The premise of Season: A Letter to the Future, out next week on PlayStation and PC, is all about capturing and recording moments in time.
You see, in the world of Season, as a new season comes to be, the people of the world will most likely forget the one that came before it. Your protagonist, however, takes it upon themselves to head out into the world – their first time leaving the safety and sanctuary of their own village – to capture memories before everything fades into obscurity. Maybe, through the photographs she takes, sketches she draws, recordings she saves and items she collects, people might remember. That’s the hope, anyway.
She does this through a journal – more of a scrapbook of sorts. She’s not the first protagonist to have a personal journal filled with photographs and notes: it’s a common feature in many story-driven games. But Season: A Letter to the Future is the first game I’ve come across that actively makes that journal the key part of gameplay. As the player, we’re in charge of exactly what goes into that journal. We can choose which of the photos we’ve taken, which pieces of information we’ve collected, are important enough to grace its pages.
Keeping a physical scrapbook is something of a niche hobby these days. Hell, even having a physical photo album is a rarity, thanks to the advent of digital cameras and mobile phones. Most of our captured memories are relegated to existing only on memory cards and hard drives. Perhaps we’ll occasionally print off our favourites, but most of us will never go to the effort of putting together an album. But why not? Keeping memories is important, and Season highlights that beautifully.
The scrapbook you put together in Season is hugely personal to your time with the game. Typically, an in-game journal will automatically fill itself when you reach a new milestone or checkpoint. But here, that milestone or checkpoint is your journal. Your progress is marked off by filling in a page. Every location you visit in the game has its own double-page spread, and you’ll need to choose how to fill it. In game terms, it doesn’t matter how you fill it: you can stick a handful of mundane photographs down on the page and it’ll be marked as “done”.
Chances are, though, you won’t want to. You’ll want to pore over the contents of that double-page spread, making sure it accurately represents everything you’ve seen and done on your journey. When you’re done, you can even embellish the page with washi tape and stickers. I even went so far as to add digital pieces of tape to the corner of all my photos, making it look as much like the “real thing” as I could. There was no in-game reward for doing this. Only my own satisfaction.
There is something magical about flicking through the pages of a scrapbook. I feel it when I flick through the pages I’ve made in Season, even though they’re not real. I feel it when I flick through the scrapbooks made by my best friend, a years-long hobby of hers. They aren’t my memories, but seeing the effort and care put into displaying precious moments from her life – there’s something special there.
Memories don’t always last forever. Sometimes they’re simply lost in time as our brains make space for newer information. Maybe we get an illness later on in life which forces us to forget. Having a physical reminder of those memories – something tangible we can hold in our hands, flick through at a moment’s notice – ensures they’re lasting. If we lose someone close to us, having that physical reminder of them can help us to continue to feel close to them. Or maybe we simply want to recall a cherished time of our lives: a family holiday, an event. Opening the pages of a scrapbook or photo album can be a joyous moment in itself.
In Season, the memories our protagonist is collecting aren’t necessarily personal to her. She’s recording information from places she’s never been before, about people she’s only just met. But in recording them, they become important to her. And as we, the player, are the ones experiencing it with her, they become important to us too.
Our own memories are even more important. And perhaps not only to us, but to our friends and family too, perhaps even to generations not even born yet. Revisiting and collating our memories can be a cathartic and enjoyable exercise in itself. It’s something we all deserve to put a little more time into: we’ll only thank ourselves later, long after our own memories have faded and hard drives have corrupted.