The academic homestead of Annika Waern

Dys4ia: Computer games as a media for autobiographical storytelling

This blog post is devoted to dys4ia, a gem of a game that I found through Ian Bogost’s blog. It is created by Anna Anthropy and is an autobiographical story of her hormone replacement medication.

Dys4ia is a storytelling game. It presents almost no game challenge at all. The minor game challenge I found was in the form of an interaction puzzle: in each scene you must figure out what to do to progress in the story. But this, you figure out almost instantly, by clicking around a bit and using the arrow keys on the keyboard. Neither is it very strong at interactive fiction in the classical ‘360 illusion’ sense – it does create a ‘story world’. The world created is implicit, through crude sketches representing abstract scenes that depict key events in her life.

So, Dys4ia tells a linear story (no branching, no options) with some opportunity for interaction. But the point is that these interactions  are vital. As player, you are tasked with acting out the  humiliating, scary, and stigmatizing events the game designer went through. There is a wonderful mix of symbolical events (e.g. one representing the feeling of being an awkwardly shaped puzzle piece) and concrete acts such as repeatedly ensuring ‘yes, I am a woman’ and swallowing the pills that may or may not be good for you. The game offers an opportunity for players to get involved and by that — feel responsible for what happens.

There are two possible ways to classify Dys4ia. One is that computer games is a media, and that it is a media that can be used to develop interactive stories that are not games. The other is that the interactivity of the game offers a very, very simple opportunity for role-play. By the few actions offered, the game succeeds to invite you as a player to walk in somebody else’s shoes. I think the strength of the game lies precisely in this invitation.

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