Danielle Bunten Berry was one of the more influential video gaming pioneers in our industry. The designer and programmer was known for her work on titles that were always ahead of their time, such as M.U.L.E., The Seven Cities of Gold, Modem Wars (the first PC game that could be played across multiple computers online), and Heart of Gold. Formerly Dan Bunten, she underwent sex reassignment surgery in 1992 and started living full-time as a woman. Dani Bunten passed away in 1998 due to lung cancer at 49 years old.
A Kickstarter has been underway for a game called Alpha Colony, a tribute to the classic M.U.L.E. in which DreamQuest Games secured the license for the IP from Dani’s family. Over $36,000 has already been raised towards a lofty $500,000 goal, with 18 days left to go in the project. So what’s wrong with this picture? This seems like a wonderful way to give tribute to an underrated game industry veteran who made a huge splash on innovation, right? Cue the transphobia.
The text in the Kickstarter refers to Dan Bunten, and the asterisk along with the name reveals the following: “Dan Bunten was the creator of the original M.U.L.E. game in 1983 and the family would prefer that we refer to him as Dan instead of Dani.”
This certainly isn’t the first time I have seen this kind of thing after a transgender individual passes away. Danielle Bunten did say some controversial things about her decision to transition, stating that she became a woman in the hopes that she would feel turned-on all of the time and telling other people who want a surgical sex change not to do it because it’s more trouble than it’s worth. That might make this situation slightly more complicated, but the fact of the matter is that Dani lived as a woman 100% of the time up until she passed away. She suffered through being treated like a second class citizen, and even talked about how her family and old friends abandoned her as a result of her transition, making access to her children more difficult. She was inducted into the Academy of Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame as a woman, as Dani Bunten Berry. And it’s apparent that her family is attempting to erase her female identity to make things more comfortable for them.
Did Dani regret her transition? Perhaps. But until the end, she was committed to her life as a woman. Her family is openly showing that even after her death, even after her life of success in the game industry, they still cannot support her for who she was. They are ashamed of her. I understand DreamQuest’s desire to capitalize on the license and legitimize their game by attaching the original creator’s name to the project, but what a slap in the face it is that they cannot use the name Dani preferred to go by. And if Dani’s family is going to make any revenue off this project aside from recognition (hell, even if they’re not), shame on them for using their privilege to erase her identity so they can feel more comfortable with it all.
(h/t to Jason B. for the tip)