Analogue: A Hate Story

Namjon yeobi.
Men are honoured, women are abased.
If you can only remember one thing, remember this phrase.

Apparently I have been playing a lot of visual novel-style games lately? A few weeks back I reviewed the gay dating sim Coming Out On Top, which I found to be charming, funny and a bit steamy. This week I am reviewing Christine Love’s trans humanist epistolary Analogue: A Hate Story, which I found to be tragic and painfully compelling.

The story of Analogue: A Hate Story is presented as a series of log entries, written 600 years ago by the last people to inhabit the interstellar ship ‘Mugunghwa’, before it disappeared. With the help of two conflicting A.I. partners found aboard the ship, you are tasked with finding out what happened to ship’s society.

Meeting your first A.I. on board the ship.

What follows is a gradual understanding that, for whatever reason, society aboard the Mugungwhwa reverted back to a period in Korean history known as the Joseon Dynasty – a period in which, women were denied education, valued only as wives and childrearers, and often had their names erased from family trees and records. From here players are taken deeper into the tragic lives of several women, who are married off young, as a means of strengthening their family’s social power. Each log entry is a short, private transmission that reveals one or two key events and thoughts at a particular moment in the narrative. The logs switch between multiple authors, giving the player access to a range of perspectives and biases. Allowing drama, and horror, to unfold as the player becomes aware of the bigger picture that’s starting to gather around them. It’s a little bit like watching a tragic event unfolding over a live Twitter stream, knowing there’s nothing you can really do about it. All while one of your A.I. companions remain by your side to provide commentary and context for many of the entries. At times they will even ask you how you feel about certain events or characters in simple yes/no questions.

One of the family trees in the game. Note the incomplete female entries.

In some unexpected ways, I actually feel a lot of parallels between Analogue: A Hate Story and games like Bloodborne. Both are rich and rewarding experiences, which can become slightly challenging to get into at times due to the overwhelming immersive nature of the narrative. I love both these games, and what they have achieved, but if I were to recommend either of them to people I would end up saying the same thing, “Just stick with them, push through the difficult bits and it will all be worth it, trust me.”

Asking new players to figure out the “override terminal” so early on might put some people off.

In fact I think the word ‘trust’ is almost the core ingredient for finishing either of these games. You need to trust in Christine Love’s ability to tell a story, as much as you need to trust that you will eventually ‘get used’ to the way Bloodborne works. You also need to trust that the payoff for each of these experiences is worth it. Christine Love developed Analogue at a time when she was studying Korean history, as a way of trying to understand how it must have been for women during this 500-year period of severe patriarchy. In the process of researching and writing about this period in history, Love found the subject matter so reprehensible, that she felt being drunk whilst working on the game was a necessity. For players however, the game offers a lot of insight into the complex and insidious ways that individuals and societies institutionalize sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and classism. At no point in the game does any character explicitly state “I hate women”, but the attitudes of that nature are woven into the very fabric of Analogue, and consistently bubble underneath the surface throughout. If you can trust in Christine Love’s writing enough to push past a few rough patches in design early on, you will get to experience one of the most harrowing, yet important, stories I have ever experienced while playing video games.

*Mute casually echoes the misogynist attitudes of the era that abruptly ended.

The fact that I was willing to push past my reservations about reviewing another visual novel so soon after Coming Out On Top is testament to just how impressive and unique I think Analogue: A Hate Story truly is. It may not always have the most flawlessly executed mechanics, but I think Analogue is one of the most important and impressive video game experiences I have ever had. Even five years after its initial release, Analogue: A Hate Story still holds up as a landmark moment in video game storytelling.

Analogue: A Hate Story is playable on Windows, OS X, and Linux. It is available to by now via Steam.