Dys4ia is meaningful in the way that it uses the interactivity of video-games to convey complex, and sometimes conflicting emotions; bringing to light a controversial subject rarely covered favorably in popular media. Of course popular-culture is saturated with performances which boil our blood, make us feel sympathy, or joy. However the key difference between the relationship we have with video-games like Dys4ia and most mass-media like film, TV, and radio, is that it is an interactive one. Whereas we play a passive role when we ingest the latest blockbuster movie or the evening news. We must sit and listen, and the activity requires no input from us, the viewer.
This passive relationship we have with mass-media is nothing new, and was a heated topic for Adorno and Horkheimer, two theorists who fled Nazi Germany during WWII. In their paper “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass-Deception” they argue that the passive relationship we have with mass-media is a dangerous one, and theorized how mass-consumption of popular-culture leads to the death of individuality and true freedom. How you may ask? It makes us a homogenized society unable to dream beyond the boundaries society has built around us. These perceived boundaries are instilled in us subtly throughout our lives by constant exposure to almost exclusively heterosexual relationships on TV, the abundance of caucasian protagonists in films, and alpha-male super-heroes in comic books…etc. This formula may suppress those who do not fit in to the ‘normal’ mold. Too bad mass-media is something which we can never truly escape from. It is an essential, and often very enjoyable, part of our lives and we must take the time to consume our regular dose of popular-culture because it is what keeps us feeling connected to our peers and is, in many ways, what keeps us united as a nation (and even beyond that, as people who speak the same language.) Popular-culture creates a shared well of memories and experiences ranging from, “Where were you on 9/11?” to “Billy the blue ranger was my favourite!”
So where does that leave Dys4ia? It is indeed a video-game but not one which adheres to the guidelines of mainstream society. It tackles the issues facing transgender individuals in a playful and meaningful way; allowing us to briefly understand and learn about the daily challenges a person who does not fit into homogenized society may face. The “Culture Industry” illustrated a bleak future in which individuality would not exist. Although much of what Adorno and Horkheimer wrote rings very true today, it is important to remember that their theories were born in a time of fascism and war (1940s). The internet did not exist, and unlike media distribution in the past, the internet has allowed us to share our personal creations without constrains; reaching past popular-culture to find our audience at the margins of internet society and converse with them in a meaningful and interactive way. The internet is our new well of shared experience, in which homogenized society crumbles and individuality can thrive.
The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass-Deception, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer: http://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/theory/Adorno-Horkheimer-Culture-Industry.pdf