Anna Anthropy’s Dys4ia isn’t, strictly speaking, a game.
There are numerous ways it could be described, however: a game-but-not-a-game, interactive storytelling, a short film, a playable journal, even ‘something important’. And neither of these descriptions is more or less valid than the others, reflecting the fact this this ‘un-game’ is neither more nor less valid than its myriad of more conventional siblings. It is what it is.
And what it is, is less open to interpretation than it is the experience of those who ‘play’ it. It is, in actuality, a heavily-stylised trip through a part of its authors life, and a sensitive retelling of her experiences through gender transitioning. It very proudly (and respectfully) uses a lot of the interactive vocabulary from Nintendo’s interactive Dadaist collage, Wario Ware, but structures this into a narrative the player has little real control over bar the superficial movement of in-game pieces. There is no condition for failure, no condition to win.
But, to look at Dys4ia in these terms is to do it a great injustice; like the very best video games, it uses interactivity well. That is, the main strength of the interactive medium is played upon to help the player not only read and perceive the narrative, but to immerse themselves in it and to semi-vicariously ‘live’ it.
As such, it is a precious thing. Moving and emotive for the right reasons, and completely inspiring. It is not a game, indeed. And yet, it uses the strengths that games have over other entertainment media, to beautiful effect; and is no less valid than the very best actual videogames.
Dys4ia is nothing short of brilliant: ‘play’ it on Newgrounds.