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Belladonna is a gothic tale of queer love

“You will think me cruel, very selfish, but love is always selfish; the more ardent the more selfish. How jealous I am you cannot know. You must come with me, loving me, to death; or else hate me, and still come with me, and hating me through death and after.” – Sheridan Le Fanu, Carmilla

Though it might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of sci-fi, horror, or fantasy, speculative fiction is the perfect set up for addressing LGBQT issues. Their alternative worlds force us to reconsider the conventions we live by in the real world. More times than not, speculative fiction allow us to address society’s most taboo topics, abstracting the issues we feel too uncomfortable approaching head on. As readers, we see the foreign worlds of speculative fiction from an outsider’s perspective—slowly learning to see the alien as normal. Some scholars even argue that LGBQT readers often identify with monsters and aliens more, seeing their own ostracization and otherness externalized by the outcasts of the fantasy, horror or sci-fi society.

Belladonna, a recently released point-and-click adventure game, tells the story of two female lovers forced to create an entire sub-species of reanimated corpses in order to finally find acceptance. Forced apart (i.e. murdered) by a jealous husband, the two female characters of Belladonna become the lab rats of his egomaniacal scientific experiments. Hoping to “fix” his wife’s transgressions (i.e. free will), doctor Wolfram von Trauerschloss lobotomizes her into compliance by using his newly discovered reanimation process techniques.

It’s a classic gothic tale, incorporating the life/death themes of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, and the perversity of female sexuality in Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla. While the horror of Frankenstein derive from the dangers of blurring of the line between man and god, Carmilla’s horror rings truer to the themes of Belladonna. As the world’s first lesbian vampire, Carmilla forced a 19th century audience to face the (at the time) grotesque concept of female sexuality existing. Worse still, the symbolism of Carmilla “penetrating” her female victims/paramours with fangs forced the male audience to face an even more terrifying concept: being irrelevant.

the bane of female-female love proves to be the male ego. 

Like Carmilla, the bane of female-female love proves to be the male ego. But unlike Carmilla, Belladonna reveals how the perceived monstrosity of female homosexuality is imposed rather than inherent. Before male interference, the love between the two main characters is a pure, human love. After the tragic loss of their infant son, the Wolfram von Trauerschlosses seek salvation in polar opposite ways: the husband through twisted acts of hubris, and the wife through intimacy.

In a very Mary Shelly way, Belladonna asks who the real monster is in the end: the grotesque experiment, or the doctor who created it? With the added layer of homosexuality, the question becomes one about societal constructs. Because in a culture that demonizes genuine love to the point of ostracizing people, who are the real sinners—the lovers, or those who uphold the status quo?

You can check out Belladonna yourself over on Steam, and follow the solo Swedish developer Niklas Hallin on his Twitter.