A hate story indeed
Well, it's my first time editing this wiki but I tought something that drilled on my brain and now I'm out to write it here.
Besides the obvious reason for the subtitle "a hate story", it revolves more on hate than you think. At the end we end with a literal ship full of woobies because the things went the way they went.
We can't really point a villain or antagonist because the nature of the story, involving someone from other age waking on the future, is full of Moral Dissonance. As *Mute says, they were just being themselves with the culture they had and the things weren't bad until the pale bride came into play. Just an era like any other that may seem awful to us, the modern people and by extention to the Pale Bride.
For that, the things done by the Pale Bride are not justified yet, taking the POV of that person, it was a life of suffering in a place where you can't even communicate correctly and everything has changed.
At the end, unless we cheat, we end on having to select one to pity for, but doing that to only one of them, makes us a "hater" of the others and if we try to pity everyone we end our work in loneliness.
It's a hate story not just because everyone is hating on everyone but because it revolves on hate, the player needs hate or a rock-hard heart to progress to one of the more desirable endings without cheating, he has to take a route and in doing so he's another one who's involved in all the hate even if all the meat of the story is some sort of flashback.
It's really a clever title, if you ask me.
Men are honored, women are abased - it's about the hatred of women
(Note, there are spoilers here, but why would you be reading analyses if you were afraid of spoilers?)
Pretty much everything in this story ties back to this central idea. Christine Love put an awful lot of research into this, and that isn't a coincidence. A note in the game makes it clear that the misogyny in this story is based on that of the Joseon era and is very real. It isn't over-exaggerated, and representations of this sort of thing are often under-exaggerated. It might be hard to believe, since this this kind of history isn't usually taught outside of classes specifically about women and gender. Women's suffering in general usually goes unheard. I know I sound really dramatic right now, but unfortunately this isn't dramatization.
The Pale Bride's plight is the most overt example, but everything else links back to this. Whether it's the prostitute who had no way to be with the woman she loved, the sister who had several miscarriages and was encouraged to commit suicide for the sake of her husband's reputation, the crushing disappointment at the birth of a daughter, the disregard of women on genealogies, the deletion of their messages (and thus history) to make room for the men, the fact that several prominent female characters are never named, or *Mute's frequent and very blatantly misogynistic remarks, this entire game is about the hatred of women.
(Regarding *Mute, there was a great observation on the main page that her original 21st century programming would have been horrified by this culture. She was clearly reset during Year 0, and someone overwrote her previous personality with the one we meet in the game. Both Hyun-ae and *Mute were silenced, both of them were victims. The difference is that Hyun-ae rebelled against it, whereas *Mute internalized it. That's often how it works in real life, too.)
This story is also about cycles of hate. Hyun-ae is from what's more or less our own era, with very liberal ideas and women engineers and cosplay. Then she wakes up to find herself in the distant future, which closely resembles the Joseon era (that's ~ 1400-1900 AD). Like a cultural backslide, she's gone forward into a medieval era. 600 years after that, we discover the ship's ruins and marvel at their brutality. From the point of view of the investigator, it's ancient history. From our side of the computer screen it's also ancient history - but at the same time it's in the future. Where does it stop? Does this sort of thing really just stay in the past? Christine Love most likely wanted us to wonder about this kind of thing. In an interview with Kotaku she said, "I'm kinda interested in how those ideas take root, both in people, and also in society. Nobody ever just wakes up one day and says "yeah, I hate women, I wish we'd stop letting them read."
So while personal hatred is a part of this story, and binary decisions between agree/disagree, right/wrong, *Hyun-ae/*Mute all reflect the urge to either strictly conform or utterly reject (thereby ignoring all other possible solutions), the real hatred this story explores is much deeper and more complicated. If you ever found yourself shrugging off a new log and thinking, "That's just what things were like in that era", then that same potential for hatred also exists inside of you. It exists inside of all of us, which is a truly horrifying thought.
Or, TLDR; in the end it isn't about hatred between the characters. It isn't about hatred from our own POV. It isn't even entirely about the hatred within this terrible culture. It's about the kind of hatred that led to this culture, that led to the Joseon culture, that led to slavery and the Holocaust and the wars and genocides that are going on right now and won't even be shown on the news. This is a story about the kind of casual hatred that we perform without thinking. This is a story about us.
From the Past to the Future
As a firm believer in Death of the Author, I ignore the author's comments in favor of my own interpretation.
This game is a fairly meta work. The interface is designed to feel like a computer interface. It's designed to work as if you were a person on a ship, using a terminal and a GUI to interact with another computer system. So, looking at it on a meta level is warranted.
The point of the work is... you. You're sitting there behind your computer screen reading about this horrible society. But it's not just that isolated society at play; the small pains inflicted upon its own people are magnified by the presence of Hyun-ae. Because she is you, she is as you might be if you suddenly woke up in this world.
You see the pressures of this world beating down Hyun-ae, transforming her in one horrific act into The Pale Bride. Then you read Kim Jung-Su's drunken boasting of how much better she has become, how smugly satisfied he is in how things turned out due to his horrific violation of her body.
And how do you feel about this? Appalled. Outraged. Vengeful. Towards Hyun-ae, you feel compassion and understanding, despite the horror of her later actions. Towards the Kims however, all you feel is derision.
But what do you feel beneath that? Superiority. Because you know that this would never, ever happen in your society. After all, Kim Hyun-ae came from your time, a place very much like your world, where things are perfectly fair for women. They're Neanderthals, despicable throwbacks to a time we cast off long ago. So you sit behind your computer, all smug and shiny, and you judge Jung-Su and his society "guilty".
And all is well, right?
But perhaps you read the ramblings of Jung-Su and his culture again, and notice a repeated refrain. How they see themselves as better than what came before. You notice how smug and self-satisfied Jung-Su seems. And perhaps you start to wonder.
What if someone makes a game very much like this 400 years from now. Where a young girl from their time is cast adrift in a world that has become equivalent to ours?
This future society would see us as the throwbacks. Oh, perhaps not as bad as Jung-Su; it might not end in a tongue chopping assault. It would have different words, different magnitudes, but the same idea.
This Hyun-ae would talk about the seeming desire of this society for all our women to conform to a particular body image, as evidenced by plastering it everywhere. This Hyun-ae would probably want equal pay for equal work. This Hyun-ae would enjoy and pursue sex, as our society seems to want her to do, but be angry about people constantly shunning her for it.
What then would be the equivalent of Hyun-ae's tongue chopping? Obviously, she'd be raped. But that wouldn't be the end of it; no, it would be society's reaction to it. The constant harangue that Hyun-ae's desire for sex is what caused it. That she somehow deserved it or lead him on or the usual blather.
And what would be the equivalent of Jung-Su's diatribe that causes Hyun-ae to end it all? Naturally, it would end with this society's equivalent to the justice system throwing the case out. For this society to say in no uncertain terms that it only pretends to consider her equal. And is smugly satisfied with that.
And then those future people will sit behind their screens, all smug and shiny, and think about how terrible our society is compared to their's.note
The question asked by this game is not just how far have we come. It's whether we have come far enough that the future won't be just as ashamed of us as we are of this society.