Humanity’s struggling against a hostile world that hates them stretches back to the dawn of time, further than steel, oil and machines. “Survival of the fittest,” they say, and in Citizen Sleeper‘s intergalactic cyberpunk world, humans are not the only sitting on the gift of sentience. Do digital copies of human consciousnesses dream of pixel sheep? The humanoid replicant in a neon-lit city is a compelling motif, explored by other downtown sci-fi experiences, as in Cyberpunk 2077‘s Night City (developed by CD Projekt RED), Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 (best cinematography: the setting wins best actor) and my last-reviewed, SIGNALIS, by rose-engine. The kicker here is the point-and-click visual novel game style, and a larger focus on a smaller scale of struggle, as developed by Jump Over The Age, and published by Fellow Traveler.
I am no stranger to visual novels, let alone actual hard copy literature, so Citizen Sleeper‘s comes down with a satisfying gulp. Released on all major platforms except (curiously) on PlayStation, the game is a healthy plate of sci-fi meanderings on the streets of a planet-sized space station called Erlin’s Eye. As a sleeper, you are in the trenches here, in the stalls and shacks, clubs and bars, the rubble and the impossible overgrowth, all awash in a droning, mechanical glow. Delivered with dice rolls, resource management and a daily cycle, I heavily imbibed on Citizen Sleeper, on a two-day binge. I’m no marathon gamer, but time somehow slipped away as I watched the stories of my citizen friends, in their heroic and pitiful struggles, unfold. As creator Gareth Damian Martin ominously puts in WIRED Magazine, “dystopian stories have a history of portraying corporations as ruthless—and ruthlessly efficient.” An apt parallel to my experience as a decade-long sales associate.
The art, by Guillaume Singelin, reminds me of Scott Pilgrim and Keisuke Mizuno’s work on Megaman, and the user interface is armed with the warmest pinks in gaming sci-fi. Amos Roddy soundtracks the thing with synth muzak, currently going through test runs in my personal music library rotation. Citizen Sleeper‘s story luxuriates in its ten hour runtime, a rich chocolate cake that will most definitely command your reading comprehension.
Instead of larger than life stakes (steaks?), Martin wants to “stay with these people living ordinary lives in extraordinary settings.” It’s a mirror to every player’s existence living their own life, outside of grasping onto that controller, a figure, a blade of grass in a green meadow. The mundane and the everyday shouldn’t be treated with disdain, but cherished – how fleeting moments can be. I believe beauty is in the mundane. Citizen Sleeper is no sprawling epic, but by zooming the lens in on the individual experience, the poignance of these stories is revealed. Truly evocative, and a storytelling gem in the videogame medium, comparable to many wistful moments in other games, film and art.
I’ve been discovering many artists lately that romanticize the mundane. Haruki Murakami’s writing style paints with the combination of highbrow and lowbrow details. After very recently watching Chungking Express (1994), Happy Together (1997), and In The Mood for Love (2000) for the sole purpose of getting lost in Tony Leung’s eyes, I’m enamored by Wong Kar Wai’s dreamy, elegiac view of everyday life and romance. I am now tempted to get a Criterion Channel subscription. Even Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding, the struggles of a package courier, juxtaposed against the natural beauty of Iceland, are revered. Any of those media touchpoints would be great reference to what Citizen Sleeper and Jump Over The Age can offer.
“Citizen Sleeper and precarious survival in a capitalist world” by David Wildgoose, for Games Hub
“Citizen Sleeper Review” by Wesley LeBlanc, for Game Informer Magazine
“Enter the World of Wong Kar Wai with One of Criterion’s Best Box Sets” by Brian Tallerico, for RogerEbert.com
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