2013 IGF Finalists: Excellence in Narrative

Dys4ia

Dys4ia is, as the title might suggest, a game about dysphoria. Specifically, it is an autobiographical title about Anna Anthropy, a transgender independent game developer (and one of the best videogame philosophers around). It’s quite short and available in a number of locations for free, but it probably slipped by your radar thanks to the content and method of delivery. This should not have happened.

There is a painful, revealing honesty about Dys4ia. It lacks the bombastic language and confrontational nature of other transgender biopics, and instead replaces it with a sense of quiet introspection. Anyone, transgender or otherwise, can connect to Anna Anthropy’s struggle to reach her goal of transition in a world that fights her at every turn. Whether it is a doctor refusing to prescribe medication because it might harm her, or people misgendering her constantly, it’s hard not to feel like the world is against Anna.

The narrative of Dys4ia is split into four parts, and each part is split into a few scenes each. You can complete the game fairly quickly, as each scene is little more than a Warioware-esque minigame, but that isn’t really the point. Dys4ia is a game – and a narrative – unlike what most videogame players have been exposed to. And it’s something that everyone should see. If you haven’t played Dys4ia yet, you can play it on Newgrounds. Go on!

Gone Home

There is a sort of foreboding nostalgia at work in Gone Home, despite the game being entirely exploratory. A lonely TV still on in the middle of an abandoned living room, or a desk lamp turned on at a desk in the middle of a darkened room, paints a picture of abandonment. There is the sense that nothing is quite right, but there’s no real knowledge as to why. Only certain clues, such as warnings left by the protagonist’s sister Sam, hint at something being off about the house.

Gone Home is the most ambient of the games nominated for Excellence in Narrative, relying on a player’s own natural curiosity rather than any sort of linear progression. This conceit pays off spectacularly, and Gone Home manages to be one of the spookiest games I’ve ever played thanks to it. Excellent audio work in combination with the detailed depiction of a New England manor makes the imagination run wild, especially when a light flickers or you have to make your way into a dark room.

This is the first game I can think of that hits the notion of storytelling through environment on the head. Notes and mementos are scattered around the house, revealing details about the now-missing inhabitants. The player’s desire to find out what has happened matches the character’s desire, and leads the player on a journey through the memories of a family that has kept moving forward while their daughter was away in Europe. Gone Home is both a period piece (of 1995) and an examination of the emotional structure of family, and it succeeds on both fronts quite well. Gone Home is being prepped for a 2013 release.

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