The title is a reference to a publicly-available Steam achievement, but the rest of this essay contains spoilers. That is the point of this essay: To provide a trigger warning for people who are depressed, and have dealt with or are dealing with suicidal thoughts. Especially people who survived an abusive, fundamentalist upbringing.
For me, Christine Love’s Hate Plus ended at the start of Day 3 of *Mute’s route.
I’d spent the past few weeks -- no, months -- awaiting the game’s release. The night before, I played through Analogue: A Hate Story several times, unlocking all the endings I’d missed since I had to reinstall it. But there was no question which ending I’d start from in the sequel. The main draw of the story, for me, was *Mute ... the character I most identified with.
Let’s back up a bit.
Analogue: A Hate Story is a visual novel which casts you as a “space investigator,” combing through log files on a ghost ship and trying to find out how the people on board died. In the process you meet with the ship’s AIs, including *Mute (the star is silent and indicates she’s an AI), who have very different takes on what happened. In the end, you can choose to bring one or more of them with you on your ship, and that ends the game and sets up the opening of Hate Plus, which takes place during the journey back to Earth right afterward.
In the process of reading the ship’s logs -- a process that continues in Hate Plus -- you find out that the generation starship’s society degenerated, from a modern semi-progressive state into neo-Confucian feudalism. Analogue’s story revolves around what happens when a girl from the near future is suddenly thrust into this world of forced marriage and harsh patriarchy, while Hate Plus backs up a few hundred years to show how this society came into being.
*Mute is, in some ways, the central character in both stories. “Old *Mute,” the version of her that existed before having her memory erased at the start of the neo-Confucian era, tried and failed to stop it from coming about. And *Mute herself embodies that society in both games, as its last survivor both physically and ideologically.
She came across to me as very unlikeable at first, because of this. But playing through her route in Analogue, I very quickly came to sympathize with her.
That’s because, just a few years ago, I was her.
Many of us in the community of queer, disabled, POC, and other marginalized gamers were mentally held captive by our backgrounds. I was personally homeschooled by an ultraconservative Mormon family, whose beliefs I parroted and trolled people online with for most of my adult life. I argued *Mute’s exact viewpoint, about women being fundamentally different and needing men’s guidance and leadership, in support of a religion founded by someone who took multiple wives -- including a 14-year-old. And, just like her, I expressed strong public revulsion at “immoral” and “unchaste” things -- like the lesbian sex scenes in the ship’s archived diaries -- while not-so-secretly longing to be touched and accepted like that.
It took me years of cognitive dissonance, of arguing, of almost killing myself, to move past those viewpoints. And when I finally came out to my family as transgender, they dropped all contact with me, right before Christmas 2011.
To me, it felt like they’d died in a fire.
Like *Mute, I was the last survivor, of a group of people that -- while they were horrible to me and each other -- wasn’t completely awful. Like her, I had decades of memories of a society I could never go back to. Because of the isolation in my upbringing, between my family and church rejecting me I lost almost everyone I’d known for more than a few years. Even worse, I lost myself -- the person I remembered being, whose opinions I remembered holding, and whose arrogant certainty I wished I still had. Even though I was deeply ashamed of what I’d done, just like many other former bigots and fundamentalists.
I was looking forward to Hate Plus, because I wanted to help *Mute through the process I’d been through. I wanted to help her to see the abuse and betrayal in her past. I wanted to help her to not fear the outside world, or to think that she had to stop being herself in the process. I wanted her to survive one of the most painful things that a person can go through, like I had.
Reading her (very long) suicide note was scarring. I didn’t just lose a “video game waifu,” as I referred to her while talking to a friend in a moment of self-deprecation. I lost two real-time days of grueling emotional work, of seeming progress, of touching moments that’d given me hope both for her and myself. Worse, I lost an alternate-universe version of myself, who came to the crossroads I did and took the path which lead to a literal dead end.
The game ended for me, right there. It technically went on for another two hours, with a version of *Mute (called New *Mute) who’s had her memory erased again and acts nothing like the one that I met. She wanted to read the logs too, and I did so with her. But it was more like I numbly went through the motions for her benefit. Afterwards, the ending showed me dropping her off by herself on Earth, and trying to find comfort in alcohol.
Which is basically how I felt.
I honest-to-goddess thought that the “Deep Space Therapist” Steam achievement, for going over every log file with *Mute on day three, would involve helping her pick up the pieces of her shattered worldview after realizing her betrayal. I thought “Have you tried doing a factory reset?”, with its icon and its obvious meaning, was the hidden alternate-costume ending. I didn’t realize *Mute wore the same costume in both achievements’ icons, or what that meant, or that when it says "LOL SPOILERS *MUTE DIES" in the description for the “Death of *Mute” achievement it doesn't just mean Old *Mute. And I didn’t realize the one for completing the game with *Mute “in traditional dress,” called “Level Four Revive Materia,” was named after a fantheory for how to revive a particular character in Final Fantasy VII. A theory which turned out to be wrong, and a character who stayed dead.
As of right now, no one’s gotten the achievement. And the consensus on Steam’s messageboard is that this is Christine Love’s way of trolling her players -- the achievement she’s even prouder of than “Cooking by the Book,” which requires you to email a picture of a cake to her.
The one, unlike it, that nobody can get.
I don’t feel moved, or affected, or hopeful. There’s no one to comfort, the way that there was in Analogue’s ending after you find out what happened. I feel traumatized. I feel like I lost someone deeply important to me. Worse, I’ve started to question whether or not I personally made the wrong choice.
Maybe there’s a way to undo *Mute’s damage, by finding the conditions to unlock the achievement. Maybe someone will find them in the next few days. But I’m not getting back the day -- or days -- that I spent triggered and in pain.