One of the reasons why confessional storytelling
is so rare in games might be because of the way it puts a lie to one of
our most commonly held assumptions about players and the characters
they control. We generally imagine that, when you play as someone, you
are becoming them—adventuring as Lara Croft, saving the human race
as the Master Chief, etc., etc. Confessional narratives shatter that
illusion with experiences so specific and so tied to their creator that
the distance between the player and the character is always present. When we see Freeman’s pictures and hear her voice, her personhood is inescapable.
a few years as a teenager, I imagined myself living a double life, an
awkward teenage boy in one world and a creative, vibrant young man
somewhere beyond the bounds of an LCD monitor. Playing Cibele
highlighted the dissonance of my young identities and the way I used
technology to shape them. I was neither; I was both.
Even if you can’t relate, Cibele still insists on a personal response.
If anything, my tendency to distrust Ichi made every moment with him
feel all the more intrusive and significant. I wanted to see myself in
his relationship with Freeman. Or maybe I wanted to see what she saw.
is a game about that drive to connect, to see others and yourself
clearly. It’s an experiment in how a creator might put themselves into a
work and make a game that speaks honestly about their real life to the
people who play it.
I often think about the fact we don't really have 'online lives' any more.
online is real life now.
Freeman's Cibele is a gentle but involving callback to a youth when the
realm of internet chat—here, visualized quite literally through an
online fantasy game—could be an all-consuming, furtive repository for
everything fraught and unexpressed in our real lives.
will always be stories of young love, and people probably meet online
now more than ever, perfunctorily, but it fascinates me that these
stories will never again happen in exactly this way.
communication is no longer magic. It's no longer rare and risky, and as
time passes, more and more of us will be much the same person "here" as
we are "there." Lots of us today spend more time on devices than we do
off them. Friends and colleagues report being overwhelmed, not
intrigued, by Reddit threads, Twitter replies, Tinder messages, Facebook
notifications, Google Calendar invites, iMessages and texts. Now, for
me, meeting someone in a club late at night who has read my articles
actually recalls that old sinking feeling of finding out someone in your
internet roleplay group actually goes to your school—they've
accidentally found the real-life me, the secret me. The script has
reversed: nowadays, in the age of remote working and Real Name Policies,
some corners of real life feel more forbidden, more secret, than the
internet does or perhaps ever will again.
Games like Cibele and Emily is Away are not just memoirs; they're memorials. When
today's young people want to whisper their secret longing and
loneliness into the night in search of others, will they still put it
online? If not, then where?
This is a game about a young woman’s experience,
fundamentally; it is her role you adopt, after all, her eyes through
which you see. But Ichi (voice acted expertly by Justin Briner) also
emerges with nearly equal vulnerability, showing a side of young men
that is only ever ruthlessly mocked if it is portrayed at all. He is
initially presented as that most loathsome figure in MMO gaming: the
tough-talking, foul mouthed, exacting raid leader who sees himself
cursed to be surrounded by idiots. But as you play, you see that he
is, in certain ways, Nina’s mirror; MMOs afford her the opportunity to
thrive socially in a world where she is not judged for being a nerd who
cheerfully describes her aesthetic as mahou shoujo, and they afford for
Ichi the opportunity to socialize without getting too close to people.
and a confessional style of video game seems appropriate in this case,
given the game’s thematic interest in adolescent infatuation.
It’s a clever game, told in a clever way, that produces a very authentic representation of a fairly universal experience, but
it feels like that in presenting the story in as raw a form as Freeman
has that events here haven’t yet been considered with any maturity, only
The game knows how to express itself well enough, but the
reason that it doesn’t really enlighten us in any way seems to be
because there is no sense of transformation of the character of Nina
Nina at the beginning was a girl
infatuated with presenting a certain idealized image of herself and her
world, and Nina at the end is a young woman that still seems infatuated
with presenting a certain idealized image of herself and her world.
though, Cibele is simply intended as a fable or allegory. It’s just
disappointing to me because it initially seems to promise an
investigation of identity and exhibitionism that might uncover something
a bit richer, perhaps, more oracular, than those genres typically allow
only so much you can read into the game as a broader commentary on the
intimacy of play and on formation of sexuality in the digital age.
It’s not as didactic as one might expect, to the point where I
occasionally found myself tempted to read straight past the game into
the phenomenon it portrays.
For all its shortcomings,
which should not be either ignored or overstated, Cibele has remarkable
fidelity as a communication of a personal experience, and that makes it
an exciting and successful piece of autobiography.