The LGBTQ+ representation in the e-lit pieces this semester has meant a great deal to me. The last time I was in college, I was in the closet and wrestling with what my faith said about my sexuality. Though the university I attended was liberal for a Christian university, it was founded by a conservative denomination who held the purse strings. Those on campus who were queer – there were some brave souls who were open about it – were treated like aliens who were allowed to roam our little campus, but they needed to retreat to their little planet when the board came around to dole out some cash. Anna Anthropy’s piece Hunt for the Gay Planet is a perfect satire on how this notion of limiting LGBTQ people to their own little “planets” to keep them happy and out of the way occurs, not just in the gaming world, but in society at large.
I have never played the game this piece is based on, but everything in it was all too familiar. But before I jump into that, I want to try to be more mechanics focused in this blog. Since I am now trying to think about what I am going to create for my own e-lit piece, I have been exploring some of the platforms that can be used to create it. Twine is one that I feel would be the most likely candidate for my piece of work, so it is great to look at how a piece like Hunt utilizes the platform.
Much like With Those We Love Alive, this hypertext piece is strictly text based and relies on description and the reader’s imagination to come up with how things look. I am noticing Twine works well for this simple format as the default template is a blank background with limited text on each page. Though I have loved the past pieces that incorporate images, video, and sound, I have to admit that I really enjoy this stripped-down style that feels more like the experience of reading a book. I don’t need pictures to see the planets the reader is given the options to pick from, I can see each of them clearly in my head. As I was faced with the choice of the purple planet, the dusty planet, the asteroid planet, and the planet spinning on its side in the void, I tried to think where my people would most likely hide. Of course, when it comes to mechanics, trying to pick the right planet is actually pointless because if you go through the game a few times, you find that no matter what you pick – SPOILER ALERT – you will always go through the same sequence of events and in the end, none of them are Lesbionica.
So, though the reader has an option of how to navigate through the world, everyone gets the same story no matter where they decide to go. I can see from a mechanics angle how this would be important because you need a way to make sure that the story flows in an linear way for it to make sense. I’ll admit, it is kind of sad that it takes away from the reader having “real” choice, but I can see the necessity for it, and I would probably make the same decision in my own piece. This more linear approach to Hunt is unique in some ways from what we have seen from other e-lit pieces, as many of them allow for the reader to get lost in the ability to go to different pages, even if it creates a disjointed story.
A significant navigation mechanism to highlight in this piece occurs when you get to the sequence where you have to explore a tunnel and are given four options to try. When I first did this piece in the beginning of the semester, I got so confused and frustrated by this part because I didn’t know how to move forward. I had to watch the video to find out that you have to go back into one of the options you already tried in order to get a new choice to pop up. With Those We Love Alive had a similar mechanism, and when I encountered it in that game, it was because of Hunt that I understood that I needed to figure out what I needed to go back to in order to move the story forward.
Okay, mechanics aside, I want to look some at this story and explore the themes that show up. No offense to my straight folks out there, but there is so much in this story that captures a special cultural aspect of the lesbian/bi/queer community that I don’t think you can fully understand unless you are part of our community (Not to say you can’t understand the element of having things that only you and those in your community will fully understand, I’m speaking specifically to the queerness of this piece). If you have ever spent much time interacting with lesbian literature, pop culture, film, music, etc. you will find this piece captures so much of the tongue-in-cheek humor, sexual tension, and deep longing for belonging and relationship that is distinct to the work. Anna Anthropy’s piece is brilliant in combining all these elements into this science fiction tale of hunting for the gay planet. Her humor shines in her pun-ny asides about digging but not finding what you dig and following a straight path even though you can’t even THINK straight. And the reader’s interaction with a whale(?)-like creature that can send messages telepathically made me giggle with child-like glee. But, what is interesting about this kind of humor is when you realize it is a kind of coping mechanism born out of a need to find a way to deal with the deeper themes of her piece, like a frustration with not belonging in a heteronormative world. Anthropy captures the true spirit of satire and queer humor (which seem one in the same sometimes) in this piece with the way she uses scenes like those listed above to emphasize the real issues of lack of representation and inclusivity.
The reader is faced with a sudden darkening of humor when they finally make it to Lesbionica. Instead of a paradise, we are faced with a trashed planet that is run by a dictator that utilizes police force to procure new sex slaves for her pleasure. I found this part to be very disheartening. I know it has many different interpretations and meanings, especially politically, but the main thing I took away from it is the destruction that occurs when the LGBTQ+ community turns on itself in times of distress and oppression. Look back at the early gay rights movements and you will see with the beautiful examples of harmony, that there was also a great deal of discord. Lesbians and gay men were at each other’s throats, transgender individuals were kicked out of both gay and lesbian groups and told they didn’t belong, and bisexuals were told to hurry up and pick a side. I find the imagery of a lesbian police force using violence against their own people to be very fitting to capture this darker side of queer history. Not only this, but the leader of this planet is a great representation of much of the ingroup fighting that goes on about what compromises we are willing to make to gain the freedoms we so desire and so deserve. Overall, Anthropy’s piece has a spirit of humor, but it is this final scene when we finally land on Lesbionica and face the abusive dictator that the humor of the piece turns sour and reveals what it has been hiding the whole time.
I think Anthropy did an amazing job on this piece in making it reach beyond the gaming audience she was targeting. Even if you aren’t familiar with the game this refers to, you will recognize the themes because it is found throughout society. Keep in mind, this game was created in 2013 – that was only seven years ago. There might be a conception in 2020 that what is portrayed in this piece is something of the past. Though our society has begun to shift to be more inclusive, the rights and lives of LGBTQ+ people are still not secure. The sense of belonging that we so seek is becoming more of a reality, but it is still a daily fight to not feel like an alien on an inhospitable planet.
Anthropy, Anna. Hunt for the Gay Planet. Electronic Literature Collection Vol. 3, 2013, https://collection.eliterature.org/3/work.html?work=hunt-for-the-gay-planet. Accessed 14 Nov. 2020.