Redshift and Portalmetal, by micha cárdenas, is an enigma. It is a hypertextual, dystopian sci-fi adventure game. It is a multi-genre, choose-your-own-adventure story blending short fiction, poetry, memoir, and performance art. It is a transreal exploration of the self as a nexus of overlapping and conflicting identities. It is a meditation on climate change and the neocolonial engine that drives it. Echoing Octavia Butler, Redshift compels us to see legacies of colonialism as they pollute the air, degrade our communities, become mapped onto our bodies, but it also asks us to imagine an alternative future, one in which we might resist the urge to colonize as we seek out new worlds for human habitation. In so doing, we begin to imagine what it might mean to decolonize this planet. Ultimately, Redshift is really a story about re-birth, for the planet, for the self. It is a rejection of the conventions that reinforce colonial ideology. It is also a call for solidarity, intersectionality, and agency for people whose experiences and lifeways have for centuries been chewed up by the machine of power, particularly indigenous peoples who are purposefully honored in this project.
As we enter the world of Redshift, we are faced with a truth: “Your planet is dying.” cárdenas’s use of second-person positions the reader in the body of Roja, a trans person of color who must leave her planet in order to survive. The narrative shifts back and forth between second and third person, calling on us to follow Roja’s story, but also to occupy her consciousness. We are (with) Roja as she realizes she must leave. We make decisions about how to traverse space between three settings: the Ice Planet, the Planet with No Rain, the Ocean Moon.
Two devices aid the viewer in coming to identify with Roja and her journey. First, cárdenas presents us with moments where we step out of Roja’s body and see her on-screen (played by cárdenas herself). Seeing Roja’s body we better understand the many identities that she occupies. Her complexity interrupts the voyeuristic impulse that dominates how non-trans people often attempt to understand trans experience. Second, as Roja moves from planet to planet, she must navigate border security. In these spaces, we are faced with anxiety and fear, we are compelled to wait nervously for clearance or to run. At these moments, the story focuses our attention on the precariousness of life at literal and metaphorical borders.
Each planet is depicted via full-screen video with text overlaid on screen. The Ice Planet is a desolate space, covered in snow and ice. It is a place people come for hard, exploitative labor. We see images of factories and frozen landscapes. We hear the whirring and moaning of the same machines that presumably destroyed Roja’s home planet. Alternatively, the Planet with No Rain is a desert space where Roja seeks healers/healing, while the Ocean Moon is a place of leisure and distraction where people go to escape the rigors of the Ice Planet. In each space, the visuals are supplemented with immersive sound. The Ice Planet is accompanied by a disturbing white noise. We hear machines, engines, perhaps the sound of traffic. The other two planets are characterized by natural sounds, waves crashing, the wind blowing hard against the microphone. In another context, this invasive noise would be a disruptive mistake. Here it reminds us that the natural world always surpasses our attempts to silence her. Some moments have no sound at all, leaving us to our own silence.
Redshift and Portalmetal has several different endings, all of them hopeful. It is designed in Scalar, a platform designed for scholarly publishing. But with a few programming modifications the story comes alive as a dynamic mix of video, ambient sound, and hypertext. The choice of platform is a reinforcement of the worldview conveyed in Redshift. A tool designed according to standards for scholarly publication becomes an engine for change.
micha cárdenas. “Dilating Destiny: writing the transreal body through game design.” Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media 57 (Fall 2016): n. pag. Jump Cut. Web. 8 June 2017.