(featured image WikiMedia Commons- Star Maid Games)
For 95 minutes, I pretended to be in love. My beau to be was a player on the RPG “Valtameri”, who went by the moniker “Ichi.” Our relationship bloomed through simultaneous strikes on enemy demon squids, rock monsters, and crystal trolls, all while exchanging skin showing selfies and revealing to each other through voice chat our fears of human relationships. When I exit out of “Valtameri”, I look over old blog posts and chats extolling my love for “Final Fantasy X-2”, triangle-chinned anime boys, and lamenting on my lack of success with human boys. I learn that “Ichi’s” real name is Blake and he lives in California. Like me, Blake has never had sex or been in an intimate relationship. In that way, I feel more connected to Blake than anyone else in the world, be it tangible or digital.
This is how Nina Freeman, a developer at Fullbright Games, uses the medium of gaming to immerse us in the world of finding love in the snapchat-heart filter and “yeah-boi” era. Freeman uses detail orientation and the player’s choice of whether or not to fully explore her hard drive of selfies, college poetry, and chat logs to craft a character who is still yearning for the concept of “grounded.”
Freeman’s game “Cibele” succeeds in exploring how the digital realm now more thoroughly shapes our identities than whatever roles we have on Earth, be it college student or computer programmer. This is mostly done through how well Freeman reveals her digital alter-ego, notably through the contrast of her blog posts and text messages. In her blog, Freeman uninhibitedly divulges her love of anime, video games, her desire to be in actress in New York and her preference for elaborate and often floral patterned fashion. Yet in the text messages with her interchangeable “friends” Freeman often displays a kind of stilted vernacular in trying to keep up with friends’ excitement at make-out sessions in New York clubs. Should Freeman attempt to explore any sort of nuances through the chat, be it her struggles with intimacy or stressors in college, she is often met with a “lol whaaaaat?”
Through these exchanges, Freeman is conditioned (like many of us) to believe in meta-narratives of Adonis-like bodies and uber-extroversion. Because her own worldview of loving half-fish anime girls and her less superficially pristine body contrasts with said narrative, Freeman finds herself digging deeper and deeper into the fantasy of “Valtameri”, to the point where the only way she can open herself-up to someone is if they are a disembodied voice. My own relationship struggles are similar to Freeman’s in that I am sometimes so afraid of being vulnerable with people that I often avoid them entirely, preferring to immerse myself into the controllable and often sterile world of gaming and movies. “Cibele” is one of the few pieces of media that puts that worldview in perspective, in that we show our faces, bodies and ideas to more people than ever before in history, yet in doing so we rappel further into our draining chapels of comfort zones.