Early on in “Read Only Memories”, a point and click game reminiscent of Hideo Kojima’s 1988 game“Snatcher”, a personal assistant robot acting as your sidekick asks you what pronouns you go by. You have the binary options (“he”, “she”), the inclusive gender-neutrals (“they”, “xe”, “ze”), or a custom choice. Everyone will refer to you using that set of pronouns for the rest of the game. In Neo-San Francisco, 2064 A.D., all gender identities are normative.
While “Read Only Memories” is ostensibly a detective story about a tech journalist investigating the disappearance of their programming-wiz friend, who was working on a secret project for a shady corporation before he mysteriously vanished, what the game is really interested in is exploring themes of identity and sexuality. This should come as no surprise considering the publishers of the game, MidBoss, also host the LGBTQ-friendly convention GaymerX.
One of cyberpunk’s strengths as a genre is its ability to examine sociological issues through a sci-fi lens. Since all gender identities are accepted in Neo-San Francisco, the new “identity” problem of their society is whether animal-human hybrids should be accepted. These hybrid humans, who have had their DNA modified so that they appear part animal, are widely discriminated against. The hybrids often stick out with their long, pointy ears or fluffy tails. Even in the enlightened, queer-friendly future, people still think furries are weird.
Rendered in bright and colorful 16-bit graphics, “Read Only Memories” is bubblegum cyberpunk. The game’s near-future society is only lightly oppressive, arguably even less so than our modern day one. While playing detective to the cast of colorful characters, you’ll probably feel less like Rick Deckard and more like Professor Layton.
This isn’t to say that the generally cheerful atmosphere is a bad thing. The dialogue is often funny, and consistently well-written. The flashy retro graphics are fun eye candy for anyone who grew up on old school adventure games. Just don’t come to this expecting a high tech neo-noir.
The gameplay is traditional point and click fare, though with some noticeable limitations. The puzzles are, for the most part, a breeze. 80% of your time will be spent in dialogue trees, where, if you want to exhaust all the branches, you’ll click through every line. Only a handful of times will your choices have an impact on the story.
It was refreshing to see such a diverse array of underrepresented characters in a video game, and “Read Only Memories” does an excellent job exploring its themes of gender identity in a near-future world. But I was hoping for much more from the story and gameplay. While there are a few dramatic and exciting moments, for the most part, you’ll spend your time cycling through novel-length dialogue trees while you admire a kaleidoscope of futuristic, non-cisgengered sprites.
Read Only Memories – (5/10)