The games industry often surprises me with the stories it can tell, with the influx of diverse developers, games have evolved drastically in the last few years in terms of the tone and themes they can discuss. Today we have a new style of short narratives focused adventures that deal with topics like fame(The Beginner’s Guide) and even lesbian relationships(Gone Home). Flash back even ten years ago and the only gay representation in games was Bully, so it astonishes me how far as an industry we have come with today’s topic of discussion, Fragments of Him.
Fragments of Him tells the story of a man named Will, who’s life is on the up and up. He has a great job, a meaningful relationship with his boyfriend Harry and is for the first time in his life, content in himself. Well this all ends prematurely, as the game opens with his death in a tragic car crash, and continues to explore his past, the people around him and what he meant to them. As the title suggests, you play as a disembodied figure who visits memories of Will, fragments of his life and the relationships he made before his death. We see Will from his youngest moments through his grandmothers eyes, to his sexual confusion in his first girlfriend and his eventual death and its affects on those important to him. As a narrative, Fragments of Him is extremely linear, with most of your time being spent on clicking a single highlighted object in a room to further the plot. This isn’t a particularly novel concept, a lack of interaction in narrative driven experiences is to be expected at this point, but usually there is a little more agency to how the player progresses through the plot, where here you simply click and listen to the narration of the cast.
Speaking of the cast, as this is a narration heavy game, you will be spending a whole lot of time listening to these characters talk. Let me get this out of the way first by saying that Will is probably the least interesting character of the cast by far, as his death is more a foil for other people to discuss him, and he isn’t particularly a well off character to being with. For example, the most personal and emotional memory his boyfriend could conjure up of their time together was walking together and feeding ducks. This dull as dishwater relationship would probably have been explored more if Harry got more than about half an hour worth of content of the game, as he gets no memories of dating Will, and is relegated to an extremely short sequence that deals with his grief after Will’s death. This sequence could have been interesting if Harry discussed close personal moments with Will or why he misses him, but instead focuses on his process of throwing away furniture as part of his grieving process, and clicking away an entire apartment worth of furniture does kind of subject his pain to a simple hidden object game.
Out of the three main cast, only one is really that much of a compelling character. This character is Will’s first girlfriend, Sarah, who acts as a strong opening sequence. Sarah is an engaging character that is often not seen in games, a woman who falls in love with a gay man and is forced to accept it. She is not framed with any malicious or villainous undertones, instead she is an uplifting, positive female character that explores relationship structures, sexual attraction and feeling secure in your own skin. She has the best writing in the game by far, with her anxiety filled early college days, flashy nightclub romances and deep discussions about the concept of love, something that the actual love of Will’s life barely touches upon. Other than Sarah and Harry, the other character relevant is Will’s grandmother, who has by far the longest sequence of the game, focusing on her bringing up Will and her eventual homophobic views of his life choices. While she never turns into a villain and remains sympathetic, her predictable story arch didn’t do a whole lot for me.
In terms of how the game looks, Fragments of Him is very visually striking. The game uses a washed out grey and white minimalist aesthetic that works really well with the tone and themes the game is going for. Character models are simple but work well, though they rarely actually animate, usually remaining still and fading in and out of sight, fitting the idea of these fragments being memories rather than reality. In terms of audio, the game features some very high quality narration from the four actors, striking a nostalgic yet serious tone throughout. These performances are backed up by a mostly well written script, though at parts sounding more like a bad media/art student film. The soundtrack on the other hand is nothing to really write home about, using tracks that suit the tone, but aren’t memorable at all.
On paper, Fragments of Him could have been a fascinating character study of gay relationships and how death affects people, but in reality it is just paper thin. While the game has gay characters, it does nothing with them, as their relationship is barely explored, rather focusing on tired homophobic elderly stereotypes to drive tension. I wish I liked Fragments of Him more than I did, but at two hours of playtime I was not engaged, and wish it was just a short film than an bloated linear narrative experience.