Published on September 11th, 2013 | by Tyler Lolong0
Love Week: Analogue
Anyone interested in history, religion, or other Humanities knows that studying the distant past is a difficult pursuit. Historians must reconstruct events from incomplete sources, unreliable records, or outright fabrications. Often accounts contradict one another, and scholars argue over which one is preferable. The problem compounds for anyone interested in underrepresented and disenfranchised groups, for whom no records may exist. Gaps need filling, silences need speaking. And once you piece an account together, what do you do with it? What relationship should we have with our history?
Analogue: A Hate Story puts players in the role of a researcher tasked with analyzing and retrieving records to discover what happened on a derelict generation ship whose population mysteriously died. The sorry state of the ship forces the researcher to make do with a damaged computer system. While this system features the assistance of on-ship AIs, a malfunctioning language parser means the inspector has no way to communicate directly with them, let alone perform direct searches. The AIs must find the logs manually, aided only by binary questions they ask the inspector, or by the inspector indicating interest in particular documents.
And the logs betray a patriarchal society which preserved only the most privileged accounts. Etiquette discouraged women from reading or writing, and most women who did write deleted their logs out of courtesy. Evidence of the lower classes exists only as data in court records or financial disputes, and those logs only exist to illustrate the virtues of the ruling class. As in real research, these documents reveal the ship’s story in biased, confusing chunks, until a bigger picture emerges.
What’s compelling about Analogue is the way it frames the researcher’s relationship to the research material, and the way it refuses to allow players any pretense of objectivity. We do more when we study the past than simply find out “what happened.” While the past stays static, our understanding of it fluctuates. Even after we know all the facts, we remain in conversation with our history. History affects and changes us. And in Analogue, history is a living thing.
The two AIs players interact with lived through the events under investigation, and become resources just as important as the documents they retrieve. But like the logs, they are subjective, and like the logs, they give incomplete knowledge. Because of the busted language parser, they must interact with the inspector in broken and one-sided ways, asking only the questions they think the inspector might ask and allowing only the answers they think the inspector might give. This limitation, one common in visual novels, actually strengthens the game’s themes. The relationship of inspector to AI mirrors the relationship of researcher to source, but with the power balance inverted. Here, the source asks one-sided questions of the researcher, rather than the other way around.
Many people will find this set-up maddening, or worse, boring. For a particular kind of person, though, one thrilled by the pursuit of the unknown, Analogue: A Hate Story makes for compelling entertainment. Searching through the Mugunghwa‘s archives evokes the feeling of poring over library books for hours, piecing together a mystery one source at a time. The story is as horrifying as it is fascinating, and even once players mostly know what happened, they will want to coax more evidence out of the AIs. Eventually players fall into a comfortable rhythm, lowering their defenses just enough for the game to betray them and, spoiler warning, make them feel horrible about themselves.
Analogue plays a cruel trick on players with the reactor breach, which yanks the researcher out of the role of observer and thrusts them into the story. This section of the game starts out as a text-based puzzle, a moment of tension to break the monotony of the research. Solving this puzzle, however, requires players to make a horrible choice, and the moment that choice dawns on them is the moment Analogue truly comes together. The ship only has enough energy to power one AI, which means the inspector must disable the other AI’s core, risking the degradation of her data, and – unless the player has the “impossible” knowledge needed for the harem ending – effectively killing her.
In forcing this choice on players, Analogue refuses to allow them any illusion of objectivity. In order to finish the job, the researcher must decide which AI most deserves to live, or else abandon them both. This choice, while heavy-handed, goes beyond the simplistic melodrama typical in visual novels and makes a compelling statement on the nature of historical study. The AIs are living things, yes, but they are also relics of the past, the last voices left from a dead society. The AI who lives will go on to present her story to the outside world, and affect how posterity views the Mugunghwa‘s culture. Players choose not only which individual to save, but which narrative to preserve. And these narratives fiercely contradict one another.
Do players prefer *Hyun-ae, who experienced only the worst of the Mugunghwa‘s misogyny, and believes the culture beyond forgiveness? Or will they save the ironically-named *Mute, who found real good in the ship’s flawed population, but defends its patriarchy and remains ignorant of the event which gives the genocide context? Since Love modeled the Mugunghwa after the real Joseon Dynasty of Korea, this choice means passing judgment on an actual period of human history, a period which influences culture to this day.
The choice is extreme, of course, as binary and unfair as the conversations between players and the AIs. But Analogue uses this extreme choice to make an important point: The narratives we preserve matter. History is a volatile, dynamic thing, and affects not only how we view the past, but how we treat the people created by that past. We can never change what happened, but the constructs we build influence the choices we make, and the people we leave behind.
The Mugunghwa, ignorant of its more recent past, turned to the classics to define itself, and created a society of both wonder and horror. Human history tells many stories of oppression, and we must confront and question the past which defines us. But to take another extreme, to privilege how we see things and reject our past, risks just as much danger. *Hyun-ae’s actions – though understandable, considering the horrors she experienced – destroyed an entire civilization as judgment on its worst elements.
Every society has horrors in its past, and every society lives with horrors in the present. History helps us categorize and contextualize those horrors, hopefully in an attempt to understand and defuse them. Analogue explores how people think and act when living with internalized misogyny, but it also explores how we, distanced by time or culture, react and respond to those people. We should choose our responses carefully.