In Shing Yin Khor’s Remember August, players exchange letters with a former friend who’s become unmoored in time. The live game was played by mail (or email, or digital files) in February 2022, with Khor sending out letters through the USPS that players could respond to and send back to themselves with the assurance that August, the recipient, would find and read them in their journeys through time. Rather than leaving randomness up to dice rolls or other typical game mechanics, Remember August used the postal service. Letters could arrive out of order or not at all, changing the narrative and the player’s response to it.
Alenka Figa and Melissa Brinks chatted about their experiences with the game, its ephemera, and how the fictional relationship within the game reflected relationships in real life.
Remember August is a very unique game—a Keepsake Game, as defined by Shing Yin Khor and Jeeyon Shim. Why did this particular game appeal to you? What made you want to play it?
Alenka Figa: While I find the concept of Keepsake Games very cool, I am a pretty minimalist person. The idea that at the end of a game you have a map or another unique item that you created with your own hands is cool, but I tend to go “ugh but where will I put it?” and choose not to play, which I realize makes me kind of cold and unsentimental! I also live in an apartment with limited space, so accumulating lots of physical items—and this goes for actual board games as well—isn’t super feasible. When I learned Remember August had an email option, I was excited to be able to experience the ephemera without actually accumulating it.
The greatest appeal for me, though, is that this is a game about relationships. A relationship was central to Field Guide to Memory as well, but there was also a significant world-building aspect, at least from my outsider’s perspective. In Remember August, the emphasis feels reversed, with the relationship being in focus and the world-building being more in the background.
Melissa Brinks: I love the concept of keepsake games, enough that I interviewed Shing Yin Khor and Jeeyon Shim about it after finishing Field Guide to Memory. I am a bit of a goblin in that I like collecting physical artifacts, and I’m also a person who deeply wants to make things but gets hung up on perfectionism. Keepsake games are a great way of getting over that perfectionism to have a physical reminder of an experience I’ve had, which can translate into me being better about things like actually keeping up that travel journal I started or making my letters to others look nicer.
I’m also just interested in alternate methods of engaging with familiar things. I love writing and receiving letters, but I can’t say I’ve ever received a letter from a time traveler before. The idea of playing with/against the USPS’s quirks also really appealed to me—instead of submitting to the randomness of dice or other mechanics, the order of the letters, and whether they arrive at all, is dependent on a ton of factors outside of my control. I wanted to know what that would feel like to play with, and it turns out I like it a lot!
in february, i ran a live game called #rememberaugust where over 1000 people received letters from an old friend lost in time! this is what it looked like! pic.twitter.com/HfX8trwQwI
— shing yin khor (@sawdustbear) May 28, 2022
How did you view your relationship with August?
Melissa Brinks: My character (who was also me) had a deep childhood friendship with August that fell apart later in life. I’m sure this is something a lot of us have experienced, and some of the friendships I’ve had that have faded over the years (some because of time, some because of disagreements) are still big presences in my life. I didn’t set out to have that kind of relationship with August, but the further I got into it, the more it made sense to me. Writing to and remembering with August was sort of an exercise in combining the many feelings I have about former friends into one, especially friendships that ended due to growing apart rather than ones that ended on bad terms. I found myself cobbling together memories of many different people and responding to August as if they were some amalgamation of all of these people I used to know. I wrote as if nothing had ever gone wrong between us (much as I would in real life, except in this case I wasn’t sure of our relationship until we were a few letters in) until August asked questions about whether they’d broken my heart. The only right answer, from the way I’d written so far, was “yes.”
Alenka: Melissa, I love that, because I IMMEDIATELY assumed August was kind of a dickhead and had carelessly ghosted me! The first letter made me feel annoyed and belligerent, especially as August owns up to ghosting all the people in their life. I think I was pretty worn out when I got the first letter, and transferred some of that exhaustion to my writing persona, who was annoyed that August didn’t seem to be considering what they were asking—how much they were asking me to give, when I feel like I give a lot on a day-to-day basis.
My writing persona wasn’t exactly me. I decided that they were the kind of person who had a steady job that was very antithetical to the wild life of a timewalker, and couldn’t understand why August had chosen such a life. They’d also wanted a closer, longer-term, and probably romantic relationship with August, but had told themself they’d given up… only to begrudgingly begin to hope again, as the letters went on. The hurt of August’s abandonment is in all of my letters; they all have an underlying tone of anger. I shot a lot of questions back at August, asking if they understood what they were really asking of me. However, I think toward the end there is an eagerness to forgive, too, and a hesitancy to believe that August would really return.
Starting #RememberAugust belligerent!! Because it's how I feel and it feels right! And this little interesting surprise, a word fitting on a tiny line on this random paper I found and am using pic.twitter.com/IrXunvRSh9
— Upright Garfield (@alenkafiga) February 2, 2022
How did the items/ephemera influence the game play for you?
Alenka: Because I played the email game, I just have pictures of postcards, letters, and objects—pictures of pictures, which is kind of funny. However, I did spend time with them! My letter responding to the self-portrait is interesting. I think I latched on to the goofy lasers background, which evokes school pictures, and ended up talking about awkward middle school photos of us. The photograph of the hand holding the key ended up being a big deal in my letters as well, because I forgot to finish my response to it before getting the “did I break your heart?” question, and tied them together. I decided the key opens the storage unit where August stashed all the stuff from their old life, and all the time we’d spent together. I wasn’t sure how much I’d interact with all the ephemera, but it played a very significant role for me.
Melissa: I thought the ephemera was really effective, not just because it led to this feeling of reality in a way that I hadn’t expected, but also because the little things that August included also said something about August. I’m not sure how the ephemera packs compared from person to person—mine contained a few stamps and a page from The Time Machine by H. G. Wells—but the fact that August included them was very interesting to me. Were the stamps meant to encourage me to keep writing? Was that page from The Time Machine from the same edition I have? Within the space of the game, it’s possible it could even be literally from my edition. Maybe I’d lent it to August and they’d never returned it. Was there something on that page that spoke to them and was meant to speak to me, too? The game leaves a lot of space for you to interpret and I found that really effective.
Where did you meet at the end—or did you meet at all?
Alenka: I of course can’t control August’s actions, but I like to think that they did meet in the end. I had my writing persona write their final letter sitting on the couch in the storage unit, which they’d opened for the first time… probably ever, since August left. They state in the letter that they’re going to leave, mail it, and then come back and wait. If August shows up, they will welcome back their old friend, skeptical but ready to start something new.
Melissa: I hope this alternate version of me and August met. I read August’s words as being very sincere, and having had my fair share of friendships that dissolved over time, I wanted it to work out. I know I would have showed up—I wanted to return to where we first met—and I would have hoped that August would already be there waiting. But time travel is tricky, and, as Shing Yin Khor discussed in their post-mortem of the game, August won’t return your last letter. You can interpret that in a variety of ways—no need to write back if you met up in person!—but there’s also the possibility that they didn’t show up, maybe because they were ashamed or because they knew the place but not the time, or because they got wrapped up in another adventure and forgot. I like the possibility that August shows up and they mend their friendship and everything is great, but I also like the bittersweet feeling that I’ll never know for certain.
While the live game is over, all the necessary files can be downloaded on Itch and run by anyone with at least five bucks to spare! Remember August along with your friends, and see how each of your rememberings differ.
Alenka Figa is a queer librarian obsessed with D&D podcasts that have solid queer rep. They frequently tweet about them @alenkafiga. Catch their reviews of zines and indie comics over at Women Write About Comics.