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The Great Backlog Battle: (No) Hope for the Future

Remember Me
Dontnod

No one really knows what the future holds, but for generations, science fiction authors the world over have been trying to give their own interpretations. While every single vision of what the future holds comes from a different mind, there are many similarities that are easy to spot. One of the biggest is the dystopian ideal, where the future isn’t what we bargained for, and in fact, is quite a bit more horrible and oppressive than the world we currently live in. That’s doubly true for video games, where the likes of Remember Me have shown a glimpse of a world that’s beautifully depressing.

Don’t get me wrong. Remember Me’s Neo-Paris is a stunner. It takes a lot of elements of the existing beauty of the city and ramps up the technology on top of what’s been there for centuries. It’s all very ‘Blade Runner,’ and I appreciate the amount of dedication and work that went into carefully crafting a vision of the French capitol. That said, I’ve seen this kind of future dozens upon dozens of times before. Despite the glitz and glamor of the neon-lit Parisian streets, there’s a darkness about the city. It’s a place where only the wealthy truly get to experience all that Paris has to offer, and that’s an ideal shared by many futurist writers and thinkers. The future won’t be decided by the lower class. That much is apparent.

blade runner
Warner Bros.

The setting is merely window-dressing for Remember Me, and though it’s important to know the story takes place many, many years down the road, the future presented isn’t exactly a core focus of the story. What I mean to say is, that the things in Remember Me happen in a future timeline aren’t as important to the overall game as the things that are happening themselves. The technology and Nilin’s storyline could have easily been adapted to take place in modern day with just a few adjustments to the plot. The idea of Neo-Paris, while enjoyable, is just a cool setting with no real impact on the characters or themes. I’m thrilled a developer set a futuristic game in a place that wasn’t an approximation of New York or Los Angeles, but why must all our futures look so damned bleak?

Outside of Mirror’s Edge, there haven’t been very many games that take place in a future that isn’t dark, run-down, teeming with over-population or post-apocalyptic. Even Mirror’s Edge had its dark side. The City’s gleaming uptopian architecture housed a fascist government bent on keeping its world ever so perfect. Still, despite the ugly nature of some of the City’s inhabitants, you can’t deny how pristine the future looked in Mirror’s Edge. This is in sharp contrast to the way pop culture has defined what the future could hold for decades. Films are rife with interpretations of the centuries to come that feature out of control governments, wastelands, population surges and most of all, depressing darkness. Neo-Paris is no different than the likes of ‘Blade Runner’ or ‘Escape from New York’ in that sense, and based on some factual suppositions and estimations by current science, not too far off from what we’ll really be seeing.

Mirrors Edge
DICE

At some point though, what might be science fact backed up by the way our populations are growing, and the way we’re burning through natural resources at an alarming rate, can be disheartening. I’m having a good time playing Remember Me. I like the action and the combat, and I like Nilin as a character. She’s interesting. Her job is interesting. The technology behind memory rewriting is incredibly fascinating. Neo-Paris bores the s— out of me despite how gorgeously its rendered. If not for the graffiti on the walls or the landmarks in the background, Neo-Paris could be any other futuristic city in the world. The bright lights illuminating a decrepit underbelly. The homeless huddled in sewers and underpasses. The members of high-society living it up with robots assisting with daily life. The techno-elite running the show, while hundreds upon thousands beg for a small piece of relief. We’ve been here before, just with a different guide.

Despite my disappointment in yet another future where hope is a four-letter word left unspoken like so many vulgarities, that doesn’t take anything away from Remember Me’s overall presentation. I don’t want Remember Me to be a different game; I just want someone somewhere to someday deliver me a future that actually shows mankind got a bit better about things. You can still tell stories about messed up people and practices in a world where the environment isn’t in danger, buildings of immaculate design gleam brightly in unobscured sunlight, people have plenty of food, living space and jobs. It sounds naive and incredibly, unrealistically optimistic, but it’s also something no one has really ever done before. Isn’t that what storytellers should be striving for, versus showing off a wealth of influences that conveys just how clever they are in creating a world just like that world you saw before in that other thing?

People will still be people. We’ll be kind and prosperous. We’ll be good to those close to us. We’ll keep striving to do more and do it better. But we’ll also still be incredibly diverse, and unhinged. We’ll be untrusting of others we don’t know. We’ll gossip, we’ll make bad decisions and we’ll disappoint those closest to us. We always do. It’s not about the where or when that makes stories compelling, it’s about the who and the why. Nilin’s journey would be just as engaging were it taking place in a Neo-Paris that was truly revolutionary and lived up to its namesake as La Ville Lumiere. But we’ll never really know because it’s so much easier just to show the future’s dark side with architecture and design than it is through characters and thematic undertones.

This year, I’m no longer neglecting my backlog while it continues to pile up. Instead, I’m whittling away, bit by bit, in a competition with a free dinner on the line. Every other week I’ll be updating you on my progress with the twelve games I’m hoping to beat before the clock strikes midnight on December 31. This is the Great Backlog Battle.

Next: Zen and the Art of Pirateship Maintenence

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