August Aiden Black, the voice of Tyler from Dontnod’s multi-award winning episodic adventure game Tell Me Why, wants to make something very clear straight away.
“I don’t walk through the world every day and walk into a room being like ‘yo, my name’s August, by the way I’m trans’. I introduce myself first and I lead with who I am.”
We’re discussing the importance of trans representation in video games.
“We want more representation,” he says, “and something they did so beautifully with Tyler is they made a full character that wasn’t just about being trans…this is just a part of us and just a part of a character that can have a well rounded individual attached.”
Tell Me Why, released in (fittingly) August 2020, was lauded as the first AAA game with a trans lead character. Of course, plenty of indie games before and since have explored trans representation, but not on this scale or budget.
The game received a nomination at the recent BAFTA Game Awards for Game Beyond Entertainment, while at the Gayming Magazine Awards it won two awards including Best Character for Black’s depiction of Tyler.
“[Tyler] and I bonded over our strength as trans men and our dedication and determination to live beyond a label,” said Black during his acceptance speech.
Developer Dontnod worked with GLAAD to ensure Tell Me Why was authentic to the trans experience. Black also had a hand in that.
“When there was a sensitive moment that could possibly trigger the trans community, it was talked about first,” he says. “It was ‘hey, we have this moment coming up, this is how we want to handle it, what do you think?’ and if the verbage wasn’t right or didn’t feel fluid or something that I wouldn’t say personally about myself, we changed it and that was really cool.”
The character was already fully formed when he arrived on the project, but there were some eerie similarities between them.
“A couple of days before, I got his exact haircut and it was so random because I just went and got (it) before my first day and I was like ‘alright I’m going to look nice’ and I showed up and had his exact haircut!” he says.
“I love puns and I’m a sibling as well, so I think that protective brother moment [we share], and we have a similar sense of humour which was nice. You could really put yourself into the role at that point.”
Working on Tell Me Why was not only Black’s first role in video games, but his first voiceover role altogether. He was spotted on social media by casting director Julia Bianco and invited in. But how important was it to play a trans role?
“I feel like he gave me the opportunity to try voiceover because it was a trans character,” says Black. “But then when I got to know Tyler and understand what kind of trans representation it really was it became one of the most important parts.”
One area the game really excels in is balancing the tragic story with warmer moments that validate trans romance. That was particularly important to Black.
“I feel like if we’d only focused on the tragedy side of things we would’ve fallen into the trans trauma trope that happens a lot in representation,” he says. “And so when you put in this cute little queer love story that is also a very safe place for Tyler, it becomes a safe place for the people that are playing who can explore this other side of themselves as well.”
What’s more, the relationship Tyler has takes place after a traumatic childhood experience and so becomes a defining moment in the character’s story. “It was like he was experiencing real life for the first time as Tyler, and real life comes with the possibility of love. That was a big moment because it’s a big moment for trans people in general, dating after your transition,” says Black.
One of Black’s favourite scenes occurs at the start of the game, where Tyler and Alison finally meet again after years apart and – away from trauma – they’re able to act together as they always did.
“It really shows how Tyler’s still the same person and I think that’s something that people forget a lot when people transition,” says Black. “Yes we transition and maybe our names are different and we look different, but at the core we’re still the same person and I think Tell Me Why does a great job in making that pretty clear.”
Black confesses he’s “terrible” at video games himself, though he’s spent quarantine catching up on various titles and playing Fortnite with his younger sister (“she kicks my butt!”). That’s on top of having a baby and adapting to life with a newborn, along with his gorgeous pet cat and dog.
But Black is keen to continue working in the games and voiceover industries, not only as an actor but with a Twitch channel in the works too thanks to the support he’s received for his work.
“The community I’ve discovered through Tell Me Why has been so kind, so supportive and they just want to see more,” he says.
“I really did show up every day and think ‘wow, this is just the coolest job ever’.”