When Christine Love burst onto the Indie Game scene in 2010, she never expected to actually become a game designer. “I always thought I was going to be, like, a novelist” she said in a later interview, “…[supporting] myself doing some shitty programming 9-to-5 job while I worked towards getting published.” Her most recent release, the visual novel Analogue: A Hate Story, is a great reason as to why the gaming community should be excited about acquiring her talent. Love pushed narrative boundaries in her previous games, but with Analogue her writing technique and ability to craft a captivating story within the minds of her players have exceeded beyond most comparative games.
Analogue finds humanity stretching out into space and sending generation ships to navigate amongst the stars. The player takes the role of a contractor sent to investigate one of those ships, the recently found Mugunghwa, six hundred and twenty-two years after it lost contact with Earth. The player finds the ship devoid of all life save for the Artificial Intelligence systems, who assist the player in sifting through the diaries and letters of the previous occupants. It is quickly discovered that the women had been subjugated by the male members of the ship’s society, a literal Patriarchy in space.
Many Indie games might attempt a story like this with the subtlety of a nuclear bomb, reducing all of its characters to caricatures in pursuit of beating THE MESSAGE over the head of the player. It is a testament to Love’s ability as a writer and the nature of storytelling in Analogue that most (if not all) of the characters in the game come off as sympathetic and human. The method of pulling up their private letters and diaries, reading them, and then receiving commentary from the ship’s AI (which is itself established early on as a biased entity) places the responsibility of critically examining larger themes and ideas on the player, thus making any conclusions drawn from those examinations feel less forced or regurgitated. It also helps that Love seems more concerned with exposing characters’ complicity within their own social structure than berating them for it. As she stated in another interview, “Nobody ever just wakes up one day and says ‘yeah, I hate women, I wish we’d stop letting them read.'”
Narrative aside, Analogue is far from perfect. Western gamers not familiar with the visual novel genre may find themselves at a loss as to what makes Analogue a game, precisely. Most visual novels adopt puzzle mechanics or multiple endings in order to encourage replay; Analogue attempts both in a less than satisfactory way. The sole (singular, lone, solitary, etc. etc.) “gameplay” puzzle feels arbitrary and more like an interruption than a natural extension of the plot. Players may find themselves equally frustrated by the skills required in order to advance past the puzzle, as these skills were in no way required up to that point and had not been introduced as relevant. Furthermore, because the game is so reliant on primary sources as a method of telling its story, there is virtually no variation on the major plot itself and most of the “multiple endings” come down to a decision at the very end. While it is impossible to get every primary source in one playthrough, only the most devoted players will feel the need for a second.
Players will not find joy in the mechanical or ludological elements of Analogue: A Hate Story, but in the experiences they have investigating the mystery aboard the Mugunghwa. Pulling up diary entries and consulting with the ship’s AI programs, who in some cases were actors in the events, is always a treat. It creates an air of unreliability in the narrative, one which is only solved by plunging deeper, investigating further, and putting it all together without the help of Analogue’s various narrators. This is a storytelling experience which could only function as a game, as something that could be pieced together at a player’s leisure. All of Love’s writing could have been placed in a book format- but only in a game does the experience of rereading old entries in light of new information feel like a natural progression of story. It is also praise that many of the game’s themes, such as the myth of progress, soak into the writings of the narrators and the environments around them. Nothing feels out of place or set aside for the player’s perusal. This is game-based storytelling at its best.
Analogue: A Hate Story is completing its first year on the Steam store, and a follow up DLC/Sequel has been announced for later this year.
A final note! Lusipurr has demanded that April be the month of harvest- I mean readership…gah…and the reader who brings in the most sou-I mean friends…er…anyway, the reader who brings in the most friends to join our little community will win a game of their choosing! Just tell all of your friends about Lusipurr.com and ensure that they reference you as their referrer. Now you can get the best of both worlds: asking all of your friends for help ganging up on a poor, defenseless feminist video game reviewer AND a free game!