"Jane Austen was great, but she doesn't really write literature, you know" "Dys4ia is good, but it's not really a game."Upon taking the ten minutes required to actually play through Anna Anthropy's autobiographical Flash game, I replied that I felt it was more a picture book than a game. I didn't mean to sound dismissive or elitist with that observation, I was just trying to make sense of my experience with Dys4ia more than anything else.
When reviewing thatgamecompany's moving masterpiece, Journey this year, I floated the notion that at times I felt like I wasn't playing a game; at least not in the conventional sense. There was no HUD and very little to worry about in terms of control and mechanics: to me, it was more an interactive story than a game. Dys4ia also drifts into the grey area between game and interactive story. It is, however, affecting and well worth experiencing.
Let's have a look at a definition of "game" to better qualify my observation (source: dictionary.com):
"A competitive activity involving skill, chance, or endurance on the part of two or more persons who play according to a set of rules, usually for their own amusement or for that of spectators."This is most definitely Anna's take on her experiences with gender dysphoria and Hormone Replacement Therapy being imparted to me, the player; so there's your two persons. As for competition, skill, chance, endurance, or rules, Dys4ia is lacking there. Even if you don't clear certain obstacles -- including a stealth sequence in a women's restroom, and a side-scrolling flight section -- the game will most often carry on regardless. Most situations do require a specific input and don't have any apparent conditions for failure: the narrative progresses when you're ready to "turn the page," to serve the purpose of my metaphor.
Game or not though, there's no denying that this is a powerful ten minute ride. Given the wealth of experiences that Anthropy presents throughout the narrative, it's hard not to feel something; particularly with Liz Ryerson's oppressive soundtrack accompanying proceedings. As a cis white male, I've never really had to deal with any real crisis of gender identity. Dys4ia very effectively illustrates that trans people can expect a wealth of obstacles in their quest to feel comfortable with themselves and their gender.
When the #1ReasonWhy hashtag took Twitter by storm a few weeks ago, one of the messages that stuck with me was from Mattie Brice who shared the following:
“I had to make my own game in order to see someone like me as a main character.”I think the probability of seeing a trans protagonist in a AAA blockbuster release is near non-existent, however, stories like Dys4ia can go a way to illustrating issues with gender identity; and I hope to see more games like it emerge in future.
You can play Dys4ia on Newgrounds using the following link.