Analogue: A Hate Story
Here’s the situation.
There is a teenage girl, Korean, and it’s the twenty-fourth century or thereabouts. Humankind has begun to reach out to the stars, but the secret of faster than light travel hasn’t yet been discovered, so the only way to make the trip is to go for the long haul. She and several hundred thousand other people from Korea are in this enormous “Generation Ship,” the Mugonghwa, living out their lives there in the hope that their distant descendants will arrive somewhere new that they can colonize. She was born on the ship; she'll die on the ship; and her great-great-great times ten grandchildren will finish the journey for her.
Still, life’s not bad. There are a lot of people there, a city in space, with a modern society and all the latest amenities. Her father is the ship’s Chief Engineer, and she hopes to follow in his footsteps, or at the very least do something interesting with her life. Get educated, have a career. Maybe get married, but there’s no rush and no pressure, least of all from her parents....
But she has a problem. A big problem. She's dying.
Her immune system is gradually shutting down and whatever’s wrong with it is beyond the capability of the ship’s medical staff to correct. She has perhaps two years to live. So her father, who as Chief Engineer has access to resources and technology others do not, contrives a brilliant but drastic solution. She's put into hibernation in a stasis pod, and in the future, when there’s a cure for what she's got, they’ll pop her pod open and fix her.
So she goes to sleep, and wakes up a few centuries later.
And finds out that while she was away, society has somehow backspaced into the medieval period. Women have become nothing but toys for men. Medicine has degenerated into primitive superstition. The Captain of the ship has added the title Emperor. No one sympathizes with her. No one can understand the way she thinks. When she says her parents wanted her to be an independent woman, they are astonished, assuming that she is slandering them by aspiring to the life of a whore.
Oh, and she wasn't released from the stasis pod. A dimwitted aristocrat smashed it with a hammer, to get her out, as an essential element of what he considers a brilliant political ploy. There’s a shortage of available women, and she's to be given to the childless Emperor as a concubine. He is stunned to find out that she does not consider this to be an unmitigated blessing.
Welcome to hell.
Analogue: A Hate Story presents itself as a text-based detective story. You, the player, are on a salvage mission to dig whatever you can out of the hulk of the Mugonghwa, to satisfy the curiosity of a historical society as to what happened to the ship, which never arrived at its destination. The ship is a decaying wreck, and every human being on board has been dead for centuries. The only “life” consists of two computer AI, Hyun-ae, who introduces herself as the ship’s archivist, and Mute, who was in charge of security. It complicates your mission that these two despise each other and refuse to communicate directly, so you have to piece together the story by moving back and forth between them.
The interface is elegant and well thought out. The Mugonghwa is in sorry shape after all these eons of maintenance-free drifting, so the only way to talk with the AI is to respond to their yes or no, this or that questions. You never board the wrecked ship, or even see it. All you have to work with is a display that represents the AI as a pair of incongruously cheery anime females (Hyun-ae is into cosplay; Mute goes with a garish version of traditional Korean dress), a text and question display area, file lists, and an antique, last-line-of-defense command-line computer display that allows you to manipulate the ship’s systems to a certain, limited extent.
The AI are gatekeepers. You can’t access the ship’s computers directly; they have to identify, unlock, and interpret the files for you. They explain the laws and customs of the time, and even provide you with a pronunciation guide to Korean names and a couple of family trees. But they don’t do this passively. They demand you give your own opinion about what has been going on, and the path of the story changes according to your answers.
As the game progresses, you collect a great number of details about the political and personal ins and outs of high society on the Mugonghwa in the years before the catastrophe that turned it into a lifeless shell. This serves as context and setting, bringing the situation to life, but in the end it is merely backdrop. The thread that joins everything together is the fate of the girl in the stasis pod, the “Pale Bride,” and how she tries to resolve her impossible situation. Very early in the game, you sense that the answer will be horrifying, and it is. Horrifying both in itself, and in the fact that by the end you yourself may well be complicit in what happened, emotionally if not in strict legalistic reality. For a text-based game with minimal animation and no voice acting at all, Analogue: A Hate Story has an uncanny gift for drawing the player in and making its non-human protagonists (“a few thousand lines of assembly code on a hard disk somewhere”) exist as emotional realities.
Many reviews of Analogue treat it as centered around the position of women and women's rights. This, however, is not so much a theme as a story device. We are never told why the psychotically rigid version of Neo-Confucianism popular in medieval Korea has experienced a revival on the Mugonghwa. Instead, it is a tragedy with a foredoomed protagonist, and the questions it poses are less about gender relations and more about love, forgiveness, and revenge, particularly the last. If the world is oppressing you, how far can you go in response? Are you justified in destroying a world that refuses to treat you as a human being, bringing it all down with you, innocent and guilty alike? Or do you just give up?
One minor weakness of Analogue is that it is not quite as replayable as it appears at first sight. There are said to be five main endings, but I doubt if most players will be comfortable with more than two of them. For myself, I always come back to the same one; what has to be done to trigger the others feels drastically wrong, emotionally dishonest. It’s perhaps the greatest measure of the success of the game, and the masterly quality of its writing, that it can work its way far enough inside you to have such an effect.
Available from the Steam digital distribution network
or directly from http://ahatestory.com
Runs on just about anything using Windows, Mac, or Linux.
$10.00 well spent.
Free demo version available from ahatestory.com
(includes about the first third of the game).