Remember Me: Family Ties

We dealt with Remember Me last month, and we’re doing some more with it again today. I guess technically this is another article complaining about missed opportunities for a much more interesting plot, but… huh. When you put it that way, it sounds kinda shitty. It’s therefore not a fair description of what I’m doing, specifically because it makes me feel bad.

Okay so we’re gonna move to the end of Remember Me for this one. Probably 70% of the way through the game, you meet a CEO who’s in charge of the memory-fiddling company. You mess around with her memories and find out that she hates humanity because she got in a car crash and lost her leg. So you dutifully remix the car crash so she remembers it as her fault, and she stops being a bitch and decides to shut down the mind control company. It’s more complicated than that, uh, but that’s the abridged version. And then, twist, it’s revealed that this CEO lady is actually the protagonist’s mother! Surprise! The protagonist had forgotten, because she’d had all her memories stolen, but she remembered because as a child she was in the back seat during the crash and seeing the crash again jogged her non-existent memories.

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Anyway I was feeling a bit shitty about the whole mother reveal. The protagonist (Nilin) didn’t have any deep longing for her lost family, it wasn’t like a big emotional driver for her, it’s just ‘hey and also this is your mum’. It’s like if you read a story where the protagonist was trying really hard to run a marathon, and then the big twist ending is that they have a twin. It’s surprising information, sure, but it’s not super relevant to the actual arc of the story. Or so I thought!

At the very end of the game, we discover that the guy who invented the technology is also Nilin’s father, and so her parents are both CEO and inventor of the memory-fiddling company. That’s – I mean, again, it was a frustrating plot element because it was meaningless. Nilin could have been a bum off the street and we’d still support her attempt to take down the memory fiddlers. The familial connection doesn’t change anything because it was never part of Nilin’s initial motivation, and it doesn’t seem to complicate or upset her motivations when she finds out. So it’s irrelevant. Or so I – yeah you get it.

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So it’s the climax of the game and you move to remix your dad’s memories to make him not do the whole memory thing any more. You find out that he first used the memory machine to wipe out your memory of the car crash from when you were a child. That’s… okay, well, that’s a compelling reason to care about the family angle. Now it matters – it humanises the villains. They aren’t just evil, they were trying to look after their kid. Or at least the dad was. I think the mum still just sucks a bit. This revelation also impacts how you think about Nilin’s goal. Now it’s a story about overbearing parents, who love their daughter too much and get so caught up in trying to protect her that they accidentally become heartless monsters ruining the world with their memory tech. Their overzealous love turns them into something evil. Nilin is trying to stop them, but she’s also in a sense trying to assert her own independence as a human being. Her quest to stop their company is also an interpersonal quest to be like ‘hey you guys chill i’m an adult now okay’. That’s a strong emotional hook. There’s some personal stakes in there. Nilin wants them to stop and she’s fighting against them, but it’s also regretful, because she doesn’t want to fight them or hurt them, because they’re her parents.

That whole scene with the dad actually makes the entire game worthwhile. He’s in his office doing his work, and he’s got all these memories of Nilin as a child projected around him. Nilin sneaks up, enters his memory, and sees the thing where he changes her memory of the crash. She enters the memory change (INCEPTION OMG) and changes her dad’s memory of changing her childhood memory to make him think that he fucked up the change and accidentally sent his daughter insane and killed her. Basically he’s trying to change her memory so the crash never happened in child-Nilin’s mind – a change that, historically, succeeded. Adult-Nilin changes his memory of the change so that in his memory of child-Nilin’s memory the car crash happens, and also so that child-Nilin wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, and so in child-Nilin’s mind (in her dad’s memory) she died during the car accident. This cognitive breakdown results in child-Nilin’s death (again, in her father’s mind), and Nilin surfaces to find her father a blubbering mess, suddenly confronted with the (new, fake) memory of killing his daughter with the memory technology twenty years earlier. The idea is that he will cancel the memory tech project because he believes that it killed his daughter. I’m not sure how he reconciles that belief with the fact that he’s been directing this memory tech company for twenty years, but never mind that just now.

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So he’s crying and Nilin feels bad, and for this brief moment it’s a beautiful scene: this man built his whole career around a technology to make his daughter feel better, and that same daughter used that technology against him to make him think that his efforts actually got her killed. That’s fucking gorgeous. It’s sad, but it’s so beautiful. He’s using a tool to make her happy, and she uses that tool to make him think that using that tool killed her. That’s masterful. It’s this utter destruction of a human being’s life and work, and it’s a deeply powerful moment. But anyway then Nilin ruins it by stepping out in front of him and he’s like oh hold up you fucked with my memories and then the mother turns up and they’re both just good now, even though a) the dad realises that he’s been mind-edited and should still be evil; and b) the mum is still mind-edited to be good and doesn’t know and nobody’s telling her the truth. So it’s a scene with some mixed feelings, after that point. Then there’s a boss fight that was unnecessary because the emotional arc of the game has already peaked, and also did I mention the combat in this game is awful? But for a moment, a brief shining moment – ah, fuck it, it’s gone.

Okay: final notes. The parents revelation is much cooler than it initially seems, but the problem is that it’s a late-game reveal. It needs to be Nilin’s motivation from the start. That means her whole amnesia thing has to be nixed – if you want to do the parents thing, Nilin has to start the game going ‘my parents are too domineering and they’re destroying the world’. The two have to be entwined, so that progress against the corporation has emotional weight. Every blow against their soldiers is an emotional blow for the freedom of a child against her overbearing parents. That’s how metaphors work. Also, just end the game with the dad being fucking miserable. That’s a stunning ending. Her parents are too stubborn and they refuse to relinquish their control, so the daughter is forced to violently break from the family, a violent break that in this case looks like convincing your father that he murdered you twenty years ago. That’s excellent. This game is so close to being something really special, and I just – ugh, it’s nearly not shit and that’s frustrating. Almost a masterpiece. Lots of good ingredients. Almost amazing.

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