Sometimes a game that lacks connection to real life can still give us great moments of poignance. We feel that click, as our heart clenches with pride. And then we need a moment to let the feelings pierce our hearts. I knew at points when playing A Memoir Blue that I would pause, and let the implications settle. Even though it's a short playthrough, about an hour at most, give or take, I felt that it was covering not just a lifetime for our protagonist, but also for the narrator.
I was playing the second half of this game while constantly getting interrupted by family. While it was time to make dinner, I wanted to get to the end. For some reason, it is hard to time a stream that both allows for some privacy and not staying up past two AM to avoid interruptions. Yet I still felt poignance and emotional connection when playing. I would totally rejoin, and play again.
Dive Into The Past
An Olympic-winning swimmer named Miriam is chilling in her apartment. She looks unhappy with the press conference on television after she wins gold, and ignores her calls. We can't read text messages, but sending a question mark is an option. The radio shows images of train stations enduring thunderstorms, and dolphin carousels if you change the settings properly.
Soon, sunset arrives once you figure out that you can move the sun with some point and click. The apartment floods with water. Rather than drowning, Miriam remains calm and sees a hole in the floor. She proceeds to dive. Her memories form in front of her, in gorgeous two-dimensional animation. Miriam has a hole in her heart. She needs to confront why she's not answering her phone and the reasons why despite her success, she's not happy. Granted, the Olympics are no cakewalk so even the stress of competing internationally is a tough one.
A Memoir Blue has no dialogue. If anything, you may hear the distant sound of a radio, or people making gestures indicating that they want money or to sell a boat. In some cases, you may even see medals and spotlights. I do admit I wanted to read the text messages, to get the full context. Yet maybe it would have grounded us too much in the real world, which would have messed with the sense of fantastique.
Mainly, silence rules over both the land and water realms. Miriam remembers more complicated times, and dives into fantastic coral reefs to lighten her path, or take a break. She doesn't talk but emotes rather strongly. The animation of her pulling up kelp is living proof of that. Sometimes there are no words to talk about how the past traumatizes you, and there is no bad guy to blame.
We get some beautiful art to boot, of our player character swimming in the water, and of the many scenes that pass for her memories underwater. The two-dimensional animation scenes are breathtaking, as they show a mother and daughter striving to live. In addition to curious fish that serve as a guide that she's going down the right path, we also see some rather remarkable sea creatures and train screens. The coral reefs contrast the rather mundane home scenes and having to reassemble a life from the pieces of fragments.
A Memoir Blue is about how our memories shape and define us. Not all of us had happy childhoods, though some of us were lucky to have really good moments on which we could lean, to get through the bad. You feel pathos and wonder what was real, and what wasn't.
Miriam's mom had to pull double duty as a parent and breadwinner. This meant that, while helping evacuate her child from an abusive husband, as we can infer from the flashback images, she had to work, find a space for them to live, and ensure they have the necessities for living like food and a bed for her daughter. Her mother would sometimes look back from her office, long hours spent typing on machines. Miriam wouldn't see her, because she was in school and swam competitively. When she wasn't doing either of those things, she waited at home, utterly alone.
A Memoir Blue manages to convey the complicated relationship a single parent may have with their child. Miriam once was close with her mother, being brave for her as they left her abusive father and went to start a new life. Then her mother would have to work long hours to keep her afloat. That was understandable; what wasn't was her lack of explanation for missing one of her debuts when Miriam started to swim. The gap between them grew over the years, as Miriam gave up on her mother ever showing up to see the medals that she won. She lashed out at the furniture before leaving for school on a scholarship and didn't wait to say goodbye. Her mother wasn't there to take her pain, or absolve her of the rage.
We understand Miriam's pain. She wanted her mom, who couldn't be there for her. One thing that we need as a child growing up is affection and caring, that someone is there to offer comfort either with hugs and cuddling or with words. When we don't receive that or when the affection turns sour, sometimes leading to unintentional neglect, the trauma stays with us.
Miriam eventually realizes she can't validate herself with her parent's approval, or lack of it at a crucial time. That way down adulthood only leads to pain and disappointment. She also cannot use validation as a reason to ignore her mother, however, because her conscience won't allow it. It would be one thing if her mother was exactly the kind of mom that would belittle her daughter's accomplishments and willfully refuse to believe in her own flaws. We see, however, that Miriam's mother wasn't cruel or hateful. She was absent. It wasn't great, but at least they can talk it out and find out if their relationship is worth saving.
Most importantly, Miriam needs to forgive herself for turning her back on her past. She's tried so hard to move past it, using water as a source of comfort. Swimming allowed her to bury herself in the art of strokes, to cut through the currents. Yet when she dives through the hole in her floor, she uses her passion to finally face her pain.
After this journey, Miriam picks up the phone. We can guess who she is dialing. I do hope that what we saw was true and that this was a case of a lifetime of misunderstandings rather than intentional neglect. After all, it would suck if the truth were much sadder than the already bittersweet memories.
I admit that I was close to crying by reaching the end of the game. A Memoir Blue knows exactly which heartstrings to pull.
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