Review of Hindsight - a joyous, elbowy, and frustrating examination ofmemory

Review of Hindsight - a joyous, elbowy, and frustrating examination ofmemory

It''s impossible to get your head around memory. It''s intangible, yet all-powerful. It can be like living with a ghost, but the ghost is Arnold Schwarzenegger.

If I was making a game about my own memories and my own experience of interacting with memory, I am sure that it would be the worst game ever made. An open-world affair, but an endlessly tricky one. Landmarks disappear and shift. When you travel to the destination it''s entirely different anyway. And wherever you go, you''re always at the center of the map. I do not intend to play this game.

What is the significance of a game exploring someone else''s memories? Is it possible to do so in a bid to answer the first question, and it offers plenty of answers to the second.

Hindsight is the story of a woman returning to the family home after her mother died. She packs her mother''s things, moving from room to room, and then she leaves. One story is: the distant past hypertexts itself into view, simple paths become suddenly blocked, time curves, then loops.

The whole thing is carefully blanched of texture, too much in the way of particularity. I would say that Hindsight deals in turns, ghosts, and windows.

Turns: you''re viewing the scene at a certain time, but a ghost by the table suggests her next destination, and her next task. Others are objects - bags, tyre swings, and a lot of knives. Click on the object, or move around it enough, and the scene opens up. You''re somewhere else.

I think Hindsight is getting at is the way that memory makes these odd little hops. If you''ve ever stopped mid-sentence and wondered how you got to talking about Reece''s Pieces, when you started out wondering about the weather, the process of returning your reveals that hops in all their bizarre, individualistic logic. This then this. Our conversations are made of stepping stones.

Yes, Hindsight enthuses that. In one scene a kettle reveals an ancient family''s kitchen - oh god, memory is never simple - of the way that the smell of a gas hob and hot marmalade always drives me back to my English grandmother''s kitchen. I have to see a toast rack, which I''m still gone for ten minutes in a melancholic duplication. This is because toast racks are ineffective today.

But Hindsight is in jeopardy trouble a lot. For one thing, you move the camera with a stick and a nasty, sluggish cursor. Why both? Obviously, with both you do the same thing - looking for clickable objects - but now you have to do it twice, moving the camera and then zeroing in with the cursor.

Depending on how many clickable objects you may have, the cursor may be helpful. However, looking for what you think might be scene transition triggers isn''t the game at its best. However, we''re not in the realm of skill games here, and the game appears to be able to flow - from turn, to ghost, to window - the way that memory flows, carrying you along from one self-disguising twist to the next. Hunting around for triggers kills the flow and makes the

Another problem. There are quite a few things here: you''ll move books in a bookcase to reveal a scene hidden behind them, you''ll group raindrops to make a mirror, and move clouds from the sun, but as you work, you''re not alone. Hindsight has a protagonist who is also a narrator, so as you transition through these beautiful, poised moments of time and thought, you get the text translated to text and slapped on top of everything

The narration is fine, but it feels like a team lacking the confidence to tell a story in images, where the story belongs. Often it''s an annoyance - the music appears intent on underlining things a bit too much as well - but sometimes it''s difficult to understand the sequences. Rather than pulling us in, it separates us from us by stumbling out into the deeplands of platitude.

It also decreases the player''s role. This game''s most enjoyable is its writability - the navigate of emotional scenes, the shuffling and the selection of possible interpretations. What are these people feeling? What should they do next? It simultaneously eliminates any of the frightening obstacles. It''s like a lie: how often are we only feeling one thing, with no internal contradictions?

At its worst the narration implies that your role becomes purely physical, like moving the camera, packing the mother''s house, and packing the boxes into the van. At this point, I started to play the game rather than engage in the narrative; I was more likely to hunt around for the object that is glowing rather than looking around the house for the specific item that the story logic calls up next. During the most frightening moments, I was struck with the fact that the narration robs the narrative.

Though not always, Hindsight remembers the implications of silence, particularly in a sequence towards the end where imagination literally spills into memory and threatens to sweep everything away. The game blossoms. I was left to pick through images, pondering the way fantasy and memory work together, and often undermining one another.

The more I played, the more I managed to reach out to Hindsight''s really good things. So, as I continued to focus on what the game''s saying, rather than the sometimes self-involved, self-defeating way it tries to say these things. Or maybe, in an attempt to flip it in a way that feels honest, I was stopped trying to be clever about the things I found incorrectly. My own narrator took a welcome break.

The resulting story of a youngster born by a mother who is fascinating, unreadable, and often punishing. The daughter and the mother clash. The daughter takes risks and the mother takes risks and is cautious and lecturing when things go wrong.

It goes two ways, of course: the mother wants to give her a sense of her own heritage before she moved to America, and the daughter discovers that she was afraid of becoming an adult. (The game is at its most precise and penetrating when it comes to Hindsight in dozens of ways that I could understand and learn from, and most likely there are other approaches I could not see.) In this regard, the mother and daughter are at odds on many fronts. Perhaps this is the point the nar

It can be very effective. In the present day, back at the daughter''s apartment, we find a clear connection to it, as does your own worries. It''s a slog to your own memories, and your own fears. Inevitably, it makes me think not just about the people in the story, but about how to show interest without putting pressure on others, rather than just sharing your own.

Hindsight, a fascinating, difficult game, truly soars. Her daughter is at a piano lesson, but her mother is keen to play it elsewhere. I open the nearby window shutters and we''re in a car, strolling through the countryside. The father is in the back, amazed by a large iron that no one else is paying attention to. Here is passion, and it''s private, neglected solace. There is no game could play with this kind of material without emerging with something memorable to say.

"We are seeing the world once in childhood; the rest is memory," says the poet. I admire the quote''s ability to zero in on our limitations, even as I challenge its airlessness and certainty. What I do however, - and Hindsight gets at this in its own stunningly elbowy manner - is that childhood is the puzzle we spend the rest of our lives trying to solve.

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