Wrong Tree is a 2D platformer by a student at SAE Games. Released nearly a year ago, the player controls a green apple moving from a red tree to the green one. Rolling around jumps and curved terrain, the player must navigate the apple by rolling and jumping. Every time the player jumps the apple’s colour darkens from greens to browns. If the apple becomes too dark, it can no longer jump. Eventually, the player finds the green tree, ending the game.
Wrong Tree is an allegory for its creator. They are transgender, and use the red and green apples as a metaphor of their gender identity. The uphill struggle is felt by players climbing the ramps and jumps, and the browning apple represents the degradation the creator feels with every step of their transition. The key to any negotiation is compromise, and Wrong Tree’s creator invites players into their story by forcing them into wonder about the experience they are having. Every aspect of the player’s journey represents the creator’s journey from the wrong tree to the right one.
Another game to use its mechanics in this way is Dys4ia – a short game by Anna Anthropy. Anthropy uses a short series of interactive experiences to document the process of undergoing hormone replacement therapy. A particularly powerful statement she makes is in the beginning scene:
The player cannot pass through the wall with their current shape, a powerful metaphor for the gender dysphoria that Anthropy experienced before starting her transition. Dys4ia uses little scenes like these to guide the player through its creator’s story, like having the player fill in a medical form on behalf of Anthropy. As an autobiographical piece, it takes the player through the moments in the making of Anthropy’s womanhood, each scene a diegetic and interactive moment.
Games such as these form a small but important slice of the games industry. AAA blockbusters rarely explore the story of a single person’s life, and tend to spread their story over many characters, settings and gameplay scenarios for the broadest audiences. It’s rare to find powerful and specific experiences in the industry today, since the biggest and most successful games aren’t scoped for a singular message that games like Wrong Tree are. When every aspect of a game’s design targets its core message, the message itself becomes all the more important and poignant.