Pod Bay One

A future without guns

DONTNOD Entertainment’s Remember Me is a noteworthy game, not in the least because it features a futuristic Paris where guns have been outlawed.

Written by Josho Brouwers on 10 December 2018

In the United States, gun violence runs rampant. No matter what politicians, the NRA, or other interest groups might claim, the fact of the matter is that gun-related violence is a serious issue in contemporary America. In video games, too, you more often than not interact with the virtual world using some kind of ranged weapon, often even a set of realistic-looking guns.

Disconcertingly, video game developers used to work quite closely with gun manufacturers, with the latter sponsoring the former, without stating any of this outright. However, once this dirty little secret was revealed, Electronic Arts made it a point to say specifically that, for their next entry in the Battlefield franchise, they would no longer be working with gun manufacturers.

The point of this article isn’t to condemn video game violence. There has been loads of research that shows there is no link between virtual violence and actual, real-world violence, though some dispute these findings. Anecdotally, I myself have played games ever since I could hold a controller, and I’ve never felt the need to stomp on people’s heads, chop someone’s head off with a sword, or to go out and buy a gun myself.

Violence is embedded in our culture. It goes back thousands of years. Homer’s epic poem, the Iliad, composed in ca. 700 BC, is often heralded as the cornerstone of “Western” literature. The poem opens with menis, the Greek word for “wrath”, and the story itself focuses on a particularly blood-soaked episode in the final year of the Trojan War. Ancient Greece wasn’t exactly a pacifist paradise. But even today, we’re exposed to violence in newspaper articles and on TV. When it comes to violence, art imitates life.

Fighting your way through Neo-Paris

I want briefly to discuss a game that I feel is underappreciated. Remember Me, developed by DONTNOD Entertainment and published by Capcom in 2013, is a cyberpunk-ish game set in the not-too-distant future of 2084. The game’s story is set entirely in the city of Neo-Paris (a futuristic version of Paris), where guns have been outlawed. Not even the local cops carry guns. (In France today, municipal police are typically not armed, similar to cops in the UK, but contrary to police offers in e.g. the Netherlands.)

This doesn’t mean that there’s no violence. Indeed, the game centres on combat. But it’s not gun-related combat. Instead, it features a melee combat system that borrows heavily from Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009). But even in Arkham Asylum, Batman often had to face goons with guns. In Remember Me, the main character, Nilin, has nothing to fear from bullets. Or well, mostly nothing to fear from bullets, as we’ll see a little further down.

Remember Me has a central conceit: in 2084, a new technology exists, called the Sensen, developed by a company called Memorize. The Sensen, simply put, allows you to digitize, transfer, and/or manipulate memories. It’s sort of similar to the central premise in Philip K. Dick’s We Can Remember It for You Wholesale (1966), the short story that would serve as the basis for Paul Verhoeven’s 1990-movie Total Recall – we’ll be talking about this story and the movies it spawned in a future episode of our podcast.

In Remember Me, you don’t fight with guns, but have to punch and kick your way through Neo-Paris. Fortunately, the enemies you face mostly (!) play by the same rules, like these Memorize security officers in the foreground and even the robot shown in the background.

In Neo-Paris, the entire economy has shifted towards consuming and selling, legally or otherwise, people’s memories. Nilin herself is an “Elite Memory Hunter”, who has the ability to read others’ memories and to change aspects of them (i.e. “remix” them), making her victims believe things happened differently than they actually did. While guns were outlawed in 2056, one memory remix sequence has a Captain Forlan play around with one of these relics of a bygone era.

Memory manipulation has also worked its way into the penal system: criminals (“patients”) that are sentenced to prison have their memory wiped and returned when they’ve served their sentence. Other residents in Neo-Paris abuse their Sensen, becoming memory “junkies”, called Leapers, who have severe memory and mind issues; their bodies have even mutated as a result of their poor mental health.

As you play the game, you’ll frequently run into these Leapers and have to fight them. They serve as simple-minded foes, though some of them pose interesting if not especially challenging obstacles, such as the ones that are able to turn invisible, or the ones that have increased their muscle mass and turn into mindless brutes that barrel straight towards you.

More formidable enemies are the armoured security forces that work for Memorize and who serve as Neo-Paris’s police force. The Art of Remember Me describes them as follows (p. 61):

Their look is based primarily on contemporary police and military outfits, with functional plates. The riot-cop feeling seems important to reinforce their function and urban nature. Apart from pure aesthetics, their helmets were conceived to underline dehumanization and the omnipotent Memorize company behind them.

They are equipped with electrified truncheons and fight with their (gloved) fists, ensuring that every engagement with them takes place at close range, making full use of Remember Me’s melee-focused combat system. The outfits of these Memorize security goons also reminded me of the design of the cops in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report (2002), who coincidentally made use of “sick sticks” to pacify rowdy suspects.

Traversal in the game is handled in a streamline Prince of Persia sort of way, where you climb along ledges and rainpipes to get from point A to point B. In the background, a Memorize gunship. These vehicles break the game’s carefully set up “no guns” rule in that they have a gun mounted below the nose section from which a hail of bullets can emerge.

Weirdly, however, the Memorize security forces make use of gunships. True to their name, these have a gun mounted below the nose section that emits a spray of projectiles when fired. It’s a little mystifying to me how a society that has outlawed guns would still condone the use of vehicle-mounted projectile weapons. This is one element of the game that doesn’t seem to have been thought through as meticulously as its other aspects.

Finally, there is a third group of enemies, which consists of robots. Most robots in the game are docile and serve as helpers, either “valets” (personal assistants) or less human automatons that handle, for example, the transportation of goods. A few of these two types of robotos have been converted for use in combat, some of which have the ability to “shoot”. There are also more ape-like robots that will chase you down, and with whom you’ll have to engage in fights. These robots have a “plain, smooth skull with no mouth or eyes”, which “is meant to make [them] more frightening (one of the lessons of Alien)”, as the Art of Remember Me puts it (p. 79).

It’s a credit to the careful world-building in Remember Me that you never question the absence of guns, which are otherwise so commonplace in science-fiction video games. You’ll run and climb your way through Neo-Paris, solve some simple puzzles, and spend a good deal of time punching and kicking the enemies that appear in your way. By and large, they adhere to the simple rule that violent encounters are solved with fists and sticks, rather than with guns and bullets. It’s refreshing.

Closing thoughts

No doubt it’s easier to believe that guns will be outlawed in a European city rather than an American one. DONTNOD Entertainment is, after all, a French development studio located in Paris. European countries don’t have to contend with the amount of gun-related violence that the United States has to suffer, and that’s largely because there’s no “gun culture” here.

Nevertheless, Remember Me doesn’t completely avoid the use of gun-like weapons. Aside from the gunships already mentioned and some of the robots having the ability to shoot projectiles, Nilin can “weaponize” her Sensen. One of the upgrades you unlock over the course of the game is the Spammer, which is able to shoot a projectile. It’s used mainly to solve puzzles, where it essentially functions as a gun, even if it doesn’t look like one.

The “spammer” is used to solve puzzles and activate switches, sort of like how Samus uses her gun in the Metroid games. In actual combat, you still rely on punching and kicking your opponents.

Will guns ever be outlawed, like they are in Remember Me’s version of Paris? It seems unlikely. But science-fiction writers have and can come up with good alternatives. One of the elements that I appreciate in Star Trek is that phasers have a “stun” setting. But why not go further and use something like a stun baton instead of a thing that “shoots”? I recently saw the first season of the new Lost in Space (2018) and a single gun in that show is treated with circumspect.

In her book Infomocracy, Malka Older introduces a device called a “Lumper” that renders metal firearms inert:

Small arms seemed an entrenched problem during the early twenty-first century. The invention of the Lumper changed that. The backpack-sized device uses precisely targeted magnetic force to permanently disable all metal firearms within its effective radius. It took some time to catch up with the surplus of guns in the world, but since the technology was cheaper than an AK, readily accessible, and safe (with the exception of some unconfirmed reports of bad interactions with old-model pacemakers), it eventually rendered metal firearms all but obsolete. It is still standard practice to deploy one before any security operation. Some people say that it is the Lumper, along with improvements in body armor, that made the pax democratica of the election system possible, more than the sudden sweep of political technology or the vast Information bureaucracy. Others point out that vicious inter- and intrastate war existed long before guns came into use, and that nations still can (and do) use a multitude of other explosives against each other. There is still concern about printed plastic weapons, although they remain far less common.

Perhaps when we introduce alternatives to guns in creative endeavours like books and especially popular media like games, TV shows, and films, life will eventually follow art. And maybe then we’ll find ways to resolve conflicts that don’t involve inflicting violence upon one another.

The PC version of Remember Me is available exclusively on Steam.