I am become Bonk, the destroyer of worlds
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Its easy to miss the plot for Super Bonk. Starting the game simply deposits you in the first level, Chinatown of a large cosmopolitan city, without any explanation. Bonk leaps out of a paper lantern, looks around in confusion, cries, and then you gain control over him. However, if you linger too long on the title screen, you get a single, short cut-scene revealing how a caveman ended up in such a setting. Bonk is shown strolling through his prehistoric home, spies some delicious meat, and walks into a strange mechanical trap. The evil dinosaur king who laid the trap uses the machine to fling Bonk into the far distant future of his world, a world that his absence helped create.
Thrust into a world defined by its absence of him, Bonk’s controls and moveset appropriately conveys a distinct lack of a ‘self.’ Bonk is quick to change bodies as needed, growing to absurd gigantic proportions, or shrinking down to minuscule size. As Bonk collects items, his outward self shifts and changes. His already huge head begins to grow and pulsate, granting him the ability to telepathically freeze his opponents. Eventually, his brain grows so large it splits his skull in two, dividing his head into two distinct, powerful brains barely contained by the rippling flesh covering them. Steam escapes through through the throbbing membrane trying to keep the inexplicable power of Bonk’s mind within. In his largest forms, Bonk exhibits even more horrifying, cartoonish body horror. Giant Bonk can detach his head from his shoulders and grow bestial bodies of animals. Small Bonk can unleash words of rage that not only defeat enemies, but can be used as flying platforms. Bonk’s own rhetoric takes on a strange physical form. Even without powerups, leaving Bonk alone to long causes him to shift form, body and even gender expression until you return to the game, as if Bonk’s own flesh is growing impatient for the movement and change you can bring it. Whatever is going on with the outside form of Bonk, it is not what defines him. The outside is merely a tool to be used and discarded as needed for the benefit of the true, inner Bonk.
The journey Bonk goes on does not progress logically, and its twists and turns are not told through any dialogue or cutscenes. Instead, the levels flow into each other like a single, uninterrupted fever dream. Bonk explores the modern city of intelligent dinosaur people, occasionally growing gigantic and smashing it like a reverse Godzilla. He uses a ferris wheel to hijack an airplane, which he then proceeds to crash into a jungle. Escaping underground, he makes his way into a sewer system and emerges in the oversized house of a giant dinosaur, which he tricks into swallowing him. He explores the dinosaur’s bloodstream and battles a monster inside its heart in order to get sneezed out of the dinosaur at such force that he lands on the moon. One battle with the queen of a lost civilization of rabbit people later, he is pulled into the vacuum of space and grows to half the size of Jupiter. Free to explore the solar system, Bonk finds dark mechanical comet on the outskirts, with a mysterious invading space army inside. The destruction of the comet again launches away at high speed, flies so fast he shatters the speed of light and ends up entering another dimension beyond time and space as we define it. There he battles his own memories and finally finds the road back to his original timeline.
Its a journey with the logic of a dream or an avant garde improv show, consistent internally even as in increasingly shifts and changes with every passing addition. That sense of illogical but consistent flow is a key element of the game. Very little halts your momentum other than the player’s choice to explore a level deeper. If you die, Bonk simply falls unconscious right there until you press a button and wake him up, ready to continue exactly where you left off. There is no world map or goals between levels, reaching the end of one simply bleeds into the next. There are no bottomless pits or instant death traps. Falling into a pit simply takes you to a new level hidden beneath it. Getting crushed underneath a huge weight simply compresses Bonk into a flat crab, offering a more limited movepool but also new ways to explore the game. If a large enemy gets Bonk in its jaws, it simply swallows him and sends you to a new level inside that enemy’s guts that you must navigate and escape. When the game throws an obstacle at Bonk that can’t be overcome in his current state, Bonk simply changes size or form until he can.
The world Bonk emerges in owes its existence to the previous nonexistence of Bonk. Its a world not so different than our own. There’s a lot we can infer about this city’s citizens from Bonk’s random wanderings within it. We see a city hall is guarded by tanks, run-down slums standing next to glistening skyscrapers, and human-sized squatters infesting the giant manors of larger dinosaurs like cockroaches. At the same time, there are good aspects as well. In bonus levels, Bonk blows up balloons for smiling children and there’s even a free ferris wheel for people to enjoy. Technology of this age is more advanced than our own, with the dinosaur people capable of exploring the solar system and poised to venture beyond. Can we be sure this world will be better served by Bonk’s return to his own time? Those children we blew up balloons for will be free of a possibly dystopian city, but will also no longer exist at all.
At the same time, we’re living in our own version of Bonk’s future where cave people rose to global dominance and dinosaurs were reduced to tiny birds, picking at our refuse. Bonk’s return to the past does not guarantee a future free from any of the corruption, gentrification, or militarization we saw, it only guarantees a different species at the helm. If Bonk’s journey was one of “saving the world” then it would be one destined to remain unfulfilled. The lives never born cannot be measured against the lives now given a future, it is simply taking place on a scale no notion of human morality can truly grapple with. Because of this, Bonk’s journey can only be truly understood on a personal level.
Just shy of a year ago, I began transitioning. I had been living with years of what I now know was low-key dysphoria, but simply didn’t have the vocabulary or context to understand my feelings as anything other than frustratingly directionless “anxiety.” For several years I had struggled with taking the first steps, as I was paralyzed with worries of “what if I’m wrong and change my mind, won’t I be embarrassed?” Doubts like those disappeared once I actually started to transition and found both that hormone replacement had a demonstrable impact on my anxiety and mental well being, and that exposure to other trans people showed me that despite common narratives of “always knowing” its ok to not have all the answers and to not fit exactly with someone else’s experience. The doubts that remained were no longer over if I was mistaken, they were over what was being given up in order to figure this out.
The doubts that remained were “what if living with dysphoria was worth everything I will now lose?” There’s no question that my options in terms of work, geographic location and relationships are more limited now. Sadly, there’s also no question that I am more vulnerable to actual violence than I was before as well. In order to not hate myself, I have to give up any number of possible, viable futures for a now uncertain one. I didn’t need to literally travel to those possible futures to know what they may have contained. I had been living as people “expected” me to long enough to know much of what would come next if I remained hidden. In order to then go on and create a new future, I needed to let go of the attachment to those possible futures, both the good and bad, defined by a person I would not allow myself to be seen as. Entire worlds defined by my perceived identity to others had to be rendered impossible. That’s a powerful feeling, even with the reality of how small those destroyed worlds may have ultimately been.
Bonk’s only goal is to reach a point in history where he can go “I am here, I belong, and I am worth the loss that represents.” Despite the sometimes ludicrous scale of Bonk’s journey, its stakes are incredibly personal. Bonk is not trying to save a kingdom, rescue a princess or free captured woodland creatures. Bonk has no interest in saving the world, only in establishing what he considers to be his proper identity, in every aspect. There is something intimately relatable about this version of Bonk, and the fact that he is so free to dispense with not only physical form, but with the weight of history and entirety of the world in order to accomplish his goal. Bonk is willing to destroy worlds in order to find his place in one.
Every moment of our lives, we destroy worlds. Every choice and action we take creates the chance for new possibilities, but also ensures that others are forever denied. We are all become Bonk, destroyer of worlds.
In the next decade, average global temperatures will rise around 3 degrees. By 2040, that rise will have increased to 7 degrees. This isn’t a possible future that can be undone, it is the reality we are living in now. Extremist fascism is on the rise worldwide, having just won a gigantic victory in the United States and emboldening the return of actual nazism. Again, this isn’t a potential outcome, this has already happened. We do not have the opportunity to go back and change things. What we do have is the ability to define who faces that future. We can decide what kind of person will confront what comes next, and while an individual decision may not ultimately decide the future, it is a powerful choice to make.