A Memoir Blue opens at a press conference, a thatch of interviewers’ microphones aimed at the protagonist as she flinches in a lightning storm of camera flashes. In her right hand she holds aloft a swimmer’s Olympic medal. This young woman has reached the pinnacle of her athletic career. Yet despite this she appears detached, even glum, here in the hot centre of the world’s adulation. Back at her apartment we see her mantelpiece sag under the combined weight of her trophies, but as dusk fills her room, she sits alone on her sofa, bereft.
Wealth, glory and high attainment, in almost any field, are often accompanied by less desirable effects: isolation, confusion, loneliness, an obsessive anxiety about losing, or failing to maintain that which has been won. These negatives are rarely acknowledged by the successful: to complain after one has gained what everyone else desires can seem ungrateful and churlish. A Memoir Blue is a dialogue-free attempt to explore why success so often contains the seeds of failure, and specifically the emotional dynamics that might lead someone to channel the wild energies of childhood into the unusual demands of professional sports.
The story is told via a dream, in which the champion protagonist (she is never named) returns to scenes in her childhood and watches her younger self at key moments in her life. This younger self is rendered as a two-dimensional cartoon moving through a 3D world. You must nudge the narrative along using a pointer that allows a few limited interactions with the world: pushing coins into a ticket machine before boarding a train; moving planks of wood to create a bridge across a river; guiding raindrops on to a newspaper to reveal a new memory in one of the photo panes. These are puzzles only according to the loosest definition; this hour-long “interactive poem” presents meagre resistance en route to its conclusions.
Early in the dream we see the girl develop an obsession with water, the sea and aquatic life, chasing fish, parting the fronds of sea plants, all the while longing for the attention of her ambitious and detached mother. The depiction of a young single mother raising a small child is carefully and unsentimentally portrayed . There is an awkwardness to watching the intimacies, the failures inherent in any parent-child relationship, from such proximity; the feeling that you shouldn’t be party to such private moments.
There is hope and reconciliation here, but A Memoir Blue is primarily a tragic depiction of a person who has convinced themselves – or who has been convinced – that attainment is necessary for love. The story is fragile and a little simple but, like publisher Annapurna Interactive’s 2018 game Florence, it succeeds in creating a mood of compelling melancholy, heightened by Joel Corelitz’s exquisite soundtrack. And while A Memoir Blue feels deeply personal, it achieves that miraculous narrative trick of making the specific universally approachable.