Dreams are crazy and unpredictable. Your dream-self is often trapped in a sequence of events beyond your control or understanding. You’re an Alice moving about in Wonderland. How does something so intensely personal translate into an entertainment medium like a video game? I’ve always had a perverse love of dream sequences in video games, but as we’ll see in this article dreams don’t always translate well into digital space, and often lead to the same frustrations as dreams themselves.
The third-person action shooter Max Payne features two different dream sequences. Fans of the game are divided over whether these are brilliant or awful. This is due to the puzzle element in which Max has to navigate a series of mazes based on his house. The first dream features a confusing blood trail that Max has to follow; one wrong step and it’s instant death as Max falls into the void. However, the second dream sequence does a great job of breaking the fourth wall when Max is told he’s a character in a game. Also, the music in both dream sequences is sufficiently ominous and creepy.
In Psychonauts, the main character Raz enters into the heads of various characters in order to complete challenges and defeat a wide variety of enemies. Each challenge presented to the player is unique and totally dependent on whose head Raz enters. It’s a great game with a dark, twisted sense of humour. Unfortunately, while Psychonauts was critically acclaimed and developed a devoted fan base, its sales figures were underwhelming. Not everyone was into the idea of exploring other people’s psyches (it can be scary in there).
Afraid of Monsters
This is a brilliant survival horror modification for the 1998 first-person shooter, Half-Life. Designed by Andreas Ronnberg, the game takes you through a surreal night in the life of a drug addict. A certain tension from the game comes from being unsure as to whether the monsters you’re seeing are actually there or just drug-induced hallucinations. Perversely, the only way to heal yourself is to take more drugs. The crude graphics add rather than detract from the experience, giving the game an extra layer of unreality.
Dragon Age: Origins
In the fantasy world of Thedas, people who dream don’t just go somewhere in their subconscious, but to a mysterious realm known as the Fade. Unfortunately, the Fade is also home to demons that want to possess people in order to manifest themselves in the real world. There’s a whole sequence in Dragon Age in which the player and their entire adventuring party are put to sleep by a sloth demon and must then escape the Fade. A mod for the PC version of the game that shortens this level is very popular, as many players find this part of the game frustrating.