A video game is giving players an inside look into what it’s like to raise a transgender child in Texas, a state that filed more than 30 anti-LGBTQ+ pieces of legislation this year — including 12 that target trans youth, according to the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Texas.

The game, “Portrait of a Texas Family,” is a visual novel-style game that allows players to customize a character, and then play as the parent of a trans girl named Sofía. Customization options include race, chest size, body type and pronouns. It is the first game developed by New York City-based indie studio Lookout Drive Games.

It is available for free online.  

According to the game’s Itch.io page, its development team “was comprised of almost entirely gender non-conforming/transgender folks of various backgrounds and cities around the world including Houston, Texas.” 

Lookout Drive Games

During game playthrough, your character is tasked with grabbing the final three items for your “safe folder,” a folder that can contain “letters from teachers, neighbors, and clergy that talk about how great of a parent you are to your to your trans child… drawings that your child has made of themselves that positively affirm their gender…and photos of you all together,” among other things, according to the game’s director, Robert Pigott.  

“I wanted to make sure that we were telling a story that was sensitively handled…and that we weren’t exploiting any of the real life pain that these families were going through…that we were telling an emotionally honest, but ultimately hopeful story,” they added.

The game was inspired by a tweet from Amber Briggle, a Texas parent with a trans son, who recommended parents build safe folders in the wake of a February letter issued by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to the state’s health agencies. The letter ordered the agencies to report any issues of gender-affirming treatment to trans youth, which he characterized as “abusive.” 

There is even a scene in the game that closely mirrors Briggle’s experience of inviting Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to her home for dinner with her family in 2016, when the state attempted to keep trans youth from using bathrooms concurrent with their gender identity. Five years later, Paxton issued a legal opinion calling sex change procedures and puberty blockers for trans kids “child abuse” under Texas law. Abbott’s letter came shortly after.

In the letter, Abbott enumerates the procedures Texas state law views as “child abuse,” including “reassignment surgeries that can cause sterilization, mastectomies, removals of otherwise healthy body parts, and administration of puberty-blocking drugs or supraphysiologic doses of testosterone or estrogen.” 

This characterization of medical transition serves in stark contrast to the data, which consistently shows that access to gender transition positively impacts quality of life for trans people. An analysis of 56 peer-reviewed works by the What We Know Project found that in 93% of the studies, gender transition improved the overall well-being of trans respondents. 

The game aims to “tell a fictionalized story about a family raising a transgender child in Texas that humanizes this family for people that have never really been around trans kids or been around trans people,” said Pigott, who says that the community response to the game has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

In June, a judge temporarily blocked Texas from investigating the families of trans children. The temporary restraining order halted investigations against three families who sued the state, and prevented any similar investigations against members of the LGBTQ+ advocacy group PFLAG Inc., which has more than 600 members in the state. 

On Friday, a Texas state judge moved to protect a larger group of families from Abbott’s directive, but an immediate appeal by Paxton allowed child-abuse probes to continue, according to the Washington Post.

While the struggles of trans youth in Texas are clear, Pigott wants the game not only to capture the difficult realities facing trans kids and their families, but the joy as well. 

“We want players to feel immersed in the game, and not just feel the anxiety and the tension that sometimes happens in the day-to-day life of a family raising a trans child,” they said, “but also the love and the support and the hope that a family like this has.”

“I think we accomplished that.”

Lookout Drive Games

LGBTQ+ media advocacy organization GLAAD found that there were “zero transgender or non-binary characters in any theatrical releases from a major studio in 2021,” but that there were “42 transgender regular and recurring characters across all of broadcast, cable, and streaming,” according to a report from the nonprofit. GLAAD does not track LGBTQ+ representation in video games.

Pigott believes that representation for trans people matters just as much in video games — if not more — as it does in television and film. 

“I feel like video games are going to become, if not already, the predominant art of the 21st century. And it’s so important for kids, especially kids that are going through their own…gender identity journeys, to see that you can live your truth, live your best life, live as who you want to live as in terms of your gender identity and your sexuality, and be accepted for it,” they said.

“If someone plays ‘Portrait of a Texas Family,’ and that helps them potentially come to their own positive conclusions about their gender identity, I mean, that’s all any of us on the team can ever really hope for.”