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Rating: 4.5/5 (586 votes)
Comments (21) | Views (15,884)

TrickyDys4iaThose who know of Anna Anthropy most likely know three things about her. 1. That she is the designer of some singularly unique games, with a clear fondness for classic arcade tropes. 2. That she is a male-to-female transsexual, and LGBTQ and Gender themes are often present in her work, and 3. That she is a provocateur extraordinaire, and the way she has expressed her thoughts and opinions have been... divisive. To put it kindly. This combination alone would make an autobiographical piece of experimental interactive art of hers of interest. However, when the specific subject, the experience and struggles of the past six months of hormone therapy, is territory unexplored by flash gaming, it becomes impossible to ignore. Dys4ia is a very personal experience, almost uncomfortably so. Still, it is a raw and poignant work.

Gender Dysphoria, as referred to in the title, is discontent with the biological sex and/or the gender one is assigned at birth. Its clinical definition as a mental disorder, as well as the conflicting theories of causes and proper treatments, are the subject of immense controversy, but it is clear that, as with all struggles of identity, it can make for much inner turmoil. As mentioned in the game's intro, Dys4ia is but one individual's story of their struggles. The story takes the form of rapid-fire arcade mini-games, all of which are controlled with the [arrow] keys. The game is separated into four sections, progressing through the months of therapy.

Note: This game features low-rez pixel nudity and frank discussion of personal issues of sexuality. The purpose and effect is in no way titillation, but it is still a game for mature audiences. Also, the gameplay shifts quickly enough, that those with epilepsy should take care when playing.

Dys4iaAnalysis: Like many pieces of interactive art, Dys4ia toes the line between "a game that tells a story" and "a story told through the framework of a game". However, as artistic flashes go, it is game-ier than most. If the retro graphics and gameplay are used only in so far as they advance metaphor, then at least they are done by someone who knows the music as well as the notes. There's a lot of life present in Dys4ia's chunky pixels, and in any case, the power of the story being told makes up for a lot. It may not be possible to lose the game, but then again, if the game is to stay true to personal experience, what sense could an alternate ending make?

Even with all its gaming influences, it's obvious that Dys4ia would not exist if the author did not want a platform to share her thoughts. She wants to give others a peek into her world; a world admittedly not often covered by media of any kind. As laudable and intruiging as that is, there's a lot that can go wrong. Even if the message is as simple as "It Gets Better", works with a message often are in danger of falling into pretentious soap-boxing. Dys4ia is not altogether devoid of that, but it is successfully mollified. First of all, there is the game's humor. This game is surprisingly funny. Part of it is the hilarity of the unexpected: we don't expect garish colors and WarioWare in what is, at its heart, a medical and relationship drama. It's not certain if Dys4ia contains the first gaming depiction of a Rapid Oral HIV test, but it's probably the first time we've see what one would look like on the Atari 2600. However, Dys4ia goes beyond shock value, with some exceedingly clever bits of physical comedy and dialogue as well. It's not quite laugh-out-loud, but sometimes, a constant half-smiles can be just as good.

Another thing that keeps the game grounded is Anthropy's willingness for self-deprication. This rages from from the goofy, like a small mini-game about wriggling into a tight shirt, to the extremely serious. Dys4ia doesn't shy from showing the legally and medically questionable actions Anna took in her personal quest. While clearly she believes her actions to be ultimately justified, it is praiseworthy that the story depicts warts and all, and indeed makes it a stronger work.

How receptive you are to Dys4ia will depend on your thoughts of any of a dozen personal issues. Then again, it is a very personal game, the kind where objective assessment is made extremely difficult by both what the content and who the author are. Overall, Dys4ia is a short, oddly sweet, 4-bit poem of a game that'll take only five minutes to play. Positively or negatively, it's likely something that's going to be thought and talked about.

Play Dys4ia


Usually when I play experimental/art games I am left saying either "Mmm, it makes you think" or "Wow... pretentiousness overload". This game, however, was awesome! I know a lot of t-girls and I've even been there to see one person start their transition and see another friend decide to undo their transition.

I'm glad for the disclaimer at the start about it being a personal journey and not commentary on all transgendered people. But that said, all of this rang true and I couldn't help but laugh when the 'May I help you Sir?' became 'MA'AM!'. The most gorgeous girl I know is a trans and you would never guess to look at her. Her kryptonite though is telemarketers who say, 'Good afternoon Sir, I have a great offer for you'. It's horrible to see someone who I think is more 'woman' than most of the biogirls I know, reduced to self loathing over semantics.

I give this game 5 lasered off Adam's apples.


Yay, butterfly!

Loved the humor and an interesting experience. On a game note, anybody find any easter eggs? This seems like one that would be ripe with them.


One of the things that I was most surprised about this is I first played this on newgrounds, and after I finished it I had a fit of masochism and decided to look at the comments. This is not a good idea when you are looking at anything that has to deal with queer topics, especially trans* ones.

Of the twenty pages of comments I went through, there were approximately three posts which were hurtful. And people replied to those telling them as such. It was probably the most shocking and awesome thing.

Anyway, yeah, the game. Adore it, love it. The imagery explains that really hard-to-describe feeling of dysphoria beautifully -- the tetris-like misshapen blocks that can't quite fit through the space is just exactly that feeling. And I applaud Anna Anthropy for sharing this story with us, cause that sorta thing is real hard to do, sometimes.

Schippor March 15, 2012 6:51 PM

mmm.... I don't understand if she loves girls or boys

Asthanius March 15, 2012 8:23 PM

@Schippor: That doesn't really matter, now does it?


This was heartbreaking and uplifting. As someone who has constantly struggled with finding a firm sense of identity, and battling what people expect of me, this was so encouraging. I love the style of gameplay, it's so sweet and simple. The struggle and turmoil to be yourself is beautiful. Completely beautiful. The most touching for me,

is wandering through the hall of mirrors, and feeling like you are finally seeing what your girlfriend sees when she looks at you. It made me tear up. It's so rare to find someone in life that not only loves you for who you are, but also who you don't realize you are.

Schippor March 16, 2012 6:51 AM

@Asthanius: yes, but if she loves a girl I can't understand why she becames a girl. I've never heard of men who become lesbians, it's so weird.

I come from a small town in Italy, and these things do not happen here


With all due respect, Schippor, I think you're thinking about this too hard and too clinically. :) Sometimes what you need to feel complete isn't what everyone else needs, but as long as that's what works for you, that's all that matters. Personally, I think there's too much of a desire to fit everyone into a neat little box, and it doesn't always work that way.


I suggest you read up on gender dysphoria. It has nothing to do with the gender one is attracted to and everything to do with the gender one identifies as.


Lol, I was legitimately thinking the day before I saw this game that somebody needed to make a game about dysphoria.
One of those pretentious art games that I love. Shared it with my boyfriend, he wasn't so enamoured. Great topic, but the medium isn't for everyone. If you like short pixellated games without traditional gameplay style then you should love this.
I thought it was skillfully crafted and rang true to my own experiences with gender. Particularly the part where she has a hard time getting through the door/ hole in the brick wall at the beginning of the game, and by the end she feels more comfortable with herself but can't fit through it (society's perceptions of gender) at all because she's constantly in flux.

That part may have been to subtle for some cisgender audience members, so I thought I should bring up how brilliant it was.

LVL. 99 Shiny Magicarp March 17, 2012 11:12 AM

This made me cry. My boyfriend is a female-to-male transgender, and I know this is very akin to what he is going through. I wish I could thank Anna personally.

LVL. 99 Shiny Magicarp March 17, 2012 11:21 AM

Oh, another note, the feminism thing at the beginning is actually a huge issue. I've noticed that women for gender equality tend to view any transsexuals as the enemy while this is simply not the case. Society in general seems to be against transsexuals, and it's heartbreaking.


LVL. 99 Shiny Magicarp,

While I can't speak for the painful experiences your boyfriend or Anna Anthropy went through, I have to disagree with the generalization that feminists do not accept transsexuals as "real" men or women. As a feminist, I think that gender equality means exactly that - equality for all genders.

It is my core belief as a supporter of gender equality that human beings should be treated not as a woman, or a man, or a transsexual, but as a person. That belief is not in any way threatened by any other person's gender, lifestyle, or sexuality, and it certainly does not make transsexuals "the enemy". Truly, what right would I have as a feminist to tell a transsexual who they are or who they are not, and in the same breath declare that I should be immune to such categorization?

There are still many in society, including some feminists, who are ignorant or unaccepting of transsexuals, and that is a tragic reality. However, I hope you can share my understanding that there are also many of us out there (feminist or not) who pursue the tolerance and equal treatment for all people, and that acceptance cannot be gained if we still hold each other in such contempt.

rincewindsw March 18, 2012 3:04 PM

@Trinn - I totally agree with you in principle, that is exactly what feminism should be. However, I've heard accounts of transgender women who have felt less supported by feminists, perhaps because some feminists tend to use female sexual organs as a means of empowerment (cf The Vagina Monologues), and male sex organs as a point of disparagement, at the unintentional expense of trans women. I interpreted that as the issue which Anthropy's game touches upon.


That was beautiful.


This is the second time I have tried this game, and I cannot get this to start. I have pressed the "down arrow", the number 2 (with "Num lock" off), the "Page down" key, the keys "d-o-w-n", the space bar, and mousing and clicking over the word "down", and the down arrow.

What am I missing?


Down arrow is working for me in a variety of browsers on Mac OS X and Windows 7. If you'll tell me what browser, OS and Flash Player versions you're using I'll try to reproduce the issue.


Windows Vista 32-bit, Flash version, Google Chrome. Thanks!


Hi hamfist, we tried to reproduce your issue on Vista with Chrome and could not. So, it might be due to a conflict with a browser extension you have installed. Try disabling all that you have installed to see if that's the problem. You might also try different browsers, too.


Thanks for the assistance! (For the record, it still didn't work in Chrome for me, even after disabling all extensions, but I did get it to work in IE.)

https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawlNyh_5Y7hGsbdzIQDu6yOwovbSXpVJy2Q April 25, 2012 8:13 AM

I don't get why my comment was deleted :/

I think this game is really cool, maybe it's not very interactive, but it is enough for it to work, and anyway what's important here is the story.

I like that the way the story is told is realistic, neither 100% depressing nor happy, just genuine frustration or hope or expectations. It really is different when a person of the LGBT community creates a game that talks about LGBT issues, than when a cisgender straight person does: it shows that Anna knows what she's talking about.

@Schippor: I also came from a very small town in Italy, and "these things" DO happen there, thankyouverymuch, since I'm a bisexual transboy myself.

[While I don't know why your previous comment was deleted, please take a look at our commenting policies for reasons why it may have been deleted. We have very strict rules about some things, and your comment must have broken one of them. -Mod.]


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