Self-Reflection On Dreamy Summer Nights

So that's where I left my moon!

Without tarot to draw, tea leaves to swirl, crystals to tune, bones to cast, or ants to observe, this summer I turned to video games for divination. I watched between the static of late-night TV, chatted with hitch-hikers, listened to a mountain, sought forest spirits, and even consulted an oracle.

I don’t believe tarot, crystals, horoscopes, and all those other rituals are supernatural, but I do believe they can help us. I believe firmly in the magical power of having a good think about what you’re up to. It’s the best tool I have to tweak the only thing I have any vague control over in this topsy-turvy, up-and-down world–my own mind. When we sift through those messes of symbols and read meaning into their vagueness, we find what we’re thinking and what we want to see. If we know we’re only seeing ourself, we can use them as focuses to discover what exactly we’re reflecting.

Dreamy games can work the same way, I discovered during a difficult period this summer. I was sleeping too little, drinking too much (that’s one for all you playing the Alice Drinking Game), and generally a bit moony. I couldn’t think clearly about problems, or perhaps didn’t want to. But playing certain games, I realised they were helping me quietly and safely feel out the edges.

At the time my Mountain mused “I feel super chill inside this beautiful day”, I certainly didn’t. But why not? Looking out my window, I noticed it was actually a beautiful day. I found a few seconds of gazing and reflection let me catch my breath and get a handle on those thoughts. Then I felt super chill inside that beautiful day. Whether I shared the Mountain’s feelings–happiness, anxiety, disquiet, joy, tranquility, excitement, acceptance, fear, you know, all those emotions mountains experience–or not, every few minutes it encouraged me to look at myself, drawing comparisons and striking contrasts between our thoughts. When my Mountain wondered “Maybe I am alone because I am not good”, I realised I had dropped that long-held belief at some point.

Oh.

2:22am was more like a trance. It presents brief flashes of nightmares, blurred video, and scenes of daily mundanities with dreams creeping in round the edges. One second I’m gazing into an empty fridge, then I’m running through an empty city. Often playing not far off 2:22am, I found its blast of symbols and repetition helped bridge the gap between what I was doing in my bleary late night daze and what I was thinking. It’s dipping into someone else’s dreams.

Heartwood was made by a good friend. I will always see her in it, and our friendship, our parallel and diverging lives, secrets shared, and other intimate direct connections to my thoughts that you won’t find. You will still get to wander around a spooky wood, though, and chase totemic animals. I find woods magical places where imagination and reality easily blur. Useful, that, at times like these.

Oracle was the most overtly prophetic. It spits out procedural prophecies and visions: talk of fog, ashes, promises, and bones accompanied by scenes of temples, wells, wheels, eyes, and monoliths. They’re symbols and icons we understand have some vague meaning or implications but are thrown together in a way encouraging us to create our own. Like tarot readings, they can mean as much or as little as we please, but what’s important is we realise these are spun out of our own thoughts.

That gorgeous fire is perfect for gazing into as you think, too.

Glitchhikers, on the other hand, is very much someone else’s thoughts. Like Mountains made flesh, its hitch-hikers hold vague, moony, and slightly existential conversation as we drift down a dark highway. Again, it’s all for our benefit, all beliefs for us to think through, try on, adopt, or discard.

I hadn’t consciously tried to find games to help me think through my block, but these did. They worked because they were vague. They threw out symbols and ideas for me to turn over, try to understand, then shape into my own thoughts. They didn’t offer answers, instead inspiring me to ask myself questions. They let me make ideas my own, helping uncover ways into thoughts I had struggled to open. Should you find yourself troubled late one night, perhaps you might give dreamy games a go too? These all are either free or cost a pound or so at most. It’ll probably work as well as you believe it will. These things often do.

17 Comments

  1. It's not me it's you says:

    I’m as big a skeptic as they come, and I’ve always held that Tarot is useful in the exact way you describe – it’s not the cards that hold any kind of message, it’s your tortured interpretation of them that shows you a different perspective on the problems / questions you’re pondering.

    So given I agree with you on that, maybe I will give these games a go next time I’m trying to work something out. Can’t hurt, can it.

    • slerbal says:

      I agree and I think the same applies to the Runes, I-Ching and similar. The don’t prophesise anything but do give your mind a starting point for examination. Nothing magical, just reflective.

    • Bugamn says:

      Can’t hurt, can it.

      Famous last words.

    • Premium User Badge

      particlese says:

      I also hang out in the skeptics’ camp, but my only rare appreciation of these sorts of things has been limited to their amusement value — I’ve never even considered their introspective/coping utility. (And somewhat relatedly, Weird Al’s “Your Horoscope for Today” is one of my favourite things.) That said, I do enjoy myself a bit of introspection and occasionally find myself introspecting too much and too unproductively late at night, so I’ll keep games in mind if the time comes (or if a friend is in need). Cheers!

      Question: How do you feel about these games music-wise? (No recommendation based on that is needed — it’s just curiosity.) I hadn’t thought about it before, but I find myself contemplating stuff more with games like Osmos, Euphloria, and (sorta) Proteus, and music does a lot for me than words, generally speaking. (I love RPS’s words, but not often for soul spelunking. This here article is very probably an exception.) And Journey…good gravy… That was a highly directed experience and therefore a different beast, but I contemplated the bajesus out of something (everything?) back when it came out.

  2. Jim Rossignol says:

    Glitchhikers is lovely. Really get a kick out of this sort of stuff at the moment.

    • slerbal says:

      I agree. It put me in a David Lynch mood and I’ve been re-watching Twin Peaks because of it. Ace :)

      • Premium User Badge

        G-Lord says:

        Such a pleasant surprise, found the Premium Edition basically by chance. Playing the game without any knowledge about the game in the night was just a surreal experience.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    I don’t think I’m currently in the right frame of mind to profit from these games like you did, but I do enjoy the calm, meditative experience some of them provide, especially Glitchhikers.

    Also I really cannot remember if I actually played 2:22am, or if I just watched your video of you playing it, though I don’t think the difference between both experiences is very big. The video might actually be superior in this case, because of your commentary.

  4. tumbleworld says:

    Heartwood was absolutely beautiful — eerie, oneiric, enigmatic, and totally absorbing. Very short, so if anyone is on the fence, go download in, whack on some headphones, and spend a very strange ten minutes somewhere on the edges of imaginability.

  5. icarussc says:

    What, no mention of Proteus, Alice? It’s really just the thing for reflection. JUST the thing. I deeply wish there were a dozen games like it.

    ::lapses into reverie::

    … anyway, Proteus.

    • Alice O'Connor says:

      I adore Proteus but it didn’t feel right with this sort of mood, too wrapped up in unhelpful memories. It’ll surely appear in my walking simulator column, though.

  6. Foosnark says:

    There was a game ages ago whose name I don’t recall, but it was a sort of casual puzzle thing with a peaceful, mystical atmosphere and lovely graphics (for its time). When you put pieces together a certain way, it would give you an I Ching reading. That was my first exposure to I Ching, and I was pretty amazed.

    I have I Ching cards now, with lovely calligraphy, but somehow it doesn’t feel the same to draw a pair of cards at random as it did to play that game, settle my thoughts, get in the zone and then see a reading.

    • Premium User Badge

      tigerfort says:

      Find one of the better books about the I Ching; some of the old techniques for producing a reading are amazing iterative rituals that can produce a very similar absorbing effect, only with physical artifacts.

    • Premium User Badge

      dnelson says:

      You may be thinking of Ishido? I remember the satisfying click sounds the pieces made when you placed them. Or possibly Heaven and Earth? Ishido definitely had I Ching in it, but H+E had the nice graphics.

      (edit – screwed up the links)

  7. J. Cosmo Cohen says:

    I loved this self-reflection piece, Alice. I’ve a lot on my mind, so I’m going to try Glitchhikers and see what happens.

    As an aside, I’ve always found it fascinating that Philip K. Dick used I Ching to decide various parts of The Man in the High Castle.

    • unit 3000-21 says:

      Wonder if he used I Ching to decide whether to use I Ching in its plot or not.