Mike Russo's Spring Thing 2024 Reviews

Thanks, but I don’t remember asking, by Mea Murukutla

I don’t think it’s a kick against Thanks… to say that its opening is disorienting and dreamlike, since the author’s note reveals that it was in fact directly inspired by a dream. My first ten minutes with the game involved me muttering “oh, now I get it!” three or four times running, as I grokked each potentially-confusing bit of the setup in turn. At first I thought the protagonist was a teenager, but maybe in like a fantasy world with monsters – but eventually I figured out the game’s actually got a postapocalyptic setting and the main character’s just hiding out at a school. Then I wasn’t sure what was going on with the main character’s oddly-aggressive behavior when confronting a trio of passing scavengers, only to realize that she’s got a traumatic backstory and a unique condition (well, unique modulo Memento) that actually made those responses appropriate and thematically rich. And then a couple minutes after that the game wrapped up.

There were definitely some high points to the game’s short run-time – while the writing is generally pretty straightforward and the setting and characters remain archetypal, there were details that stuck with me, like the repeated emphasis on the color of the red volleyball courts outside the school. And the choices offered effectively convey that there’s something not quite right with the protagonist, like this set of options for which of the aforementioned three scavengers to engage in dialogue:

-I looked at her for a second too long before answering.

-Something compelled me to address the whimpering man at the back.

-I didn’t want to admit that I was alone, so I turned to face the short man again.

It reminds me of a Scientology personality test I saw one time, where all the questions were like “What do you do on a Friday night? 1) I stay home by myself because I’m alienated and don’t have friends or 2) I go out and party, trying to pretend my life isn’t meaningless by pursuing hollow pleasures.”

(This is I think the first time in my life I’ve said “hey, this is just like something Scientologists do!” and meant it as a compliment).

And the setup is does arrange some conventional tropes into a promising configuration (spoiler time): the zombie apocalypse generally raises the stakes and puts issues of trust front and center, and also interfaces well with the protagonist’s inability to make new memories: is it actually a blessing to be able to forget the massive trauma of the past, as the main character’s abusive ex suggests, or is there a price to be paid for disconnection from one’s past? That memory issue in turn sets up the interpersonal drama to center on whether and how the other characters, like those scavengers, might try to manipulate and take advantage of her.

Unfortunately the game’s short running time isn’t nearly enough to actually do more with this framework than establish it; there’s a final, climactic scene that adds some action, but it felt very abrupt to me, forcing catharsis and resolution on a dilemma that hadn’t had time to sink in and have any impact. Short games can be great, don’t get me wrong, but there needs to be congruence between a game’s ambition and its length; Thanks, but I don’t remember asking, I fear, has a premise that demands more elaboration than it gets. There’s certainly a risk of dulling the force of an idea by padding it out too much – and I suppose that’s especially the case here, given that nothing makes a dream more prosaic than trying to explain it at length – but I think the author needed to either expand their scope, or trim the number of themes they were working with, in order to right-size the work.