The concept behind this game is to simulate and teach what it's like to be a transgender person in modern American society, in the form of an open-world RPG. The object of the game is to build a successful career, while also transforming into their ideal character, goals which would be interlinked in the game as they often are in real-life. If the character's transition is ignored, their career performance would suffer tremendously. This game could also touch on sexism, gender roles, and socioeconomic inequality, among other social issues.
The game would open with character creation. First, the player would choose their gender identity, which should ideally be close to how they prefer to identify in real life, for a more realistic experience. Next, they can use standard character sliders to customize their character's appearance. Lastly, they can choose a name.
This is where the twist comes in: The character doesn't start out looking like that. Skin tone and hair color would stay the same, and the body fat percentage would be within 20%, but the character's gender would be inverted, and other appearance sliders would be far off their chosen marks. So, if the player created a smooth-skinned female character, they'd start with a hairy male one. If they created a very masculine male character, they'd start with an extremely feminine female one. The player would then have to pursue transition to see the character they created, the one they really want to play. But, every time the player saw themselves in a reflective surface (mirror, window, etc), the reflection would briefly show the character they created, before fading into the character's current state. It's not a 100% accurate depiction of gender dysphoria, but it's a pretty great way to convey it in a visual medium. There could also be a status icon, showing a bust shot of the created character alongside their current state.
Like the body shape, name would be flip-flopped too. The name entered on the character creation screen would remain, but an opposite-gendered legal name would be randomly assigned, and would be used by coworkers and shop clerks until the character comes out (more on that later).
The game wouldn't need to reference sex or genitalia, so it'd be pretty easy to omit them entirely, aside from the way pants fit. The real struggle of gender dysphoria happens outside one's trousers.
I'm admittedly not a game designer, but I could see this working well as an open-world game; GTA San Andreas is the game I've played for more hours than every other game combined, and it's what I had in mind while writing this. As mentioned above, the idea would be to develop a successful adult life, so the character would start in a cheap, crappy apartment in a small town with no job. The character would have some sort of energy to spend per day, which would be used for job hunting or working a job. Jobs would accrue stats at varying rates, and effectively be a way to turn energy into money; convenience store clerk would bring in money very slowly, but also spend very little energy.
The transition process would affect how much energy was available, in the form of a "dysphoria" stat. If transition hasn't started yet, there's very little energy available, and it would go down if progress is made too slowly, because dysphoria would be high. If the player takes a job requiring a higher energy level than they have, they'd get fired after a week of it, because they'd have to leave early every day.
Transition would, of course, cost money. The transition options would vary greatly depending on chosen gender, but would include a huge range of things. Clothes shopping, hair removal options, piercings, salons, hormones, even surgery. Some things, like shaving various areas, would be free.
Dysphoria would be increased or reduced by everyday things. Glancing in the mirror would increase it inversely proportional to the character's transition progress. Random encounters with NPCs could increase or decrease it (more about that later). Grooming tasks could increase or decrease it (a female-identified character shaving her legs would decrease it, while a male-identified character doing the same thing would increase it). As it's decreased, the upper cap on energy level would increase, allowing a sort of level-up system.
As the maximum energy level increased, and time went on, the character would be able to advance to other jobs. Various career paths would have gender biases; a male-identified player would have a low probability of success applying to be a mechanic until his transition had advanced. Office worker would be the most gender-neutral job path, taking the player from their small-town home to a nearby major city, advancing through various levels. Other career paths could be designed for a few different types of jobs; starting as a hair stylist or retail clerk could lead to being a high-end designer, starting as a mechanic could lead to being an automotive engineer, etc. Higher-end jobs would provide insurance, which would reduce the cost of some items.
Non-player characters would be vitally important to this game, because they're vitally important to real life. Random encounters could happen pretty frequently, often with choices presented to the player. For example, for a male-identified player at the beginning of transition, random encounters could take the form of being called "sweetheart" by a shopkeeper (dysphoria++, no choice), or a guy offering to carry bags (dysphoria++ if yes, no effect if no).
NPCs would also primarily make up the difficulty curve of the game, because much like real life, transition starts as a very internal thing. To everyone around you, you're the gender you were born with, but the pain is unbearable to you (the dysphoria meter is very high). As you make progress in your transition, you gradually become more visible, and start to have a higher number of random encounters that increase in difficulty (harassment, etc). It takes awhile for that to happen less frequently, and this game could simulate that cycle perfectly. So, as transition progress is made and dysphoria decreases, random encounters would increase in difficulty, and could even include physical fighting as a climax.
One big hotbutton issue is bathroom use, which also lends itself well to this game. No need to show the actual process, just have a "bathroom" meter that goes up throughout the day, and if the player doesn't find a bathroom fast enough, they lose all remaining energy for the day and have to go home, costing them money and possibly their current job. If they enter a non-gender-neutral bathroom, there'd be a high probability (but not a guarantee) of an NPC random encounter upon entering or leaving, which could cause a great deal of damage to the dysphoria meter.
Positive random encounters would come in the form of NPCs picking up that the player is trans, and gendering them correctly. These would occur with frequency and positive effect both inversely proportional to transition progress. At the beginning, they would almost never happen, but they'd have a hugely positive effect every time. Toward the end, they'd happen all the time, but would become normal and have a minimal positive effect. Similarly, once transition reached a halfway point, negative random encounters would start decreasing, but the negative effects would continue increasing.
Since watching someone work a job in real-time is dull, jobs would consist of going to a specific place, and time-skipping between NPC encounters (this would also greatly speed up the passage of time in the game). Lower-level jobs would have more encounters, increasing the chances of running out of energy before the day is over, another incentive to advance to better jobs as fast as possible. As transition progresses, the probability of an encounter with the character's boss increases, a special encounter that would result in a conversation. Every time this occurs, if the character hasn't yet come out to their boss, they have the opportunity to do so. There's a probability that this will result in termination, but that probability starts fairly low, relative to the job's innate gender bias. As the character advances to higher-level positions, however, the probability of coming out resulting in termination increases, so it would be best to do it sooner. Additionally, job applications would have the option to start under either name, so there would be an option to be out from day 1 at a new employer.
Home location would also be influenced by NPCs. The price of an apartment can change more than just the visual design and size, it would also affect proximity to higher-end stores, which are more likely to have positive encounters with clerks. And, most importantly, nicer neighborhoods would have lower probabilities of negative encounters, especially as transition progresses.
I'm really not sure what would be a sufficient end to this game, other than simply completing it. Perhaps the end goal could a job that requires the highest energy level, and is something really awesome, like rock star or CEO. A relationship system would add more complexity to this game concept, it wasn't on my mind when I started, but if it were added, marriage/long-term relationship could be the end goal. Legal name change would come at or near the end as well.
A player would have the option to commit suicide, which would destroy the game in progress and start over. This could happen if they get too far into debt, or feel like the odds of being able to progress are too high, or if they just want to leave the game and not come back. Perhaps the first time it happened, there could be a message about it, something like "You've chosen the option that over 40% of real transgender people choose. Game over.". That might be too dark.
The other option is to declare transition complete, which performs a name change within the system. This option is only available if all body sliders are within 10% of the originally-chosen values (ie, if they've done everything except surgery), and if the character is out at work. From that point on, there would still be gameplay, but any dysphoria increases from NPCs using a wrong name would cease.
- Body wash (free): Masculine, Feminine, and Neutral scents.
- Deoderant (free): Masculine, Feminine, and Neutral scents.
- Perfume/Cologne ($): Masculine and Feminine scents
- Hair: Can be brushed or styled in a few different ways at home for free. Hair products can be purchased at a store or salon. Character can visit a salon or barber for a different hair style, though if they want longer hair, it must be grown over time. And, while hair is part of the initial character creation, it's the only part of the initial goal character that can be changed once the goal is set.
- Shaving (free): Body areas that can be shaved included face (only if the character has facial hair), arms, legs, and chest/torso.
- Exercise (free-$$): Player can choose weight training or endurance training. Both will burn body fat, but the latter will do so at a faster rate, and the former will primarily build muscle mass, much moreso of the character is on testosterone (either started male and not on HRT or transitioning to male and on HRT). Gyms would be scattered throughout the world, with the more expensive ones having a lower probability of negative NPC encounters.
- Voice Practice (free, at home): Slowly shifts voice toward goal. Can be done once a day.
- Voice Therapist ($$$): Shifts voice toward goal much faster than at-home voice practice. Can be done once a day. Cheaper with insurance.
- Piercings ($): Character can get ears pierced if they're not already; male-identified characters start with pierced ears. I haven't worked out a mechanic for other piercings yet, but they could be purely cosmetic, or they could have an increase of negative NPC encounters in nicer areas of town/higher-end jobs.
- Binder ($$): For male-identified players only, this reduces breast size by 2-3 cup sizes.
- Packer ($$): For male-identified players only, this changes the way pants fit, and reduces the probability of negative NPC encounters when using a men's room.
- Gaffes ($$): For female-identified players only. Changes the way pants fit, and reduces the probability of negative NPC encounters when using a ladies' room.
- Falsies ($$): For female-identified players only. Provides an increase of 1-2 cup sizes.
- Clothing/Jewelry/Accessories ($-$$$$): Can be purchased any time, from a variety of stores throughout the game world. Has a widely varying effect on dysphoria.
- Laser ($$$): Each body area can be lasered, and each laser treatment removes 25% of hair from that area. Laser can't be purchased more frequently than once a month. Can be purchased 4 times only per area, must be purchased all 4 times to be fully effective.
- Electrolysis ($$$$$): Extremely expensive, but removes all hair in one area in one session, and somewhat cheaper than 4 laser sessions.
- Manicure/Pedicure ($$-$$$): Price varies depending on what part of town you're in. Increases dysphoria for male-identified players, decreases it for female-identified. Doesn't affect transition progress, just a feel-good thing.
- Therapist ($$$): Can be visited once a week. In addition to reducing dysphoria, this gives an energy boost, but has a minimal effect on transition progress. A referral from a therapist can make the hormones doctor slightly cheaper, though. Cheaper with insurance.
- Hormones ($$$-$$$$ for initial doctor visit, $ automatically deducted for the rest of the game afterwards, like rent): Must be taken every morning. Cheaper if the job provides health insurance. Requires a doctor re-visit every few months.
- Surgery ($$$$$-$$$$$$, unaffected by insurance): Choose from facial, top, or bottom surgery, based on starting body. For fairness, the body sliders should be set up in such a way that the other transition processes get the character close to perfect, but not quite all the way. Bottom surgery would reduce the cost of hormones by 50% (this is an idealized world where things actually work this way, and surgery is equally viable for both transition directions).
- Cars: The transportation mechanics don't need to be too in-depth, but taking the bus should limit where you can go and when, and consume a lot of time. So, a player can purchase a car, which allows them to travel anywhere anytime, much faster than the bus. A taxi could be an option as well, which would transport a person the same way as a car, but for an expensive fee on every use. Job could factor into this too; someone working in the mechanic track could get cars cheaper, someone working as a police officer or cab driver/chauffer would get a free one.
- Food: For simplicity, I'd omit grocery shopping from the game; instead, a player's home effectively has a vending machine, where anything they choose to eat costs money. Nicer neighborhoods grant the player access to better-quality food (at a higher price, of course) in their fridge. Also, a player could go out to eat, with restaurant quality and price determined by the neighborhood. Each food item would affect body fat, body muscle definition, and in the case of things like coffee, energy level.