In hindsight, I should have known this game would make me nauseous.
In hindsight, I should have known this game would make me nauseous. Juice Galaxy

Perhaps you’ve seen them: Dicks poking through pants, swaying and jiggling with unnatural fluidity like an obscene Slinky. It’s just one of the many odd bugs players have discovered in Cyberpunk 2077, a new videogame from the makers of The Witcher and based on a 30-year-old tabletop role-playing game.

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Cyberpunk 2077 promises unsettling body modification, a Blade-Runnery neon city, and nudity galore — though the game’s physics sometimes seem unprepared for genitals. But true lovers of the cyberpunk genre may find the title a bit bewildering; the game is more “Witcher but in the future plus some Grand Theft Auto” than an exploration of the ways in which accelerating technology causes a breakdown in society. Yes, the world of Cyberpunk 2077 is indeed teetering on the brink of collapse, but the beep-boop technology is more aesthetic than thematic. The story could be adjusted to be set today, or in the Wild West, or in Middle Earth.

The same cannot be said of Juice Galaxy, a curious little indie project that I found so disconcerting it nearly made me throw up.

Juice Galaxy is a game (???) in which you play a wobbly little creature exploring a polygonal landscape full of monsters that yield rainbow blobs of “juice” when attacked. I recently livestreamed myself doing a blind playthrough — that is, playing without any spoilers — and the first thing I noticed is how closely the game’s look matches ‘80s-era depictions of what was then unironically called “cyberspace.” I adore the way that movies like Hackers and this wacky promo for Shadowrun visualize “the information superhighway” as a landscape of simple geometry with the user flying weightlessly over polygons that represent file systems and aggressive blobs that represent viruses.

And while Juice Galaxy isn’t set in the future (or the past, or the present — it’s a dreamscape out of time), the setting is dark, neon-colored, and lawless. The player assumes the role of a helpless student, buffeted by a cruel authority who forbids exploration; but when you finally strike out on your own, you acquire power from a landscape that was once overpowering and deadly. After enough exploration, the player gains the power to manipulate their surroundings, to mutate those they encounter, and eventually to mutate their own body.

But it’s the disquieting effect of the game that I think most effectively evokes the cyberpunk genre. Characters and monsters are distorted and awkward; game physics are deliberately chaotic. When the player finds and enters a car, their ass becomes tethered to the seat and their upper body cannot keep up with the vehicle’s movement. As a result, their body stretches like taffy as the car flips end over end around the landscape.

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An underground area is the most unpleasant. Entering a toilet, the player spirals through caves where the textures of the walls cycle through rainbow fractal animations. It’s impossible to tell which end is up, impossible to orient oneself, impossible to move with anything approaching predictability. It is in those caves that I found myself experiencing motion-sickness. There were simply too many visual signals competing with each other to suggest my character’s movement, clashing with sound effects, unnatural momentum, and vibrating colors. I had to close my eyes and breathe so that I did not throw up on camera for my audience.

The sensory overload of Juice Galaxy had defeated me, at least for a time, just as the crushing chaos of Blade Runner threatens to do to Deckard, or Neuromancer initially does to Case, or Ready Player One would do if it were good. As a piece of technology, Juice Galaxy creates the dystopia that is normally a mere diegetic element of a fictional world; but just as Holli Would in Cool World breaks out of a fictional cartoon dimension into the “real” world, or King Koopa’s technology escapes Dinohattan in Super Mario Bros., Juice Galaxy imposes the sickening chaos of digital world upon reality.

Cyberpunk 2077, for its part, has customizable boobs.