Dissociative amnesia is a stress-related condition in which you can forget information about yourself, events in your life, and even learned skills. In reality, it is fortunately rare – the American hospital network Cleveland Clinic (opens in a new tab) says that about 1% of men and 2.6% of women in the general population are affected. But among video game protagonists, the prevalence is much higher and memory loss is usually significant.
Geralt spent two games remembering who the love of his life was, using the time that passed to explore a romantic relationship with one of his best friends instead. The entire plot of Knights of the Old Republic hinged on a complete lack of knowledge of who you were and where you came from, setting you up for a famous twist. And this year, FPS parkour neon white (opens in a new tab) used the oblivion of its titular anime killer to create a sense of unease around companion characters who may or may not have manipulated you. To paraphrase Guy Pearce: Don’t believe their lies.
From a game developer’s perspective, the practical benefits of the condition are clear. Amnesia explains how a character can start at the bottom and quickly climb a skill tree, achieving mastery of acrobatic and magical abilities that were completely foreign to them just weeks earlier. Overall, relearning is easier than learning.
Then there is the role play bonus. Amnesia helps bridge the knowledge gap between protagonist and player – the dissonance that comes from jumping straight into the body of someone with pre-existing relationships and hitting their lifelong friends with questions like ” Who are you again?” If this character has amnesia, suddenly there’s an in-universe reason to hold orientation meetings. And later in the story, as you explore the game world and the revelations start to trickle in, you and your avatar can respond in shocked unison.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns (opens in a new tab), the recent turn-based tactical game from XCOM developer Firaxis, fills the amnesiac bingo card by exploiting all the usual tricks. Shortly after the start of his high-stakes, Avengers-adjacent adventure, The Hunter is resurrected from a centuries-old slumber to lead the Midnight Suns against the rogue witch and demigod Lilith. In this regard, its premise is almost identical to that of XCOM 2, in which The Commander is awakened after decades of stasis to come to Earth’s defense.
Hunter’s precise form of memory loss is selective. Although technically dead during her more than 300 years out of the game, she has quietly absorbed enough of the outside world to make sense of it. As she says herself, the protagonist of Midnight Suns knows what a car is, but has no idea how to drive. This convenient setup allows him to rekindle relationships with Iron Man, Blade, and Captain Marvel, but bypasses the need for scenes involving the discovery of penicillin or the invention of toilet paper.
It’s a practical device, but one that becomes something more, thanks to a decision by Firaxis to lean into fish-out-of-water comedy. The backstory of The Hunter is a dark fantasy tale set in the time of the Salem Witch Trials. She was born the child of an ordinary man and an immortal witch, but when her father succumbed to the plague, grief led her mother down a dark path, at the end of which was a deal with an evil elder god. . The result was Lilith, the demonic supervillain, and The Hunter spent her childhood training to defeat Mom, which she did, at the cost of her own life.
In other words, his life experience is limited to the tragic melodrama of the 17th century – a story reflected in his mode of speaking. I played The Hunter as a female, with voice acting by Elizabeth Grullon, but there is also a male performance available, by Matthew Mercer. Both deliver their lines with the pace and intonation of a slightly concussed movie trailer narrator – deep and slow.
Sense of wonder
Throw this former witch into the wise millennial middle of Marvel’s wider cast, and the conversation instantly becomes funny. This is especially true on the Superlink, a text-based social network built by Tony Stark, on which our hero adopts a grandparent’s style of factual messaging.
The Hunter quickly drops the final article to become Hunter, just another supe wearing a t-shirt with a weird origin story in a roster full of them. But she retains her owl-like gaze — perhaps amplified by Midnight Suns’ B-level facial animation — and brings an endearingly naïve earnestness to every encounter. It’s the same tone that made Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman 2017 sing, and was fatally lacking in the film’s sequel. I ended up learning to wince every time I selected a “[joke]” option in the dialogue – knowing that my overly enthusiastic avatar had a tendency to use such sarcasm that his friendships would be negatively affected.
Conversation is such a frequent occurrence in Midnight Suns pre- and post-battle downtime that you can explore Hunter’s social transformation in as much depth as you do with his battle deck. On the one hand, she’s surrounded by the familiar surroundings of the abbey she grew up in – and still influenced by the stern presence of Caretaker, the former witch who raised her as a weapon, and the ghost of ‘Agatha Harkness, who provides a more amiable and permissive counterpoint. On the other hand, Hunter is also at the forefront of the rumbling conflict between the Midnight Suns themselves – young, brash, eager to get in on the action – and the cooler, more arrogant Avengers who roam the place.
As the campaign progresses, it feels like she’s absorbing perspectives and trying out new identities with each costume change, figuring out how and who to be in a new world at the speed of wi-fi. That said, the greatest tribute I can pay to the protagonist of Midnight Suns is to point out that somehow Hunter feels just as fleshed out and historic as the heroes in his company. Surrounded by characters with half a decade of stories to their name, it stands out as an equally compelling mass of contradictions and comedic moments. MCU cameo when?