You sit down, and load up Acceptance. A question appears: “Are you a Man or a Woman?” You choose, and you are told that you are wrong. Games rarely begin with such aggressive disagreement. Typically, you are who you say you are – whatever that might entail. Beautiful terror of the wasteland? Sure! Ghoulish slayer of the great old gods? Absolutely! Not so in Acceptance. Acceptance dismisses you. It makes you feel stupid, laughable. How could you have ever believed in your own identity? it jeers. You are told that you are a liar. You feel confused, uncomfortable, maybe even a little bit afraid. You are not what you know you are. And you click, and you read, and you push forward, disconcerted within yourself.
You play, but you do not control. Acceptance is a narrative told in the 2nd person – it orders you, refusing to give even an inch. You begin to long, desperately, for another choice. Anything to make you feel a sense of agency. Then, the screen goes dark, and scrawled, panicked words fill the screen. “Stop Fighting and Accept” vs. “Continue.” And you remember that your choices don’t seem so good. What a disquieting inversion of video game nomenclature. Never before has a game’s inclusion of the word “continue” ever filled you with such dread. Have you lost the game? Already? Neither option seems inviting, but you select “continue” all the same. You must see this to its end.
You will push yourself towards each choice, and learn to dread them all. Acceptance does not make the moral demands you’ve grown accustomed to as a gamer – this is not The Walking Dead. Instead of leaving babies out in the snow, you will look at the doors of three bathrooms – male, female, handicapped – and sink under their implications. You will choose, and be punished for it. After your reprimand, you will be presented with another choice, and another, and another, until you are exhausted by the weight they leave upon you.
Before you know it, you’ve beaten the game. Acceptance is a piece of impact, not length. And as it spits you back into the main menu, you will feel shocked at your outcome. You will start the game again. Surely, there exists a path of triumph. A ‘good’ ending that you can achieve. Something better, at the very least. You will try, and try, and try, until you have exhausted every path. This does not take long; Acceptance is a devastatingly acute experience – in both scope and scale. You will search desperately for respite within this vicious video game.
And then, you will close the game. You don’t feel particularly great, but that’s the point. In an opinion piece for Polygon, creator Laura Kate Dale said of her intent, “It may not ultimately be much, but anything I can do to try and help people understand the struggles of gender transition a little better felt worth doing.” Acceptance is empathy machine as simulation. Unless you are transgender, you do not know – and cannot feel – what it is to be transgender for having played a video game, so Acceptance – in addition to its transition-vignette narrative – depends on intelligent subversions of ludic expectations to compel you into experiencing feelings emulating those of gender transition. You are accustomed to games respecting your created avatars, and so Acceptance robs you of this comfort. You are accustomed to games presenting you with grand, sweeping choices that empower, but Acceptance makes you dread the small choices – it confounds your sense of agency. You are accustomed to the existence of narrative closure – of eventually achieving a path of success, even when your first efforts end in failure. Acceptance offers no such safety net. You will walk away from this video game feeling drained of all your energies.
Acceptance is an emotionally exhausting experience, and you absolutely must play it. Transgender readers, take heed – Acceptance will likely make for a highly triggering play. Though, even in that, it has value as a piece of solidarity, and honesty, and vulnerability. To all others, I say this: bravery exists deep in the bones of this art; it is a work of naked trauma, but also strength, and defiance. A story this intimate is not shared without the intent to challenge. Your discomfort is its success. Accept it.
You can download it here, for free, on itch.io
Tom Loughney is a cis boy, and if he has fucked up at any point in this review, he implores you to let him know so that he can make any necessary changes and educate himself. He also has a content oeuvre that includes games writing, video game video analysis, and a storytelling podcast about major media. Follow him on twitter @loughnessmonstr