Replay Review

By | Thursday, June 20, 2024 Leave a Comment
Replay is a family memoir of Jordan Mechner covering (mostly) three generations of his family, in (primarily) four different eras. Mechner, if you don't recognize the name, is most famous for creating the original Prince of Persia game and was responsible for much of the work on the subsequent media around it, even writing the story for the 2003 film. Although I didn't know his name at the time, he also wrote the original Karateka game that I enjoyed back in 1984.

The different eras that Replay covers are basically World War I and World War II, Merchner's own early post-college years in the 1990s, and the more-or-less present. The WWI material is mostly about Mechner's grandfather serving in the German army, the WWII material is about Mechner's grandfather trying to get his family out of Germany (mostly seen through the eyes of Merchner's father, who was a child at the time), the 1990s material is a lot about Mechner's early days as a game developer, and the recent material is him trying to juggle domestic issues with job opportunities in a very different environment than when he started. I feel I should point out early on that this is very much NOT a history of how either Karateka or Prince of Persia were developed. There is some of that, certainly, but it is very much not the focus and what is present is more about how Merchner himself was working; there is almost nothing about video game history more broadly than that. Mechner never really plugs the book as such, but since he is strongly associated with those games, I'm sure there's a not-insignificant portion of readers who only pick the book up hoping for more "insider" knowledge about Brøderbund or something.

The narrative slides in and out of the various eras pretty regularly, sometimes switching multiple times on a single page. But over the 300-some pages, I never had a question about which era we were looking at. Literally not a single time. While the color schemes for each era help in that regard considerably, Mechner's attention to the hairstyles and clothing and all of that do a pretty good job on their own in identifying what part of the century-long story we're in. I expected Mechner to be able to do a good job with the storytelling in general, as the storytelling for Persia was pretty solid to my recollection. (Admittedly, though, I haven't played any of them since the early 1990s.) But Mechner's skills are very much on point here, and the story flows very smoothly as it weaves in and out of different generations.

One of the things that I thought was interesting throughout the book was this theme of how much someone should hold on to the past. It's initially set up between Mechner (who saves everything) and his wife (who does not) but it comes up in various forms throughout the story. In some cases, there's no choice in the matter; Mechner's father has to move over and over again as they try to escape the Nazi regime and he's forced to leave behind many of his possessions. But at the same time, his grandfather wrote his own 1000+ page memoir (never published) using tons of photos and other saved materials. There's this constant push and pull between what's worth hanging on to, and what's irrelevant and easily discarded. I'll admit that I was initially hoping to see the book end on the side of "living in the moment and don't hold on to the past" but the story leaves the question ultimately unresolved. The book ends with Mechner continuing to scan pages of his grandfather's memoir and posting them online, but he also has to let go of the idea of doing yet another Prince of Persia related project and moving on to something new. (Which one presumes turned out to be this book.) It's perhaps not the satisfying tied-up-with-a-nice-bow ending for that theme that I'd like to see, but I like that he had the courage to present a more nuanced view that leaves it as a more open-ended point of reflection for the reader.

The story as a whole does end nicely, with quotes from his grandfather that reflect on some of the more pleasant moments of his life during one of the most tumultuous times of his life. Is that in fact the over-arching theme here? That life has good bits and bad bits, and where you end up depends on how you deal with them? I don't know that I'd go that far -- Mechner does relay several bits throughout the generational stories that are presented as totally random and still had a huge impact on the family's life. There are even a couple points of dialogue where someone goes so far as to explicitly mention that if some random event had played out differently, later generations might never even have been born. So it's not exclusively about how you choose to deal with what life throws at you, although that clearly does have an impact. I suppose, if anything, the theme might be that small things, like the white mouse in Prince of Persia, can have a much larger impact than you might guess and it's worth be observant of those seemingly initially insignificant details.

Replay: Memoir of an Uprooted Family came out in hardcover from First Second Books back in March. It retails for $29.99 US and should be available from your favorite bookseller.
Newer Post Older Post Home