I don't play video games as much as I use to, but I still follow the gaming industry for anything interesting and one game I came across was on a Youtube channel who did a Halloween marathon run of a Japanese indie game about a girl who goes through a surreal dreamlike world. Much like a walking simulator which is one of the current gaming genres on the rise, along with a deep story. This game, Yume Nikki, reminded me of my days sitting in front of the TV playing a fun game and never kept track of the time. I would be so immersed; my peripheral vision blurred everything out and all I can see is whatever's going on in the game. When I turned the console off and went outside, everything was still, like nothing really mattered. I didn't bother with anyone, not even my parents when I was growing up, depending on how much time I've spent alone or away from playing games. Sitting in a room with four walls and the sound of the TV, and the video game playing was like a drug for me. Add a bit of energy drinks, sugary sweets, and occasionally alcohol, and I would turn into a zombie. I wanted to be psychedelically endorsed in a fake reality. And not too long ago before grabbing my computer to jot this down, I awoke from a dream in which I was awake and keeping my room clean and safe from anything that was considered abnormal. As I traversed this room that wasn't my own, I can see that my bedroom was in a basement somewhere off at a disclosed location. The door was a little open reveling a lit up emergency exit sign, my closet, covered in my belongings was shifted by poisonous greens growing from the carpet, a corner of my room that showcased a staircase going up to a second story house with a figurine standing at the top wearing a business suit, and googling eyes moving around outside of my window. I had a risky job to do and that is to get rid of these strange phenomena. Though, I wasn't really doing anything either than keeping my guts intact and my fight or flight responses to shift. This whole idea reminded me of how it must have felt in the game: Alone, and spending time in dreams completely addicted to the illusion and numbness of what to see, but also embracing fears from the past. Do I fix the problems in my room, or retreat to the exit door - a door leading to another fear which is common in dreams: Falling. Falling and hitting smack on the cold asphalt. I had to face these fears.
Okay, now that I've presented my inner darkness (I hope you've kept your attention to this and not spilling your drink), let me tell about this game. The premise of Yume Nikki is really nothing but a reclusive girl with a supposed horrific past, navigates her dreams through the use of doorways, leading to different parts of her life that are disguised as disturbing depictions of monsters, and landscapes with repetitive background music as the player collects 24 objects that can be used and can determine the game's ending. The game has no dialogue and just the imagery alone is enough to give an unsettling feeling. The atmosphere of Yume Nikki is indescribably, inescapably, oppressively isolating, to the degree that the game could almost be accurately described as a loneliness simulator. Most of the critical literature written about this game is content to allow the pervasive sense of isolation stand by itself as simply being the tone of the game, rather than attempting to hang specific theories on it. But the real nature of the game is to show how so many people, innocent or otherwise, had trouble facing their fears in the outside world and the use of video games as a means to generate the imagination, and collaborate and juxtapose the effects of not being alone. I'm not saying that video games are bad. Like I said, I've played them before and I still follow the gaming industry from time to time and see how it evolves, but sometimes it can be like a drug. And not to bring up any spoilers if you haven't seen or played the game, but there's a lot of deep shit going on with the main character. Just by looking at the imagery is enough to convey some unsettling emotions. The most obvious expression of this theme would be Madotsuki’s apparent self-segregation: she lives alone in an apartment with a single room, and refuses to leave. Her dreams reinforce the idea that she is an unwilling victim of deliberate social alienation. Then there's the theme of cultural isolation ties into the above-mentioned theory that Madotsuki is a foreigner or ex-pat. The game’s “real world” setting, although never explicitly mentioned, is usually accepted to be Japan. Many of the worlds depicted in the game show historical references, such as the Aztec temples, and other suites. But here, the sense of hopelessness carries with it an extreme weight. Feeling decidedly upset is not fun. But it can also be an invigorating experience, one we can learn a lot from. As the medium matures, perhaps we’ll see more developers – not just the tiny independents – taking risks in the area of loneliness. This a huge field to explore. I've gone through what I called a schizophrenic phrase where I didn't fit in among reality, but after discovering this game, it's an artistic approach with abstracted ideas of lucid dreaming and how it effects someone when they're sitting at home alone wondering what it all means. It’s the tale of a life that was never to be – but there’s more to Madotsuki's (The main character) existence than almost any other video game character you’ll ever meet. Art image by usotsuki