Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Making the Case for Read Only Memories

Sometimes I just don't understand people. Recently, a game called Read Only Memories was sold on Indie Gala alongside five other titles for an insultingly low price. The extra games were a nice bonus, but I just wanted the point-and-click adventure that was getting rave reviews from all my friends. It's a science-fiction tale with a strong Blade Runner influence, 16-bit graphics reminiscent of the EGA era of personal computers, a suitably synthy '80s soundtrack, and a globe-headed robot sidekick! What's not to like?

Heh, exposure. What writer HASN'T
heard that one before?
I guess the lesson here is never underestimate the nit-picky power of the internet, because someone somewhere found something to complain about in Read Only Memories. Amidst all the praise for the game were some hostile reviews from Steam curators, calling it a nested doll of political correctness, extraneous pronouns, and furries. (Wait, what's wrong with furries...?) I dismissed the hostility as another baseless hatchet job against writer Jenn Frank, who was peripherally involved with the game's design and who has endured constant harassment from dorks since that whole GamerGate mess started last year.

As it turns out, there was some small grain of truth buried under the ton of crap squeezed out by the game's detractors. Read Only Memories was spearheaded by the organizers of GaymerX, an electronic entertainment convention designed especially for the LGBT community. The game was created to bring the same gender and sexual diversity to this testosterone-drenched hobby as the convention, so you could honestly say that Read Only Memories has an agenda. Hell if I could notice one for the hour I played it, though.

Could you not? We're rather attached.
Look, I get pretty angry when people try to push their views on me. It's ended friendships, and it convinced me to make a hasty retreat from Tumblr, a social networking site known for its political activism (and extremism). However, I never got the impression that Read Only Memories remotely resembled propaganda. All I noticed was the overall quality of the design, and the sharp writing that pokes holes in some overly familiar science-fiction tropes. Mention Asimov's three laws of robotics and your android partner Turing explains that he's too advanced to be bound by them, instead explaining that society's boundaries are what keeps him from, say, tearing the arms off any smug humans who happen to be standing nearby. (Really, Turing is harmless! I'm just convinced he's got Robo-Asperger's.)

Yes, you can choose your preferred pronoun near the start of the game, and yes, some characters reject he and she as descriptors, but Read Only Memories is set in the future. There are cybernetic enhancements, genetic engineering, borderline sapient robots, and fifty years of social progress. Humanity has expanded far beyond its original definition... why wouldn't the pronouns of the time reflect this? Beyond that, why would it even matter to you when "he" and "she" are the first pronouns you're given when you're asked to describe yourself?

This is a face you can trust. Even if
it's just projected on a glass ball.
Look, you can get hung up on these minor and unintrusive details, or sit back and enjoy one of the better games in an underrepresented genre. This very straight, very gender-binary sci-fi geek found plenty to like about Read Only Memories, and you likely will as well if you give it a chance. But if you'd rather reject it on the advice of some YouTube pseudo-celebrity fighting a misguided war against "political correctness," hey, it's your loss.

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