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Selective Memory is when the game denies the player knowledge his Player Character has, should logically have, or should be able to acquire effortlessly and instantly.

That map of the world the the Player Character got from his uncle before heading out to save the planet? Features the Doomed Hometown and a whole lot of blank indicating everywhere you haven't been to yet. The soldier who joins the party and suggests you go to the Capital City to ask the king for help? Forget about asking him for directions. You come to the Hidden Elf Village and the White Magician Girl wants you to talk to her sister? Talk to Everyone until you find her yourself.

When used on background information, this can be a way of putting a certain distance between the player and the player's character. It can also be a storytelling device that allows the player to discover certain facts about the character. Coupled with Schrodinger's Gun, it can be an interesting way for the player to choose what the player character did some time in the past.

See also Now Where Was I Going Again?, for information that was given once and then can't be recalled. Compare Unreliable Narrator or Dramatic Irony when it's more about the plot itself.

For people remembering only certain details pleasant to them, see Self-Serving Memory.

Examples of Selective Memory include:
  • Exceptionally Egregious example: In Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura the player begins the game on the site of a zeppelin crash of which he/she was the sole survivor. Initially, the world map consist of an outline of the continent on which the story takes place and the crash site and a nearby village being marked. Though the player boarded the zeppelin before the beginning of the game in the second largest city in the game world and it was supposed to go to the largest one, which is located at the mouth of a major river clearly marked on the world map, they are not marked on the map initially and you have to aquire the knowledge in-game.
    • In the same game, there is a quest in which you must ask an elf for the location of elven capital Quintarra, a literal Hidden Elf Village. If the player character is an elf, he will find it odd that you do not already know the location. One has to justify it by claiming to be from a different continent.
  • In one level in Super Mario Sunshine, Mario is tasked with locating a Yoshi egg, hatching it, and using the Yoshi to power up a merry-go-round. One expository NPC informs Mario that he has just seen an egg on the island, which is used to suggest to the player what to do next, but he leaves it at that. One wonders why Mario simply couldn't directly ask him where he found it.
  • Final Fantasy IX featured a card game with vague rules which are not particularly explained to the player. Justified in that nobody you talk to know the rules either, and you can only pick up the rules from people's suppositions about them. These people are otherwise avid players, but they only know half of one rule each... Fortunately, none of the rules matter much. The outcome of each game is more or less random, and the few rewards with an actual use you can get out of it are easily gotten elsewhere...including one of the very few cards you can get outside of the treasure hunt sidequest that actually has an use beyond using it in the card game itself.
    • A full explanation of the rules was eventually the manual for Final Fantasy XI.
  • Inverted to very great effect in Bioshock, where at the beginning of the game the player must perform several actions that seem initially to stretch credibility (such as calmly sticking a massive and unfamiliar needle in his arm with no prompting whatsoever), because for someone with no knowledge of the city of Rapture they make little sense. In the plot twist at the climax of the game's second act, though, it is revealed that the character did know about these things, but that the memories had been suppressed, thereby using the player's own innocent actions to simulate unconscious behaviour choices on the character's part.
  • The Final Fantasy series is rife with cases where you must take object A to location B. One or more of the characters should know exactly where the destination is, but the player doesn't have a clue and is left wandering around like an idiot trying to find the place.
    • Some cases make this even stupider by adding a character to your party who is supposed to escort or guide you through an area, but offers you no directional advice whatsoever.
      • Example: In Final Fantasy IV, Rydia shows up during a Boss Battle. After the battle, she tells you what happened when she was eaten by Leviathan--it actually took her to the land of Summoned Monsters. While this is good and all, not once will Rydia tell you how she got to where you are, leading one to wonder HOW she got out, since as the player begins wandering around, they will find the passage leading there on a small island in the underworld, surrounded by lava. It isn't until you've ventured into said cave that Rydia mentions that this is where she was.
        • Possibly explained by the opening sequence of The After Years, as Rydia was teleported to a different area by Leviathan, likely explaining this situation too.
  • Both averted impressively and used shamelessly at the same time in Knights of the Old Republic II: other characters will ask leading questions about the PC's past, allowing the player to learn the details by reading their own dialog options. In a few cases, the player gets to pick from mutually-exclusive options, and the answer actually determines what happened. However, everyone still talks around the specifics of one important event in order to keep it a revelation to the player, even though the PC should know more about it than anyone else.
    • And, near the end, the player finds out that the PC does. Much of what happens in The Very Definitely Final Dungeon is your and The Smart Guy's plan. Made offscreen. Or something. It's mildly incomprehensible.
      • Of course, since the game was never actually finished properly, this may just be one of the things that didn't make it in.
  • Lampshaded, subverted, abused to no end, and inverted in the DS game Time Hollow, in which Ethan (you) and a few other key characters are expected to have a "perfectly normal memory" immediately after any given alteration of the past, regardless of who changed the past, when it was, and how it was changed. (The inversion? load your clear data and follow the new options in the prologue. This leads to a Secret Ending)
    • Or, to be more specific, it averts/inverts the Selective Memory caused by a second playthrough - Ethan will already know the plot of the game, since he's the player character, and as such he's played through it before.
  • Averted and played with in Baten Kaitos, which helps set up one of the twists in the plot. In the game, you play not as the main character (Kalas), but as a spirit guide that helps the main character. At the beginning of the game, you of course start off knowing nothing--and Kalas expresses concern over your amnesia. But why do you have amnesia? Kalas is siding with the villain, and the spirit guide began to express concern over his plans and tried to argue against it. Worried that the spirit guide would leave if the disagreement continued, Kalas and the villain cast a spell to take away the spirit's memories.
  • In Infinite Undiscovery, you start out with zero information about the area you're in. That's OK, maybe the protagonist isn't from around there... But he's never alone, there are always others in the party, locals from all the featured areas and well-traveled people. The game even gives you the ability to talk with your party members at any time, so why can't you just ask them for directions when you're lost? Didn't anyone ever think of drawing a map before the Player Character came along?
    • At least this is consistent with the title.
  • Used in Grand Theft Auto III to some extent. While the game is generally helpful in using an -in-game map with directions with places you need to go, there's no way to see the large map. This makes plotting routes of long distances extremely difficult, and makes any mission that doesn't give you markers very difficult to figure out. To wit, one mission involves stealing a Yardie car in Newport, without bothering to explain what a Yardie is, what a Yardie car looks like, or what the boundaries of Newport are aside from being "north".
    • Being fair, you are provided with a map, and the game does inform you when you enter or leave the district in question.
  • Fire Emblem: Path Of Radiance. Oh, the main character picked up the Infinity+1 Sword a few chapters into the game? And he's had it all this time? And he still refuses to use it until much later? Sure, whatever.
  • Cole, the player character of In Famous claims to know the Empire City sewers like the back of his hand. This does not mean the player gets a map or any other indicator of Cole's memory of them.
  • Inverted in Chariot of the Dogs. If Sam and Max mention time travel to Superball, he deletes their short-term memory. They completely forget about it, yet you retaining this knowledge lets you solve a puzzle later on.
  • In the text adventure Byzantine Perspective, you play a thief breaking into an art museum. The entire gimmick of the game is based on the fact that you, the player character somehow seem to have forgotten that you are wearing virtual reality goggles, meaning that the room you see is about three rooms over from the one you are actually standing in. The way the game expects you to figure this out is by realizing that you can't read a piece of paper that's in your inventory, then dropping the paper on the ground and walking into the next room, where you will now see the paper lying on the ground and you can finally read it.
  • Lampshaded in Star Control 3. Your PC was directly responsible for and involved in most of the major events of Star Control 2. You can still go through and ask the leaders of the different species all about their history, including things you should already know about. At one point, when you ask the Vux leader, he says, "You know our history! You were there!" before launching into a detailed explanation of their history.
  • Played to award-winning effect in the Interactive Fiction game Spider and Web. The game is quite forward about the fact that your character knows more than you do; they are strapped to a mind-reading device, and most of what you do in the game is in the flashback it causes. To advance past this stage, you need to guess what exactly your character is trying to hide from their interrogator.