The method of publication affects video games’ design choices. Free web games offer avenues of experimentation and subversive design without the pressure to turn a profit, but they are often left out of conversations about indie games. The smaller scale of free web publishing allows for one or two-person teams to conceive, design, produce, and publish a game outside of the now mainstream indie game markets found on Steam, the Xbox Games Store, or the Nintendo eShop.
Nowhere is this truer than for Dys4ia, a game by Anna Anthropy about her journey starting hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Beginning HRT can be a chaotic and confusing experience, and Dys4ia captures those feelings through a cacophony of mini-games, sounds, and flashing visuals. Each mini-game lasts for only a few seconds, and the game offers little to no instructions for how to play. In total, Dys4ia takes mere minutes to complete, but each mini-game, from blocking verbal attacks to taking blood pressure medication, is packed with meaning and feeling.
Several popular indie game designers got their start with free web games, such as Nina Freeman and Edmund McMillen, but writers sometimes describe free web-published games as “hobby games” or “personal games.” As indie game studios—and their games—continue to grow in size and scope, games like Dys4ia should continue carry the banner of truly independent games.
As an indie game designer, I have found distributing free HTML5 games to be liberating and anti-consumerist. Unlike most indie games, free web games are uniquely positioned to break barriers and tell intimate stories. They are easily shared as simple URL links, and they only require a web browser to play. While Anthropy has since begun selling the game, Dys4ia certainly would not have made such a splash and reached such a wide audience if it were not initially designed and published as a free web game.