Words and artwork by Stephen Beirne. This piece is community funded. If you like this article, please consider supporting my writing by visiting my Patreon and becoming a patron.
[Spoilers for Remember Me and Remember Me – A review.]
Tim Skew made this review of Remember Me, which is itself a profoundly, frustratingly mundane game about the usual ways technology infringes upon or facilitates interpersonal relationships. Protagonist Nilin goes about the future city of Neo-Paris making and losing friends and enemies in all sorts of combinations, largely by use of the principle magical mind-altering technology either directly or indirectly. While this technology is unabashedly used as a narrative device towards the story’s completion, the people Nilin meet inevitably moult into tools, keys and datalinks to supply the forward momentum in her journey, until a point.
The third act or so begins to break away from this perception of people-as-technology and instead considers the value of people in how they relate to Nilin in a social capacity. It sees Nilin discovering how each of her parents head the dystopian society following from the fracturing of their family unit, again caused directly or indirectly by the intrusion of the magic mind technology on their lives – the game’s final boss is her childhood friend, twisted and distorted into a self-loathing avatar for the benefit of the city’s infrastructure.
Far from being the case that she develops as a character to appreciate individuals for who they are, Nilin is still only interested in these people for what they can provide to her, although that’s now moved from an active state into a passive one—they’re caregivers, rather than as keyholes to unlock for loot and knowledge.
Before this begins to risk sounding interesting, bear in mind that the Humans vs. Technology theme is consistently resolved and abandoned in a trend of unaddressed pragmatism– Nilin’s family unit is restored to her through use of her magic mind technology wherein she warps people’s memories until they forget why they hate one another. Technology both endangers us and saves the day.
This contradiction is fastened to Remember Me in its combat and memory remix sections, so rather than coming across as tinted by dramatic irony, the use of evil technology for cool and attractive purposes is a million times vindicated. There is no tragedy in magic mind technology other than when it is used by the wrong people for the wrong things, or in other words, Neo-Paris is a dystopia because ma and da are grumpy fucks. Once its leaders make up and Nilin gets her parents back, the moral qualms of violating a person’s essence, for instance, take backstage, or indeed, are retroactively overwritten to have never existed.
Although the climax supposes a return of humanity to its natural state (of non-digitized minds cowering in fear of existential pain (hence, “Nilin”)), at no point is this evidently valued through Nilin’s actions during the game’s course, nor is it substantiated in the text beyond how the premise declares Neo-Paris is a dystopia. It is a game of hard pragmatism and empty promises.
I say all this to give you context for Tim Skew’s review, because Skew doesn’t go into this within the scope of his analysis, despite admitting it to be one of Remember Me’s greatest failures. In turn, this omission characterises Skew’s review quite heavily, because his critical text is also a game, titled Remember Me – A review, crafted at least in part to reproduce the sensations of Remember Me as insight into Skew’s experience of the original game. Combat in Remember Me is repetitive and obstructs flow, so the player of the Twine game must click a series of ‘punch’ links until the text’s body resumes on track. Remember Me’s attempt at parkour is overtly deterministic and again jarring, so Skew spreads a few clickable buttons across a layout of negative space to make the reader/player ‘hop’ about the screen and
…but of course the empty space we jump through offers nothing by way of the presumed sensation of traversal and exploration.
In setting itself this goal of resembling its subject matter A review joins the ranks of many static text reviews and a few Twine reviews of other videogames, making it novel but not unique. Perhaps with this critical history as subtext it becomes more poignant, as both Remember Me and A review suffer from being overly derivative of their predecessors.
Overuse of particular mechanics across innumerable Twine projects has seen them grow trite and diluted of significance, just as the same is true for the wider industry—Remember Me is an elongated elevator pitch of Uncharted mixed with Batman: Arkham Asylum and Ghost Trick. Both titles’ dedication to stagnating forms means untapped potential is their shared greatest flaw, hence why Remember Me is fully marked in my mind as ‘frustrating’ rather than ‘wholly forgettable’, though not unkindly.
It’s by this that A review is most remarkable in its narrative analysis of Remember Me, expressed through form rather than its text, which is instead mainly dedicated to a takedown of the game’s mechanics and cursory observations on representation and aesthetics. As a Twine we understand text as a primary vehicle for the reader: we pursue more text and more interesting text, we crave prose which we sometimes unlock mechanically. Skew expresses his interest in Remember Me stemming from its narrative and his exasperation at how the game neglected to realize this interest, which is then literalized in the function of a Twine game as a review—mechanics pad and pace out critique to the reader/player. As readers, we want to see something of insight in Skew’s review, but it’s guarded behind what we discover to be pointless clicks and banal parenthetical musings.
A clear if accidental line is drawn on implied promise of a review (or any media text) that this will have something compelling to say about its subject matter. For Remember Me, that’s the core themes of humanity and technology (or the blatant immorality of Nilin’s magic mind powers); for A review, it’s Remember Me’s handling of the above. But instead, A review’s mechanics are too consumed with replicating the ludonarrative of Remember Me, with the text eventually transforming from critique to fiction to chase that thought. Ultimately, the allure of narrative analysis is overtaken mechanically and textually by misguided focus elsewhere.
Which is not to say A review is actually and legitimately insightful in its own right. You’d have to be more generous than me to grant the review conscious ownership of its own disinterest in Remember Me’s narrative as a simulation of Remember Me’s selfsame disinterest. I doubt it was even a subconscious compulsion. Rather, there is a sweet, incisive irony in how both titles fall into the same ditch, in that Remember Me – A review unfortunately succeeded at becoming Remember Me despite itself. The last tragedy is neither benefitted from being a game.