Review – The Dream Self

This game was built on top of the Unity Game engine, so it should be inherently cross-platform. I was not able to evaluate the Mac-specific version because the machine I had on hand was fairly locked down and the game was compiled to be compatible with a more recent version of the MacOS.

The windows version is provided as an executable file, which ran fine on a Windows 7 machine. For whatever reason, this game’s folder within the IFcomp 2017 zip download file contained a lot of other files including some DLLs that I did not need to play the game. The Mac-specific file is not provided in that distribution, but an HTML document points to copy in the cloud that can be downloaded.

Awake.

This game is mostly text with a bit of animation and occasional changes in the background that signal time of day when you are awake or various scenes while dreaming. User input consists of making choices in your daily life, and these choices reflect various personality traits. When you sleep, these traits bubble up and influence your dreams.

Dreaming.

So, why bring out the big gun of a game engine for something that looks like it could have been done in twine or choiceScript? My guess is that behind the scenes, the progressively elaborated personality model gets complicated. Also, later questions may vary in some complex way based on earlier responses. While more traditional “texty” IF platforms can perform operations on data structures, the author may have felt that some other programming language was more suitable for generating the dream sequences.

From the way questions were asked and the way scenarios were presented, I had the sense while playing that my choices were being fit into some sort of multi-axial personality inventory, like a Myers-Briggs. At the end of the game, there is some confirmation that this is indeed the case (I realize I probably just insulted the author by comparing whatever instrument this is to the Myers-Briggs — so, sorry in advance).

The input to this program relatively indirect and conversational, and it must glean what it can from responses. The effect on dreams is subtle and cumulative, which I think is realistic, but not optimal for a game. Due to momentum, it is hard to swing the results in one direction or push the dreams towards a specific outcome. There is, at one point, mention of lucid dreaming, but in my game I didn’t seem to have much control when I attempted it (much like in real life).

I think ELIZA is a very crude forerunner of this program. Its couch side advice was more Freudian than Jungian, but it set the precedent for telling the computer about yourself and having your personality reflected back. Most of the responses with ELIZA were very short loop — you would type something and see your words transformed into a reply; sometimes, however, it would file away a response and throw it back at you turns later. Some of the joy in playing with ELIZA was trying to manipulate the returned responses, and I think that element is missing in this game because the connections between input and response are not as clear or immediate.

I found the pace of the game slow — too long to replay. I played through the first time answering the questions as myself, but it would have been interesting to see how the game would have changed if I played with a psychopathic persona. At least, I hope it would have changed.

I’m not saying the game does this, but it would also be interesting if the game were to send results of the personality assessments to a server. Yes, this isn’t at all a validated instrument and the sample is biased, but I’d be interested to see a personality profile of people playing the game, and to mess around with the data, e.g., does the profile vary regionally (roughly, by IP), etc.

If something like this were done, the game should say so up front and provide an opt-in consent. Even if it did, I’m not sure that would satisfy all the legal issues connected with human subject protection and data privacy everywhere it might be played, so you know what? Forget it. Moving on….

Evaluation

Story: 7

Voice: 6 (Can I really criticize the voices coming from my own head?)

Play: 8

Polish: 10

Technical: 9

JNSQ: 0

Preliminary Score: 8

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