‘Gemini Rue’: A Matter of Memory

[20 August 2013]

By Eric Swain

This post contains spoilers of the plot of Gemini Rue.

Gemini Rue is one of the best sci-fi stories that I’ve experienced in the last ten years. And I don’t just mean in video games. Most science fiction nowadays concerns itself with the trappings initially spawned by earlier generations. Space ships and aliens, computers and conspiracies, ray guns and technobabble. These works are lost in the fabric of space opera or cyberpunk, usually with a healthy dose of Star Trek or Star Wars (or both) thrown in.

The core of science fiction with its fantastical premises and astonishing technology is to still engage with ideas that still concern life, the universe, or everything. At its best, science fiction is supposed to use its speculative nature to engender enlightenment or introspection, if not about the whole of human existence, then at least about one tiny corner of it. Now sci-fi most often seems more interested in calling back to either earlier iterations of itself or just earlier works in general. Superficially, it is meant to evoke nostalgia in its audience, hoping to improve that audience’s response by association or using the reference as a kind of club card to prove its membership in the canon of sci-fi, to say that it knows what it knows, and is, therefore, “in.” Gemini Rue does use such references, but it uses them in small ways to amplify the themes of the game as a whole.

But first, one must understand that Gemini Rue is divided into two crosscutting storylines. The first follows Azriel Odin, a law enforcement officer who has come to the planet of Barracus in search of information about his brother Daniel. That story begins as Azriel looks for a man called Matthius. (The names are a little heavy handed in terms of their symbolism.). The narrative itself follows the model of a procedural and is somewhat reminiscent of the world of Blade Runner. (Though there is a better comparison that can be made, but I’ll get to that.). The other storyline follows Delta-Six, also called Charlie, a man trapped inside a complex for an unknown reason and it follows his attempts to get out. The two threads are interconnected on several levels and eventually converge.

In Azriel’s section on the planet, a set of Easter Eggs can be located by the player. If you go to the right places in the game, either after or before certain story events, you can find the cast of Cowboy Bebop hanging around. It’s a nice nod to the similarities of the tone of their worlds. In fact, the parallels of elements in both works are a little uncanny. Change the characters around and with a little tweaking, Gemini Rue could have easily been an episode of the show. While the characters would be recognizable to fans of the series, they don’t stand out too much in Gemini Rue’s world, as they seem to fit in well with its tone and atmosphere. One gets the feeling that off screen, while Azriel is conducting his investigations, everyone’s favorite bounty hunters are off having their own adventures.

What is important about them isn’t the game’s designer’s loving nod to a great anime series but their use in the whole. Spike stands alone in the rain and contemplates, saying, “I felt like I was watching a dream I could never wake up from. Before I knew it the dream was over.” Jet stands in a stairwell staring out a window and says, “Everything has a beginning and an end. Life is just a cycle of starts and stops. There are ends we don’t desire, but they’re inevitable, we have to face them. It’s what being human is all about.” Faye is alone in a burned out building and accuses Spike, “You told me once to forget the past, cause it doesn’t matter, but you’re the one still tied to the past, Spike.” Then she turns around and sees that it isn’t Spike and apologizes, “Oh, sorry. I thought you were someone else.” Ed is in a hall with Ein and introduces herself with all the ostentatiousness that such a name requires. “Ed will introduce Ed. Full name—Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky the 4th.” In response to Azriel’s comments, she responds, “Ed made up that name for Ed, isn’t it cool? Nice to meet you!” Ein just barks, because Ein is a dog.

All of these lines are quotes from the show. And all have a relevance to Gemini Rue. They are about memory, identity and the illusion that comes with them. The twist of the game is that Azriel is Delta-Six. The crosscutting of the two sections of the game plays on your understanding of crosscutting. The two sections aren’t concurrent. The section in the training complex takes place several months before the investigation on the planet. And Daniel was a pre-coded memory to get Azriel back to the station to be mind wiped and reconditioned all over again. He was supposed to be an assassin but instead went rogue from the Boryokudan crime syndicate who paid for him and ran off to the police.

The other characters from the complex Center 7, Balder and Epsilon Five, also appear in Azriel’s world as different people with different identities. The ultimate question of Gemini Rue is what makes a person that person. Spike sees a previous life as a dream but one that he cannot escape from. Jet sees it all as a cycle, which Azriel/Delta-Six’s journey surely is—from Center 7 to the world and back again. And it isn’t a desirable end for him. He loses all he is and become helpless in the face of the dangerous and urgent situation that he finds himself in—in contrast to the controlled environment Center 7 was at the beginning of the game. Faye’s own arc in Cowboy Bebop is about remembering her past life and hoping that memories recovered to answer questions about who she was, only to have to let go of them and admonishing Spike for not following his own advice about memory. Finally, Ed doesn’t care about the future or the past and determines her own identity by represented herself with a name that she came up with for herself.

Each of these quotes and their significance is layered into Gemini Rue, and the game isn’t merely using them to gain significance by association—but to enhance those meanings. These lines work as standalone additions to Gemini Rue’s own themes and (like any good Easter Egg) also enhance the work for those who know their significance.

Gemini Rue doesn’t rely on Cowboy Bebop to answer its question about identity. Balder gets his mind wiped several times over the course of the game and each time ends up as a homicidal asshole trapped in an endless cycle. It is simply a part of who he is. Sayuri/Epsilon Five eventually lets go of the past, even with the computer terminal right there that can give them the answers about who they were. She doesn’t want to know. It can’t help either of them. Azriel gets to experience three lifetimes over the course of the game, three blank slates, each as hazy as the last, going under in the mind wipe chair and waking up as a new person. The only one not represented fully is Ed’s analog. But then she is far too upbeat and confident in knowing who she is that she stands as counterpoint both to the Bebop crew and the cast of Gemini Rue.

In an ending voiceover, Sayuri firmly states that people determine their own destiny, that people chart their own course, and that they are best off when not being forced down a particular path. But still the whole of the narrative doesn’t answer the question. It isn’t definitive. Azriel has the same basic personality after each mind wipe. He is kind and protective, willing to stand up against enemies greater than himself for the sake of doing the right thing. And Balder will always be Balder, but then it’s unsure if he was mind wiped again. We only see Sayuri experience one life, never see her going through the process to see what comes out the other side, and she is the one making the final declaration.

Boil Gemini Rue down far enough and you find the old nature verses nurture philosophical debate at the game’s heart. That’s good for identification, but it’s never a good idea to reduce it solely to its basic principals. Gemini Rue explores the concept of what is identity in a multifaceted way, including the ethics of forcing a set of beliefs through the ideas of fabricated information, the concept of memories being used as exploitation of people for malicious ends, whether the past is important enough to ignore the future, and whether or not you can always trust who you put your faith in in order to move forward. In the end, Sayuri doesn’t make definitive statements that answer all these questions, just contemplates how there is more to being human than mere memory. See you, space cowboy.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/174672-/