Amid the catalogues of throbbing cartoon genitalia and racks of videogame-themed jewelry at GaymerX was a tragedy, found in one inconspicuous corner. It was SassyBot Studio's narrative-based exploration game Fragments of Him. It's tragic in theme rather than in its quality.
It grabbed my attention for all the wrong reasons. Unlike every other booth at the exhibition, it had none of the flamboyant posters or over-dressed tabletops with pins and business cards scattered across them. Instead, SassyBot relied on softly spoken explanations and a couple of small monitors to display its game. It was an appropriate contrast to all the razzle and dazzle decorating the rest of the hall.
It's a game that understands the hurt of subtle absences
What caught my eye was the game's title as it brought back a memory from the past. Well, two memories, actually. Firstly, I remembered playing the prototype made for Ludum Dare just over a year ago. It was small, impressionable, and a little like Gone Home, in retrospect, due to its queer love story and homely foraging. But it's the other memory linked to playing Fragments of Him that contains the personal sting for me.
Fragments of Him is about hunting down the ghostly traces of a lost loved one. As you wander their house and other locations frequented by them, memories play out in frozen character poses and brief animations that linger in doorways. These elements have been improved in the game's new version (which can now be pre-ordered) with motion capture and small details that add more personality and fluidity to each fragmented memory. None of that is what really stood out to me about Fragments of Him, though.
It's a game that understands the hurt of subtle absences as well as how the physical materials that people leave behind channel our memories of them; this is why they're used during séances. That's why a missing toothbrush in the bathroom is one of the game's most powerful symbols for loss. It's so small that only those closest to the deceased would notice it.
Another symbol in the game, and the one that made me take a deep breath, is the upturned corner of a quilt. I've written about my little brother dying when he was barely a toddler before and how it ripped through my parents. Upon returning home from the hospital after it happened, the first thing my mother did was rush up to his bedroom in order to draw in the smells he had left behind, the small traces of his presence.
However, my grandmother had been house sitting and cleaned his room while we were away. My mother has never forgiven her for taking the creases and folds out of his quilt that had been molded by his shape—she was never able to delay his disappearance. Luckily, Fragments of Him isn't as unthinking as my grandmother (she meant well)—it's quite the opposite, in fact, and, as witnessed at GaymerX, it may move you to tears.
You can pre-order Fragments of Him on its official website right now.