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Read Only Memories: A New Cyberpunk Adventure is an LGBT-friendly retro sci-fi game heavily influenced by early ’90s titles like Snatcher. Set in 2064 Neo-San Francisco, Read Only Memories focuses on a mystery involving the world’s first sapient AI, the rights of human-animal hybrids, neo-luddites and a shadowy corporate conspiracy (of course).
How’s the gameplay?
Read Only Memories is very dialog-heavy. Aside from a few short arcade sections, gameplay is mainly retro point-and-click adventure style, like an old Sierra game like the Leisure Suit Larry series and Phantasmagoria (only without the sadistic difficulty level). The emphasis here is on storytelling and worldbuilding, not action.
The game is very straightforward in terms of telling you what you need to do next, so you’re unlikely to get stuck wondering where you’re supposed to go. Plus, the puzzles are pretty simple and feel natural. You won’t run into that mainstay of unimaginative adventure game design known as the Arbitrary Sliding Puzzle, thank Inanna.
How queer is it?
Hella queer. The LGBT characters outnumber the heterosexual cisgender characters (although maybe the cybernetically-enhanced polar bear butler is straight?).
At any rate, much of the main cast is LGBT. Rainbow-haired hacker TOMCAT is non-gender binary; the protagonist has the option to be non-binary as well. Lexi Rivers, the obligatory grumpy police detective, was once in a same-sex relationship with the protagonist’s sister. The burly bartender, one of your major sources of info in this game, runs his nightclub with the help of his adorably bearish husband. The chatty, genderless robot you spend most of your time with is named Turing in a nod to the brilliant computer scientist the British government persecuted for being gay.
In the setting of this game, being LGBT isn’t a big deal. It’s not a major plot point or a big revelation. It’s not weird or tragic; the game avoids the irritating “gays always end up miserable or dead” cliché that infects so much of popular culture. Being LGBT just a normal, regular facet of life.
Who should play this?
The game’s heavy emphasis on techno-fetishistic worldbuilding should appeal strongly to computer geeks. The concept of the Singularity — the point at which the reproductive and intellectual capacities of robots surpass humankind’s — is strongly invoked and name-checked directly.
Those of you who grew up in the late ’80s or early ’90s will get a kick out of the game’s retro-futuristic aesthetic. The chunky pixels, neon fashion, Sega CD-style soundtrack and tech-obsessed storyline are pure nostalgia fodder. And the diverse cast should please LGBT geeks who want to see more of themselves represented in the games they play.
In short, Read Only Memories is a game for anyone who ever read the ’90s novel Snow Crash and wished Hiro the heroic investigator would ditch Y.T. the teen-girl skateboard courier and make out with Raven the hunky harpoon master already.
Previously Published January 12, 2016.
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