Figuring out what is core to someone’s sense of self may seem futile, but the exercise itself is what’s important.
You take on the role of Zoe, a neuroscientist whose work focuses on reconstructing the dead by saving their memories. When your girlfriend Sara has a fatal accident, you have to choose which memories will be saved, and which will be lost.
What’s Interesting About What Isn’t Saved (Will Be Lost)?
I went into What Isn’t Saved expecting a struggle, an attempt to weigh disparate values to decide the fate of another. It’s what good narrative games have been known to do, right? However, in this game, my scales changed drastically as I played. You can’t read all of the memories in one playthrough, which means that for your first few sessions you have very limited knowledge of the situation. What you thought was a ‘decent outcome’ at first would not feel the same if you knew about that other aspect of your relationship, about that conversation Sara had with a friend, about her childhood. And what does the outcome, the ending, matter in the end? Why are you still playing, still reading everything you can, when it feels increasingly clear that the whole thing is futile? …There’s still a glimmer of hope, as the end of the game is just the beginning of a new story.
!!Spoiler warning – skip the next paragraph if you’re planning on playing What Isn’t Saved!!
Unsurprisingly, what stuck with me the most was the relationship between Zoe and Sara, and the decisions it led me to. I alternated between wanting to give her all the memories pertaining to the relationship (I don’t want her to take my word for how things were!), and none (isn’t it selfish to value our relationship over her parents, her friends?) After trying to somehow balance the memories to make her as close to ‘herself’ as possible, I could really see the futility of the exercise – how you can only ever capture a fraction of a person. The ending that made me smile the most was the one where I prioritised any memories of Sara without Zoe (assuming, in my mind, that I could recount the joint ones if needed), and Sara woke up with more of a sense of self. I felt I had at least done my best to retain what was core to ‘her’ intact.
But of course, that was my assessment after having sifted through her memories and hand-picked a few to return. And yes, I know I’m using me and her interchangeably with Zoe and Sara, but my/her story merges into one.
You can find What Isn’t Saved (Will Be Lost) on Itch.