A Look At the Mechanics of Dys4ia

dys4ia is a short, autobiographical game that captures the six months of Anna Anthropy’s life in which she underwent hormone replacement therapy.

YtELGoHer personal experiences are told through a series of short and varied mini-games. Each new mini-game features different rules and mechanics, although there are variations of previous games throughout. With this lack of consistency, you would expect that the game’s theme is vague or hard to follow. However, this changing of mechanics and rules works to drive home the theme and feeling that Anthropy is trying to convey.

A majority of these mini-games feature mechanics that would fall into the broad category of physics: mechanics that deal with motion and force. Some of these physics mechanics are obvious, such as walking or moving around:

aaBut shaving, writing, flying and eating would also fall in this category as they are physical actions that are dictated by motion and force.

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The rules that govern these mechanics differ between mini-games. As an example, I will quickly compare the following four mini-games that all feature a walking mechanic:

walkThese four mini-games each has an end state and only allow walking along the cardinal directions. However, their other rules differ greatly.

In the first game, walking is dictated by the following rules.

  • Player can only move right.
  • Player moves at a set velocity.
  • Moving through a tile in front of an NPC will trigger a dialogue.
  • Reaching the house will end the mini-game.

This is opposed to the second game which has these rules:

  • Player can move in any (cardinal) direction.
  • Player moves at a set velocity.
  • Player can only move on the orange tiles (cannot move on or through NPCs, objects or walls).
  • Player cannot interact with anything in the room.
  • End state is triggered by the timer running out.

The third game is visually similar to the first but differs in some ways:

  • Player can only move left.
  • Player velocity decreases exponentially the closer to the house they get.
  • Reaching the house will end the mini-game.

The last game is the most different:

  • Player only has control over movement if stationary.
  • Player can move in any (cardinal) direction.
  • Moving will cause the player to move continously in that direction until they hit a wall.
  • Player can only move on light purple tiles (cannot move on or through objects or walls).
  • Moving through a tile in front of a mirror will trigger a reflection to be displayed in the mirror.
  • Reaching the top-most mirror will end the mini-game.

For most of the mini-games, these physics mechanics are the only ones in play. However, some of the games do incorporate additional, non-physics, mechanics. For example, the mini-game pictured below requires the player to walk through a bathroom without being detected.

e7ntZKAlthough it is not as complex as something like the cover system in XCOM, the player is using cover to remain hidden and move tactically. As such, this mechanic would fall into the tactical maneuvering category. The rules that govern this hiding mechanic are as follows:

  • Move one tile at a time.
  • Player movement causes ‘enemy’ movement.
  • Purple squares are out of sight (safe).
  • Yellow squares are in line of sight (not safe).
  • Being seen will cause the player to be unsuccessful.
  • Reaching the toilet will cause the player to be successful.

Over the course of the game’s four chapters, some of the mini-games are repeated. These games are variations of the original as rules have either been added, changed or removed. As this game has a strong narrative focus and captures Anthropy’s life chronologically, she is able to use this to contrast two events or periods of time. This allows her to show how things have changed. An example of this is below:

changeThese two mini-games depict (from what I can infer) Anthropy’s experience and interaction with Feminist extremists who do not accept trans-women as women.

The first is in the first chapter, before the hormone therapy, and the second is in the last chapter, after the therapy. In both games the player is depicted as a shield. The ‘feminists’, depicted as lips, move up and down deny that the player is a woman. This is shown through speech bubbles with the male symbol that move towards the player.

The first game is dictated by these rules:

  • Player can only move up and down.
  • Player can absorb or avoid the speech bubbles.
  • Absorbing a speech bubble causes the player to flash (as if hurt).

Compare this to the rules of the second game:

  • Player can only move up and down.
  • Player can deflect or avoid a speech bubble.
  • Deflecting will cause it to bounce back towards the lips, change colour and change symbol.
  • Deflecting a speech bubble into a the lips will cause them to flash and give a ‘huh’ sound.

Unlike the first game, the second allows the player to actively affect the situation. This suggests that, although hormone therapy did not change the way Anthropy was perceived by Feminist extremists, she gained a new confidence and responded to these comments instead of just absorbing or avoiding them.

Another example of this are the wall mini-games which are scattered throughout the four chapters. The mechanics and rules for these are the same: the player can move in any direction and cannot fit through the hole in the wall.

wallThe player has no agency in these games. Compare this to last of the wall mini-games found in the last chapter.

kThe rules have entirely changed: the player is no longer attempting to fit through a hole but rather is breaking down the wall, Breakout style. The metaphor in this example is pretty evident.

In the game dys4ia, Anthropy uses mechanic and narrative elements in harmony in order to construct a particular play experience. Over the course of the four chapters of the game, the mechanics and rules are changed constantly. At first this disorients and confuses the player, but as they see repeating mini-games and become more familiar with how the overall game works they gain confidence and ability. By using variations on previous mini-games with changed rules that make it easier for the player or allow for more agency, Anthropy is able to construct a play experience that is reflective of her own.

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