You Can’t See Yourself but You are Changing
In The Problem With Videogames, author Anna Anthropy, considers videogames as an art form. This is defined in terms of being a medium that is able to transmit ideas, culture, expression, and validation from mere creation. Even though optimistic sounding in it’s possibilities, Anthropy feels unsatisfied with videogames fitting within this description because for them they lack the multiplicity of perspectives, stories, and the voices of those who tell them. In being a trans and queer individual, Anthropy finds it most difficult to find games that resemble their own experience and wishes that video games were more of a creative act open to everyone to output diverse and expressive works. This is in opposition to what they define as a “dangerous cycle” where games similar in content and design are being repetitively produced for the same targeted audience (7). In defiance, Anthropy pleads for video games to become more meaningful and personal, to exist as works of art authored by you, me, and everyone else.
Dys4ia (2012) can be seen as Anthropy’s articulation and ultimately answer to their frustration with videogames. It utilizes what Anthropy finds as “what games are good for” in that it is about expression and the relationship between player’s actions and consequences (20). There is no strategy, challenge, nor reward, but instead a fast-paced sequence of mini games recounting the creator’s experience with gender dysphoria and hormone replacement therapy. Instead of being created for an assumed mass public, Anthropy’s personal story is able to reach specific publics, conveying subjectivities of gender, games, and identity.
In terms of this, what I found was most effective within Dys4ia is that the player takes on the role of an ever-changing avatar. You never once see yourself as a physical body, nor take the presence of one form, but instead conceptually exist as a blank canvas that Anthropy’s experience is projected upon. The events in the game happen to you and pass by quickly. There is an uncertainty to gameplay that is different than the conventions of most modern video games. There is no right way to do things, you have to instead feel out what you have to do. By this, Dys4ia is able to create an emotional response in myself as I faced similar frustrations and choices of another person’s life.
In addition, Dys4ia is able to communicate a type of “openness” that Anthropy argues for within their text. This openness is represented through the game’s accessibility which is illustrated in terms of it’s gameplay mechanics, visual design, and free-to-play/low cost of $5. It’s interface is easy to navigate welcoming un-experienced gamers and if you fail you still move on, just like life. The work is composed of visual metaphors conjoined with intimate phrases that together convey meaning through their interactivity. For example, in the first mini-game Anthropy’s body is represented as a tetris piece that cannot properly fit though a wall as a text speaks, “I feel weird about my body”. This conveys feelings of Anthropy’s own personal uncertainty and anxiety. Cell phones, shields, and mouths are also used to communicate other personal meanings that can be universally felt by players.
In pairing, Anthropy’s text and game breech for an alternate subjectivity within videogames. As ultimately an expression of self, Anthropy creates Dys4ia to play out a real-world experience, one personally shared by it’s creator to be experienced and emphasized with others. Even though a critique on the mainstream game industry and coming from a place of alienation, the work is optimistic in that it is a personal creation meant to be shared with others.
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.
Dys4ia (Anna Anthropy 2012), http://wizardofvore.itch.io/dys4ia