“Namjon yeobi”: ‘Analogue: A Hate Story’

The following is a guest post by Kris Ligman.

Kris Ligman is a white, panromantic asexual cislady from a working class background. She’s the lead curator for This Week in Video Game Blogging at Critical-Distance.com and she occasionally writes her own stuff at DireCritic.com. The Fourth Horsewoman of the Ludodecahedronpocalypse, Kris is interested in diversifying the game blogging landscape and ruining capitalism for everybody.

A screenshot from Analogue; a anime-style woman with black hair salutes at the viewer.

Indie game dev Christine Love is a Trekker. I know this because half our conversations on Twitter seem to revolve around Lt. Worf, but also because part of Digital: A Love Story consists of a snarky retrospective in which a BBS poster named “Tiberius” (strangely not one of the Shakespearean AIs the game revolves around–or is he?) waxes nostalgic for Captain Kirk’s, um… unique brand of diplomacy.

So it shouldn’t surprise anyone, then, that Love’s latest work, Analogue: A Hate Story (sequel to Digital), bears no small similarity to the TOS episode “For The World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky”, about a generation ship which has reverted back to a superstitious and hierarchical society. In this episode, Kirk, Spock and McCoy stumble upon the Yonada, whose captive population are controlled by “obedience devices” to prevent them from learning of or discussing the true nature of the ship. Why is never really explained, although the AI in question (“the Oracle”, another name which reappears in Digital) seems to have driven the ship off course as well, so we can probably project a little about its reasons.

A photo from an episode of Star Trek TOS; the crew hangs back, watching a woman in green kneel on a pedestal.

Granted, the fashion of the Yonada is a great deal worse, and the culture is nowhere as openly misogynist as we find among Love’s characters (thankfully, TOS as a whole has enough sexism to compensate). But the implicit message of both stories–that left without an imperative to progress, society will stagnate and eventually putrefy–remains quite consistent. In a way, this is what science fiction should be more often: a thoughtful extrapolation on current conditions into a hypothetical future.

Framed as an epistolary novel, Analogue concerns a far-future tragedy amid the isolated patriarchal society of the generation ship Mugunghwa. An ailing girl of thirteen, who has been in cryogenic suspension for centuries with the promise that the science of the future could cure her, is forcibly awakened into a society with no memory of the progressive culture she came from. Instead, the ship’s inhabitants have reorganized themselves into a feudal society with little understanding of the technology which surrounds them, and they have dubbed the reawakened girl “the Pale Bride,” a marriageable chess piece between the royal family and competitive nobles.

A screenshot from Analogue; the black-haired woman stands next to a dialogue box that reads, *Hyun-ae: You have to understand something: it's traditional for women's letters to be deleted after being read, so the disk space can be reallocated.

I don’t purport to know a great deal about Korean history, nor do I suppose the Joseon dynasty (on which Analogue is modeled) is in any way singular. To give you an idea, the day after I finished playing, Jezebel ran this headline: “Afghan Man Murders His Wife for Giving Birth to a Girl”. It’s just as brutal as you think it is, and it makes an efficient reminder that everything Love is talking about in Analogue is neither exaggerated nor confined to some dark period of remote history. The game’s historical notes, available from the Bonus Content screen, also go a long way to place Analogue in a historical context–in particular, to bring home Love’s remarks that the brutality and subjugation she describes is downplayed from reality.

Consequently I wouldn’t really call Analogue a game, despite all the character interaction and multiple endings. I would call it a feminist essay with an interactive interface, something which despite its cartoon characters and references to cosplay would fit in quite well with some of the projects at Vectors. If, then, you’re the sort of person who wonders why she’s charging US $15 for it, well… shame on you. Go look up the texts she lists in her references and see what that would run you.

A screenshot from Analogue showing a text entry entitled Independent Woman.

It’s really quite a shame that we’ve built up these expectations that interactive media must be a) harmless and b) fun. Analogue is neither. It’s not even a very pleasurable interface, and I suppose I could gripe about that, but I’m not going to. Why would I? If I leveled that criticism at a project like “Public Secrets,” it could rightly be called out as disrespectful and entirely missing the point of scholarship. And that is exactly what Analogue constitutes: scholarship, and a damned good example of it, at that. I wish some academics had even a fraction of her clarity or vision.

On the subject of Analogue as scholarship, it might be pointed to ask whether using a fictional setting diminishes the potential impact. I considered this at first, but decided it’d be similarly alienating to reconstruct real historical documents using a digital database, a system they were not intended for. Even though it might overcome a few critics who wish to believe Love is creating a “strawman” (of all the shamelessly ignorant things to suggest), it would be an unnatural reconfiguration, shoving a bunch of historical artifacts into a database structure. (Not to mention the practical problems since, as Love notes, very few letters from women authors survived this period.) We would spend all our time instead on whether or not the decision was an effective one.

A blond character in red and black robes stands next to a dialogue box that reads, *Mute: You're a woman that can understand computers?! Beneath, a dialogue semi-circle offers the options Yes and No; Yes is highlighted with the mouse pointer.

Analogue hits harder by inventing an original scenario in which history viciously repeats itself, this time in the trappings of high technology, like the Star Trek episode. It lets the user reflect that even the electronic paradigm, that of electromagnetic storage and augmented navigation, of space travel and interplanetary colonization, which we hold up as such a symbol of human progress, can be made into yet another structure by which oppression flourishes. All of our technology is just one regime change away from becoming the backbone of a new dark age.

My recommendation would be to think of Analogue as a book, albeit a nonlinear one. It certainly ranks up there with A Handmaid’s Tale in how it extrapolates on contemporary anti-feminist pushback, which is certainly not limited to the Middle East. It uses Korean history as an (ahem) analogue to model the worldwide, persistent, systemic, culturally reinforced issues Love is talking about here. It is not pleasant. Nor should it be. After all, it’s not 60s television, where every problem can be recapitulated and contained within 50 minutes. There are no Kirks here.

(Not that you’d want there to be. I mean, Kirk was kind of a condescending asshole around women.)

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21 Responses to “Namjon yeobi”: ‘Analogue: A Hate Story’

  1. Laurentius says:

    “Consequently I wouldn’t really call Analogue a game, despite all the character interaction and multiple endings. I would call it a feminist essay with an interactive interface, something which despite its cartoon characters and references to cosplay would fit in quite well with some of the projects at Vectors. If, then, you’re the sort of person who wonders why she’s charging US $15 for it, well… shame on you. Go look up the texts she lists in her references and see what that would run you.”

    Ok, but I’m not ashamed. I can fork 15$ for game even if it has flows as a “game” but looks as interesting as Analogue (I liked very much Love: A Digital Story ) but 15$ for an essay however interactive it is, not a chance. So I wonder if this statement does justice to Christine Love’s work here and is a good way to promote it (though I’m biased of course, not a fan of academic discourse in general so…). Good read anyway but I was pretty hyped for this game but now I don’t know, Love: A Digital Story was certainly a game in my opinion, a little game that I cherish though.

    • Maverynthia says:

      Yeah no, there is just so much wrong with this comment. This gets called “an essay” while other works similar to this get called “games” and people don’t bat an eye at spending $15 for them.

      Then again why are we debating how much this costs? I wonder what recent games you’ve paid $60 or even $15 for?

      • Laurentius says:

        And why is that ? It was Kris Ligman’s decision to call “Analogue” an interactive essay not mine. For one it is off putting for me ( though it may be incentive to pick it up for others ) and for the second 15$ for an essay, well just no.

        PS. Recent game I bought was SW:ToR and it was pretty darn expensive ( /weeps) but I knew I’m buying a video game not an essay so I don’t know how is it relevant here.

        • Alex says:

          I think you’re taking “essay” way too literally. It’s not like it’s a wall of text you click on. It’s an essay in the sense that it’s well-researched and it’s making a point.

    • Meg says:

      Have you played “don’t take it personally babe, it’s just not your story”? I haven’t played Analogue yet but it would be my guess that if you enjoyed one you’d enjoy the other, since they’re both Christine Love VNs with a sociological/ethical message behind them. I really enjoyed DTIPB and it’s free, so if you’re unsure I’d play that first.

  2. Dave Fried says:

    It depends on if you call visual novels games or not.

    From what I’ve seen of Love’s work, it’s provocative art first and foremost; good writing second; game third. I was impressed by her recent (free) offering and downloaded the demo for Hate Story. So far, it’s intriguing enough to want to pay the $15 for, though it might not happen right away (there’s some other stuff I need to get first).

    I guess what you should really be asking yourself is: is $15 too much for a novel with multimedia extras that will make you think and maybe learn something? Certainly, you’d pay that much for a regular hardback or trade; less for an ebook or mass-market paperback. The price seems about right to me.

  3. Sunflower says:

    I’m not ashamed to say I would question spending $15 on a lot of things, books included. I don’t consider questioning value and expense as being shameful.

  4. Zankou says:

    I am of the opinion that Analogue is absolutely a game, although then I do also play a large number of visual novels, a genre which pretty much as a whole emphasizes writing over traditional styles of gameplay. As a result, then, for me pretty much any interaction moves it from “book” into “game”, where the latter is in part defined by its requirement for an interactive input that is absent from the former. (And in fact, I think Analogue has a great deal more interactivity than most visual novels.) Perhaps more importantly, there’s also the idea that the story can significantly change as a result of that input, which I believe is also the case in Analogue.

    Regardless of what you call it, though, it is truly an excellent work. For both books and games, I tend to get very personally invested in the stories and their characters (assuming they are well-written enough to allow for it), and Analogue didn’t disappoint. I’m going to refrain from talking about the story for the moment, and merely say that it is epic and well worth the time (and the $15) to experience.

  5. Line Hollis says:

    For those of you who are tossing around this “is it a game” question: what’s interesting about this to you? How do you intend to use this information?

  6. Dave Fried says:

    Please do not read that I am insisting anyone should spend $15 (or any other amount) on anything. Obviously, what is reasonable price for one person is a lot of money for another. I was merely comparing it to the cost of what I think are works in similar media.

    I will add that there is one dimension I really like about Love’s previous “don’t take it personally”, which is how she ties the interaction with the game into the meta-narrative to tell a broader story than just the text of the [visual] novel itself could. I am interested in seeing if/how this will work in the full version of Analogue.

  7. Quinnae says:

    The game sounds quite fascinating and I’m seriously considering paying to download it. I find these types of interactive novel-style games to be fascinating, they’re not unlike the text based RPGs of old- celebrated examples include the one for Hitchhiker’s Guide that Douglas Adams himself wrote up. It is an amazing and, I feel very strongly, underrated form of modern storytelling.

    “Choose Your Own Adventure” books have something of a bad rep for being cheesy and aimed at children, but the reality of it is that we’re not going to get past that unless we bring greater intellectual and artistic resources to bear on the medium.

    The only thing holding me back is that I’m a bit sensitive to horror and fundamentally dark stories, but I’m intrigued enough to give this a try.

    I will say that I’m a bit concerned about the debate batting back and forth the reviewer’s strongly worded comment about how one should be ashamed if they aren’t willing to spend 15 dollars on this. The game goes much deeper than that, and that’s the opinion of the reviewer rather than a demand placed by the designer herself. My own opinion on the matter is this:

    1) Indie games are worth supporting.
    2) Indie feminist games are *very much* worth supporting.
    3) Helping a dedicated artist make a career out of such work is a fine way of pitching in, in some small way.

    Back to Analogue itself:

    The fundamental message of the game- which is a bright lightning strike against techno-utopianism- is definitely worth considering, in my view. It captures the simple reality that technology does not always equate to progress in a meaningful, social sense, and her work deserves praise for this. Science (of any kind) and technology are potentially liberating forces, not intrinsically so. Games that explore these themes always seem to be after my own heart.

    Thanks Christine Love for making it, and thank you, Kris, for allowing us to republish your review!

    • >“Choose Your Own Adventure” books have something of a bad rep for being cheesy and aimed at children

      Amusingly visual novels often get entirely the opposite rep of being nothing but porn. The most acclaimed ones among fans of the genre, even the ones that do contain erotic content, are much more about being literature than providing titillation.

      There are a lot more English-made VNs in recent years than they used to be, and the proportion of female devs is extremely high compared to indie game development in general. Many of the better works are commercial, but for a freebie which makes an interesting read, might I recommend “That Cheap and Sacred Thing”? Can be found here: http://renai.us/game/tcast.shtml

    • (bah, looks like my reply here got eaten due to containing a link?)

  8. Julian Morrison says:

    I want to add, in case anyone is inspired to create similar indie work by this, but isn’t a programming guru and artist capable of creating this sort of truly beautiful, visual game, that there is a very good tool out there for making textual, old-style adventures: http://inform7.com/ and (with caveats that the water gets deep fast outside the paddling area) it’s rather approachable for beginners.

  9. Horta says:

    WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!

    I really enjoyed “Don’t take it Personally…”. It was clever, it played with your expectations, it busted your balls, at times it made you feel uneasy and cornered.

    Sadly, I can’t say the same about Analogue. The story is as didatic and lacking in subtlety as it gets. Nothing is ever implied, everything is spelled out. The personal diary entries of the crew feel like they were specifically engineered to be as clear and understandable to someone from a foreign culture as possible. “Men are honoured, women are abased – remember this while reading, kay?” – your helpful AI reminds you as soon as you start. Given the contents you’re about to read, such a reminder would be completely unnecessary to anyone above the age of 10. The contents speak for themselves, and loud as a night club in full swing at that.

    The personality and behavior of the two AIs you interact with don’t feel organic or believable either. They’re way too open, way too trusting, way too direct. I mean, let’s start with Hyun-ae. This is an entity that has been living in a nightmare world since she was 13. The only information she has ever had about the outside world are the second hand facts and figures that now must feel like a distant dream from childhood. She has had unspeakable things done to her. She has been alone for CENTURIES. Centuries to ponder about existence all alone inside a computer. How would you expect such an entity to behave? I’d expect her to be wary, paranoid, sophisticated, and with hints of MADNESS showing all over. She’d be asking indirect, probing questions, trying to size you up WITHOUT revealing her intentions or her hand. Instead what you get is some ultra cheerful teen that, within minutes of meeting you, throws stuff that amounts to “Hey, oppression of women sucks, right??? – Yeah, it’s totally uncool/ Nah, it’s nice. Love it.”

    As you keep playing, the behavior of the AIs starts making you feel downright uncomfortable. They’re clingy, insecure, lack tact, and generally behave like 15 year olds before their favorite teen celebrity. It doesn’t help that, unlike Don’t take it Personally…, there’s no sense of time progression here, so the AIs basically fall madly in love with the protagonist over the span of a few hours. Tacky.

    The other AI, called Mute, is no better. She’s supposed to be responsible for the ship’s SECURITY, which means, you know, protecting it and its inhabitants from harm. She wakes up from a long slumber to find everyone dead, with a foreign object in the ship’s vicinity, but still greets the protagonist with all the warmth and trust of long time pals.

    I don’t think the author is unaware of anything that I’m saying here. There is a demographic out there that wants exactly that – stories of clingy, insecure, pretty girls who fall in love within hours and treat them like movie stars – no matter how fake and unabashedly indulgent that might sound. It’s a bit ironic that a story about the evils of misogyny would feature that, but oh well… blame it on Capitalism, I guess. :)

    • Ms. Sunlight says:

      Horta, I experienced this very differently to you, and I suspect that if you experienced the story as you describe it above, you either missed or interpreted differently some of the things I picked up on.

      I tried to explain why, but couldn’t do it without serous spoilers so deleted what I wrote, but all I’ll say you describe things as they seem; the whole point of this game (for me anyway) is that things are not that simple.

      Myself, I liked it a lot more than Don’t Tale It Personally Babe. A lot more.

    • Kaja Rainbow says:

      I’ll note that Mute already knows the cause of the deaths of all aboard. It isn’t a mysterious event to her, and she has no reason to blame the protagonist.

      Hyun-ae actually describes a boredom so deep that she lost a hundred years in a blink, enough that outside contact’s a highly stimulating break to the monotony. Furthermore, she does remember a world before that 3-year nightmare (which, after all, only consisted three years of her centuries-long lifespan). And I think she’s projecting her own assumptions, that an outside contact would be someone from a less primitive (in her eyes) society. I mean, you’re actually technologically proficient!

      By contrast, Mute’s framing questions are very telling. She tends to assume that you will share the same standards, and if you tell her that you’re a woman, it actually shocks her that you’re one proficient with computers (and she quizzes you on things like your martial status). Furthermore, she’s gossipy, and assumes you will share her delight in the gossip, which’s why she’s quick to share it (just see her scandalized delight in sharing a particular sordid affair).

      In short, both of them’re projecting their own expectations upon you, and tend to treat you with those expectations in mind. As for lacking tact, neither of them are really noted in the literature you uncover as having tact. It’s a particular character trait they seem to show others in general, though they manifest it in different ways.

      Furthermore, there’re things they both choose to conceal from you, or simply not present due to perceived irrelevance. They both have their own angles on things.

      That doesn’t mean that I don’t agree that they’re somewhat quick and eager. But those seem more like writing issues than cynical deliberate gestures. And I do agree on the romance angle seeming a bit hasty. I would’ve enjoyed this at least as much without that. In the end, I wanted to rescue both of them from being trapped on that ship, so that they could be released to enjoy life in the outside world. So the “harem” ending was the best to me, not because it resulted in two digital ‘waifus’, but because it resulted in both of them getting off that ship.

    • Medicine Melancholy says:

      I haven’t played much of it yet, but I sadly have to agree with a lot of that so far. I think there are better ways to approach feminism in VNs. I might play more soon but I had a bit of falling out with the author so it does taste especially sour without that bias at the moment.

      It’s well designed, though.

  10. feministgamer says:

    It’s not strictly a game or an essay, it’s a “visual novel.” That’s the industry term for it.

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