Summary Judgment: Analogue: A Hate Story

            The idea of what constitutes a “game” has become a very fluid one in recent years.  A lot of proverbial ink has been spilled debating what the criteria for “game”hood is, and whether certain games qualify or fail to qualify as true gaming experiences.  Ultimately, these are empty definitions and somewhat useless attempts to quantify the unquantifiable, but it bears some level of consideration: What is it that the consumer of a product on Steam is looking for?

Analogue: A Hate Story by Christine Love is an answer to that question that I didn’t know I wanted, but now that I’ve experienced it, it stands out to me as a brilliant example of interactive storytelling that blends the trappings of the traditional with modern machinery in more ways than one.

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I wish my computer was this simple.

Analogue’s basic premise is a simple one.  You play as an undepicted archivist whose task is to decrypt and download the archives of a lost derelict in space, attempting to find out what happened to the ship to cause its downfall.  This is accomplished largely through sifting through the ship’s logs and various personal diaries of its inhabitants, guided all the way by a pair of AI sidekicks to whom pieces of writing can be shown for analysis and to unlock further records.  The more logs you go through, the more you unlock, and by developing a rapport with the AIs in the way of your choosing, the game’s story evolves to suit your personality.

You might be thinking that this sounds like an awful lot of reading for a video game, and you’d be right.  The game is certainly heavily in the visual novel camp, and aside from some situations requiring craft text input into the ship’s computer console, the gameplay is almost entirely within the reading and talking.

But something I want to highlight is the key similarity that books and video games share, one that often gets overlooked in favor of comparing games to movies or television: both games and books are driven forward by the reader.  When I put on a movie, it is blasted at me, but it will progress regardless of my action.  A book, however, requires that I engage with it, and a video game is no different.  Analogue, then, is as much a “game” as any; I have to perform actions and piece together information in order to progress.

MEN ARE HONORED, WOMEN ARE ABASED

            But progression isn’t as victorious as you’d expect.  The true hero of Analogue is , of course, its story, and the change of perspective that the player acquires by swapping AI’s brings a huge amount of dimension to the heartbreaking story of the way society on the ship degraded.  I won’t go into the details of the plot here, but it rings with resounding feminist tones that understand the true value of their message: men are not inherently evil any more than women are inherently good, but toxic traditions can poison both.

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I wish I did.

Love does a phenomenal job of humanizing her characters, though, and it goes a long way toward making the abhorrent actions that take place occur in a much more rounded and believable space.  Because of the two AI, you’re able to get two perspectives on the situation, and it’s rare that both AI feel the same way about a particular place or event.  Going through these events in hindsight, then, really gives you a complete perspective of the ship’s inhabitants in all their ugly human glory, and drives home the climactic experiences of the plot in ways that are possible only through the enhanced retrospective.

Analogue is a masterfully executed merger of the old ways and the new ones.  Love could have written a novel instead, but she chose a game, and the story gains a level of personal investment that wouldn’t have been as easy to achieve in a straightforward book.  The ship in the story is a merger of futuretech with ancient tradition, and in a way, so is the game.  Analogue: A Hate Story is a compelling experience for anyone who questions how much “game” a game has to contain, and what the limits of interactive storytelling can be.

Analogue: A Hate Story is available on Steam for 9.99.

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