Professor Carolyn Jong
ENGL 255 B – Video Games and/as Literature
March 24th, 2017
A Shift in Perspective
In this micro-essay I will argue that the video game Dys4ia uses simple visuals and controls to convey the complex issue of gender identity in video games. By using a format that is familiar to old games I have previously encountered growing up in the nineties, my experience provided a deeper understanding of the rich narrative at play. In a sense, revisiting an old form of simple gameplay to discuss the complex issue in Dys4ia, is the perfect way to allow players from different backgrounds to experience Anthropy’s personal transformation.
Anthropy’s article, “The Problem with Videogames,” discusses the boundaries set upon games by commercial manufacturers (6). It is important to note the author points out that games are consistently revisiting gender-related constraints that have worked in the past in order to simply guarantee profit (5). However, Anthropy critiques this trend and reminds readers that perhaps there can be more to video games than simply shooting targets as men, or at men (1). As an individual who has not undergone such complex issues pertaining to gender, experiencing Dys4ia was unexplored territory that ultimately peaked my interest because I had never played a game with this narrative before. Furthermore, playing the game without having to win or lose allowed me to focus on the narrative text at hand. Originally, as a conditioned player, I assumed the game’s controls and visuals would reflect the complications of the narrative; however, being greeted with simple controls and familiar gameplay allowed me to quickly understand the boundaries set on individuals in everyday society as they were reflected in the game. For example, trying to fit an oddly shaped puzzle piece into a wall, conveyed the meaning instantaneously (Dys4ia). Checking off sections in a doctor’s note made me question video games as I had never questioned them before: why are we simply given two options when playing commercial games? Are companies aware of these boundaries, or are they simply sticking to an original recipe that has worked in the past? As a player, I immediately reflected upon the limitations of gender; how individuals are unique in their own way and cannot simply shape themselves to fit into a perfectly laid out brick wall. Furthermore, I recognized that the perfect way to deliver this meaning through an interactive video game, is to make it as simple as possible; just as Squinky did during their text adventure presentation on March 10th in class. In Squinky’s case, interacting with text alone is enough to efficiently deliver their message and entertain players.
In closing, I want to stress that by using simple controls and pixelated images to display such a complex issue, Anthropy challenges the commercial game industry by providing a game experience that expands upon different formats (18). When such a complex issue is under exploration, there is no need for extraordinary graphics to make up for the lack of narrative. Perhaps in my experience, I felt that Dys4ia was not just a video game to distract me with visual effects and a clear end game, but an invitation, rich in narrative, to explore and acknowledge virtual and real-life boundaries set upon us in everyday society.
Anthropy, Anna. “The Problem With Videogames.” Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Dropouts, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form. New York, NY: Seven Stories Press, 2012. 1-21.
Dys4ia (Anna Anthropy 2012), http://wizardofvore.itch.io/dys4ia