I think this could be one of the most important games I’ve ever played and it took me completely by surprise. Developed by Paolo Pedercini in six days for the Experimental Gameplay Project, Every Day the Same Dream demonstrates beautifully how interactivity can communicate certain concepts every bit as effectively as linear media, perhaps even more so. I noticed it a few weeks ago but haven’t really had a chance to post about it. So before reading any further go and play it now. It shouldn’t take too long. Quick! Before your boss comes back.
My typical working day involves reluctantly waking up sometime after my alarm sounds and catching a snatch glimpse of the morning news over breakfast. I then commute to work across the countryside usually arriving later than expected. I go to my desk, sit down and don’t move for the rest of the day; slumping into my daily routine knowing it all starts again the following morning. Like some washing machine cycle jumbling up my waking hours, the days blur into one and I loose track of the weeks through sheer monotony. But I’ll find a way out, somehow.
Every Day the Same Dream is an existential riff on our metronomic working lives and if you’ve just played it, you’ll realise the premise is not too dissimilar to my own situation above. Leigh Alexander wrote a brilliant analysis about it over at Gamasutra and one particular commenter said “…the narrative of the piece seems incredibly dated. Do real people still have lives like this? Where they wake up in the morning and go to work in a cubicle and all that?”. Well, yes. Yes they do, but not as literally as that. The game isn’t specifically about corporate suits and homogeneous rows of working cubicles; it represents the grind that many of us endure every day and our desire to break free of it. It’s this aspect of the experience that Every Day the Same Dream handles so elegantly and on which its greatest strength lies.
By walking the straight and narrow, doing exactly as you’re told, you will continue to relive the same dream. The ceaseless and looping monotony of our protagonist’s life is there not only to form a basis for the game’s message but there to compel the player (and the character) to rebel against it. Gamers are sly dogs. We don’t always do what we’re told. We explore the limits of our virtual spaces and wonder what if? What if I don’t go that way? What if I go to work in my pants? What if I just get out of my car? What if I walk past my cubicle? The wandering curiosity, anarchic and transgressive habits of the typical gamer is part of the experience and echoes the jaded mentality of our suited protagonist; it’s a masterclass in design.
The icing on this melancholic cake is that it looks and sounds fantastic. The letterbox format makes for some nicely composed dramatic shots and works well with the simple left-right nature of the game. The retro modern aesthetic also compliments the experience perfectly with its stark, monotone greys and crisp, ironed lines. Incidentally, the thunderous pulsing of the soundtrack, provided by Jesse Stiles, really ties the whole feeling of the game together wonderfully.
I love this game.
Now get back to work.
Seriously, this game rattled me. The music is like some sort of heart attack refusing to bite the dust. It’s incredible. Apparently Pedercini spent three days coding, three days on content and a single day messing around with droning guitar effects for the soundtrack. That last day didn’t make the cut which makes me wonder what it would have sounded like without Jesse Stiles’ music? As it happens I like ambient drone music and can see why Pedercini envisaged that sort of sound for this.
This is a very powerful and disturbing game, Gregg, what a find. The music and animation was what really “made” it for me. You’d have expected gloomy music, but instead the almost mean repetitiveness of the beats perfectly matched the grayscale world.
In some ways I think this game might explain WHY we play games: because they allow us to escape the same dream for a while.
Thanks for this link. I’d never have found it otherwise.
I’d very much like to hear people’s interpretation of the ending as well because I get the impression that it’s quite ambiguous.
I liked how breaking out of the grind rewarded me so quickly. I was expecting a requisite period of boredom before the payoff. That this piece wrapped things up so fast was a plus. I didn’t get much more from it though. Rebel and things happen. Toe the line and things don’t happen. A single point in a short time frame. Everything supports the premise though, nothing is wasted here. Any other meaning I took from this was, I suspect, imposed by me.
Something about it reminded me of The Path and sure enough, there was Samyn (co-dev of The Path) the commenter Gregg quotes, asking if people really still live like this. They do. At some level everyone lives like this. I have a pretty varied lifestyle, never the same day twice, no set work routine. But truthfully, every day is the same.
I think the kinship with The Path lies in the way the game doesn’t try to assuage you with escapism. Nothing against escapism, I’m a firm believer in it. Too much though and my brain turns to oatmeal. There has to be a balance.
I would say these kind of games belong to the school of “The only way out is in.”
EDIT: As for the ending:
my take was that people were taking the grimmest way out of their dilemma, the jump option. As you cross the building to the ledge you see yourself jumping. Then I realized that everyone in the office looked exactly the same. So it wasn’t necessarily me, was it? And, since my first escape option had been to jump, maybe I was already dead. I think letting the player kill himself right off the bat was an interesting design decision.
You can find a pile of comments over at JayIsGames which is where I first ran into this intriguing experiment. There are also comments at Rock, Paper, Shotgun.
Reminded me of the office sequence in The Zone.
It also echoes Ambrose Bierce’s An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.
@Mike: Ahh, so he’s one of the Tale of Tales developers who I quoted. So that explains the ‘The Path’ avatar! 🙂 I haven’t played The Path but hope to some day. The only Tale of Tales game I’ve ‘played’ was The Endless Forest sometime ago and I was quite underwhelmed by it despite its beautiful Miyazaki inspired forest and creatures.
@mrlipid: Yeah I’ve been reading the witty comments over at RPS but hadn’t seen the Jay Is Games comments. Cheers for the link; there’re some interesting perspectives.
EDIT: @Mike: You know, it’s amazing how many different readings this game has had. I saw the final suit jumping simply as yourself ending that particular existence with the possibility of waking up in a ‘different dream’ or life. The empty world seemed like some form of clean slate, like the first part of a fresh start. I’m not sure! That final suit is quite the mystery though!
Definitely check out The Path, Gregg. It’s a very unsettling… well, not exactly a “game.” It’s sort of an “experience.” Scout wrote about it beautifully in his review.
I saw the jumping as a way of both self-expression and achieving freedom – as Scout said, rebelling from the status quo. Did anyone walk left from their apartment building and see the man who took them to the graveyard? That was an intriguing touch.
“Did anyone walk left…?”
C’mon, ‘Pike. This is Tap-REPEATEDLY, not Tap-Occasionally.
Of course we walked left! At least, I did. But I could only do that once. And then the day started again.
However, I was able to wander out in my u-trou* and both touch the cow and get the leaf in one trip.
*u-trou: Underpants, undershorts, BVDs (circa late 1960s, U of M, Sigma Nu)
What a disturbing game. Very deep.
In a way it made me think of Groundhog Day. A much funnier setting, but a somewhat similar premise. In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character gets a new chance to make things right in that one day he lives over and over again. In Everyday The Same Dream, the same repetition metaphor is used to represent our escape from the “mechanization” of our lives.
I had a sense of relief at the end, breaking the cycle had a positive feeling. I think the last jump represents a break from the prison of day to day, monotone, existence. And it also has a message of self-consciousness. The character sees his old self jumping, like acknowledging the troubled life he had and embracing his newly achieved freedom.
@Steerpike: I found that bit quite sad. That the homeless guy thought the one quiet place in the city was where there was no life. Not even a park entered the equation.
I’ll check out Scouts review of The Path, I’m intrigued. I heard such a mixed bag of things about it.
@Cesar: Welcome to Tap! 🙂 It seems we share a similar interpretation of the game’s ending and now that you mention it, it does have that similarity with Groundhog Day, despite the more work oriented theme.
I posted about this game in the forums on January 12! Did anyone notice it then??
It is very neat.
Bloody Hell. I hadn’t spotted that xtal, I think I was still getting used to the forums then! A brilliant recommendation though 😉
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