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While there’s a reasonable number of video games out there with positive gay representation, it’s a fair amount more difficult to find video games, or media in general, centered on well-represented and trope-avoidant portrayals of transgender protagonists. This is why, whenever I am looking to play a game with a canonically trans protagonist, my mind jumps first to The Missing: J.J. MacField and the Island of Memories.
The Missing is a side-scrolling puzzle platforming game, navigating a world via exaggerated self-mutilation. You play the titular J.J., a trans woman who has only just managed to start a fresh life living full-time as female. She’s moved away for college, and in the process cut ties with people back home and escaped the supervision of her hyper Christian mother. She makes a fresh start, and the changes in her life drastically improve how she feels. She starts excelling in her studies, she meets a loving romantic interest named Emily, and her life really starts to bloom and take shape.
Unsurprisingly, things don’t go well forever. Through a series of unforeseen events, an old friend discovers her transgender status and tells people at her new school. Her new classmates are not supportive and make J.J. feel like a broken and ridiculed social outcast. To make things worse, her mother discovers female clothing hidden in her childhood bedroom and escalates with threats of conversion therapy.
Feeling trapped and scared, J.J. panics, and tries to take her own life.
Now, I recognize that this sounds like a bleak and predictable trans narrative. People will hate you for being trans, you’ll never be happy, you’ll eventually be driven to attempt suicide, end of story. However, what makes The Missing interesting is that this is not the end of J.J.’s story; it is merely the beginning.The Missing actually starts after all these events have transpired, with J.J. exploring a fictional world inside her mind while unconscious and being resuscitated by medics. J.J. experiences the shocks from the defibrillator as bolts of lightning strike her, flees a physical monstrous caricature of herself wielding a box cutter as a metaphor for her running from what she's done, chases after a living version of her own actions to view them from an outside perspective, and, perhaps most interestingly, navigates a world in which she physically cannot die.
The core mechanic of The Missing is that, while J.J. is exploring this world inside her mind, she can become injured as a way to progress through stages, before putting herself back together. She could lose an arm and use it to weigh down a switch, set herself on fire to destroy an obstacle, or even become just a head to roll through small gaps. While she is feeling pain, and getting hurt, she’s never so damaged that she can’t pick herself up, put herself back together, and keep on living.
Despite the dark way it’s presented, the narrative is clear: J.J. is determined to keep on living. She wants to live on, no matter the exterior pain inflicted upon her.
J.J. eventually wakes up. Her top has been ripped open for the defibrillator, and she’s missing her wig, but she’s alive. She’s flat-chested topless, and lacking her long-haired wig, but she’s alive.
In one of the game’s strongest moves, Emily is able to see J.J. in this vulnerable and emotional moment and still supports her fully. Emily still uses the correct pronouns when referring to J.J., uses her correct name, and still sees her as beautiful and worthy of love. To Emily, J.J.’s appearance, any of the set dressing, is irrelevant to her support and respect for her. She doesn’t see her as a woman because of how she looks — she sees her as a woman because she knows and understands J.J. is at her core a woman.
Where so many trans narratives end in tragedy, The Missing uses tragedy as a launch point to tell a story about learning to be more comfortable in who you are, and enduring suffering to keep on living. J.J. gets to have a happy ending. She knows who she is, she knows she’s loved, and she knows she has a future. Her mother can’t force her to enter conversion therapy, and she has a loving and supporting partner who sees her for the woman she is. She knows she wants to push forward, and not let this painful situation be the end of her. She wants to pick herself up, put herself back together, and move on.
Having a game with a playable trans protagonist, one who gets to overcome her suffering and find happiness, all while exploring genuinely interesting puzzle platforming mechanics makes The Missing a game well worth exploring. The journey to this powerful endpoint is beautifully presented, and J.J. is a rare beacon of hope for positive trans representation in games.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.