Instructor: Carolyn Jong
English 255B – Video Games and/as Literature
March 24th, 2017
Around the time Anna Anthropy wrote her book Rise of the Videogame Zinesters (2012), she created Dys4ia, a personal, pixelated flash game about her experience with hormone replacement therapy. This game encapsulates her book’s main arguments and is a perfect example and result of what she would like to see for video games.
In her book, Anthropy calls out to make video games accessible for anyone to create and to play, allowing for a “plurality of voices” (8) in which many perspectives and experiences from people of different backgrounds are presented. Currently, games are generally being created, marketed towards, and mostly played by young white adult men.
In its creation, most games, especially triple A games, are made in game industry companies by a large team of people under the same specific training, with a “small and privileged group” as decision makers (7). With its often large investment, to ensure profit, most games lower their risk of commercial failure by limiting experimentation and following the established models, ultimately becoming “copies of existing successful games” (5). Anthropy calls for accessibility for all to create games, in the same way that everyone can make and post Youtube videos. Indeed, Dys4ia is made by Anthropy herself, an individual with no official training in video game making, instead of a team. With help from friends, Anthropy made this highly personal piece using Flash as a platform, without looking to be mainstream marketed.
Content wise, the tendency in the video game industry creates games coming from a single mainstream perspective and thus making those from different backgrounds alienated and under-represented (if represented at all). Dys4ia, in comparison, is a deeply personal game in the perspective of a transgender woman, exploring the struggles and oppositions the creator has experienced undergoing hormone replacement therapy when transitioning from male to female. Before the start of the game, a disclaimer states that the game is autobiographical and “is not meant to be representative of every trans person” (fig.1). The game presents the many of Anthropy’s struggles (from being doubted by the institution, to insensitive remarks, to personal hygiene) that are likely shared by other trans people. Perhaps, then, the game’s purpose is not so much to educate about transgenderism as it is to present a perspective that trans people can relate to and identify themselves to in a game.
As Anthropy states, “to de-monopolize game creation is to de-monopolize access to games” (16). In fact, design wise, she wishes that games would be accessible to all, whether it is in terms of hardware (most games are expensive and require expensive gaming consoles), time (many games are extremely long for a play through), or knowledge (games are based on previous experience and techniques in using the controllers). Dys4ia is extremely accessible in all these ways. First, the game is playable from any computer with a Flash player installed, with no need of a controller, and used to be free and accessible online for all on Newgrounds (It is now accessible for 5$ on itch.io). Secondly, the game is short in duration, requiring less than ten minutes for the entire gameplay. Third and most importantly, the controls for the game are very simple, limiting all controls to the four arrow keys throughout the game. To begin Dys4ia, the player presses the “down” arrow key instead of clicking with the mouse or using the space bar (fig.2). This is a clear way to indicate that the only active controls are the arrow keys. This limit allowed me to navigate through the different (sometimes they are used to move the pixelated character, other times, to block attacks by moving up and down, to move certain objects (razor, clothing) etc.). With little writing and colorful graphics, Dys4ia is easily absorbed and can be played by a much wider audience (fig.3).
There are no ways to win or lose in Dys4ia. It is perhaps more of an interactive story than a game, a story about the Anthropy’s relationships with her close ones and with strangers during her hormone therapy. It explores how society and institutions treat and perceive trans people. In her text, Anthropy states that games are “uniquely suited to exploring systems and dynamics (…) especially good at communicating relationships” (20). Here again, her own game is a great example of maximizing the game medium’s strength, by putting us in her shoes, walking us through the steps and perceiving its feedbacks, thus allowing us the feel the pain and frustration she went through.
Anthropy, Anna. 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: Seven Stories Press, 2012. Print.
Anthropy, Anna. Dys4ia.Newgrounds,2012. Web. 18 March 2017. <https://w.itch.io/dys4ia/>