Porp here is paraphrasing one of my favorite nightmare scenes from Body of Bind. Some of them are more visually disturbing (isn’t it amazing how grotesque sixteen bit graphics can be?) but even the nightmare scene in which the gang pulls you limb from limb isn’t as emotionally ruthless. We’re…
I agree for the most part with what you’re saying. But the game isn’t just about horror of change, it’s horror of how the game treats us when we’ve changed—the most crucial example of this is gaining a percentage value of infection possibility per human limb. For instance, a human arm is 10%, a human hand is 4%. Those parts alone mean that every time you get hit by a Dirty enemy (this usually means an enemy using rust weapons, although some other enemies have that tag as well), you have a 14% chance of being infected.
Let’s look at what infection means in this game. Unlike a conventional RPG where status effects purely affect combat, being Infected has far-reaching ramifications. Most characters won’t talk to you. Some laugh at you, others act disgusted. The reason behind each reaction is interesting—humans think you’re gross and infectious, while robots treat it as a malfunction, you’re marked for the scrap heap, bad program. Either way, progressing becomes painful and discouraging.
In addition, many human zones are blocked off in various ways.
You can actually beat the game while infected.
Most people don’t realize that and just spend a lot of time curing their infection in the various frustrating, tedious ways the game provides. Instead of grinding in the Orphan Arena, I decided to see how far I could get while Infected. To my surprise, each human city is designed in a way that permits you to travel and solve major plot points while Infected. You can’t pass through streets and gates but each city has a sewer system and back alleys.
The sewers and alleys that were once used for grinding or shortcuts now become your only way of passing through cities. You’re forced to encounter this interstitial part of the game on a more serious level than if you played without infection.
The streets are clean and full of NPCs. The alleys are dirty and have more enemies than friends. The color scheme contrast is used to make the player feel like an outcast. At the same time, some of the best conversations in the game are with other outcasts talking about their lives and struggles and own patchwork bodies. This, I feel, is where the author’s own feelings pour through the most.
So basically gaining human limbs makes the game a lot more complicated and it’s that fear of complication that I feel is so important. Fear of change is fear of complication, fear of being forced to reinterpret our environment, fear of our environment being dictated by our body.
Each battle becomes this constant worry about infection and grossness and stickiness and looking at enemies to figure out if they’re infectious, each limb is a messy liability. Moving around the normally safe cities while infected becomes this highly alert affair.
Becoming human means becoming messy, means risking danger and scrutiny. No one blames a machine. It’s the same in real life, the more we expose our soft squishy bits the more people can jump on our emotions, our humanity, and punish us for them.
I would argue that the endings where you have mostly human limbs are significantly more cathartic than the ones where you surge through the game with mechanical limbs (in Body of Bind, machine parts are admired over human parts by many factions, even many humans). Certain tough enemies can be killed in one hit by the right machine part (Ruby Limb, False Pinion, etc).
Using mechanical parts make progress simpler but less interesting.
Many games treat changes/unlocks as a way to reach new levels in a linear fashion—Body of Bind talks about how changing our body is a scary but exciting thing, and the paths are so different that it contains two games, two experiences in one.
This fundamental tension of revealing our true selves vs. being punished by society is a big part of being a woman, a tension I was just talking about with Lana Polansky last night, a tension we’ve seen in Lim, Dys4ia, and in this forgotten game made before its time.
For some of us, I’m sure, socketing junkyard breasts and slender arms onto Body of Bind’s modular avatar was the first tremor of something buried.