A very short, flash-based game called Dys4ia is getting some attention among the art nouveau gaming set (hey, it’s a real demographic). It really only takes about five minutes to complete, so you may wish to experience it for yourselves before reading further (linked above).
The game, created by Anna Anthropy, brings the player into her recent autobiographical experiences: struggling with her own gender identity and undergoing hormone-replacement therapy in order to find a version of herself that fits.
Ben Kuchera at the Penny Arcade report conducted an interview with her about her story, the reason for putting that story in the form of a game, and the reason for publishing that game on Newgrounds. She was quoted as saying:
This was a story about frustration – in what other form do people complain as much about being frustrated? A video game lets you set up goals for the player and make her fail to achieve them. A reader canít fail a book. Itís an entirely different level of empathy.
Perhaps more significantly, a video game forces an individual to engage actively in a way that other media doesn’t. To some extent, it’s always possible to go into auto-pilot with any task, including interactive media, but it’s a lot harder with a game than it is with a short film. A game only moves forward as the player participates, which requires a certain amount of thinking about each task, and, as a consequence of that, a certain amount of engagement and thought about each image and situation. A film will just keep going once you’ve hit play, whether you’re watching, daydreaming, or even out of the room.
But why Newgrounds? The site, which hosts independently-made flash videos and games of all sorts, generally caters to a core demographic of males between the age of 13 and 21. There’s everything from Dragonball Z parodies to stick-figure shooter-based games. The name of the site comes from an English translation of Neo Geo, which was a popular arcade and, later, home console game hardware and software company.
Newgrounds began its life as a Neo Geo fanzine, for a core group of Bubble Bobble fans (and fans of other simple puzzlers and fighting games). Anthropy explains:
I wanted to put the game on Newgrounds because I wanted to take people out of their comfort zones, to confront them with the other theyíre so often afraid of. But I was surprised that so many people, on Newgrounds and in other communities, connected with the game, even if they donít 100 percent get it.
Here she succeeded. She might have made a short art film and thrown it up on YouTube, but there’s no guarantee anyone outside the LGBT or art house communities would have seen it. But a game asks to be played. Newgrounds users see something new, have no idea what to expect, and click on it. Even if it’s not what they expected, the series of simple but engaging levels, perhaps most comparable to the 10-second “microgames” seen in the WarioWare games by Nintendo, keep them clicking through to each new scene in her brief life narrative.
Since then, word-of-mouth is spreading, and plenty of people who’ve never really thought that deeply about what it means to struggle with gender identity are now getting at least an inkling.
Only one question remains unanswered: will there be a sequel?
Image credit: Anna Anthropy