Dys4ia is a new game by Anna Anthropy / Auntie Pixelante, developer of REDDER, Mighty Jill Off, Calamity Annie, When Pigs Fly, and other games, and who is also just about to release a book on independent game development, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters. Dys4ia is an autobiographical game about transgenderism and hormone therapy. The music is by Liz Ryerson. From Anna’s blog:
“dys4ia is the story of the last six months of my life: when i made the decision to start hormone replacement therapy and began taking estrogen. i wanted to catalog all the frustrations of the experience and maybe create an “it gets better” for other trans women. when i started working on the game, though, i didn’t know whether it did get better. i was in the middle of the shit detailed in level 3 of the game, and at the time i had no idea what the ending would be; it was hard to envision a happy ending.”
My friend Jeanne Thornton, who wrote or co-wrote some of my games (namely Immortal Defense and Saturated Dreamers), and who is the editor of Anna’s Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, requested I try out the game and review it. I was going to do that anyway, as I had heard of it a day earlier from Madamluna‘s Twitter, but probably not as soon as I would have otherwise; Jeanne said that the game would save the world and was important. But I was thinking something a lot of you are probably thinking—and I thought this even before I played the game (but generally knew what it was about)—do you um even know what you are asking? That I subject *this game* to frontpage TIGSource comments?
Anyway, the game is pretty good, as autobiographical art games go (e.g. if you’re expecting zero interactivity or walls of text you won’t find that). There’s a variety of short mini-games in quick succession, a bit like WarioWare. Each of the little games is well done, easy to understand, and a creative use of combining the topic and videogames, I enjoyed playing it just to see all the different ones. If you’re a game dev who wants to see art games done right, where the mechanics actually tie in to the theme, this is a great example. I enjoyed it more, qua game, than the similarly autobiographical game Keys of a Gamespace by Sébastien Genvo (forum discussion here), which dealt with pedophilia, but that’s just because that one was in the form of a slow-paced adventure game made in AGS rather than a fast-paced collection of mini-games made in Flash; as far as the autobiographical content goes, I felt both were similarly expressive and interesting. Another similarly autobiographical game is Aether by Edmund McMillen and Tyler Glaiel, which dealt with the loneliness of a child.
So yeah, I considered not writing about this game, because of the comments it’s sure to get here, because it’s one of those indie games that doesn’t actually need TIGSource to bring attention to it anyway (it was frontpaged on Newsgrounds and has had 17,000+ plays in one day), and because I basically don’t know anything about transgenderism (and that is in spite of having had five different transgendered friends over my lifetime, one of which was the first game programmer I ever met, who my parents knew before I was born). But then I read through the Newsground comments about the game and thought both “well the comments can’t be worse than some of these” but also “at least some people like it.” And one of the things I do know is that one should if something has both good and bad results, or is both liked and hated, it’s the good results, or the people who like it, that matter.