Dys4ia (representing the word Disphoria) is an autobiographical game created by Anna Anthropy. The game focuses on Anna’s personal experience with hormone replacement therapy, and as the player we do not so much play the game as experience it. The game is really an interactive story which allows us to empathize with Anna’s emotional journey through hormone therapy.
The audio playing on the title screen really creeped me out. I thought this was going to be a horror game for a second!
There is no guesswork when it comes to understanding what the game is about. Before we are able to interact with the game, there is some text explaining that the game is an autobiographical account of Anna’s hormone replacement therapy experience. This makes the player have an understanding of what the game will be depicting and what to expect.
The visuals themselves are very basic, and a lot of what we see is very vague and lacks detail. This doesn’t have an negative effect on how the story is told, though. In fact, I believe that the basic pixel art adds to the stylistic retelling of Anna’s experience. We as the player are not solely relying on visuals to tell the story, we are allowing the text, interactivity and audio to lead us through the story.
The audio and visuals combined actually made me feel a sense of disphoria and unease. I found the game to be unsettling and creepy at some moments, which shows that the game did a great job of conveying emotions and allowing the player to experience them.
The mechanics in Dys4ia are quite simple. The player is allowed to use only the arrow keys to interact in the game. There are several “mini-game” like moments where the player must use the arrow keys to move around to trigger the story to progress. Sometimes, even if the player does not move the story will progress regardless. Other times, the player will have to complete a certain action to progress. There are not many rules to the game, other than these simple mechanics.
Dys4ia’s mechanics encourage the player experience Anna’s narrative. Having a lack of winning or failing mechanics means that the player will not be striving to “win” the game. Rather, their objective is to progress through the story. This game was really interesting to me because of the way it envourages this dynamic behaviour in the player. In some of the interactive parts of the story, you would actually have to get hit by whatever it seemed you were meant to avoid to progress the story.
This was what was different about the game – everything the player does is to progress through the narrative – there is no winning or losing this game, as it is completely story driven, and centred around Anna’s experiences. Every progression in the story is inevitable and cannot be changed by the player’s actions, which reflects the true nature of an autobiographical experience. Enforcing competitive gameplay on this game would completely disconnect the player from the core emotional experience. We are simply interacting with Anna’s story, in a much more impactful way than if it were simply told verbally or in written form. Combining the audio, visiuals and interactive play, the game tells Anna’s story in a way that gives it so much more emotional value than any other medium.