Souvenir (Robert Yang, Mohini Dutta and Ben Norskov)

Work responsibilities dominated my recent past, so I missed a weekly post. At least I got some experience planning a science conference and building a website.

But now I’m back on track – on to Souvenir from Robert Yang, Mohini Dutta and Ben Norskov! I downloaded this a few months ago probably because I dug Robert Yang’s Radiator. I tucked it away in a nondescript folder on my desktop and completely forgot about it. That is until this morning, when I opened it up without remembering anything about it. I highly recommend doing the same thing (except for the whole forgetting about it). I’ll make it easy on you – you want the mac version or windows version?

Souvenir is a short, unfinished and glitch-y experience exploring a girl’s memories as she looks back while packing up her things to leave for college.

I love how it manages to express the incompleteness and weirdness of memory. We don’t have an accurate 3D representation of our world tucked away in our brains.  Our memories of the world are stretched, squashed and warped by our emotions, and individual objects and places are drenched in associations.

The world of memories in the game is quite literally warped. You start out in your bedroom. Look out your back window, and you’ll see what looks like the remains of a church after an explosion. Pieces are hanging in midair – there’s a steeple lying on its side next to a floating fenced-off courtyard.  A section of pavement is wrapped into a roller coaster.  There’s some overall structure to the scattered pieces that beckons you to follow a path. Since you don’t have the outright ability to fly through the gaps in the path, you would be stuck if you didn’t have the ability to flip gravity. Click on a surface, and you’ll shoot off in its direction. (Just hope that you land on something instead of flying off into infinity.) So you hop from surface to surface by flipping. It’s not an entirely new mechanic, but it exists in this world by necessity. You couldn’t get around your distorted memories otherwise. Not only that – but the absurdity of it adds to the overall surreal experience.

You are flipping around the world trying to pick up objects that are charged with memories. Pick one up and you get a floating blurb of text gives you a snapshot of the girl’s life. You get a sense of who she is through the associations she has with the world.  Some of  them border on trite for me, but others surprised me. One of the first ones you find turns out to be the one that stands out most in my mind.  As you explore your bedroom, you see a blurb on one of the walls saying “One time, I heard Mom crying through the wall …” If you go outside and walk around to the other side of the wall, there’s a chair and another blurb, “… So I sat on the other side for an hour to keep her company.”  It was a reward for paying attention while exploring as well as a suggestion that these memories are interconnected.

The real downside to Souvenir is that it’s unfinished. Controls are broken. A narrative arc is missing. There’s no development of the mechanic. But they were definitely on the right track because despite those problems – I still found the concept to be perfectly engaging.

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