In her book Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, Anthropy criticizes digital games for being mostly about men shooting each other. As a queer transgendered woman, she noticed there were few, if any, games which resembled her own experience. And when there were representations of queer women, she notes, they were being written by white college-educated men and not the women themselves. In her autobiographical creation Dys4ia, she subverts these traditional notions of game development, design, and narrative by telling her story in her own way.
Anna Anthropy’s 2012 Dys4ia is a game about her personal experience as a transgendered individual trying hormone replacement therapy. The game consists of four levels. The first three each portray one or another form of ‘bullshit’ the player must experience to complete the game: Gender Bullshit, Medical Bullshit, and Hormonal Bullshit. The final level entitled It Gets Better? offers a kind of hopeful ending or, as the final screen suggests, beginning for the character in the game.
By breaking down her experience into a series of creative mini-games, Anthropy opens up her autobiography to the player; each challenge for the player reflects a challenge Anthropy herself has had to overcome. For example, players must try to fit blocks through openings which don’t always match, or avoid verbal projectiles, or literally jump through hoops to advance in the game. One can see how these trials work as metaphors for real-life anxieties about not fitting in to or being ostracized from society. Furthermore, it is sometimes impossible to complete these challenges; no matter how much the player presses the down key, those girly clothes will not fit; and after the hormone replacement therapy, it is impossible to maneuver the enlarged breasts around obstacles. These instances emphasize the struggle of the experience rather than the ability to win the game. This kind of gameplay offers the player a unique perspective into the experience of another person. As Anthropy puts it…
“It’s hard to imagine a more effective way to characterize someone than to allow a player to experience life as that person” Anna Anthropy, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters (p20)
The game’s visual and sound design are also important aspects of the game experience which lend themselves to interpretation. Bright, neon colours and unusual shapes in the game are jarring and at times confusing. The music and sounds are a jumble of muffled voices, static, and high-pitched tones. This dissonance in the audio and visual presentation of Dys4ia can be uncomfortable, perhaps intentionally so, eliciting a feeling of unease in the player.
A state or condition marked by feelings of unease or (mental) discomfort
“dysphoria, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2014. Web. 4 February 2015.
With innovative level creation and design, Dys4ia becomes more of an experiment in empathy than a game or quest to be conquered by the player. True to her words, Anthropy has created a different way of interacting with this game to tell a different kind of story, one outside of the monopoly on game creation.