The Archivist and the Revolution

by Autumn Chen profile

Science Fiction, Slice of Life

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Number of Reviews: 10
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
History and Future in Trans Dystopia, October 13, 2022

One of my favorite things about this game is its ability to capture that feeling one gets upon discovering historical connections and commonalities with gay and trans people of the past (not that they would have used the same terms we use, something the game itself notes).
As the protagonist searches through old records encoded in bacterial DNA, she uncovers diary entries from more hopeful times, scientific articles, and more recent entries from the revolution. Decoding the DNA is her job, and, fascinating as some of her discoveries are, the work drains her of energy. Sometimes she can complete many tasks, and sometimes she can only decode one sample before exhaustion takes her. 

The archivist, Em, struggles with chronic illness and survivor's guilt. She is a sick woman in a dying world. She was not radical enough for the revolutionaries, and not conformist enough (or rather, not cis enough) for those in power who would do her harm. Even as the world around her falls apart, she needs to find ways to pay rent, or face eviction. She numbs herself with news bulletins demonizing her and those she cares about. Her struggles are all too familiar and at times heartbreakingly relatable.

And yet, there is hope. More hope than I was expecting from a game like this. Moments of connection with (Spoiler - click to show) her son, S-, and with her friends and former lovers K- and A-, demonstrate someone trying to find connection through undercurrents of hopelessness and despair.
This is a game that manages to pack a lot of emotional weight into a structure that is in large part randomly generated or player-determined. (The DNA fragments are randomly occurring; Em's energy levels fluctuate based on fixed probabilities; the player decides how Em spends her limited time and energy.)
In whatever ways Em spends her time, she is ultimately trapped in a lichen-encrusted, underground city, trying to cling to what life she can make for herself. In several paths, she finds (Spoiler - click to show) a home and a family, however imperfect.
Many of this author's games have made me cry while playing, but not this one. The tears didn't come until the day(s) after. This story seeps into your bones and lives there. A remembered future, a future we can only hope to avoid, even if much of what is depicted only mildly exaggerates what too many people are already facing.
One thing to take away from this game, though, is that in either today's world or in an imagined dystopia, our salvation will surely lie in each other. 

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