioned and is still struggling to find her identity. While players will be unaware of the character’s conflict at first, Ilana’s story will slowly unfold throughout the game as she grows and comes to terms with herself.
However, Landers admits that while she and her team believe strongly in the project, the inclusion of a trans character in Bloom raises additional obstacles for the game’s development and the future of the independent studio that is betting everything on its success. “Traditional wisdom in the games industry says trying something like this will mean failure. We’re gambling our futures and lives on trying to do something to bring change,” Landers says. “Sadly, I've already had plenty of comments from people saying outright that they wouldn't support a person like me for the sole reason that I'm trans. Luckily, I'm rather stubborn. So I work harder. I try to do more than most indies do, and I hope I'll create a game that can't be ignored — a game that stands on solid foundations of art, storytelling, and game design.”
It appears that Studio Fawn is on the right track toward attaining that goal. The creative team was recently featured on the IGN series The Next Game Boss, where Bloom was evaluated positively by a panel of industry professionals including David Jaffe (God of War). A Kickstarter campaign supporting the game also recently met its $40,000 goal, and still has a few days left for willing donors to help ensure Bloom’s success.
“I've been a gamer all my life, and it is true that game spaces are mostly playgrounds for heterosexual males,” says Landers. “However, things are changing, and LGBT-inclusive games can make a difference by empowering youth and showing them that they aren't alone. I hope Bloom can show other companies that LGBT characters can offer so much more to a game than a cheap laugh or token stereotype. That women in general don't need to be half naked to pander to teens, that a transgender woman can be a deep, rich character, and that you don't even need to center your game around violence for it to be fun and engaging.”