Development Log #3: Narrative, and themes

This is the third and final part of a three-part series discussing the state of the game at present. You can read the first part about the artistic decisions here, and the second part about gameplay design here.

What’s the game about?

Action needs meaning, and meaning is generated through context. So this begs the question: what exactly is A Story of Love and Forgetting all about? I’ll begin by offering a very general overview of what the game is about, and I’ll proceed to let’s break it down by its two most major themes embodied by the title first, and then discuss some other thematic elements.

What exactly is the game about?

A Story of Love and Forgetting is about a man who finds himself recruited by an organisation created to investigate the proliferation of a strange new recreational drug which causes loss of memory and identity in individuals. The core of the game’s narrative revolves around a roughly one-year period in his life where he and his teammates investigate the nature of the circumstances surrounding this drug, while simultaneously he must adjust to the difficulties of returning to a strange and unfamiliar home, and come to terms with events that happened in his own past. While it does concern an investigative procedure, the crux of the story’s thrust is largely emotional, and character-driven. It deals with the consequences of loneliness, and history upon the individual.

What does the title mean?

Now that we’ve established a general overview of what the game is about, let’s examine the title in closer detail.

What does ‘love’ mean?

One major theme of A Story of Love and Forgetting is the concept of love. Here, I’m defining love as the foundational essence of all human relationships: it represents the closest and most unbreakable kind of connection which forms between two or more people over time, and can range in any expression from the familial to the romantic to the ideological, and everything in between. A Story of Love and Forgetting deals with many forms of love, and in many of these cases, the failure to find or maintain it.

The core of the game’s social system involves the player character, John – a man whose life, at the beginning of the game, is fundamentally devoid of love – reaching out into the world and establishing connections with others, which each eventually develop into a sort of unbreakable bond. He forges these connections by helping each of the individuals he reaches out to overcome some kind of lapse in love; whether it be helping a colleague come to terms with her career choices and sexual identity, or helping a stranger figure out his direction in life after catastrophic failure, the crux of the game’s social dynamics lie in helping to repair a world that has been robbed of love.

I would like to emphasise specifically that romantic love is not the focus of the game’s narrative or themes. While there is what could ostensibly be interpreted as a romantic arc in the game, and while it does play a major role, it does not represent the primary thrust of the game’s narrative. Rather, it serves as one part of the emotional backbone. I find it honestly ludicrous that I even have to mention this, but let me say this once and for all: this is not a dating sim. You as the player do not have choices when it comes to how this relationship develops, or who it develops with.

What does ‘forgetting’ mean?

Forgetting for me refers to the process by which individuals come to terms with difficult events in their past, and specifically, the means by which they attempt to obfuscate and even erase these narratives in order to justify their current state of existence. This is easier to simply discuss in bullet points, so I’ll just list out the sub-themes which fall under this category with discussions of them as appropriate:

  • eternal recurrence: the notion that time, or at least certain histories, repeat themselves over and over again, bound into a specific cycle with specific properties and kinds of events
  • the curse of history: or, in other words, how singular events of momentous trauma can branch and resonate so strongly across multiple generations, and create entire histories on their own
  • haunting, and ghosts created by that trauma: related to the above, when a point of trauma occurs, all those affected by it become a part of that history, and the ones most deeply impacted by it (the ones who lose the most) leave behind emotional resonances, or ghosts which continuously repeat throughout that history, haunting it – it’s important to note here that what is haunting them is the absence of something in their lives, rather than the addition of something else
  • the erasure and obliteration of history: history can be ‘overwritten’, or it can be erased; the two are not mutually exclusive, with the latter inevitably being simultaneously a part and the end of the former; A Story of Love and Forgetting focuses on both, on both an individual and global scale; the main conflict in it is the individual against an overwhelming tide or burden of history, created by either trauma or expectation or both
  • the inhuman and abstract burden of history, and the threat of memory: Individuals struggling against fundamental natural concepts which are so incomprehensible and inscrutable that they find themselves dwarfed and debased by history itself. They sacrifice an important part of themselves in order to live on in peace, as someone else – the price of remembering, and also the price of forgetting.

While the connection between these and the concept of forgetting may not be immediately apparent, the connections are much more clear in-game, and are more easily justified and explained in context of the game’s narrative itself.

What is the world like in the game?

This is a question that I’ve seen a number of people express interest in, so I feel that it’s appropriate to very generally cover this in a surface level of detail.

The world in A Story of Love and Forgetting has seen the collapse of traditional western values following a large-scale nuclear exchange during the 1990s as per Hotline Miami 2‘s canon, and years of continuous trauma through civil war and insurrection have bred new understandings of culture and society almost anathema to the previous ones. The west has more or less descended into an effectively mediaeval state, following a model of essentially corporate feudalism. A major influence in the game’s is the proliferation of east Asian cultural values and identities, since they’ve occupied much of the former western world physically, economically and culturally.

The following list includes some general motifs of the game’s world:

  • the collapse of western ideology and values: the pillars of western civilisation have pretty much been annihilated by one another; concepts such as justice, democracy, liberty and freedom have become not only obsolete, but feared and reviled because of the conflicts they caused; and the remaining world as a whole moves towards a more socialist, collectivist vision of society
  • the rise of east Asian culture and society: in converse relation to the previous point, east Asia, and parts of southeast Asia are able to survive because instead of allowing themselves to get dragged into conflict, they remained neutral, and afterwards joined together in a pan-continental alliance for strength; in the aftermath of the war, they begin focusing solely on economic growth and expansion – expanding their markets, dividing up the remains of the civilised world and occupying remaining spaces; there are strong undertones of cultural and economic imperialism
  • the proliferation of east Asian identities, culture and values: as a whole the world moves towards a Marxist view of history and society, in which economy is the sole driving factor of human interests and all power results as a negotiation of market forces; there are many more east Asians present in both prominent positions and in daily life, with many especially Chinese citizens having occupied the remnants of the United States following reconstruction; with them they brought a culture, which through the vastness of the occupying population overwhelmed the original values and largely either forced assimilation or outright erased original identities
  • the erasure of national and ethnic identities, and the emergence of a new global identity: nations have collapsed, and corporations exist in their place; combining this with the aforementioned mass settlement, individual national identities have begun to fade away as people embrace an identity that is much more global (identifying with a corporate brand, which is international, or not identifying with anything at all)

Conclusion

Hopefully this clarifies some things about what I’m attempting to address with the game, and what exactly it’s about. I hoped you enjoyed reading this series as much as I enjoyed writing it. In the mean time, if you haven’t already, you can read the first part of the series concerning artistic decisions here, and the second part concerning gameplay here. Thanks for reading. Have a nice day.

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4 thoughts on “Development Log #3: Narrative, and themes

  1. Just finished reading all three entries. Though I will admit, I was disappointed at first with the artstyle switch, after reading your desire to distance yourself from the originally Hotline Miami roots, I took another look and, well. I’m still super hyped for this game dude. I hope these entries being so recent means you haven’t let the brainless peeps on YT and such get to you. These ideas sound amazing, and the artstyle may not be for everyone, but it looks nice and if it’s the best vehicle to get the emotion and story you want across, who am I to hate on the concept just for that. Best of luck with the game, after reading these entries, I’ll definitely be keeping a close eye on its development.

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