PunyJam Review #2: Lucid Night by Dee Cooke
Dreams are an activity undertaken when exhaustion overcomes your consciousness, so why shouldn’t we begrudge dreams, forced weary on a warped road of fuzzy touchless wonder? This ceaseless antagonist, stealing from us blessed benevolent oblivion, harrying our retreat from sensory deluge with its tapering ghosts! “As you cautiously look around, your clearest and most pressing sense is that you feel out of breath and exhilarated - and you’re not supposed to feel like that, you’re supposed to be resting, you promised you’d rest - but here you are anyway.” What’s the point of sleep, if it’s so exhausting?
Lucid Night drags us sleep deprived from vaguery to vaguery, wracked upon the loop as “The fog lifts from your mind and you look around the room with new clarity, seeing that the smooth white surfaces are simply… incomplete. You are dreaming: in your lucid world once again. / This isn’t as much of a joyful realisation as it once was. In recent times, you haven’t been able to control the world here like you once did; in many ways, it controls you now.” The ludic vibrancy of dreams’ kaleidoscope has been drained into scratchier, less suggestive forms, a morass of pointlessly shifting details of the dreamspace, undetermined flux that warps shapes suggested by the familiar into juxtapositions seamless in the fuzz: “Perhaps the word ‘door’ isn’t quite right. It’s a large opening in the wall, completely open to the void outside. You haven’t been sucked out or found yourself unable to breathe, but that isn’t surprising, as it’s your lucid world and your psyche doesn’t have much time for inconvenient realism, even if your dreams aren’t as boundless as they once were.” Every object, even so simple as a door, isn’t even able to render that solidity upon inspection; look anywhere too close, out peeks the void. Half remembered items magpied from waking life are littered densely sans rhyme or reason, so close they congeal, waves of sludge that close in around you, spaces so much less boundless than they appear, so much less alive, less troubling, less personal: “You instinctively gasp, but quickly remember that nothing can hurt you here. Unless you want it to.” The 3AM bittersigh of why can’t I have a nightmare, that at least would feel like something.
This brittle certainty of terse mere appearance eschews the more enchanted associations of dreams to emphasize how tiredness, tiredness, tiredness until you’re tired of tiredness. To that end, usually the game remains pretty blithe about the symbolism of dreams, refusing to render any compelling connection between the spaces you sort of inhabit, then dryly noting that refusal with a shrug: “You’re not sure why your psyche thinks you need to replicate the dull experience of a doctor’s waiting room, but there you are.” There you are indeed, the game eying you suspiciously, as if you might start to guess. You’re trying to diagnose too, I take it? Well, there’s no great secret to it; when the game does hazard a guess, its literality drains all the color out of the word guess: “You are in a hollow at the top of a gum tree. Just realising that the tree is a gum tree makes you wish you had a pack of gum, or better yet some actual food, because all of a sudden you are incontrollably, ravenously hungry. It’s probably because you’ve been eating your ‘evening meal’ at about 3pm back in the waking world, because your husband read that insomnia can be caused by having too much food in your system.” There you are, mystery solved.
Our interactions are likewise deflated, each dreamspace falling apart as we attempt to inhabit it, puzzles that drowsily gesture at solutions, a series of commands that languish in their lack of agency and urgency, with each lurch towards progress slamming us against “Your bedroom is plain and stark white, the moonlight streaming through the blinds.” This gives the game a pervasive flippancy, even a grouchiness, that can make you recoil, like if you didn’t want me here why did you invite me over: “You know this dream - you’ve visited it so often.” Yes, and so it seems I am likewise obliged, if you don’t mind. Perhaps aware of all the grays matting indistinguishably, sometimes Lucid Night channels its flippancy into a cartoonish moue: “You start counting sheep. This always takes a long time to work, but sheep number 1,362 manages to drag you back into your non-waking world.”
But if, by the end of it, you feel a little wearied yourself, then the immersion has worked, and the knotty, headachey thinningness of a night tossing and turning and just barely dreaming has taken you with it into a communicative experience that does make “You feel like the real world is becoming more real.” Now how about some coffee?