“This is an autobiographical game about my experiences with hormone replacement therapy” is the first sentence you read after dys4ia’s title screen, and it’s really all you need to know before starting. This game uses procedural rhetoric to make the player empathize with Anna Anthropy, the game’s creator.
dys4ia is a collection of very short game segments designed to impart the feelings of what undergoing gender therapy is like, and it works incredibly well. The game segments are divided into 4 chapters: Gender Bullshit, Medical Bullshit, Hormonal Bullshit, and It Gets Better? All the minigames in each division are based on the theme of its title.
The very first minigame you play appear to be a simple puzzle: fit the shape through the hole. But you can’t actually fit through the hole. Words on the screen appear to reinforce the idea just imparted, “I FEEL WEIRD ABOUT MY BODY.” Anthropy literally doesn’t fit. The words are similarly literal, but having the player physically experience the difficulty of fitting could only be accomplished through an interactive medium like games. Another game in this first chapter involves shaving, which the Anthropy feels is “humiliating.” You control the razor with the arrow keys, but the razor is constantly speeding in a straight line across the screen, and you can only control its direction. Difficulty with controls here matches the emotional pain the author feels in this situation.
In the next chapter, Anthropy has decided to take hormones. Doctors won’t prescribe her estrogen until she gets her blood pressure down. A game shows a pill bottle displayed at the top of the screen, mouth pointing downwards and moving back and forth. Pills come out at regular intervals, and the player must catch them by moving the open mouth at the bottom of the screen left and right. The player gets a feeling of the regular cycle of medication, and the possibility of the player not catching the medication as it falls suggests forgetfulness.
She finally obtains an estrogen prescription in the next chapter. The games in this section impart the difficulties of dealing with a changing body through simple controls. One game has you hold the left arrow button to make your avatar walk to its house, but as the avatar gets closer, its speed slows. Then, the caption “THESE BLOOD PRESSURE MEDS ARE REALLY DRAINING MY ENERGY” appears. It’s so simple, but it works extremely well at conveying emotion.
The final chapter’s title, “It Gets Better?” acts like a question that is answered by the games in it. They convey a significant gain of confidence in Anthropy, making the player feel powerful unlike the other chapters. The penultimate game has you controlling a pink butterfly, rising from murky clouds towards clear skies and the sun. The caption is revealed line by line as you move up.