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Video Game / Tell Me Why

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"The only thing that matters is you're my brother. And the only way to move forward... is to keep looking back."

Tell Me Why is an episodic narrative adventure game developed by DONTNOD Entertainment and published by Xbox Game Studios.

It's November 2015, and 21-year-old Tyler Ronan is finally leaving behind his past at Fireweed Residential Center to reunite with his twin sister, Alyson, after ten years apart. While revisiting their childhood home in the rural Alaskan town of Delos Crossing, they discover uncertainties surrounding their mother's death and difficult childhood, sparking their search for resolution by investigating the town and its guarded residents. During their journey, the twins rediscover their childhood telepathic bond and develop the ability to visually manifest and debate their differing memories of the same events.

Tell Me Why is the first major studio game to feature a transgender protagonist in the form of Tyler; to help with his portrayal, LGBTQ advocacy organization GLAAD was heavily involved with development. Additionally, the game contains depictions of the Tlingit people and mental health issues, which had guidance from the Huna Heritage Foundation and CheckPoint. An FAQ containing detailed content warnings and information can be found here.

The game consists of three chapters, releasing over the course of three weeks starting from August 27, 2020. It's available on PC and Xbox One, and was available on Xbox Game Pass from release.

Tropes found in this game:

  • 20 Minutes into the Past: The game takes place in late 2015, five years prior to its release in 2020.
  • Ambiguously Absent Parent: The twins' father doesn't seem to be in the picture; Sam mentions that Mary-Ann "never had a man around", and following her death, Alyson was sent to live with the local police chief. Their father is revealed to be Tom Vecchi, the owner of the store Alyson works at.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Was Mary-Ann really trying to kill Tyler that night or was it merely an unfortunate case of Poor Communication Kills? The game has two endings, where the player can believe their memories, that Mary-Ann was trying to kill Tyler, or Tom’s version which suggests that she was trying to kill herself before the misunderstanding at the dock happened. The game doesn’t confirm which situation is the truth, as both sides have good reasons to distort the truth. It is noted that Tom's recollection of the events directly goes against his own narrative of painting Mary-Ann as a crazy person, as Mary-Ann didn't threaten to shoot Tyler in his version, though it could be his way of trying to guilt the twins over what happened.
  • Animal Motifs: The characters within the Ronans' childhood fantasy book, The Book of Goblins, appear to be heavily inspired by people they knew, supported by the themed collectibles being located near their corresponding person.
  • Apologises a Lot: Downplayed with Alyson. When Tyler calls her out for this on the boat, she apologizes for that, too.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Alyson suggests the rings from Eddy has some kind of spiritual bond, and points out they already have Twin Telepathy.
  • As You Know: Tyler has written the word "testosterone" in full once per week on the calendar in his dorm room. Trans people taking testosterone are much more likely to just call it "T", especially in a note to themselves, so writing the whole word out seems to be more for the benefit of the audience.
  • Bait-and-Switch: The first chapter starts with Tyler confessing that he killed his mother in self-defense. The end of the chapter reveals that it was Alyson and he took the blow for her.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Tyler, to the point where he decides to lie about killing their mother without hesitation to prevent Alyson from being punished.
  • Bleed 'Em and Weep: Alyson's reaction after stabbing Mary-Ann.
  • Calling Parents by Their Name: Tyler and Alyson refer to their mother as Mary-Ann, justified by their complicated relationship prior to her death.
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: The scissors Alyson cuts Tyler's hair with are the weapon she uses to kill her mother.
  • Choice-and-Consequence System: A summary of choices is shown at the end of each chapter. According to promotional material, the strength or weakness of the twins' bond will affect their fate.
  • Company Cross References: Tyler can find posters that reference the previous games made by DONTNOD in episode 2.
    • The first poster is an ad for a film company featuring a camera and a butterfly. The strapline reads "Life is weird".
    • The second poster is a wine glass with the words "Red Queen", to which Tyler comments, "What is glass but tortured sand?".
    • The third one is a reference to Remember Me.
    • Viewing all three unlocks the achievement "Remember Strange Vampyr".
  • Conveniently Timed Attack from Behind: As Mary-Ann aims her gun at Tyler, Alyson does this to her.
  • Cooldown Hug: Tyler gives Alyson one as she starts breaking down after their mother's death.
  • Cutting the Knot: Occurs a few times when dealing with Mary-Ann's puzzles. You can solve them as intended, or simply go for the brute approach to speed things along.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Both the twins use sarcastic humor, but Tyler is the wittiest out of the two.
    Sam: Seeing as your mama never had a man around, took it on myself to help her keep this place standing.
    Tyler: How...antiquated...of you.
  • Death of a Child: In chapter 3, the twins discover Mary-Ann had lost her first child, Leo, when he was a baby, which contributed heavily to her mental decline
  • Do Not Call Me "Paul": The first name Tyler had chosen for himself was Ollie, prior to switching to Tyler while at Fireweed. While most people accepted the change, he mentions that one of his mentees refused to call him by his new name.
  • Don't Split Us Up: After their mother's murder, Tyler is sent to live at a center for troubled youth while Alyson was taken in by the police chief, Eddy, who prevented them from seeing each other until Tyler was 18.
  • Drowning Their Sorrows: Sam's descent into alcoholism began when Mary-Ann died. He was in love with her, and while she always turned down his advances, her death still devastated him.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Alyson and Tyler spend ten years thinking their mother attempted to kill the latter due to transphobia, and in a matter of days, not only realize that their memory of the event (and the context in which it all happened) were incomplete, but also relive their trauma (particularly Alyson, who has been living with a secret for which she probably should have been receiving psychiatric treatment). In the end, depending on player choice, Alyson can end up moving on with her life and beginning to succeed in her chosen field, Tyler can become more secure with himself and begin a relationship, and the twins' bond can become stronger than ever.
  • Everytown, America: Delos Crossing is one, even if Alaska is often overlooked as a setting for such stories.
  • Foreshadowing: Throughout the first chapter, Alyson is more unwilling to change her view on their mother and wants to erase any memory of her, which makes more sense in light of the twist; she's the one with the most guilt and trauma after stabbing her, and doesn't want to consider that it could have been unjustified.
    • A minor one in that Michael says that Alyson is "a hottie, but not my type", which foreshadows that he is gay and is attracted to Tyler, since they are Half-Identical Twins.
    • The identity of the antagonist, the twins' father, Tom Vecchi is foreshadowed a little, from his favourite character on a TV show being "cutthroat", to having green eyes shared by the twins, while Mary-Ann had blue eyes and the only other suspect, Sam, had brown eyes.
  • Forgiveness: One of the major theme of the game:
    • Tyler never forgave his mother's actions the night she chased after him armed with a rifle. Every memory he has of her is tainted by his preconceived notion that she never accepted him being a boy and cutting his hair. However, him discovering in her room a book about how to raise a transgender child makes him question himself, leading him to seek answers about what really was his mother's state of mind. By the end of the game, he discovers that his mother, while a troubled individual, did love them unconditionally, and that his decade old memories of that fateful night might have been wrong. He ultimately leaves the final choice to his sister, and eventually forgives his mother.
    • Alyson throughout the game has to come to terms with murdering her own mother. As the game unfolds, her mental state deteriorates quickly, as she is racked with guilt, leading her to develop hallucinations and to have panic attacks. The final choice is also the hardest one, because at that point she realizes that what they both remember may be wrong, and that there is a very distinct possibility that Mary-Ann didn't actually want to kill her brother at all. In the end, she learns to forgive herself, weither she feels her actions were justified or not.
    • Eddy Brown faces his own struggles: him breaking protocol contributed to the events that led Mary-Ann to act the way she did the night she lost her life. He repents by taking care of the twins, though with an obvious bias towards Alyson, who, unbeknowst to him, is the one who actually killed Mary-Ann. If Alyson comes clean to him, he is visibly shocked, as he realizes he pretty much exiled Tyler away from his sister for all the wrong reasons.
    • Tessa is absolutely devastated by what happened to Mary-Ann as she feels she was the main reason the tragedy took place. Had she not called social services, things would not have spiraled out of control like they did. She also comes to regret her attitude towards Tyler and suggesting to Mary-Ann to send him to conversion therapy. The twins can decide to forgive her or not.
  • Game-Breaking Bug: In Chapter 3, there is a scene where Alyson sits down at a table with another character. However, for some players, the game fails to load the actions needed to advance the game, leaving the player stranded at the table with no recourse but to reset and try again.
  • Hammerspace: At the beginning of Chapter 2, Sam brings the twins some supplies for cleaning up the old house. After handing Tyler a box, he then proceeds to pull a casserole dish, complete with a full fish and assorted vegetables, out of (based on his body language) the left pocket of his jeans.
    • In Tyler's ending, he puts a sleeping bag and laptop into the back pocket of his jeans.
  • Informed Attribute: Both Alyson and Tyler are said to be smokers, but neither is seen smoking during the game. The closest we see is Alyson having an ashtray and lighter on her windowsill.
  • Loving Bully: If Tyler points out the dock while on the boat ride and recalls that it was the neighbor, not him, who always pushed Alyson into the lake, she mentions that they ended up dating and that she "always [seems] to attract the assholes". A photo of her and Bobby from her 2012 prom can be found in her room.
  • Matricide: At age 11, Tyler was sent to a residential center for killing his mother in self-defense. In reality, Tyler had taken the fall for Alyson, who stabbed their mother after finding her hunting Tyler down with a gun.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The twins' Psychic Link is definitely neither mundane nor imaginary like they thought it might have been. But the characters in The Book of Goblins, especially the creepy ones like the Mad Hunter, might have been more than just dreamed up character. While most sightings of the Mad Hunter were misperceptions of Tom, we do have two glimpses of him (in the police station, and entering the house when the twins were children) that are much harder to explain mundanely. And just why does the book talk about The Secret Keeper giving the goblins their Voice?
  • Mood Whiplash: One flashback in the first chapter shows Alyson giving Tyler his first short haircut, to both their delight. Then he goes to show it to their mother...
  • Multiple Endings:
    • The game has two different epilogues. If Alyson confesses to Eddy about killing Mary-Ann OR chooses to believe Tom’s memory of the murder night, you get the Tyler ending where he is moving out to a new life outside the house, and can explore the now-empty house before driving off. Otherwise you get the Alyson ending where she moves back into the house, and she can explore her settled-in house before writing a new entry into the Book of Goblins.
    • Depending on the state of their relationship in the end, the twins decide whether or not to give up their voice, as a showing of their bond to each other. The two epilogues play out subtly differently depending on the state of their bond. If Tyler is moving out, if they still have their voice, Tyler will move in with Alyson and Michael in Juneau. If not, Alyson will be in Juneau with Michael, but Tyler will be heading to Kodiak to work a job with the wildlife in isolation. If Alyson is moving in, if they still have their voice, Alyson will be calling Tyler up for inspiration on the next chapter of the Book of Goblins and be encouraging on his next endeavour, whether it be in Kodiak or in Juneau with Michael, and still talking to each other with their voice cities apart. If not, their conversations will be cold and distant and they won't use their voice.
    • By the end, you can choose to have Alyson and Tyler believe that Mary-Ann was going to kill Tyler that night, or believe Tom’s version of the events which has him believe that Mary-Ann was trying to kill herself, meaning the entire incident that lead to Mary-Ann’s death was a misunderstanding. The game doesn’t confirm which ending was what actually happened.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • If Alyson tells Eddy that she killed Mary-Ann, he has a subtle reaction of self blame as he realizes that not only did he fail to get Alyson the treatment she needed to process what had happened, but he had sent an innocent child to jail for almost a decade.
    • Tessa reveals this to be her true feelings in a letter at the end of the game, telling the twins that she called CPS on Mary-Ann out of anger and a desire for revenge from her husband's affair and she thus blames herself for Mary-Ann's death.
  • New Friend Envy: Downplayed, but after introducing Michael and Tyler to each other and seeing them immediately hit it off (not to mention quickly develop some signs of romantic attraction to each other), there are a few hints that Alyson is worried that they already like each other better than her. The twins' bond will actually be slightly lowered if you go for that route (nothing major, thankfully).
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Tyler is genuinely trying to protect Alyson when he takes the fall for killing Mary-Ann and goes to Fireweed in her place. However, this means that Alyson never receives any psychiatric treatment for the extreme trauma she endured by killing her mother in (what she believed was) defence of her brother. Tyler, on the other hand, gets regular therapy and becomes a much more well-adjusted person, as well as receiving support for his transition that he'd have been unlikely to have access to in Delos Crossing. Even living with the stigma of having (supposedly) killed his own mother, he's obviously in a much better place than Alyson is ten years later.
    • The same could be said for Eddy. He consciously isolated Alyson from Tyler for seven of the ten years they were apart, keeping her away from her last remaining family member and that potential source of emotional support. Furthermore, she doesn't seem to be receiving professional mental health care for what she went through — despite the fact that she still suffers regular panic attacks ten years later because of course she does; since surely seeing your brother kill your mother in self-defence would still be an awful thing to witness, even if it was believed you weren't directly involved. Again, this does not seem to be at all malicious, and instead is very much framed as him doing what he believed was right for Alyson — but it's clear she's very screwed up about all of it.
  • Parental Substitute: Sam obviously sees himself as a father figure to the twins, having helped raise them as children. As adults, he calls Alyson "Princess" and gives Tyler a knife, saying that every man should receive one with the implication that it should be a father figure who gives it to him. When trying to discover the identity of their father, Sam is the first suspect and even states that he would be proud to be their father, but he is not as Mary-Ann rejected his advances and he has had a vasectomy and wouldn't be able to father more children than his one son.
  • Parents as People: The game's focal mysteries revolve around the twins' mother, Mary-Ann; her troubled relationships with others in the town, her reasons for treating her children harshly despite still caring, and why she attempted to kill Tyler on the night of her death.
  • Poor Communication Kills: In the second ending, the player can choose to believe Tom’s version of what happened that night, where Mary-Ann was attempting to kill herself but young Tyler seeing her lead to the misunderstanding at the dock. Alyson will be visibly traumatized over the realization that she killed her mother over this misunderstanding, however, the game does not confirm if this was what actually happened, as the other ending can have the player accept that Mary-Ann was trying to kill Tyler. It does not confirm which ending was the “truth” either way.
  • "Rashomon"-Style:
    • A gameplay mechanic; Tyler and Alyson can recreate their memories of the same event, and their choice of which one to believe effects how they interact with others.
    • Outside of the mechanic, Mary-Ann's death is shown from Tyler and Alyson's perspectives in Chapters 1 and 2. The second time around, Alyson has an extra line ("Mom, you're bleeding..."), Mary-Ann's last words are different ("This isn't... what..." vs. "It's alright, I'm gonna be okay..."), and Tyler's promise to take the blame and their kneeling hug are reduced to Tyler trying to snap Alyson out of her dissociative state before resting on her shoulder.
  • Red Herring: By the end of Chapter 2, you are led to think that Sam might be the twins' father. However, it is quickly debunked, and a Genre Savvy player may be thinking that Alexander, the hunter who shows up sporadically in every chapter but who remains under notice could be the real biological father. Turns out Alexander is also a Red Herring, and the father's true identity will throw players for a loop and make them rethink every interaction and words said by that person, on top of explaining some of his wife's behavior.
  • Relationship Values: The twins' bond is increased or decreased depending on decisions made throughout the game, and will affect the ending. Other relationships, such as Eddy and Tyler/Alyson, are also determinant.
  • Scenery Porn: The game's Alaskan landscapes are breathtakingly beautiful.
  • Spiritual Sequel: To DONTNOD's Life Is Strange franchise. Like Life is Strange, Tell Me Why is an episodic adventure game featuring heavy emotional and mental health themes, focusing on interpersonal relationships, taking place in a small town in the USA and set 20 Minutes into the Past, starring young adult characters with superpowers, and featuring multiple prominent LGBTQ+ characters.
  • The Stinger: The first chapter ends with Tyler telling Alyson of his plan to break and enter into the police archive.
  • Surprisingly Creepy Moment: As a young Tyler runs away from his mother, he trips and catches a glimpse of the monstrously-grinning Mad Hunter.
  • Switching P.O.V.: The player switches between Tyler and Alyson's control throughout the game.
  • Therapy Is for the Weak: When Tyler brings up therapy, Alyson asserts that she's both fine and wouldn't be able to afford it. The effects are apparent; Alyson shows unresolved bitterness and signs of constant repression, whereas Tyler seems to be well on his way to healing and recovery. Made worse by the reveal that she killed Mary-Ann; Tyler received the treatment that Alyson needed all along.
  • There Are No Therapists: Played with. Despite initially claiming to be fine, Alyson later says that she did look into therapy. Unfortunately, Delos Crossing is in the middle of nowhere, meaning time, distance, and money were all obstacles to actually getting help.
    • Sure enough, one ending has Alyson start therapy after moving to Juneau.
    • Subverted for Tyler. Due to being in an institution, he had access to proper medical treatment that assisted in his transition and allowed him to come to terms (mostly) with what happened.
  • Trans Tribulations: Downplayed. Though Mary-Ann denied Tyler the resources he needed as a child, his transition over a decade at the accepting Fireweed Residential Center went very smoothly; he is secure in his identity as a trans man, and the most bigotry he faces are some ignorant comments and microaggressions during the first chapter. Evidence later surfaces that Mary-Ann had been trying to educate herself on how to support Tyler's transition despite the lack of resources she had access to; however, Tyler still had to live for a decade with the trauma of believing she was violently transphobic.
  • Tomato Surprise:
    • The twins never mention their childhood telepathic powers until they first discover their memory visualization powers, which they have a fairly mundane reaction to as a result.
    • At the end of the first chapter, it is revealed that Alyson is the one who stabbed their mother and that Tyler had voluntarily taken the blame.
  • Troubled Abuser: Mary-Ann.
  • Twin Telepathy: Shared when they were children, but disappeared for the duration of their decade-long separation.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The twins' powers don't actually show the past, just their memories of it. Since they don't necessarily remember the same events exactly the same way, this can lead to differences in the narrative between one another and, potentially, between themselves and the truth.
    • Exaggerated as Alyson's mental health starts declining. She sees memories that definitely didn't happen, most of which directly address her and voice everything bad she's felt about herself. It's the first time the memories shown are completely false.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Alyson giving Tyler a haircut directly precedes their mother attempting to shoot Tyler and her subsequent death. In light of evidence that Mary-Ann was trying to learn how to support Tyler's transition, it's unclear if the actual haircut played a role at all.
  • Video Game Caring Potential: Naturally, given the genre, it is prevalent in this game. In particular, based on the Consequences statistics available from the game, 95% of players endeavoured to maintain the twins' bond.
  • Wham Shot: Mary-Ann pulling a bloody pair of scissors from her back, then turning around to find a terrified Alyson.
  • Who's Your Daddy?: The Twins are unaware of who their real father is and seek to find out as a way of further unraveling the mystery surrounding their mother. In Chapter 3, Alyson asks Sam, though he reveals that he and Mary-Ann never slept together and were Just Friends. It’s revealed later in the episode that Tom Vecchi was the father of the twins and knew all along.
  • Woman Scorned: A letter at the end of the game reveals this to be what lead to Mary-Ann's death: upon learning that her best friend was not only sleeping with her husband, but had had 2 kids with him behind her back, Tessa cut off her charity to Mary-Ann and called CPS to report child neglect. This started the chain of events that ended in Mary-Ann's death.
  • Worst Aid: Subverted. When Alyson has a panic attack in Chapter 3, Michael assists her through it by listening without interrupting, telling her that her feelings are valid, not passing judgement if she tells him that she has been seeing things, and opening up about his own issues to help her feel like she isn't alone.