New Game Explores the Relationship Between Sci-Fi and LGBTQ Audiences

In the Belladonna game, queer lovers create an undead world.

It’s easy to understand science fiction’s appeal in popular culture. Alien contact, space exploration, human evolution and advanced technology titillate our imaginations, giving us a taste of a world crafted by sheer creativity.

Certainly, lightsabers and spaceships are thrilling unto themselves, but some of the more interesting depictions in these works are those of a future society.

How does this society evolve? How does it change, what do its norms and taboos look like in a world separated from our own?

“Science fiction is in the business of showing things in ways that are precisely not the way things are now,” said Niklas Hallin, developer of the point-and-click sci-fi adventure game Belladonna.

Belladonna game screenshot

Mixing ideas from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Sheridan Le Famu’s Camilla, Belladonna sees two female lovers creating a population of reanimated corpses to finally find acceptance from a world that once didn’t welcome them.

Perhaps this is why science fiction serves as a great vehicle for the exploration of LGBTQ themes.

Sci-fi presents a future we can only imagine, one divorced from the inherent biases and beliefs of today. A future that provides depictions of characters all people can identify with.

Hallin believes queer themes work well in speculative fiction because they serve as a representation of “otherness,” or characters whose situations reside outside the norm. In that vein, queer characters take center stage in Belladonna.

Growing up in a heteronormative society tends to make queer people feel “isolated” and “weird,” Hallin said, adding that these people often wind up relating better with the ostracized or strange alien creatures than humans.

“Here we suddenly have a whole new audience, which is marginalized in reality and thus marginalized in reality-imitating media, but who can find their heroes and role models in speculative, fantastical fiction,” he said.

“And since science fiction revels in otherness, it can always be a source of kinship for people who have themselves been made to feel a bit ‘other.’”

Spock Kirk LGBT Sci Fi

The addition of queer characters also tends to bolster a story, sometimes making it multi-dimensional and raising the stakes. Hallin’s decision to include queer characters in Belladonna wasn’t completely motivated by an agenda so much as it enhanced the story he wanted to tell.

“At first, I thought they could be sisters or close friends, maybe even twins,” he says.

“But as soon as I had the idea that they could be lovers, I quickly realized how much higher the stakes would be and how much more dramatic the story would become. So it turns out the characters are queer because it made for a better story. “

Many times, it is science fiction’s purpose to offer people a blank slate, a canvas meant to be painted with the imagining of what a different, arguably better, society could be. There are many ways popular fiction has shown this.

Futurama Robosexual Marriage

Matt Groening’s television show Futurama commented on gay marriage through parody by dividing its characters on the issue of “robo-sexual marriage” — that is, the union of a human and a robot in a loving relationship.

Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, a tale expressing Haldeman’s feelings about the Vietnam War, told the story of a soldier fighting a war that spanned thousands of years and eventually brought him face-to-face with a society in which homosexuality was the norm.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer pointedly explored queer themes for seven years, going so far as to make one of its leading characters a lesbian.

The Mirror Empire Cover

Kameron Hurley, author of The Mirror Empire, frequently includes characters of varying orientations and genders in her sci-fi and fantasy work. This approach, she explains, gives depth to the worlds she creates.

“In writing fantastic fiction — whether fantasy or science fiction — it’s my job to not only acknowledge the world as it really is as opposed to what the media says it is, but to push it eight or eight hundred or eight thousand steps further,” she said.

“If I’m not doing that — if I’m just spending all my time on magic systems and maps and tossing a bunch of homogeneous groups of binary, hetero people into some boring patriarchal monarchy we’ve read about a billion times, I’m doing myself and my readers a disservice,” Hurley said.

“I write imaginative fiction. If I can’t imagine people across a broad spectrum of difference, then I’ll have suffered a massive failure of imagination.”


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