Friday, 30 August 2013

Cake and Lies: Christine Love's Hate Plus

Spoilers for Analogue: A Hate Story and Hate Plus below.

This past week, I played through Christine Love's Hate Plus, the sequel to 2012's Analogue: A Hate Story. Like its predecessor, Hate Plus is a visual novel with several potential outcomes that deals with issues of misogyny, love, and transhumanism. In both cases, I decided to take the bait and follow a romantic plot with the AI *Hyun-ae. Love deliberately makes this romantic element a troubling one - the player is the first friendly point of contact that the severely traumatized *Hyun-ae has had in hundreds of years and the relationship has potentially unhealthy notes.

And what, I ask, is unhealthier than cake? Well, radiation, for one thing that pops up in the first game. But the biggest danger in my initial (and so far, only) run-through of Hate Plus was my lack of chocolate chips in my real-life kitchen with which to make a cake for *Hyun-ae. Seriously.

If you're following the *Hyun-ae path in the game, she eventually requests a cake so you can celebrate the Lunar New Year Festival together. Used to making promises to the character (I was her dashing rescuer, after all), I glibly tapped the Yes button, even as she asked me to check the kitchen. To my shock, she pointed out that I hadn't taken enough time to check. Additional attempts to lie and cautious resets piled up, until the character directly addressed me - the player, not the player-character - and accused me of treating the game like a tacky erotic visual novel and asked me to consider the sad girl I could make happy just by making her cake.

Reader, I made the cake. Love wisely suggests a five minute (give or take fifteen) cake that can be made in the microwave (by "any otaku", as *Hyun-ae says) and satisfies both *Hyun-ae's sensibilities and timer. After making the cake and sharing it with the AI on my computer screen, I took a photo of my mug full of cake and emailed it to the developer to get a particular achievement for the game on Steam. Like you do. To my knowledge, this is the first time I have left my game to go do its bidding in my regular life.

Now that the last crumbs have long since been scraped from the mug, I'm interested in the strange sense of vulnerability I had when the game called me out. Often when gaming we're ensconced (if not entirely safely) in identities - Master Chief, Commander Shepard, Mario, etc - but Hate Plus called me out, clearly disregarding my in-game persona in order to get the attention of the person sitting at the computer.

Let's consider two ways of looking at how this strategy differs from standard game-play. One focuses on spatial incorporation.  Analogue incorporated the keyboard as a playing tool directly when progressing through the game demanded use of the in-game computer terminal. This extra-game typing of in-game terminal commands gave a one-to-one representation of player action that puts the Kinect to shame. In contrast, Hate Plus bypasses the computer as sole means of interface in favour of expanding the space of the game to include a place in which real cakes get made. Alternately, we can read this as less of a touch of the alternate-reality-game in which technology augments real-world space and more of a modification of the scope of player behaviour - an expansion of player ability instead of game-space.

Both of these readings have failings, but what's clear is that *Hyun-ae's cake is one of the ways that Love's game aims to destabilize comfortable ideas held and boundaries relied on by the player - even ones leaned on by its previous instalment. Just as Hate Plus further complicates the history of the misogyny presented in the first game through the revelations of the second, it also disrupts the player identity and the scope of play explicitly brought along from Analogue.

What does this tell us? Christine Love remains a game designer to watch and cake is only as far away as your microwave, otaku scum.

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