2064: Read Only Memories’ opening narration depicts a not-too-distant, not-at-all far-fetched future for humanity. Genetic and Electronic human modification is the new confounding frontier; as people alter their genetic code to grow fur, elf ears, or cat noses – creating a situation where if you have the money, you can look like your favorite SnapChat or Instagram filter or D&D Character. Cybernetic Implants are common too. Both forms of human augmentation are derided, protested, and occasionally attacked by the ‘Human Revolution’, an organization that believes messing with your DNA in such a way is a fundamental affront to humanity itself- and they may have a point.
Meanwhile, robotics have evolved to the point where they handle many mundane day-to-day tasks, cyber-security remains a massive concern world-wide following a hack of the largest technology company in the world, and it turns out being a professional writer remains a fundamentally torturous process – as the game’s protagonist slyly narrates how, surely, his/her/Xes next product review will be his avenue to a big break. Yep. For sure.
This is a long way of saying that 2064: ROM does a wonderful job of setting its stage and making you feel at ‘home’. Even if that home is…uncomfortable. From the apartment in a state of disrepair, to a sink so gross it might slowly be growing a brain, to a window that won’t close and a too old computer and a not-quite-up-to-snuff writing career, the game seemed to speak directly to your humble author’s personal experience in an almost ‘too real’ way. It also speaks to anyone’s love of ‘hard’ sci-fi and tangential trivia and flavor texts. Hundreds of words are spent exploring this future’s world; from technology to plant life to the fundamental nature of what it means to be human – there’s a reason your robot companion is named Turing, after all.
And it’s absolutely paramount 2064’s opening moments worked as well as they did, because this is a first-person point-and-click ‘adventure’ game; basically a visual novel with puzzles. You’re doing a lot of reading and listening and clicking of dialog options; with an occasional mini-game thrown in to change up the pace. The voice-acting is top notch, and goes a long way to keeping the player engaged through oodles and oodles of text, despite the frames of animation for said talking – and animation overall, being minimal in many cases.
Thus, gameplay wise 2064: Read Only Memory, is akin to pineapple. You have to make it through the prickly exterior of minimal gameplay (and a shocking lack of auto-save) to get to the sweet gooey fruit of big ideas and interesting concepts and the kind of quality science fiction writing that depicts big ideas explored well – a vision of a probable future realized with nuance and humanity.
Alas, it seems that nuance is lost, just a bit, regarding the conversation surrounding this game – you can’t Google 2064: Read Only Memory without stumbling across some sort of back-and-forth nonsense regarding ‘social justice’, pronouns, ‘political correctness’, gender identity, and in-general people being shitty to one-another in comments sections. Unbeknownst to me the title was positioned as a ‘queer inclusive’ title. The founder of the development team stating they didn’t want to wait for other companies like Sony and Microsoft to ‘get around to it’ or make queer and gay characters simply tokens.
And indeed, there are people with no obvious gender, characters questioning their gender identify (quite profoundly in fact), and quite a bit of LGTBQ content – the game takes place in San Francisco, after all. But the title is *not* a propaganda piece, nor does it ‘shove an agenda down your throat’. 2064: ROM is to ‘gay stuff’ as Looper is to telekinesis – it’s a minor subtext.
In fact, the first ‘alternative’ character you meet, a human-cat hybrid with a chip on her shoulder and an attitude as pointed as her ears, is, frankly, kind of a bitch – demanding you google what she is instead of asking her directly, calling you out for your genetic ‘normalcy’ (an allegory of cis-genderedness), and generally fitting the mind’s eye stereotype of what an angry entitled ‘liberal’ would be. You don’t hate her because she’s gay, or trans, or even because she looks like a cat. We hate her, and find her annoying, because she’s a jerk and not due to her appearance or sexuality. We learn a bit more about her story and get why she is the way she is – including some explanation for why she decided to cat herself up, but that doesn’t make her any more welcoming or any less rude. That’s something approaching equality, I think.
What 2064: ROM suggests is that fluid sexuality is really a forgone conclusion at this point. Men will like men, women will like women, biological men will believe with their whole heart they’re women, some will believe they exist somewhere in between, vice versa, and so the world turns. Like it or not, that toothpaste is out of the proverbial tube – and you’re never putting it back.
Instead, the real questions come when drastically modifying our very biology via inorganic methods becomes norm; not for our personal happiness, but for our personal gain and aesthetic pleasure. Genetic changes to make us stronger or smarter via the power of technological implants – and what that means for people who refuse to get them out of moral obligation. What it means for people who seek to alter their genetic structure to resemble some twisted form of animal – and how it’d effect their yet unborn children – and if it’s right for the Government to spay and neuter humans who opt to splice their genes with animal DNA.
These are the fundamental questions facing humanity in the coming years. Crispr will happily alter our DNA. Technological augmentations are coming. As are advanced AIs and Robotics. Our world is always changing, but very soon humanity as a whole will begin to challenge what, exactly, it means to be ‘human’.
Like sexuality, 2064 suggests this struggle is fluid and alas, timeless. Pick an issue. One side will call the other side freaks (when they just want to be accepted). Those ‘freaks’ will always call that side bigoted or hateful (when they’re actually scared – it’s what phobia means, after all). People in the middle will empathize with both but ultimately end up ignored empathy looks good in memes but is rarely championed in the trash-talking social media court of public opinion where the meanest, pithiest wheel gets the grease.
And so we beat on boats against the current, as they say.
In the… 495 Days, 3 hours, 50 minutes, and…30 seconds since Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton referred to half of now President Donald Trump’s base as ‘deplorables’, I’ve pondered whether or not I’d earn such a label if I laid my political views out on the table. Economics? I’m with Trump – supply side support typically keeps cost low. Regulation? Also…with Trump. Less is more. Abortion? Pro-choice to a point. Social issues? Hillary for certain, gay rights, trans rights, I get a little iffy around the subject of giving children hormones, but as Kermit would say, that’s not my business.
I do know I would probably understand exactly where the ‘Human Revolution’ group were coming from. I do know I would be skeptical of anyone’s intrinsic desire to become a literal cat or dog or wolf person – to the point where they get genome-altering surgery to do so. But that too, wouldn’t be my business.
What’s lost on humanity at large, and what 2064: Read Only Memories highlights, is that folks are complicated. Harvey Milk is a hero to millions of people across the globe, has a U.S Navy Battleship named after him, and is an alleged statutory rapist. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves and infamously impregnated Sally Hemings. Martin Luther King had affairs and was a plagiarist. Ted Cruz a brilliant legal mind and very, painfully, stupidly, anti-gay. No one is perfect and everyone – everyone is messy. Your beliefs, your personhood, be it gay or lesbian or bisexual or trans or straight or purple or pro life or socialist or communist or Republican or Democrat or furry doesn’t a good person make. It’s just..what you believe. It’s what you do with those beliefs, and how you treat others, that matter. 2064 Exemplifies this point.
All that said, 2064: ROM is absolutely worth a look. The writing is superb and the ideas explored are clearly thought provoking (if the above 1000+ words are to be believed). Most importantly, it’s a game with a message but not an abrasive one. What I mean is when you watch a movie like Fahrenheit 9/11, or tune into Colbert or Kimmel or Hannity or Limbaugh, you know what you’re going to get; they’re appealing directly to their audience. Not to challenge, but to gratify. Social Justice Junk Food as I call it. Meanwhile, 2064: Read Only Memory does challenge. Does ask questions. You do a hell of a lot of reading (and learning), and it’s just about the only thing you do in the game – if visual novels don’t appeal to you, it might be slow going, but it’s a such a good read I suggest seeking it out.
And whether played on PC, Xbox, or PS4, you’ll surely remember it for a long, long while.