Every Day the Same Dream and the Trapped Narrator
Every Day the Same Dream is a 2D art game from Molleindustria's Paolo Pedercini, developed in just six days for the Experimental Gameplay Project in 2009. It is available to play in its entirety for free online, playing with the video game idea of "play again" to make it an emotionally charged part of the game itself, rather than simply GAME OVER. Pedercini says, "Every Day the Same Dream is a slightly existential riff on the theme of alienation and refusal of labor." The narrator is trapped within the letterbox of his world, able to move left or right only, leaving the player frustrated and with a sense of building anxiety as the game continues onward.
At its core, Every Day the Same Dream hinges upon the idea that the player, having once commuted to the soulless factory of clones that is "work" and for all appearances the "correct" manner to spend the day, will then attempt to do anything to disrupt this monotonous routine. Gamers are typically contrarins, seeking to push the boundaries of whatever sandbox they are given to play in, and the game excels at exploiting this innate desire to stress-test any experience to the breaking point. The aesthetic of the game is monochrome and stifling, the repetition frustrating, and through this understanding of player tendencies Every Day the Same Dream gives the experience of playing out an existential struggle.
The game -- or "interactive experience" depending upon which side of the fence you are on -- is a prime example of how mechanics can impose limitations upon the player's experience, and thus help serve the story or message. The 2D format is also constricting, adding to the game's atmosphere. Reviews have praised the game for its masterclass intelligent design and for the manner in which the mechanics serve the experience. As Leigh Alexander at Gamasutra noted, if this game were a work of prose, it would be a piece of flash fiction rather than a rounded out short story. The game is stark with its message without being overtly heavy handed, and offers very little by way of text outside of the generic identifying features. The heavy soundtrack thrumming throughout also adds to this oppressive atmosphere, where the small narrator is rarely the focal point in the room, losing to color or large set piece. The narrator is small, and so therefore the player is small -- unable to do more than obey or subtly disobey.
Games are a unique in terms of the stories we consume in that they require a human touch to engage. Reading a short story does not require physical action on the readers part to physically move through the story. Watching a movie does not require the audience do more than pay attention. Games offer a unique perspective in that they require players to do things. You must walk from bedroom to kitchen to hallway to elevator in order to progress, or else you will be standing beside your alarm clock forever while the music thrums at you. Games are immersive in ways that other media is not, and this required action allows for unique stories to be told.
By trapping the narrator in such a small, letterbox space, the player feels trapped vicariously. By seeking to add spontaneity to a monotonous routine, the player explores the game's central message further. Every Day the Same Dream is a crisp and clear example of mechanics serving as primary storyteller, the simple left-or-right design demonstrating an awareness of the innate human desire for disobedience. It is experimental, but a grand example of storytelling through the basic design pieces.