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Dys4ia is an autobiographical game created by designer Anna Atrophy. The game functions as a series of 16-bit mini games that tell an interactive stories about challenges faced by transgender people. The challenge of Dys4ia does not come from enemies or puzzles; it is trying to feel empathetic towards someone with whom you probably couldn’t relate otherwise.

The challenge that faces Dys4ia is to make a seemingly alien lifestyle something that anyone can understand and relate to. In this respect, the game succeeds. The game revolves entirely around the day-to-day struggles of a transgender person. Functioning less like a traditional game and more like an interactive narrative, Dys4ia makes empathizing with transgender paper very accessible.

Listening to Anna’s embarrassment at having to shave her face or be referred to as “sir” or “Mr.” showed the frustration of transgender people. Everyone feels insecure about their physical appearance from time to time, but to constantly feel as though you are stuck in a body that does not correspond with your gender identity sounds soul crushing.

As the player navigates the life of Ms. Atrophy, they experience distinct spheres of the transgender experience, including personal, social, and medical aspects. Through each encounter, a sense of alienation and powerlessness is pervasive as the player listens to those in unable to understand what Anna is coping with.

Dys4ia is not completely bleak. As the game progresses, soon Anna starts to experience (slowly but surely) positive changes in her life. Things start small, like the beginning of breast development or having the nerve to correct people on how they refer to her. Eventually, the player is left with a beautiful sentiment of feeling optimistic and being on the right track to developing into the person one is meant to be.

Check it out here:

http://www.gamesforchange.org/play/dys4ia/

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The flash game Phone Story was developed my Molleindustria to inform consumers about the “darker side” of their smart phone’s origin. Originally designed to be played on the screen of a smartphone, Phone Story is also playable on a computer. The game uses a throwback 16-bit style and relatively simple game mechanics like clicking on specific areas at the correct time, catching targets by dragging a platform, and dragging items to their corresponding target areas. The simple, arcade-esque nature of Phone Story creates a stark contrast with the actual message of the game.

While the game’s mechanics are simple, it’s moral implications complicate things a bit. With the player’s first play through, an electronic face appears and informs the player that it will be telling them the story of their smart phone while providing them with entertainment (the game itself.) Throughout each stage of the game, the face describes moral bankrupt scenarios tied to their phone in which the consumer is heavily involved. Levels in the game range from a coltan mine in the DRC, a Chinese components factory, a first-world shopping center, and finally a Pakistani salvaging station.

A twist with Phone Story is that the player assumes the role of whichever force perpetuates the amoral actions in each scenario. For example, instead of playing as a coltan minor, that player acts as a soldier who keeps slave children working in the DRC. At the Chinese factory where working conditions are so harsh that laborers frequently kill themselves, the player catches suicidal workers to prevent them from escaping the factory (in this case through death).

By requiring the player to act as the oppressor in these inhumane scenarios, the player is forced to feel responsible for said scenarios. It is a simple yet highly effective tool to foster a sense of responsibility for anyone who owns a smart phone. Phone Story continues to criticize consumers indirectly by describing the “smart phone agenda” wherein a company pays large sums of money to ensure that consumers feel unique and trendy for purchasing a product, just like everyone else who buys it. The message is simple and clear, but it still does not cross into the threshold of preachy. By revealing the game’s message through the perspective of a straight-forward computer, players do not feel like an ideal is being rammed down their throat. Rather, consumers are simply made aware of an issue that they happen to be directly involved with. Phone Story does an excellent job of balancing interest to play, and a clear message.

play here:

http://www.gamesforchange.org/play/phone-story/

The flash game Unmanned is a game based on the lives of U.S. air force UAV (unmanned aerial vehice) drone pilot. The game combines choice-based text interaction as well as various tasks requiring the mouse that take place onscreen. Though relatively short, Unmanned broaches significant aspects regarding the lives of depersonalized warfare and the military personal who actively participate in it. The game illustrates these points by following the daily  life of a male, blond UAV pilot.

Unmanned is of the “showing rather than telling” camp when it comes to the morals of the game, and each scene in the game conveys specific messages while simultaneously contributing to the overall theme. The game starts with our protagonist having a nightmare that he is being attacked by middle eastern citizens (most likely Afghan) presumably out of spite or vengeance. This demonstrates the inner guilt of many UAV pilots who never actually face their targets.

The game moves on to our hero going through the menial tasks of his day like shaving and driving to work, all the while the player is presented with multiple text options to represent the thoughts (and later dialogue) of the protagonist. While the player feels that they are “on rails” so to speak, they are free to express their own attitude about actions happening in the game.

At the end of each life sequence in the game, the player has the potential to be awarded accolades for seemingly insignificant deeds (e.g. shaving, playing videogames with your kid, etc) in the same style as military medals. This point juxtaposes the concept of valor with tasks that are quite undeserving of recognition. As war becomes more depersonalized, how should we respond to it’s participants? Can we truly praise or chastise someone who presses a button? How does said detached military actions affect soldiers’ attitudes about them? Such issues are addressed by Unmanned.

An interesting game mechanic of Unmanned is how a player occasionally has to balance time between in-game actions like keeping a UAV focused on a potential insurgent and maintaining conversation with the cute coworker. Both options require use of the mouse, so players must shuffle between the two. I felt that this mechanic really helped to illustrate a sentiment of juggling military action and casual demeanor/conversation.

Check out Unmanned for yourself  and see how the actions of a UAV pilot resonate with you

 

http://unmanned.molleindustria.org/

WARNING: SIGNIFICANT SPOILERS FOR RED DEAD REDEMPTION 

Departing briefly from the modern crime underworld games of Grand Theft Auto, Rockstar’s open-world action/shooter Red Dead Redemption takes place during the decline of the American Old West. RDR is set in 1911 and focuses the events of ex-outlaw John Marston. When U.S. government agents take his wife and son captive, Marston is forced to hunt down the members of his old gang. By developing relationships with locals and performing tasks (e.g. bounty hunting, train robbing, etc) Marston tracks down each of old criminal acquaintances.

While RDR shares many gameplay mechanics (e.g. over-the-shoulder shooting and deep weapon inventory) as GTA, the message of Rockstar’s 2010 Western classic distinguishes it from other 3rd person action games. The game’s artistic value comes from it’s social commentary (sometimes serious, usually satirical). Rockstar is notorious for adding meticulous detail to their games that generally poke fun at our society including the player’s ability to watch an overtly sexist silent cartoon in a movie theater. 

Though Marston’s character never shy’s away from a fight, he repeats time and time again that he only wants to put his violent life as a criminal behind him. However, the game illustrates that times are changing, and the quiet western life on the praire is becoming a thing of the past. Scenes like the local sheriff interacting awkwardly with a telephone and Army generals marveling at machine guns illustrate the point that technological innovation and urban expansion come at a cost; for a new age to be born, the old ways must die. 

One of Red Dead Redemptions most thought-provoking segments is when Marston must track down Dutch, the last member of our protagonists old gang. Dutch has holed up in the mountains near Blackwater, the most modern town in the game’s western setting. citizens of Blackwater are no stranger to the sights of automobiles, automatic pistols, and electrically-powered lamps. The town represents the advent of urban civilization’s invasion of the last remnants of the wild frontier, not to mention its native inhabitants. Dutch has risen to a position of authority among local Native American tribes, and with their help he exacts reckless violence upon the citizens of Blackwater and its surrounding community. Most authoritative figures assume Dutch has gone mad, and the character is very comparable to Conrad’s Colonel Kurtz. In a final confrontation with Dutch, he warns John that men like them have no place in the new world and then commits suicide. This dramatic act in the game clearly represents the death of the old west at the hand of urbanization, bringing together the theme of the game overall. Image

 

The game Elude was created to demonstrate the ups and downs of mental illnesses like depression. The main target audience of Elude is anyone with little experience with depression, including friends and family members of depression victims.

Elude functions as a platforming game with different settings that represent moods of depression victims. The goal of the game is to constantly ascend throughout these mental states until finally achieving the highest level, happiness, while evading descent into the lowest level of despair.

The player begins Elude in a forest area which represents feelings of mental normalcy. The forest area features a relatively calm, ambient soundtrack and color scheme. By jumping from tree branch to tree branch, the player gains altitude and makes progress towards the tree tops (and happiness).But elevation of mood cannot be achieved solely through skill and hard work, the player must activate or “resonate with” birds which represent life’s passions. Resonating with passions gives the player a temporary power-up that allows faster movement and higher jumping.

When the player reaches the tree tops, they ascend to happiness. This area is characterized by playful music and the consistent jumping from falling leaves that shoot the player upward through the open air in a manner that is jubilant compared to the tedium of “normal.” However, after a certain height is achieved, the falling leaves start to disappear, and the player falls back to the forest floor.

Once again in normalcy, the player starts to climb back up towards happiness. But after a set amount of time, a foreboding shadow spreads across the forest and the birds begin to flee (representing the absence of passion). Menacing tree roots clamor for the player who is eventually pulled down to despair.

Despair is vacant of all color or music; all that can be heard is the echoing of an empty breeze. The player is confined to a small dark pocket of air beneath the trees’ roots and has very limited movement. Pretty quickly, the ground starts to sink around the avatar’s feet until he descends lower to an even more confined space. This happens several times until finally reaching rock bottom where a dim light indicates which way the player needs to walk towards so as to return to normalcy.

The message of Elude is quite clear, and the themes that characterize depression are conveyed effectively. As passions begin to run out, one feels a sense of desperation to reach happiness and avoid despair. This heightened state of anxiety only made me a less successful climber and resulted in more frequents trips to the lower levels of the game. Depression hurts (and sometimes kills) and Elude does a good job of giving a basic feel for the dynamic emotions that accompany this common psychological ailment.

Check the game out here:

http://gambit.mit.edu/loadgame/summer2010/elude_play.php