Find an antidote for your sister as you sail across the alien sea. This is the concept behind the game Bellular Hexatosis, the latest game from the indie-surrealist game developer Porpentine Charity Heartscape. Most of her games are written in the Twine format, which allows her to let her amazingly descriptive writing do the talking. However, in Bellular Hexatosis, she powerfully maps an exploration of gender dysphoria and self-actualization onto a three-dimensional plane. Within this fantastical world, Porpentine uses the digital to cross into the body itself. By purposefully molding the physical manifestations of each character within the game and asking the player to perform the script dictated by their own digital ‘body,’ Bellular Hexatosis makes the argument that bodies themselves can be transborders.
An affordance of the digital is the allowance to move beyond the physical; even so, one’s physical body tends to have a direct impact on the way one moves about the digital landscape. Many artists and poets have used the digital to comment on the physical, as can be seen with works like the Transborder Immigrant Tool by Amy Sara Caroll et al. and Between Page and Screen by Amaranth Borsuk. The TBIT, in particular, is of interest in the context of Bellular Hexatosis, as it is a response to the trials of transitioning from one state (either a political community or a way of being) to another. In Bellular Hexatosis, the physical manifestation of each character plays a vital role in the creation of a dialogue about the ways the body’s appearance lends it specific functions, and the three-dimensionality of each character is vitally important to the overarching theme that the players own physical form is unknown. There are clues throughout the game that refer to the player’s virtual body, about how it is “unblinking” and “not human.” In the end it is revealed that the body the player is piloting is not their original body, but a machine piloted by the consciousness of the player. The original body lies beneath the home structure, constantly feeding the player information through an umbilical-esque tube. The final realization that the body itself is subjective ties into the underlying theme that form begets function, but subverts it so the player can realize that the digital landscape is not physical and doesn’t follow the same rules that the “real” world does, and thus they are more likely to alter the way they move about this world on their second playthrough.
One way that gender is often discussed is in the context that the motions of gender are performative–femininity and masculinity are themselves a type of performance, dictated by costume and cadence. As the creators of the Transborder Immigrant Tool argued that border crossing has become theatre and their tool was a recasting of the narrative of that particular stage, Porpentine’s work with Bellular Hexatosis reimagines the body itself as a theatre, upon which one acts upon the script of self and selflessness, sickness and health, and how those can change when the body becomes a crossable border. In part, both the TBIT and Bellular Hexatosis use sexual provocation to impart a discourse about the control of one’s own body, and the ways bodies themselves provide a border. One of Carroll’s poems asks the user to “imagine the chips’ transliteralization and you have “arrived” at the engines of a global positioning system—the transitivity of the Transborder Immigrant Tool… This Bridge Called my Back, my heart, my head, my cock, my cunt, my tunnel. Vision: You. Are. Crossing. Into. Me.” This passage asks the user to imagine not only a world where they’ve made it to the other side of the border, but to imagine a world where they’ve also moved beyond the physical boundaries of themselves and crossed into another person, changing the script of what borders are actually being crossed. In Bellular Hexatosis, a piece of the antidote can be retrieved in exchange for “the perfect quantity of orgasm… 10 grams.” This process somehow manages to feel invasive, perhaps due to the sudden limitation of choice and inability to look away from the dialogue. This performance of sex makes the player confront what the body is capable of giving in order to receive, a transition from discomfort to achievement. When the player is ultimately tasked with finding the antidote within themselves, digitally crossing the border that is the body in order to speak with a hidden memory, this interpersonal crossing does not seem as strange considering what they have come through to get this far. These performances of bodily ability within a digital space are interesting for that they manage to use the narratives of the game to transition from external to internal spaces in this colorful 3D world, and explore the ways these familiar narratives of self and selflessness twist on themselves when the body becomes another room one can pass into.
Thus, it is clear that Bellular Hexatosis uses 3D modeling in order to push the boundaries of what it means to occupy both a body digitally and a different body in the physical world. When the body itself is a border that can be crossed and explored, deciding how far one is willing to go to give themselves for someone else changes in some ways, and in others remains the same. Bellular Hexatosis ultimately asks the player to reevaluate how their digital self can be crossed into and what about their own self needs to be cured, but at the same time, reminds them that the antidote is somewhere inside themselves, they just need to go looking for it.