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Imagine waking up to a world where people think less of you for reading or writing. Or one where it's not likely that you'd learn how to read or write at all, and if you did, you'd have to get rid of the evidence—erase the data, destroy the letters. Imagine not having much control over the affairs of your life, from what you are allowed to say, to where you are able to go, or how you are able to live, to who you'd be allowed to marry. Imagine trying to rebel against this reality...and having your tongue cut out for it.
Now imagine all of this happening during a time when we've perfected space travel and cryogenic stasis.
Is that possible? Can we waltz into the future without carrying ‘progress' there with us? Won't technology pave the way for a better tomorrow; isn't this the promise found at the nucleus of science?
Christine Love, developer behind Analogue: A Hate Story and current Indiecade finalist, isn't so sure. Analogue, which takes the previous surreal-sounding premise and was released earlier this year to much praise, is a game that takes the idea of an advanced civilization gone awry. This allows it to create a harrowing tale of a woman pushed too far. A woman who cannot deal with being treated as less than human and goes insane, killing everybody aboard her spaceship.
The story is fictional, but it's based on an actual time period; the Joseon Dynasty in Korea. This was a point in Korea's life when its society became strangely backwards thanks to internal strife and crisis—much like 9/11 set up conditions that allowed the war on terror to become a perpetual state of being in the United States.
Now that Christine Love is working on the follow-up, DLC for Analogue titled ‘Hate Plus,' she hopes to tackle one of the failings of Analogue. Some players might've not realized that the point is that we are always just a step away from the type of society depicted in Analogue. "It's sort of easy to dismiss as just 'oh, that's just how it was in the past, it's all cool now!' Christine told me via instant messenger. Neo-Confucianism—the central ideology behind the Joseon Dynasty—making a comeback? Not likely.
Of course, it would be naive to think such a thing is completely impossible, especially with the burgeoning science of cliodynamics—or, the study of historical dynamics which has uncovered that "history repeats itself" is more than a tired cliche. It's a thing whose existence is more and more proven real by mathematics. And with the constant media reminders of politicians who seem keen on mandating the ways a woman can be in charge of her own body, fearing a future where similar basic human rights are stripped from women is not wholly outlandish.
"It WAS a huge regression… in a way that North America right now kinda scarily reminds me of! You know, troubled times leading to nostalgia for the good old days (that didn't really exist), presenting modern inventions as being tradition," Christine mused.
"A lot of the tenets of neo-Confucianism were not actually things that were ever tradition; it makes me think of, say, the notion that being anti-abortion is a fundamental part of being Christian in the United States right now when really it's just something that dates to like the '70s. Only instead of selectively quoting Confucius, it's selectively quoting the bible."
Plus, it's curious to note that modern times have no shortage of what Naomi Klein calls "shock doctrines," or man-made crises engineered specifically to create the opportunity to push problematic reforms—like the destruction of women's rights. Hypothetically, of course. But shock doctrine is why we have an utter erosion of rights in the in the United States right now—the Patriot Act is an example—all in the name of democracy.
Anna Anthropy puts it best when she states "a woman's apocalypse is not the terror of technological regression, but of social regression: not a strange and unknown future but the imposition of an all-too-familiar past....doesn't describe a far future nightmare, but a near one: the protagonist is a woman like me or you, living in her own house, dressing how she wants, fucking partners of her own choosing, whose world is changed overnight into one in which she is property, a walking, breathing womb, existing only so that she may carry a man's child."
For Christine, creating the story is no easy thing. During development she would often remark on the necessity of being drunk—which is not uncommon for a writer, to be sure. But you don't often hear about authors who have difficulty writing because the subject is just that reprehensible and disgusting...but it takes playing Analogue to have a good idea of what this means, exactly. Suffice it to say that as I personally played, it wasn't uncommon for me to feel uneasy if not nauseated by the tale.
"Oh god, it's going to be terrible and scary to live in [the villains'] head for months...they're an evolutionary psychologist!" Christine exclaimed.
Still, it's an important exercise for her to undergo. "I'm kinda interested in how those ideas take root, both in people, and also in society. Nobody ever just wakes up one day and says "yeah, I hate women, I wish we'd stop letting them read."
The curiosity, to me—as a personal friend of Christine—seems to extend beyond needing to get into the appropriate headspace to write. As someone who struggles with mild Autism, Christine can sometimes have difficulty with social interactions, if not understanding feelings and emotions . It also seems like no mistake that most of her games feature AIs—her early game, Digital: A Love Story, can be said to be a story where you teach an AI how to love. In this way, writing to me can sometimes seem as something Christine does to come to terms with her issues, if not overcome them.
It's the far future. You're a salvager, and you've been notified that a derelict, ancient 25th-century colony ship, one of the generation ships Earth sent out eons before you were born, has been found drifting aimlessly in space. Your task is to dig through all of the log files you can turn up on board the long-abandoned Mugunghwa and find out just what happened to the ship, its passengers, and its crew in centuries long gone, and why it never reached its destination. Welcome to Analogue: A Hate Story.
Designer Christine Love's third game, following Digital: A Love Story and Don't take it personally babe, it just ain't your story, takes her trademark puzzle of storytelling out of its roots in the almost-past and near-present, and brings it far into the future by plumbing humanity's past.
The game is a mystery, told in a series of one-sided point-and-click conversations with the ship-board AI personalities, Hyun-ae and Mute. Each will be happy to tell you more about certain persons, places, or events you find mentioned in the ship's archived letters and logs, but both have their own agendas and neither is, on her own, entirely a reliable narrator. Only through talking with both can you begin to understand the intertwined story of the Smith and Kim families.
You'll access diaries, conversations, and dramas out of sequence and can read them in whatever order you wish. The more you read, the more you can ask your AI companions about. And the more you ask your AI companions about, the more you unlock to read about. Eventually, the maelstrom of names begins to resolve, and the web of stories connecting the ship-bound empire begins to take its true form.
It's a visual novel, a game about thinking rather than about fighting or doing. You're here to read, to learn, and to understand.
It's a family drama, a story of personal weakness, secrets, and relationships. You're here to judge, to condemn, and to pity.
It's a commentary on the very nature and structure of society, a "what-if" tale of speculative fiction drawn out to its nightmare conclusions. You're here to fear, to question, and to take sides.
The future that Analogue brings us is straight out of humanity's history: a rigid, hierarchical, patriarchal society where men run public lives and women live in the shadows. The gender politics are one story; the lost lives of those who lived them are another. The two intertwine as the tale goes on. It was not always this way, Analogue tells us, nor does it have to be again. But here is the thought experiment: let us remove this society from the Earth, leave it on its own in a bottle, and see what happens...
As a player, I love a good dystopia, and I love a good mystery; any chance to play through the mystery of a dystopia is one I'll always jump at. And the joy of playing through darkness of Analogue is in discovering the twists and turns yourself, so I'll say very little about them. The story pulled me in startlingly quickly, in the same way a good novel does, and I found myself flipping virtual pages as quickly as I could while still trying to be sure I caught all the details.
Analogue offers five divergent outcomes, and I know I haven't seen nearly all the game has to offer. I plan to go back and find out more. Because if I don't, I'll be up until the wee hours of the night, wondering. And that's the sign of a mystery well spun.
Analogue: A Hate Story [Official Site - Mac, PC, Linux]
Analogue: A Hate Story [Steam - Mac, PC]